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The #myNYPD Twitter Disaster, Shortage of Foster Parents for Kids with Higher Needs, Problems with New Clemency Initiative…and More

April 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

#MYNYPD SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN BACKFIRES

Originally intended to inspire Twitter users to share nice pictures of the New York police force interacting with the communities they serve, the Twitter publicity campaign, #myNYPD, set off an explosion of tweets depicting aggressive arrests and alleged abuses of power by officers. Once the campaign turned sour, it spread to other cities across the nation, including Los Angeles. This isn’t the first Twitter failure of its kind (nor is it likely to be the last).

NPR’s Rachel Martin talks to professor Zeynep Tufekci (of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard) about this particular botched Twitter publicity stunt and others like it, and the learning opportunity they provide. Here’s a clip:

MARTIN: So the NYPD has been trying to get into the world of social media more aggressively recently. What went wrong with this particular effort?

TUFEKCI: Well, what went wrong is that social media doesn’t function like old-style public relations, where you could just push a message and not expect to hear back. What happens is, if people have something they want to say to you, they will say it back to you.

This is not the first time this happened. McDonalds tried the same thing with #McDStories as a hash tag and in fact, they paid to promote it. And people told their own McDonald’s stories that were far from flattering to McDonald’s. So this is something that is a reality in the 21st century. If people want to talk back to you, and you wade into the places where they can talk back, they will. It doesn’t work like television.

MARTIN: Last year, the financial services firm JPMorgan Chase created the hash tag #AskJPM. And they found themselves hit with a deluge of negative questions along the lines of – did you always want to be part of a vast corrupt criminal enterprise or did you break bad? So again, what are we seeing – the same kind of mistakes being repeated by corporations when it comes to social media?

TUFEKCI: Well, one way to look at it as mistakes, from a public relations point of view. But if you look at it from a civic point of view, it’s actually – rather than mistakes, it’s an opportunity for reality of perception to break through.

As for JPMorgan’s precedent-setting, positive PR-seeking catastrophe, here is a video of actor Stacy Keach reading #AskJPM tweets:

(For more on JPMorgan’s failed Q&A session, we recommend this Rolling Stone story by Matt Taibbi.)


“THERAPEUTIC FOSTER CARE” AND THE SCARCITY OF PEOPLE WILLING TO FOSTER KIDS WITH MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS

The LA County Department of Children and Family Services struggles to come up with suitable foster parents for the 18,000 kids in the system—period. Even more difficult than finding placements for foster kids in general, is finding homes for the approximately 300 kids with severe mental and behavioral health issues, designated as requiring “therapeutic foster care.” The majority of these kids in need of foster parents willing to go above and beyond, end up in group homes.

Potential foster parents who participate in the DCFS “therapeutic foster care” program, have to go through 60 extra hours of training, but receive more resources, incentives, and help than other foster parents. And outcomes for kids who participate in the program are “spectacular,” says Mary Nichols, who runs the therapeutic program.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

There’s a severe lack of homes for L.A. County’s most vulnerable foster children. And each day the county fails to find a home for them is another day it violates a federal court order.

That’s according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which is desperately trying to find homes for kids with mental health needs, who have been traumatized by family violence, and have been bumped around the foster care system. This group is at particularly high risk of dropping out of school, abusing drugs, and incarceration.

Nearly 18,000 children are currently in foster care in Los Angeles County. Of those, DCFS has identified about 300 who have severe mental health and behavioral problems — children who qualify for a relatively new program known as “therapeutic foster care.” In 2008, the county started the program in response to a federal court order to move kids with mental health problems – but not so severe that they need hospitalization – out of institutional-style group homes and into family homes.

The problem is there aren’t enough foster parents willing to participate in the program. At this point, there is room for 102 children in the system. The need has grown so dire that six family foster care agencies — who usually compete for parents — have banded together in a recruitment campaign to find homes for these children with special needs.


PROBLEMS NOT ADDRESSED BY THE DOJ’S NEW, BROADER CLEMENCY APPLICATION CRITERIA

Last week we linked to a new Department of Justice clemency initiative (here, and here) that will widen the pool of federal prisoners that can apply for a presidential pardon—namely non-violent drug offenders sentenced under old laws.

While this is a step in the right direction, ProPublica’s Kara Brandeisky points to several problems within the clemency system that the new initiative and application criteria fail to address.

Here’s a clip from just one of the issues:

The new criteria apply to inmates who are serving federal sentences that are longer than sentences that would likely be given today. To be fast-tracked for commutation consideration, inmates must have served 10 years of a sentence for a non-violent crime. They must also be low-level offenders without gang affiliations who have demonstrated good conduct.

The Justice Department has identified about 23,000 prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or more, but it’s unclear how many of these inmates meet the other criteria. If inmates do not meet all the criteria, they may still apply for early release, but their applications will not be given priority.

Some prisoners convicted under older, harsher sentencing rules who haven’t yet served 10 years won’t be eligible. Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director at the ACLU, said that’s why Congress should pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would let courts reduce sentences for prisoners convicted under out-of-date laws.

Gupta said that while the new criteria are sensible, they should not be a substitute for congressional action. “Clemency has been grossly underutilized, but it’s not going to bring relief to everyone who should see relief,” Gupta said. “And it’s not going to change some of the laws.”

Read on.


LOS ANGELES SHERIFF DEBATE REMINDER

Los Angeles County Sheriff candidates (with the exception of Paul Tanaka) will square off in their latest debate tonight (Monday) at 6:00p.m. at the Ronald Deaton Auditorium. This particular debate is sponsored by the Professional Peace Officers Association. Further info can be found on the PPOA website.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

New, More Expensive Los Angeles Jail Proposal, LASD Deputies Planted Guns in Marijuana Clinic, DCFS Director on Foster Care Reforms, and the New Clemency Criteria

April 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES JAIL REPLACEMENT PROPOSAL RELEASED, AND IS EVEN MORE PRICEY THAN THE LAST TWO BIDS

On Wednesday, Vanir Construction Management Inc. released a report detailing five options for replacing the aging Men’s Central Jail, as requested by the Board of Supervisors. The proposed options range in price from $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over a ten year period.

This isn’t the first jail construction bid presented to the county. Last July, the jail-replacement proposals ranged in price from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.

A few months before that, in March of 2013, LA County CEO Bill Fujioka and Sheriff Lee Baca proposed a $933 million jail building project.

We presume there’s a good reason for the repeatedly escalated price, and we hope that will be a topic of discussion by the Board of Supervisors.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the latest on the construction proposals. Here’s a clip:

The county supervisors, concerned about deteriorating facilities and poor living conditions for inmates with mental health issues, want to tear down the aging Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and replace it. The new facility would be primarily focused on housing inmates with physical and mental health needs and substance abuse issues.

Officials are also contemplating creating a new 1,600-bed women’s jail at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, to replace the overcrowded women’s jail in Lynwood.

The plan is not expected to increase the county’s total number of available jail beds, but officials said it would help the county comply with federal mandates on the treatment of mentally ill inmates, and would allow women — who are typically lower risk than male inmates — to be housed in a less restrictive environment with more options for job training and other programs.

The report by Vanir Construction Management laid out five options, all of which involve replacing the Men’s Central Jail. The new facility would hold between 4,860 and 5,860 inmates, depending on the option chosen, with the bulk of the beds set aside for inmates needing medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and a smaller number of beds for high-security inmates. Four of the five options also include a new women’s jail.

The construction is projected to cost between $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over the next 10 years, and after that would add $162 million to $300 million a year to the county’s jail operating costs.


LOS ANGELES DEPUTIES PLANT GUNS IN MARIJUANA CLINIC, FALSELY ARREST TWO MEN

In an alarming story, two former LA County deputies, Julio Martinez and Anthony Paez, are accused of planting two guns in a marijuana dispensary in order to arrest two men. Over a year later, an internal investigation found inconsistencies between the deputies’ report and the dispensary’s surveillance tape.

The ex-deputies face more than seven years each behind bars, if convicted.

ABC7′s Hanna Chu has the story. Here’s a clip:

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged on Wednesday with one felony count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and peace officer altering evidence, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office announced. Martinez was also charged with two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

Prosecutors say the deputies wrote a report saying they “witnessed a narcotics transaction and observed one suspect with a firearm” while they were on patrol in the area of West 84th Place on Aug. 24, 2011.

Martinez apparently followed one suspect inside a pot clinic, where he allegedly found a firearm near a trash bin and another next to ecstasy pills. One man was taken into custody for possession of an unregistered firearm, while another man was arrested for possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.

Charges had been filed against the two men falsely arrested. The case against one of the men was later dismissed, however the other suspect had pled before the corruption was discovered. The district attorney’s office said it was in the process of notifying the man’s defense attorney.

An investigation into the incident about a year later found that the deputies’ report was inconsistent with a video recording from the pot clinic. According to a criminal complaint, Martinez kicked at a wall outlet to shut off electricity inside the room during the incident, while Paez “opened a drawer and retrieved a handgun and placed it on a chair.”

Charges were dropped against one of the two men falsely arrested, but the other was sentenced to a year in jail (according to the LA Times’ Kate Mather).


DCFS DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT

On Wednesday’s Air Talk, host Larry Mantle talks with Philip Browning, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services about the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report.

Browning has some interesting things to say about the commission’s recommendations, so take a listen.

Here is a clip from the episode’s summary:

The department’s director, Philip Browning, says they have an oversight body already – the Board of Supervisors. He says many of the ideas have been instituted already – “about 96% have been partially or fully implemented.”

He goes on to say new social-worker training incorporates home-call simulations and promotes critical thinking and common sense. Was the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection more of the same – or critical to overhaul DCFS? What will the Board of Supervisors decide?


DOJ ANNOUNCES NEW CLEMENCY CRITERIA

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative by the Department of Justice to open up the possibility of clemency to low-level drug offenders sentenced under outdated federal guidelines.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the new, broader criteria for clemency applications.

Here’s a clip from the Justice Dept. website:

Under the new initiative, the department will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following factors:

They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;

They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;

They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;

They do not have a significant criminal history;

They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and

They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole. “Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.”

Posted in Foster Care, jail, LASD, War on Drugs | 9 Comments »

Supervisors on Recommended Foster Care Reform, From Prison to Campaigning for State Assembly, Federal Recidivism Study…and More

April 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RESPONDS TO COMMISSION’S FINAL FOSTER CARE REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors responded to final recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. The Supes did not all agree on specific DCFS reforms—Supe Zev Yaroslavsky called the creation of a separate oversight panel “a non-starter”—but did agree to study the final report before acting on any recommendations.

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

Citing years of reforms, reports, and even court cases aimed at overhauling the Department of Children and Family Services, commissioner Leslie Gilbert-Lurie told the board that the county needs an oversight team to make sure the reform proposals don’t gather dust on the shelves in the county building.

“Recommendations will come and go,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “As we can all now recite in our sleep, there have been hundreds of them. The problem fundamentally is not a lack of good ideas or of good people.”

An oversight panel is the reform several commissioners called the most important. It’s also the most controversial among county leaders.

The panel has also suggested creating an Office of Child Protection to coordinate amongst the numerous agencies (DCFS, law enforcement, District Attorney, Department of Health) that touch on child welfare going forward.

“A solid structure that takes in good ideas, assesses them, funds them, implements them, and holds people accountable for better results than in the past will lead to sustainable change,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted against creating the blue ribbon panel in the first place, called the idea a “turkey.”

“What this issue needs is not more bureaucracy and more commissions, it needs results,” Yaroslavsky said.

The supervisor said moving resources from one under-funded department to a brand new one is hardly a solution.

“It’s a non-starter with me,” he said, though he said many of the ideas contained in the report were worth pursuing and more practical.

Board President Don Knabe has also expressed skepticism that more county agencies and commissions is that way to go.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pushed for the blue ribbon panel, said he’s “undeterred.”


PROPHET WALKER: FROM LOCKUP TO RUNNING FOR STATE ASSEMBLY

To say that Prophet Walker had a rough beginning, would be a rather large understatement. He grew up in the projects in Watts, was abandoned as a young child by his mother, and landed himself in prison at age 16. While in prison, Prophet made impressive use of his time, getting a college education, and helping to persuade the CDCR to allow certain young offenders to pursue education in lower security prisons.

Now, ten years later, Prophet is running for a state Assembly seat with the help of some serious mentors and supporters (namely “Hangover” producer Scott Budnick and Carol Biondi, commissioner of the LA County Commission for Children and Families).

James Rainey has a very cool Column One story about Prophet. Here’s how it opens:

The kids at Compton YouthBuild can be a tough audience. Many come from broken homes, flunked out of multiple schools, even spent time in jail.

By the last day of Black History Month, some at the alternative school — which looks boarded shut from Compton Boulevard — had gotten their fill of talk about hope and perseverance.

On this late Friday afternoon, though, a tall young man strode into their big multipurpose room and flashed a flawless smile. He looked a bit like the rapper Drake. Or so said a girl near the front, giggling.

When the visitor began, “How many people here are familiar with Nickerson Gardens?” some of the students stopped mugging and poking one another. They not only knew the housing project where their guest came up, they knew other young men not unlike him whose mothers struggled with addiction, who had children while still nearly children themselves, who had let violence win them over.

But his story didn’t end like most. He found a way to keep learning while behind bars, went to college, then got a job overseeing big-ticket construction projects. He told the students of knowing Kendrick Lamar from back in the day and how he recently visited the hip-hop star backstage at one of his shows. Hearing that, one boy in the audience whistled in admiration and exclaimed: “Damn!”

Not only had their visitor played fate for a fool, he had a name that seemed plucked straight from a Spike Lee drama: Prophet. Prophet Walker.

“A lot of people who came from the ‘hood don’t do anything. But he came back,” student Jonathan Chase Butler said after Walker’s talk. “He is trying to speak to us and inspire us, and I see I can actually push forward and keep going. That is huge.”

Now Walker, just 26, is trying to build on his unlikely story. With no experience in politics or government, he’s running for the California Assembly, hoping to represent a district that stretches from South L.A. to Compton, Carson and a slice of Long Beach.
Such is the power of his resurrection tale that actor Matt Damon has donated to his campaign and television pioneer Norman Lear sponsored a fundraiser.

His high-powered supporters tend to focus on Walker’s inspiring rise out of bleak beginnings. As he steps onto a bigger public stage, though, he will also have to address more directly what happened during his fall…

Read on.


NEW FEDERAL STUDY ON RECIDIVISM

Two-thirds of inmates released in 2005 were rearrested within three years, and three-quarters were rearrested within five years, according to a new study released by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The study samples former prisoner data from 30 states, including California, between 2005-2010, and is the first large-scale federal study of its kind in almost 20 years.

Here’s a clip of some of the study’s key findings from the BJS announcement:

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year…

During the five years after release, prisoners in the study were arrested about 1.2 million times across the country. A sixth (16 percent) of released prisoners were responsible for nearly half (48 percent) of the arrests. About two in five (42 percent) released prisoners were either not arrested or were arrested no more than once in the five years after release.

The longer released prisoners went without being arrested, the less likely they were to be arrested at all during the follow-up period. For example, 43 percent of released prisoners were arrested within one year of release, compared to 13 percent of those not arrested by the end of year four who were arrested in the fifth year after release.

Among prisoners released in 2005 in 23 states with available data on inmates returned to prison, about half (50 percent) had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new crime within three years that led to imprisonment, and more than half (55 percent) had a parole or probation violation or an arrest within five years that led to imprisonment.

Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.

Released prisoners who were incarcerated for a violent, property or drug crime were more likely than other released inmates to be arrested for a similar type of crime. Regardless of the incarceration offense, the majority (58 percent) of released prisoners were arrested for a public order offense within five years of release. An estimated 39 percent of released prisoners were arrested within five years for a drug offense, 38 percent for a property offense and 29 percent for a violent offense.

Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.


MAN WITH ALCOHOLIC TRIAL LAWYER STILL HEADED FOR EXECUTION

In yet another example of a flawed capital punishment system, a “borderline” mentally disabled man, Robert Wayne Holsey, faces execution in Georgia—a fate he would not likely be faced with had he been provided competent counsel. Instead, Holsey was represented by Andy Prince, a lawyer who says he drank a quart of alcohol per day during the death penalty trial.

Mother Jones’ Marc Bookman has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the early hours of December 17, 1995, Robert Wayne Holsey was arrested and charged for the murder of Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson, who pulled over Holsey’s car following the armed robbery of a Jet Food Store in the county seat of Milledgeville. As with any killing of a police officer, it was a high-profile affair. Most of the county’s judges attended Robinson’s funeral, and many sent flowers. To ensure an impartial hearing, the trial had to be moved two counties away.

Like the great majority of people arrested for serious crimes, Holsey could not afford a lawyer; he had to depend on the court to appoint one for him. But it is reasonable to wonder why any court would have chosen Andy Prince for the job. Beyond his chronic alcohol problem and the financial judgments piling up against him, Prince did not generally handle cases in the Milledgeville area.

As it turns out, little thought was given to his suitability. The selection process in the Holsey case conjures up the old military trope about volunteering by means of everyone else taking a step backward. “Because of who the victim was, nobody within the circuit wanted to be appointed to this case,” Prince later testified. “And I told [the judge], sure, I’d take it.”

On one condition: He insisted on picking his co-counsel. Prince had handled capital cases before, and with some success, but he’d only worked on the more traditional guilt/innocence part of the representation—never the crucial sentencing phase. He contacted Rob Westin, the lawyer he’d collaborated with previously. Westin said he’d do it, but then reversed himself in short order. Westin “had gone to the solicitor’s office in Baldwin County,” Prince later explained, “and had been told that they couldn’t believe that he was representing Mr. Holsey and that if he continued to represent him he would never get another deal worked out with that office.”

His next attempt to secure co-counsel failed as well; the lawyer quit after a few months on the case and took a job with the state attorney general’s office. Seven months before the trial date, Prince finally found his “second chair” in Brenda Trammell, a lawyer who practiced in Morgan County, where the case was to be tried: “She was about the only one that would take it.”

As for Trammell, she assumed she was selected “based on proximity,” as she later testified. “I had not tried to trial a death penalty case and I waited for him to tell me what to do, and there really was not a lot of direction in that way.”

There was still one thing missing. What distinguishes capital murder trials from noncapital ones is the penalty phase, wherein the jury hears additional evidence and determines the appropriate punishment—usually choosing between death and life without parole. During this phase, a “mitigation specialist,” whom the American Bar Association (ABA) describes as “an indispensable member of the defense team throughout all capital proceedings,” gathers information that might convince jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Indeed, the court provided Holsey’s defense team with sufficient funds to hire a mitigation specialist, but no one was ever able to account for the money. Prince later said that he didn’t remember what happened to it, only that he was certain no mitigation specialist was ever hired. Which may explain Trammell’s response to this question from Holsey’s appeals lawyer.

Q: When you got into the case, was there any theory with respect to mitigation in the event that he was convicted?

A: No, sir.

Mitigation theory or not, Holsey went on trial for his life in February 1997.

Read the rest.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

The Power of LASD Inspector General…Breakdown of Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…DOJ to Consider Thousands of New Clemency Requests…and More

April 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DOES LASD CIVILIAN WATCHDOG MAX HUNTSMAN HOLD ENOUGH SWAY TO CLEAN UP THE DEPARTMENT?

In January Max Huntsman took on the role of Inspector General over the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But as civilian oversight of a department with an elected sheriff, Huntsman does not have the power to enforce reform. The only way he can turn up the heat on the department is by focusing a public spotlight on areas in need of reform, and making recommendations.

Monday NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at Huntsman’s power as IG, and whether it will be enough to bring some lasting change to the department.

Here’s a clip (but go take a listen):

Max Huntsman’s job — in the newly created role of watchdog — is to help clean up the department. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any real power.

In a sign perhaps of how unglamorous his new job will be, Huntsman’s new digs are a cramped collection of dark offices and cubicles, two floors above the famous food stalls of LA’s Grand Central Market.

On a recent visit, he had just one employee — a receptionist — but soon a team of 30 lawyers, auditors and retired law enforcement officers will be in place here. They’ll help Huntsman set up a system to monitor the Sheriff’s Department — namely its jails.

Just blocks from here, at the Men’s Central Jail, deputies are accused of beating and choking inmates without provocation, harassing visitors, then conspiring to cover it all up. In the indictments last fall, federal prosecutors portrayed a “culture of corruption” inside the agency.

“The bottom line is, I think you need to have people looking over your shoulder and knowing what you’re doing in order to make sure those cliques don’t develop, that you don’t get a group of people in the jail who think of themselves more as a gang than as deputy sheriffs,” says Huntsman. “That’s when you don’t have that light shining that that happens.”

That “light” is really the only tool Huntsman will have. Unlike a police chief in a big city who answers to the mayor or a civilian commission, LA’s sheriff is elected and enjoys a lot of autonomy. Huntsman can only present his findings and recommend reforms.

So far he’s gotten a warm welcome and promises of cooperation — but it’s early.

“They really, really want to respond to all these problems,” says Huntsman, “as they should. I mean, there are federal indictments on the table, there’s talk of a federal consent decree, or a memorandum of understanding.”


THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON FOSTER CARE’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORMING DCFS AND BETTER PROTECTING LA’S MOST VULNERABLE

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has a helpful analysis of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s recommendation for a new and separate entity to oversee and unite the Department of Children and Family Services and other county departments involved in child welfare.

Kelly also breaks down the rest of the commission’s final report and recommendations presented to the Board of Supervisors, including lower caseloads for social workers and boosted funding for relatives taking care of children in the DCFS system who would otherwise be in foster care.


DOJ OPENING UP CRITERIA FOR CLEMENCY APPLICATIONS TO PRE-FAIR SENTENCING ACT NON-VIOLENT DRUG OFFENDERS

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (mostly) balanced out the 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sale convictions and those for crack cocaine sales. Still, there are thousands of drug offenders serving longer sentences than they would be given under the FSA.

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Dept. is launching an initiative to grant clemency to non-violent crack cocaine offenders sentenced under pre-FSA outdated and harsh mandatory minimums.

The DOJ will also be beefing up the number of attorneys in the pardons office to handle the influx of clemency applications.

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

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder has announced a series of initiatives to tackle disparities in criminal penalties, beginning in August, when he said that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would not be charged with offenses that call for severe mandatory sentences. He has traveled across the country to highlight community programs in which nonviolent offenders have received substance abuse treatment and other assistance instead of long prison sentences.

Underlying the initiatives is the belief by top Justice Department officials that the most severe penalties should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. On April 10, after an endorsement from Holder, the U.S. Sentencing Commission — the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges — voted to revise its guidelines to reduce sentences for defendants in most of the nation’s drug cases.

In the meantime, however, thousands of inmates are still serving federally mandated sentences that imposed strict penalties for the possession of crack cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed in 2010, reduced the disparity between convictions for crack and powder cocaine, and Obama has called sentences passed under the older guidelines “unduly harsh.” The law also eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the simple possession of crack cocaine.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said Monday. “This is simply not right.”

[SNIP]

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce details about the new criteria the Justice Department will use in considering clemency applications and how the department plans to review those applications.

The department has asked the American Civil Liberties Union and other nonprofit groups to help identify candidates for clemency. Some of those groups are likely to help inmates submit the necessary paperwork.


PARTISAN SHIFTS IN SENTENCING REFORM STANCES

As sentencing reform is picking up steam at national and state levels, once stark party lines are blurring. The realities of mass incarceration, especially the fiscal consequences, have created a shift in positions. Conservatives, formerly of a tough-on-crime mindset, are now some of the strongest supporters of sentencing reform.

For instance, the Texas-based conservative program Right on Crime has—successfully—led Texas’ prison reform agenda. Once faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis, the state has built up rehabilitation programs and incarceration alternatives. Instead of building new prisons and leasing more space in private facilities (looking at you, California), Texas is closing prisons and saving millions.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has more on the partisan shift. Here’s a clip:

…As the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most far-reaching changes in years to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups seeking to rehabilitate convicts.

A surprising number of high-profile Republicans are working arm in arm with Democrats on legislation to shorten jail terms and hasten prisoner releases. At the same time, in their own reversal of sorts, key Democrats are arguing against the legislation in its current form.

“It’s a little counterintuitive,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a conservative former judge who is co-sponsoring a proposal to let tens of thousands of inmates out of federal prisons early if they complete rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

As soon as this month, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that combines two bills that easily passed the Judiciary Committee. One cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and the other makes it easier to win early release. The combined measure would also make retroactive a 2010 law that reduced sentences for those previously convicted of possessing crack cocaine.

The legislation has attracted strong support from Republican conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. “I think it’s a mistake for people to assume that all conservatives or all Republicans have the same view in this regard, that we should kill them all and let God sort it out,” said Paul Larkin, a criminal justice expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Sentencing nonviolent offenders to decades in prison is “costly, not only in dollars but also the people involved,” Larkin said. “Sending someone to prison for a long time is tantamount to throwing that person away.”

But the new politics of crime remain complicated, with some old-line Republicans still opposed to the proposals. “Do we really want offenders like these out on the streets earlier than is the case now, to prey on our citizens?” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a recent Senate speech, referring to the bill to ease mandatory-minimum sentences. Grassley, however, supports the early-release proposal.

In a twist, some key Democrats are also opposed to the efforts to relax mandatory minimums and allow early releases, while others remain on the fence. Facing a Republican campaign to seize control of the Senate this fall, Democrats are concerned about appearing soft on crime, a vulnerability that has haunted them in the past.

Posted in Foster Care, Inspector General, LASD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 20 Comments »

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

April 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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


CALIFORNIA WOLF NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

April 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO NOTEWORTHY LASD-RELATED LA TIMES STORIES

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here are some clips:

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Probation | 62 Comments »

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

April 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

We are heartbroken

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

And here are live updates from the scene.


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

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

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

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

April 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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


ANOTHER CALIFORNIA FOR-PROFIT PRISON DEAL

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS CAMP STORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go read the rest.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A FATHER’S TAKE ON STOP-AND-FRISK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on.


THE IMPORTANCE OF AN OBSERVED SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT VALUE SYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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


AND IN LA TIMES-RELATED NEWS…

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

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

Faturechi tweeted the news on Tuesday:

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

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

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

March 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NEXT CHAPTER ON THE ONGOING CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM STORY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s complicated.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

Read the draft order HERE:

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

Nash’s rewritten order fixes all that.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on.


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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