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Firearm Access Heightens Risk of Homicide/Suicide…Worthwhile Editorials…Private Prison Group Donates Max to Brown’s Campaign…and Sheriff Candidate Updates

January 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

ACCESS TO GUNS DOUBLES AND TRIPLES RISK OF BEING MURDERED AND COMMITTING SUICIDE, RESPECTIVELY, SAYS SURVEY

People who have access to firearms are two times more likely to be killed, and three times more likely to commit suicide, according to a new analysis of a number of gun violence studies. Author Andrew Anglemyer and colleagues at UC San Francisco conducted a large-scale review of data from California (and other states), the United States, and other countries.

Reuter’s Andrew Seaman has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

For the new review, the researchers analyzed 14 studies that looked at the risk of committing suicide among people who did and didn’t have access to guns and five studies that looked at gun access and the risk of being murdered. Four of the studies examined both suicide and murder risk.

The studies were published between 1988 and 2005. All but one found people with access to firearms had heightened risks of dying from suicide and murder.

“Most analyses will find some conflicting studies,” Anglemyer told Reuters Health. “That’s not at all what we see here.”

The researchers found having access to a gun was tied to a three-fold increase in the likelihood that people would kill themselves.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 12 out of every 100,000 people commit suicide each year.

Anglemyer’s team also found about a two-fold increased risk of death from murder among people who had access to a gun, compared to those without access to firearms. For women, the increased risk of being killed was even higher.

Here’s a clip from the abstract:

Firearms cause an estimated 31 000 deaths annually in the United States. Data from the 16-state National Violent Death Reporting System indicate that 51.8% of deaths from suicide in 2009 (n = 9949) were firearm-related; among homicide victims (n = 4057), 66.5% were firearm-related. Most suicides (76.4%) occurred in the victims’ homes. Homicides also frequently occurred in the home, with 45.5% of male victims and 74.0% of female victims killed at home.

Firearm ownership is more prevalent in the United States than in any other country; approximately 35% to 39% of households have firearms, and 22% of persons report owning firearms. The annual rate of suicide by firearms (6.3 suicides per 100 000 residents) is higher in the United States than in any other country with reported data, and the annual rate of firearm-related homicide in the United States (7.1 homicides per 100 000 residents) is the highest among high-income countries (4). Results from ecological studies suggest that state restrictions on firearm ownership are associated with decreases in firearm-related suicides and homicides (5).

…The apparent increased risk for suicide associated with firearms in the home is not unique to persons with a history of mental illness (7) and may be more of an indicator of the ease of impulsive suicide.

Impulsiveness may be a catalyst in using a firearm to commit suicide and may also play a role in firearm-related homicide. Researchers have estimated higher odds of homicide victimization among women than men (9–10). Because most homicide victims know their perpetrators (9), this finding may indicate an impulsive reaction to domestic disputes.


TWO INTERESTING EDITORIALS FROM THE LA AND NY TIMES

A new LA Times editorial takes a look at “pay-for-success” financing for social programs—in which a non-profit and/or private enterprise put up money and run such programs as, say, helping prisoners successfully reenter their communities. If they are effective, they are then repaid with government money. Various states are experimenting with the idea, including California, but there may be pitfalls. Here’s a clip:

The cornerstone of criminal justice reform is the belief that offenders leaving prison could be prevented from committing new crimes and getting locked up all over again, if only government could find the right social service organization to provide the right programming. Crime would drop, some prisons could close and taxpayers would save money.

First, though, officials have to identify rehabilitation programs that work, and that means evaluating claims and evidence offered by competing providers, and perhaps making so many wrong choices before landing on the right one that the effort hardly seems worth it. Even elected officials and high-ranking bureaucrats who believe in criminal justice reform are skittish about trying something new, so they often give in to their colleagues who prefer costly and unsuccessful but comfortably familiar policies on sentencing, imprisonment and parole.

But what if someone else agrees to take all the risk? What if some outsider — a nonprofit service provider, let’s say, or a charitable foundation, or maybe even a commercial bank — raises the funds, runs the program, produces the results, then gets reimbursed with public money only after presenting verified proof of success?

Later this year, analysts will publish results of an experiment along those lines begun in 2010 at Peterborough Prison outside London. The social impact bond project, as this kind of financing and problem-solving innovation is often called, uses money put up by investors and managed by a nonprofit group, which contracts with another organization to provide recently released inmates with mentoring and other services intended to break the cycle of re-offending.

If an independent evaluator confirms that the program “worked,” as defined by agreed-upon criteria for decreasing new convictions — and preliminary analyses are encouraging — the British government will repay the investors’ capital plus an agreed-upon premium. If the success targets aren’t met, the investors eat the costs and the taxpayers owe nothing.

Yesterday, we pointed to a story about the US immigration lock-up quota (34,000 detainees). A strongly-worded NY Times editorial says the billions spent on detention and border patrol is wasteful and ineffective, and downright damaging to immigrant families. Here’s a clip:

It is mindless to keep throwing billions at border enforcement and detention at a time when illegal immigration is at historic lows, when other, more pressing government functions are being starved and when none of the money spent actually goes toward solving the problem.

Take the irrational obligation to fill all those detention beds, at a cost of about $122 a day. Why make the people who run a vast and expensive law-enforcement apparatus responsible for keeping prison beds warm rather than communities safe — especially when there are low-cost alternatives to detention that don’t involve fattening the bottom lines of for-profit prison corporations?

Congress’s arbitrary detention mandates and the Obama administration’s aggressive use of its enforcement powers have pushed deportations to record levels of 400,000 a year. This has had no discernible effect on the overall problem, but it has caused abundant anguish in immigrant families and their communities.

What’s most disheartening about the spending splurge is that it attacks only the symptoms of the ailing immigration system…


FOR-PROFIT PRISON COMPANY GIVES MAXIMUM DONATION TO GOV. BROWN’S REELECTION CAMPAIGN

The private prison company GEO Group has already maxed out their legal limit for donations to Governor Jerry Brown’s campaign for reelection, donating a total of $54,400. While Gov. Brown’s recently released budget proposal banks on federal judges pushing back their prison overcrowding deadline by two years, $500M was still set aside to send more than 17,000 inmates to private prisons like GEO Group (practitioner of alarming profit-making “lock-up quotas”). (Read the backstory here.)

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

Labor unions, Hollywood’s glitterati, California philanthropists and a private company profiting from Gov. Jerry Brown’s fight over prison crowding are among 72 top donors who have maxed out on contributions to Brown’s reelection campaign even before he officially runs.

Brown’s campaign fund reports receiving two $27,200 checks in early January from the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla. The company in September signed contracts with the state worth $150 million to house 1,400 inmates in two low-security facilities within California, in Adelanto and in McFarland. That’s more than double the $25,900 that GEO gave to Brown late in the 2010 race, an amount it also gave to Brown’s competitor, Meg Whitman.


BOB OLMSTED TO RELEASE PLAN TO REFORM SHERIFF’S DEPT.

LA County Sheriff hopeful Bob Olmsted will be holding a press conference today (Wednesday) at 11AM outside of Men’s Central Jail to reveal his plan for reforming the department, should he be elected. (We’ll have more on the details tomorrow.)

(And, by the way, former Undersheriff/Sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka was interviewed on KFI’s John and Ken Show on Tuesday evening. It’s…very lively, and not something you’d want to miss. Trust us.)


SUPES SCHEDULE ANOTHER CLOSED-DOOR MEETING TO DISCUSS INTERIM SHERIFF CANDIDATES

On Thursday, Jan. 23, the LA County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a special private session to consider interim Sheriff contenders to replace Lee Baca when he retires at the end of January. (Backstory here, if you missed it.) A decision is expected very soon. We’ll keep you posted.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 24 Comments »

An “Epidemic” of Brady Violations…ATF Agents Behaving Badly…. Fed Judges Now Add Solitary to CA Prison Talks

December 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI FOR THE 9TH CIRCUIT SEZ THERE IS AN EPIDEMIC OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

The Huffington Post’s Radley Balko (one of our favorite criminal justice journalists and the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop) reports on the series of statements by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Alex Kozinski—and what is behind Kozenski’s blistering fury. Here’s a clip:

The dissent by Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, from a decision not to rehear U.S. v. Olsen starts off with a bang:

There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.

Brady, of course, is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. In Olsen, a ruling from a three-judge 9th Circuit panel in January detailed extensive questionable conduct on the part of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks (*see clarification below), who works for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. (Kozinski’s opinion this week doesn’t name Hicks, nor do most press accounts of the decision, but I will. These prosecutors need to be identified by name.)

[BIG SNIP]

The U.S. Department of Justice is stingy when it comes to releasing information about disciplining federal prosecutors for misconduct, but it seems unlikely Hicks will face any real sanction. Recent media investigations have found that such discipline is rare. Even in cases involving high-profile, egregious misconduct, like the prosecution of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, prosecutors can usually duck any serious sanction. In the Stevens case, the DOJ imposed light suspensions on the offending prosecutors, and even those were later overturned by an administrative law judge. (You could make a strong argument that federal prosecutors have more protections against professional sanction than criminal defendants do against violations of their constitutional rights by federal prosecutors.)

Offenbecher says it’s unlikely that he’ll file a complaint against Hicks. That isn’t uncommon, either. Defense attorneys have to work with prosecutors on behalf of other clients, including negotiating favorable plea bargains. Putting yourself in the cross-hairs of a U.S. attorney’s office can make it very difficult to be an effective advocate. That’s a lot of risk to take on, especially if it’s unlikely that anything will actually come of the complaint.


FEDERAL ATF AGENTS PAY TROUBLED 19 YEAR OLD TO GET JOINT SMOKING SQUID TATTOO….AND WORSE

This story falls into the please-tell-us-you’re-kidding category.

The Atlantic Monthly’s Coner Friedersdorf and Andrew Cohen draw attention to an astonishing, and largely ignored story broken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’s alleged use of a string of mentally disabled locals in a number of US cities to drum up business for their various stings, later arresting the people they’d used.

And then the ATF’s behavior really got crazy.

Here’s a clip:

Lately infamous for the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, the ATF now has the dubious distinction of bankrolling even-more-questionable behavior, which my colleague Andrew Cohen details here. The newspaper leads its latest investigative article with a headline-friendly anecdote about Aaron Key, a mentally disabled 19-year-old who started hanging out with the guys who ran a smoke shop near his house, taking them for friends. As it turns out, they were undercover ATF agents. And they paid the troubled teen and a friend $150 apiece to tattoo the fake shop’s emblem on their necks.

But digging into the story, it’s evident that undercover employees were engaged in far more objectionable behavior.

In cities around the United States, the ATF set up fake stores—often but not always pawn shops—set up surveillance cameras, conducted lots of illegal business over many months, and arrested various customers at the end of the sting. Normally federal law-enforcement agencies don’t set up operations guaranteed to mostly snare low-level individual criminals operating at the local level.

Questionable resource allocation aside, the really shocking parts of this scandal involve what happened at the neighborhood level as several of these stores were being operated. Just take a look at the newspaper’s bullet-point summary….

To find the summary, click here. And for the whole series, go here.


FEDERAL JUDGES ADD THE ISSUE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO THE CALIFORNIA PRISON NEGOTIATIONS

As the mandated negotiations continue to try to nail down a long-term plan that will lower California’s prison population, as ordered by the US Supremes, a new element has found its way into the talks, reports the LA Times’ Paige St. John. Here’s a clip from St. John’s story:

Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding have asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday said he had accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges issued an order extending negotiations to Jan. 10, and pushing the state’s deadline to reduce crowding to April 18.

Karlton is holding hearings on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and also sits on the federal three-judge panel that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding.

California has been ordered to remove 7,000 inmates from state prisons, reductions that judges say are needed to remedy unconstitutionally dangerous conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care. In Wednesday’s order, the judges said they expect no further extension in the talks, “absent extraordinary circumstances,” but that does not preclude additional delays in the actual crowding deadline.

[SNIP]

Transcripts of courtroom hearings show the talks took a twist after Thanksgiving, when Karlton said he was concerned about some 230 mentally ill prisoners currently housed in isolation cells, though they have committed no infraction. State prison officials say they are there for their own protection, or while awaiting space in a mental health unit.

Karlton said he told the other federal judges “that as far as I was concerned” the state’s request for an extension to reduce prison overcrowding should not be granted as long as those mentally ill inmates were being held in isolation units.

Lawyers for California made it clear that the state is eager to address the judge’s concerns about solitary confinement. Transcripts show that at one point last week, state officials were rushing documents to the judge for review. At another, they offered to produce Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to speak with Karlton. The judge said he was told Brown’s office responded that it “understood the nature of the problem” and promised a quick remedy….

Posted in CDCR, Courts, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, How Appealing, law enforcement, solitary | No Comments »

Exoneration 12 Years After Evidence Revealed…California Assembly Panel Approves Brown’s $315M Prison Plan…Voters Support Reducing Prison Spending and Overcrowding…and More Missing Guns

August 30th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

TWO REPORTERS PUBLICLY PROVE INMATE’S INNOCENCE, MAN FREED OVER A DECADE LATER

Daniel Taylor spent twenty-one years behind bars because of a coerced false murder confession, but not because the absolving evidence wasn’t out there.

Maurice Possley and his reporting partner at the Chicago Tribune, Steve Mills, found and published strong evidence of Taylor’s innocence in 2001. Still, it took prosecutors in Illinois twelve years to own up to the wrongful conviction and dismiss the case.

Possley expertly lays out Taylor’s heartrending story in a lengthy piece for the Atlantic. Here are a few clips from the beginning:

During nearly 25 years as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, I received hundreds of requests for help from convicted defendants. None was more compelling than the hand-printed letter from Daniel Taylor, a 25-year-old inmate at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. In neat block letters, Daniel explained that he was serving a life sentence without parole for a double murder in Chicago in 1992. Even though Daniel had given a court-reported confession, he said he was innocent and he had police records that proved it.

[SNIP]

…in December 2001, the Tribune published our five-part series, “Cops and Confessions,” Daniel’s case was the subject of an entire installment. We had uncovered strong evidence of Daniel’s innocence—evidence that he was actually in jail at the time of the crime and that his confession was false.

I had never been so confident of a convicted defendant’s innocence. And I never imagined nearly 12 years would pass before Cook County prosecutors would admit the truth and dismiss his conviction. But it finally happened. On June 28, 2013, Daniel, who was arrested at age 17, was released at age 38, having spent more than 20 years behind bars.

[SNIP]

The story of Daniel’s wrongful conviction begins with the gunshot murders of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook in an apartment on Chicago’s North Side on November 16, 1992. A neighbor heard the shots, looked out the window, and saw four men leaving, one of whom noticed her and pointed a finger in warning. The witness soon identified Dennis Mixon, a West Side cocaine dealer, as one of the men, but police couldn’t find him.

Two weeks later, police picked up 15-year-old Lewis Gardner and 19-year-old Akia Phillips for selling marijuana on a street corner near the scene of the shooting. Gardner, who had an IQ of 70, told police he got his drugs from Deon Patrick and implicated Patrick in the shooting. Police said Gardner and Phillips confessed to being lookouts for the gunmen and said they also implicated Daniel Taylor, Joseph Brown, Phillips’ brother Paul, and Rodney Mathews.

Daniel, who had been declared a ward of the state at age 11 because his mother was a cocaine addict, had lived in a dozen foster homes over the ensuing years. At that time, he was living in a state facility. He was picked up in December and taken to a police station, where detectives said he confessed almost immediately. His statement was transcribed by a court reporter.

Daniel told us a different version. He said he was smacked in the head with a flashlight and was told that he had been implicated by others. He said the detectives told him if he gave a statement, he would be released, so he told them what they wanted to hear: that he, Mathews, Patrick, and Mixon went to the apartment to collect a drug debt owed to Mixon. According to the statement, when Lassiter said he couldn’t pay, Patrick shot him dead. Taylor and Mixon then held Haugabook’s arms and Patrick shot her as well.

The woman who had identified Mixon viewed a lineup and said she recognized Daniel from the neighborhood, but that he was not one of the four men she saw the night of the murders.

After the lineup, when detectives told Daniel he was being charged with murder, Daniel realized he was not being released. So he told the detectives the truth: He had been in jail on the night of the murders. A check showed that, in fact, Daniel had been arrested for fighting in a park that night at about 6:45 p.m., and jail records showed he was released about 10 p.m. and the murders occurred at 8:43 p.m.

But Daniel was not released.

Instead, detectives went about constructing a case to support his confession…


CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE APPROVES BROWN’S $315M PRISON DEAL

The California Assembly Budget Committee Thursday morning unanimously approved Governor Jerry Brown’s $315M prison-leasing plan to ease prison overcrowding by the federal court’s end-of-the-year deadline. If the bill passes through the Assembly, it will have to contend with the Senate.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg has publicly opposed Gov. Brown’s plan and presented an alternative plan Wednesday that would seek population reduction through a sentencing commission, rehabilitation programs, and a three-year delay on the court’s quickly-approaching December deadline. (For more backstory go here.)

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has the latest. Here’s a clip:

If the bill is approved by the full Assembly, it sets the stage for a showdown in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the measure and are insisting that more money be spent on rehabilitation and drug treatment services for felons so they do not end up back in prison after their release.

Members of the Assembly Budget Committee approved the legislation on a bipartisan 21-0 vote Thursday, with members saying they were allocating the additional money in SB 105 reluctantly and would rather spend the money on other priorities, including schools and universities.

[SNIP]

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) criticized the decision to spend more to use state prison guards to staff a private prison the state will rent in California City.

Currently, California spends $142 per prisoner per day for inmates in its own prisons and $63 to $67 to lease beds in private facilities out of state.

“I can’t understand why we would take it out of the private sector at half the cost and turn it over to the state at double the cost and use taxpayer dollars to fund the difference,” Grove said.


AND WHILE WE ARE ON THE TOPIC OF WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO EASE OVERCROWDING…

California voters show broad support for criminal justice reforms that reduce spending and prison population, according to a new survey commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice and conducted by David Binder Research.

Sixteen-hundred California voters from across the state took part in the survey. Here are some highlights from the results:

Establish a Public Safety Commission, made up of criminal justice experts, to streamline California’s criminal statutes with the goal of safely reducing prison costs and maximizing public safety:
74% Support / 14% Oppose

Allow judges to consider, with victim input, releasing elderly and frail inmates that are no longer a threat to public safety, and who have less than life without parole sentences:
70% Support / 22% Oppose

Expand effective treatment programs for mentally ill people instead of putting these people in prison:
80% Support / 13% Oppose

Financially reward counties that reduce the number of people sent to state prison and county jail through evidence-based community programs proven to reduce repeat offending and help former offenders become productive Californians:
59% Support / 28% Oppose

Allow inmates who were not sentenced to life without parole or death to earn early release from prison by completing rehabilitation programs, paying victim restitution, and completing job training and educational programs:
66% Support / 25% Oppose


GUNS STOLEN STOLEN FROM CHP VEHICLE

Everyone was upset about the LASD’s missing M-16, but in the interest of fair play, it’s important that we also bring your attention to a weapon theft during a CHP training session this week. Guns and equipment, including two AR-15 assault rifles and an officer’s badge, were stolen from a CHP car Monday afternoon. None of the firearms have been recovered, thus far.

Santa Clarita Valley News’ Leon Worden has the story. Here’s a clip:

According to both crime broadcasts, the stolen weapons include two AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, two Remington shotguns and two Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handguns.

Also stolen were a bulletproof vest, handcuff keys and the officer’s CHP identification.

Some items were recovered near 120th Street and Central Avenue in Los Angeles. Specifically, the officer’s duty badge was recovered, but the weapons were not.

(The LA Times’ Joseph Serna also covered the theft.)


Photo from the Innocence Project of Florida.

Posted in criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, Innocence, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

Holder’s Reforms for California, Moving Female Inmates Far Away from Their Families, Hunger Strike, Prop 8, and the LASD’s Missing M-16

August 15th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA NEEDS TO TAKE CUES FROM AG ERIC HOLDER’S REFORMS

In an Op-Ed for the Sacramento Bee, president of the Rosenberg Foundation Timothy P. Silard applauds Attorney General Eric Holder’s reform package announced Monday, and calls on California to follow Holder’s lead with some badly-needed reforms on the state-level. Here are some clips:

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, nor can we ignore any longer the pervasive racial bias that threatens the very legitimacy of the system itself. Holder laid out a set of promising reforms at the federal level. They include doing away with draconian mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes; increasing the use of diversion programs that can serve as effective alternatives to incarceration; and assisting victims and empowering survivors of crime.

While such federal reforms are long overdue, we know that fundamental changes are even more sorely needed at the state and local levels. California in particular is ground zero on this issue, and the state was conspicuously absent from the list of states that the attorney general lauded as models. Other states are pioneering a shift away from an “incarceration only” approach and toward evidence-based programs and services that are designed to reduce re-offending – all while improving public safety and saving precious taxpayer dollars.

[SNIP]

First and foremost, we should stop over-incarcerating low-level drug offenders and the mentally ill, and instead mandate treatment programs and job training so they get on track and stop offending. Simple possession of tiny quantities of drugs is a felony in California; those offenses should be reduced to misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

The state also needs a “sentencing commission” to overhaul the complex hodgepodge of our penal code, applying tough sentences for violent crime while reducing sentences for less serious offenses.

Finally, we can use the savings from reducing the number of people in prison and jail to invest in crime prevention, in proven alternatives to incarceration and re-entry services, and for programs that help heal children exposed to violence.


“ORANGE” AUTHOR SAYS FEDS’ IMPENDING TRANSFER OF FEMALE PRISONERS TO DISTANT FACILITIES A CRIPPLING BLOW FOR FAMILIES

Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” has written an excellent Op-Ed for the NY Times about the impending transfer of over 1,000 low-security female inmates from a federal prison in Connecticut to Alabama and other facilities across the country—far away from their children, spouses, and communities. Here are some clips:

Nine years ago, I served 11 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., for a decade-old nonviolent drug crime. Danbury is the sole women-only federal prison in the Northeast and is part of a complex that typically incarcerates low-security female offenders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The aging hulk of the facility dates from 1940 and has housed women for nearly 20 years.

[SNIP]

Starting this month, the federal Bureau of Prisons will transfer the more than 1,000 women incarcerated in the main facility at Danbury to other prisons across the country to convert it to a men’s prison (the small satellite camp immediately adjacent, where I served my time, will still incarcerate approximately 210 women). The bureau says the plan will ease overcrowding in its men’s prisons.

This added geographic separation may as well be a second sentence for these women, who already have to make it through prison with limited visits from family, and for their children, who still need and want their moms. A mother’s incarceration has a devastating effect on her family, and experts say that maintaining contact with a parent in prison is critical to a child’s well-being. One in 28 children has a parent in prison today, and Danbury houses the mothers of at least 700 children.

The Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, plans to send most women from Danbury to a prison in Alabama, and possibly to other ones farther afield. For many families these new locations might as well be the moon.

(Read on…)


HUNGER STRIKE AT AN IMPASSE?

The California prisoner hunger strike is now in its sixth week, and neither the striking inmates, nor the CDCR seem ready to give up their positions.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has an update. Here’s a clip:

Although Gov. Jerry Brown has made no public comment on the protest, his corrections chief says it is controlled by violent prison gangs bent on increasing their power. Advocates for the inmates say spending 23 hours a day in a windowless cell for decades is a form of torture that must end.

Without visible progress on the issues that separate the two sides, the protest — launched July 8 when 30,000 inmates refused breakfast — has become largely a battle over public perception.

“Being rational seems to have left this debate,” said Jeanne Woodford, who ran California’s vast prison system under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and now teaches at UC Berkeley School of Law. “It’s people who have dug their heels in on both sides.”

The official tally of hunger strikers Tuesday was 287, including 133 who have refused prison meals for 36 days.

[SNIP]

The next scheduled opportunity to negotiate is Friday, at a settlement conference ordered this week by a federal magistrate in the Pelican Bay litigation.


CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT REJECTS PROP. 8 PETITION

The California Supreme Court Tuesday denied a petition to revive Prop. 8, thus eliminating the state’s last legal road block for gay marriage. (Go, California!)

SF Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here are a couple of clips:

The court order came seven weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by sponsors of Proposition 8, the initiative defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, of a federal judge’s ruling declaring the measure unconstitutional.

The first weddings took place June 28, after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered all 58 county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But because the nation’s high court did not rule on Prop. 8′s constitutionality, sponsors of the 2008 measure urged the California court to step in and declare that only the two same-sex couples who sued to overturn the law should be allowed to marry.

State officials replied that the federal court ruling was binding statewide, and the state’s high court went along – in a July 15 order refusing to halt the weddings, and in Wednesday’s final order dismissing the case.

With no more legal actions pending, the issue appears settled, with California joining 12 other states and Washington, D.C. – with a total of 30 percent of the nation’s population – recognizing same-sex marriage. Another U.S. Supreme Court ruling entitles the couples to the same federal benefits as opposite-sex spouses.

[SNIP]

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who represented the city as a co-plaintiff in the suit challenging the ballot measure, was more cautious.

“By now, I suppose we know better than to predict that Prop. 8 proponents will actually give up their fight,” Herrera said in a statement. But he called any possible remaining legal options “absurd.”

(Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog also has a worthwhile article on the court’s decision.)


LASD ASSAULT RIFLE UNACCOUNTED FOR SINCE FEBRUARY

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. officials say that the department has lost one of its M-16 assault rifles. The firearm was only recently discovered missing, although it is believed to have disappeared back in February. LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore says policies will be changed to keep better track of weapons, both military and otherwise.

KPCC’S Rob Strauss has the story on the missing rifle. Here’s a clip:

The weapon was federal surplus given to the department by the state Office of Emergency Services, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told KPCC. Hundreds of them are given to the department every year, which Whitmore said is particularly helpful during tough budget times.

“This one we believe went missing around the first part of February of this year, and it’s obviously an embarrassment, and it obviously just shouldn’t happen,” Whitmore said.

The OES has suspended the department’s ability to receive surplus weapons until it can prove they know where all those weapons are at any given time, Whitmore said.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, guns, LASD, LGBT | No Comments »

As Probation Arms More Officers, Are They Getting the Right Training? by Matthew Fleischer

July 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: Under AB 109—AKA realignment—thousands of low-level offenders who once would have been supervised, post release, by state parole, are now landing in the caseloads of county probation officers. The primary idea behind the switch is the notion that probation is better equipped than parole to help former inmates successfully reenter their communities, which, by extension, will help reduce California’s crushing recidivism rate.

But along with the low-level AB 109-ers coming to probation, there is a more challenging population, which has caused LA County’s probation department to quickly rethink some of its traditional methods, an endeavor that contains its own risks and challenges—especially when it comes to arming traditionally unarmed probation officers.

WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer reports.



INSIDERS SAY LA COUNTY PROBATION IS RIGHT TO EXPAND ITS ARMED UNIT—BUT QUESTION WHETHER NEWLY ARMED OFFICERS ARE GETTING ADEQUATE TRAINING

by Matthew Fleischer


On April 2, armed deputies from the Los Angeles County Probation Department’s Special Enforcement Operations unit (SEO) began an aggressive series of door-to-door sweeps throughout LA County. The targets of these operations were sex offender probationers whose crimes were serious enough to necessitate GPS tracking devices – a populace, according to the probation department, that includes child molesters and violent rapists.

Unlike more typical probation encounters where probationers schedule an office visit, SEO teams paid unannounced visits to their clients. Houses were searched, neighbors, friends and family members were interviewed, and computer hard drives were pored over to scan for illicit sexual material – all to ensure that the offenders’ terms of probation were being followed.

Sending armed probation officers into the field for compliance checks is far from unprecedented. Although the majority of those working for the department do not carry guns, members of a small, elite unit of armed LA County probation deputies have been participating in such sweeps since 1999.

This operation, however, was different.

For the first time ever, probation deputies handled these sweeps on their own – without police assistance. Given the potentially volatile nature of these field operations, and the likelihood of arrests being made, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies or local law enforcement departments have typically led the operations. Even with the cops in attendance, however, such sweeps can be dangerous, as was demonstrated on June 26 in South LA when an LAPD officer and probation officer were both shot, the LAPD cop seriously, during an ordinary complience check in South LA..

Handling these operations solo was an eye-opener for probation deputies.

“Our staff were surprised at how confrontational these guys were,” Assistant Chief Probation Officer Margarita Perez told WitnessLA. “Despite the fact we came in force.”

Incidents with occasional troublemakers notwithstanding, probation considered the operation a success. Over the course of more than three weeks, 137 homes were searched, resulting in 21 arrests

“We found criminal sex offenders living with children,” explained Perez of the arrests. “We found drugs. These checks are important.”


THE MATTER OF GUNS & PROBATION

If new chief probation officer Jerry Powers gets his way, this will only be the beginning of probation’s more aggressive role in monitoring its clients.

“I have an expectation that my probation deputies be more proactive,” Powers told WitnessLA. “We can’t adequately monitor offenders by just making contact in the office. Most offenders, when they come to see their probation officer, will be law abiding by that visit. They won’t come in under influence, they won’t be carrying a firearm, they won’t be wearing gang clothing. If we want a good handle on what our probationers are doing, we need to see them in their homes, at their work, and in the community.”

Powers’ stance has earned broad backing in LA County, largely because of AB 109 – the state’s realignment plan, which is moving thousands of inmates from the state’s prison system into probation monitoring. To deal with that new populace, which, the department claims, includes hundreds of “high-risk”* clientele, Powers plans to boost the number of armed deputies in the probation department to 100 by the end of the year, up from around 30 before he arrived.

“The number of armed officers we had when I got here, in my experience, was inadequate to do what we were expecting them to do,” says Powers.

The County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review agreed with Powers in March in its most recent report on the probation department, noting that “SEO is operating under capacity.”

Arming probation officers, however, is a move that is not without controversy.

“A probation officer is not a social worker, and they’re not a cop,” LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina famously told the LA Times back in 2003. “They’re in the middle, until you give them a gun. Then they’re a cop.”

Molina felt strongly enough about the matter at the time that she demanded all probation officers in her district be unarmed.

That was until April, however, when, for the first time, Molina signed off on armed probation sweeps in her district.

“Our policy hasn’t changed,” explained Molina spokesperson Roxane Marquez, “but we did make one big exception to it [for the] AB 109 compliance checks on sex offenders with GPS tracking devices.”

“She was supportive of it,” said Perez of Molina. “There was no issue there.”

Expanding the roster of armed probation deputies has broad support in the law enforcement community across California.

“AB 109 does cause a change in clientele that probation departments across California are dealing with,” explained Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz. “Their case load is now more likely to have hardened career criminals. So it’s absolutely appropriate for them to be able to defend themselves.”

Diaz says that more armed probation officers are absolutely necessary to deal with the AB 109 populace.

“To paraphrase Father Boyle, you need the light and the heat. [Probation deputies] have specialized knowledge about the people being supervised by probation. It is valuable to let AB 109 [clientele] know someone will be watching — that we want to help you move towards the light. In that mission, they will be in harm’s way dealing with some of these folks, and you don’t want to see anyone in probation killed for lack of adequate tools.”

Sources inside the Probation Department tell us that they too are supportive of the effort to arm more deputies in the face of AB 109.

“With AB 109, we’re dealing with a different type of criminal,” said one probation source who wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. “A person who has gone to prison has a level of criminal sophistication that people who have not gone to prison lack. People coming out of prison demand a certain type of respect. When you go to these guy’s houses, you don’t know what’s in store for you. So I don’t think arming is fear-based. It’s more of a reality check.”

Doug Harris, bargaining chair for the Association of Probation Supervisors union tells WitnessLA “More officers absolutely need to be trained [to handle firearms.]”

Yet despite the general backing for arming more of LA’s probation deputies, in recent months a sharp controversy has about the department’s ability to properly train its new wave of armed recruits.

In the past, the few probation officers who were allowed to carry guns received their firearms training and state gun certification from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. With an established protocol that has trained thousands of armed officers in its ranks, LASD, the thinking went, could not help but be better equipped than probation to handle the necessary instruction.

Not anymore.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in guns, LASD, Probation, Realignment | 13 Comments »

Bills About Guns…Kids & Solitary…Boy Scouts… and Foster Care …and More

May 31st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

A bunch of notable bills advanced in the CA legislature this week. Below is a round-up of the ones that most caught our eye.


STATE LAWMAKERS PASS GUN CONTROL BILLS AND MAKE MOVES TO REVOKE BOY SCOUTS TAX EXEMPTION

Twelve gun-control bills advanced through either the senate or the assembly, as did a bill to remove tax-exempt status from the Boy Scouts of America and other organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation or religion all advanced in either once house or the other.

LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Chris Megerian have a good run down on the main gun control measures. Here are some clips:

**Californians who want to buy ammunition would have to submit personal information and a $50 fee for a background check by the state, under a bill passed by the Senate. The state Department of Justice would determine whether buyers have a criminal record, severe mental illness or a restraining order that would disqualify them from owning guns.

Ammo shops would check the name on buyers’ driver’s licenses against a state list of qualified purchasers.

The goal of the bill is “to ensure that criminals and other dangerous individuals cannot purchase ammunition in the state of California,” said Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), author of SB 53.

[SNIP]

The Senate also OK’d a bill that would outlaw the sale, purchase and manufacture in California of semiautomatic rifles that can accommodate detachable magazines. The measure, SB 374 by Steinberg, also would require those who own such weapons to register them with the state.

The Assembly joined the action on guns by passing a measure to require the state Department of Justice to notify local law enforcement agencies when someone buys more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition.,,


BOY SCOUTS COULD GET TAX-EXEMPT STATUS YANKED

Here’s a clip from the same story regarding the measure passed by the state senate that would kill the Boy Scouts of America’s tax free status:

Senators on Wednesday voted to strip tax-exempt status from nonprofit groups, including the Boy Scouts of America, that deny participation based on sexual orientation or religion.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said he was glad the Boy Scouts’ national council recently decided to allow openly gay minors to serve as scouts. But he said it was unacceptable that the organization did not also lift its ban on gays serving as adult leaders.

“We’ve given the Boy Scouts ample time to solve their discrimination problem, and they have chosen a path that still leads to discrimination,” Lara told his colleagues.


YOUTH SOLITARY CONFINEMENT BILL PASSES THROUGH CA SENATE

As you may remember, we’ve been tracking SB 61, a bill authored by Sen. Leland Yee ((D-San Francisco/San Mateo) that will both define and limit solitary confinement for kids in state and county lock-ups. The bill made it through the CA Senate on Wednesday.

Here’s a clip from a statement from Yee’s office:

…..While the United Nations has called on all countries to prohibit solitary confinement in juvenile cases, the harsh measure is commonly used in juvenile facilities throughout California. Six states – Connecticut, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Alaska – ban solitary confinement for “punitive reasons.”

“The use of solitary confinement on a child is highly damaging and makes young people more dangerous and anti-social,” said Yee, a child psychologist. “Subjecting juveniles to solitary makes them more likely to reoffend, and more likely to suffer a lifetime mental illness.”

We’ll, of course, continue to track the bill’s progress.


A STRING FOSTER CARE BILLS MAKES IN THROUGH THE STATE SENATE

Several important foster care bills, also authored by Sen. Yee made it through the state Senate on Wednesday. The first bill fills in gaps in prenatal care for pregnant foster youth, gives priority housing, and provides other necessary services to young parents.

Another bill mandates that social workers actually see a foster child in his or her foster home on a regular basis—not just in meetings outside the home. (What a concept!)

Here’re some clips from Yee’s statement on the group of bills:

Young parents in the foster care system face the challenges of being in foster care as well as being a young, usually single, parent. Studies of both groups have found that they will experience higher than average rates of poverty, unemployment and low educational attainment. Senate Bill (SB) 528 seeks to provide assistance to these parents so both they and their child can have a better chance of success.

[SNIP]

“SB 528 will help pregnant youth in foster care prepare for parenthood by requiring local child welfare agencies refer pregnant youth to existing child and maternal health resources, including prenatal care and information about how to prevent subsequent pregnancies. This change is desperately needed,” said Amy Lemley, Policy Director for the John Burton Foundation, SB 528’s sponsor. “Currently, 20 percent of youth in foster care don’t access prenatal care until their sixth month of pregnancy, which has a range of negative outcomes include low birth weight. Los Angeles has started to take this approach and is seeing better birth outcomes among our state’s most vulnerable children.”

[SNIP]

“Parenting and pregnant youth are twice as likely to drop out of high school as to graduate,” said Yee. “It is imperative that we provide basic resources and assistance for pregnant and parenting teens who are in foster care. SB 528 will assist these foster youth and their children at the most critical time in their lives, and will save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”

And about another of Lee’s foster care bills;

SB 342 will ensure that monthly social worker visits of foster youth happen in the home of the child, ensuring that social workers have a more complete picture of the child’s home life and welfare and are better able to support the child and the family. Data from the Department of Social Services shows that nearly 24 percent of all case worker visits occur outside the child’s home leading to instances where some placements were not been visited by a social worker for an extended period of time.

“Far too often, foster children are being placed in substandard group homes and foster homes because no one has visited the placement home for months,” said Yee. “When the state removes a child from their home, we have a responsibility to ensure that the home in which they are placed meets basic standards.

One would certainly hope so.


IN OTHER NEWS….STUDY SHOWS DISCRIMINATORY SUSPENSION AND ARREST RATES IN NYC SCHOOLS

The shockingly disproportionate application of school discipline to black and learning disabled kids that his been shown to plague states like Texas and Mississippi (and, to some extent, LAUSD) turns out to be very present in NYC according to a new study conducted by the New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force.

The Crime Report has the story. Here’s a clip:

Black students account for almost 63 percent of all arrests in New York City schools, even though they make up only 28 percent of the city’s student body, and are more than four times as likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to a report released today.

And the rate at which students are suspended in the city’s public schools has increased by about 40 percent since 2006, according to researchers for The New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force, which was led by former New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

The 45-member task force — which includes city officials, education and justice system experts — spent the last two years examining disciplinary issues in New York City’s public schools.

And Here’s a clip from the report itself:

Most worrisome are patterns of suspensions for students with disabilities and students of color in New York City and across the nation. In New York City alone during SY2012, students receiving special education services were almost four times more likely to be suspended compared to their peers not receiving special education services; Black students were four times more likely and Hispanic students were almost twice as likely to be suspended compared to White students. New York City Black students were also 14 times more likely, and Hispanic students were five times more likely, to be arrested for school-based incidents compared to White students.

Studies have shown that it is not the violent and egregious misbehavior that drives the disparities. For example, the Texas study showed that Black students had a lower rate of mandatory suspensions (suspensions for violence, weapons and other equally serious offenses) than White students. Black students exceeded White students only in the rates of suspensions for discretionary offenses.

Posted in children and adolescents, Foster Care, guns, juvenile justice, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

LA Boy Scouts Group Says Allow Gay Leaders, Delaware Legalizes Gay Marriage, Equality for Trans Youth…and More

May 9th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

WEST LA BOY SCOUT CHAPTER PUSHES ORGANIZATION TO WELCOME GAY YOUTH AND ADULTS

The W. LA County branch of the Boy Scouts of America is calling for the organization to both execute an offered proposal to lift the ban on gay scouts and also allow gay adults to be troop leaders.

Reuter’s Alex Dobuzinskis has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The council, which represents more than 14,000 scouts and ranks as the nation’s 14th-largest scouting chapter, called for the Texas-based youth organization to go further by welcoming gays into the ranks of its adult volunteers as well.

In issuing its declaration on Tuesday urging a “true and authentic inclusion policy,” the Los Angeles group joined at least two branches in New York state that have pushed for allowing gays to work as troop leaders or staff members.

The Boy Scouts of America holds its annual national meeting on May 23 in Texas, where a resolution will be voted on that would end the century-old group’s policy denying membership to youths on the basis of sexual orientation.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

On Tuesday, Delaware’s state Senate voted to make DE the eleventh state to legalize gay marriage. (Way to go, Delaware!)

Here’s a clip from the Associated Press:

Less than an hour after the Senate’s 12-9 vote, Democratic Gov. Jack Markell signed the measure into law.

“I do not intend to make any of you wait one moment longer,” a smiling Markell told about 200 jubilant supporters who erupted in cheers and applause following the Senate vote.


NEW BILL WOULD FURTHER EQUALITY FOR TRANSGENDER YOUTH IN CA SCHOOLS

AB 1266, a bill in California Legislature introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would allow transgender kids to participate in sex-segregated school sports and activities regardless of the sex listed on the student’s records. Passage of AB 1266 would be a huge step in the direction toward equal opportunities for trans youth who already face plenty of hardships and discrimination in school, as it is.

NY Times’ Ian Lovett has the story. Here’s a clip:

Over the last decade, the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have adopted regulations for athletes who were born male but now consider themselves females and want to play on women’s teams.

And now, high schools are beginning to take on the issue as well, as a small but growing number students who identify themselves as transgender have begun demanding access to the same school activities, like interscholastic sports, that other students enjoy.

More than half a dozen states, from Washington to Massachusetts, have adopted rules to allow transgender students to compete on teams that correspond with their gender identities rather than the sex listed on their school records. Half a dozen more states are considering similar regulations. And a bill in the Legislature would make California the first to specifically guarantee by law that transgender students like Tony are allowed to play school sports.

“Transgender students deserve equal access to everything in public education, including sports,” said Tom Ammiano, the state assemblyman sponsoring the bill. “You can’t discriminate just because you’re uncomfortable with a young man transitioning to become a young woman.”


MAJORITY OF AMERICANS WRONGLY ASSUME GUN VIOLENCE IS ON THE RISE

Firearm-related crimes have seen a significant decrease over the last two decades, but most Americans are under the impression that gun crimes have increased since 1993 with only 12% of those surveyed aware of the decrease, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Another Tuesday report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that the number of gun-related homicides dropped 39% from 1993 to 2011.

LA Times’ Emily Alpert has the story. Here’s a clip:

It’s unclear whether media coverage is driving the misconception that such violence is up. The mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., were among the news stories most closely watched by Americans last year, Pew found. Crime has also been a growing focus for national newscasts and morning network shows in the past five years but has become less common on local television news.

“It’s hard to know what’s going on there,” said D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center. Women, people of color and the elderly were more likely to believe that gun crime was up than men, younger adults or white people. The center plans to examine crime issues more closely later this year.



Photo by Douglas Muth through Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in children and adolescents, gender, guns, LGBT | No Comments »

A Look Inside Pelican Bay’s SHU…LAPD Lt. Sues for Alleged Retaliation After Whistle-blowing…..The NRA’s War Against Research…and More

February 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



WHAT DOES CALIFORNIA PRISON “SHU” REALLY LOOK AND FEEL LIKE?

Monday, California state legislators began discussing the issue of isolation policy in the state’s prisons. The U.S. Congress has begun examining the same growing controversy about the use of Special Housing Units—or SHUs—in the nation’s federal lock-ups.

KQED’s Michael Montgomery had a conversation with—and video taped—an inmate named Jeremy Beasley, while he was in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU. Beasley is, by his own admission, not the most angelic of guys, but does that mean it is moral or wise or constitutional to house him in the kind of isolation that more and more people, including some prominent conservatives, regard as torture.

Below you’ll find clip from Montgomery’s story. But be sure to watch at least the first 2 or 3 minutes of the full half hour video with Beasley, which you can find here.

(NOTE: Montgomery is arguably more expert on the issue than any other reporter in California. So his dispatches are always worth your time.)

Here’s the clip:

“I haven’t seen the moon since 1998.”

That’s inmate Jeremy Beasley, talking to me while sitting–shackled–in an interview room at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s highest security lockup.

Beasley, a convicted murderer, was clearly surprised by my presence—-he told me he hadn’t met with a visitor since 1994, when he was incarcerated.

It’s not just the moon Beasley hadn’t seen in 15 years. During that time, in fact, Beasley rarely glimpsed the outside world. Before being transferred to another prison, he was held in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, a windowless, bunker-like facility that houses more than 1,000 California inmates.

For 22-and-a-half hours a day, each inmate here is locked, usually alone, in an 8-by-10 feet cell. For 90 minutes the inmate is allowed to exercise in an adjacent room with 25-30 feet high walls. And that’s their entire day — every day.

“I’ve seen guys lose their minds back here,” Beasley tells me.


LAPD LIEUTENANT SUES DEPARTMENT FOR ALLEGED RETALIATION AFTER HE REPORTED ILLEGAL GUN SALES BY METRO OFFICERS

According to the Courthouse News Service, Lt. Armando Perez, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department is suing the LAPD for retaliation after Perez allegedly discovered that officers from the department’s Metro division were buying special SWAT–labeled guns through the armory that Perez oversaw, and then selling the guns for profit to other LAPD officers, civilians and gun dealers.

Here’s a clip from the story by Elizabeth Warmerdam:

Los Angeles police officers bought and sold guns from the police armory for profit, and told the lieutenant in charge of the armory to “watch his back” after he reported it, the 25-year LAPD veteran claims in court.

Armando Perez sued the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department in Superior Court.

Perez, who joined the LAPD in 1987, claims he was retaliated against, suspended and threatened after he discovered, through his job as “Officer in Charge of the Armory,” that officers in the Metropolitan Division were buying and reselling guns to other officers, civilians and gun dealers….

Perez also alleges that, when the department investigated the matter, no one ever bothered to interview him, but later, he himself was investigated in relationship to his reports on tthe gun sales, and on the subsequent harassment, and was suspended for five days.

Last August, the LA Times ran a story bout the possible gun dealing. Perez alleges that after the publication of the Times story, the retaliation against him got worse.

Read the rest here.


WHAT CONGRESS LEARNED ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE BEFORE THE NRA PRESSURED CONGRESS TO KILL ALL RESEARCH FUNDING

Reasonable people might argue over what kind of gun regulation is helpful and appropriate. But it is difficult for any but the most partisan to defend the intense lobbying by the NRA that, in 1996, persuaded a fearful congress to strangle research into gun violence by the Center for Disease Control, and by the National Institute of Health—both of which, rightly, viewed the nation’s approximately 30,000 gun deaths per year as a public health issue.

The NRA, however, evidently viewed fact-based information as a threat.

Reporters at ProPublica wondered what exactly the CDC had found out with its research before the door to science got slammed. With this in mind, Joaquin Sapien interviewed Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who led the agency’s gun violence research in the nineties when he was the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

You can find the interview here.


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES SAY PARENTS OF WOMAN KILLED BY JEALOUS LAPD DETECTIVE LOST RIGHT TO SUE DEPARTMENT OVER MISHANDLING THE CASE DUE TO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

The California Supreme Court declined to take the case of Nels and Loretta Rasmussen, whose daughter, Sherri Rassmusen was murdered in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband, by former LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus. Although Sherri Rassmusen was murdered in 1986, police concluded that she was killed in a home robbery gone bad—despite the fact that, according to the Rasmussens, they provided investigators with information that pointed to Lazarus and, at the very least merited investigation. Instead, the allege, they were rebuffed and deliberately intimidated. It was only in 2009, when DNA left at the scene was matched to Lazarus, that the detective was arrested. Lazarus was convicted of murder in 2012.

Lots of people have the story (like the Daily News) , but the legal-leaning Metropolitan News-Enterprise has a good explanation from a legal perspective.

Here’s a clip:

Sherri Rasmussen, was murdered in 1986. Lazarus was charged following a DNA match to a bite mark on the body, and was convicted in March of last year.

The Rasmussens sued in July 2010, while Lazarus was awaiting trial. They alleged that they had told the LAPD the day after the murder that they suspected their son-in-law’s ex-girlfriend was the killer, although they did not know her name at the time.

The dead woman’s husband, John Ruetten, identified Lazarus as his ex-girlfriend and told the investigators that she was an LAPD officer. The LAPD, the Rasmussens alleged, ignored evidence that Lazarus had stalked and confronted Sherri Rasmussen, focusing instead on an untenable theory that the killers were two unknown Hispanic men who had committed burglaries in the area.

That theory, they said, was discredited in 2005 when DNA obtained from the bite mark was tested and determined to have been left by a woman, although it took another four years before Lazarus was linked to the bite mark.

The Rasmussens sued the LAPD for civil rights conspiracy and sued Lazarus for wrongful death.

There’s more, so read on.


PHOTO CREDIT: The above photo is a screen capture taken from Michael Montgomery and KQED’s video accompanying the story about the Special Housing Units (SHUs) in California’s prisons.

Posted in Bill Bratton, guns, law enforcement, Probation | 1 Comment »

CA Prisons Letting Some Prisoners out of Solitary…..George Will on Solitary as Torture… Denver Schools Attempt to Break “School to Prison Pipeline”….

February 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


As more and more civil rights organizations and some lawmakers, push for a reexamination of prison policies that keep certain inmates
in solitary confinement for years, even decades, in October the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) revised its own policies regarding what can land an inmate in the SHU—or Special Housing Unit—which is solitary confinement. Since then it has been slowly letting some SHU inmates back into the general population.

Critics say the the revised policy doesn’t got nearly far enough.

Yet it’s a start.

The LA Times Paige St. John has more on this story.

Here’s a clip:

Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton this week said the agency has so far reviewed 144 inmates who were placed in the SHU because they allegedly associated with prison gangs, an activity that now no longer merits segregation. Of those reviewed, she said, 78 have been released into the general population and 52 have entered the “step down” program. An additional seven inmates have been retained in segregation, Thornton said, “for their safety,” and the remaining 10 have agreed to debrief, the term the corrections department uses for providing prison investigators information on gang activity.

Thornton said the department intends to eventually review all SHU inmates for possible release, though there are about 1,200 in segregation at Pelican Bay State Prison alone, some held there more than 20 years.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a federal lawsuit against the state contesting the indefinite stays, and Amnesty International last year released a report contending SHU conditions are inhumane.


GEORGE WILL WRITES ABOUT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AS TORTURE

Conservative columnist George Will writes a strongly worded column about why solitary confinement qualifies as torture.

Here’s how it opens:

“Zero Dark Thirty,” a nominee for Sunday’s Oscar for Best Picture, reignited debate about whether the waterboarding of terrorism suspects was torture. This practice, which ended in 2003, was used on only three suspects. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Noting that half of all prison suicides are committed by prisoners held in isolation, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has prompted an independent assessment of solitary confinement in federal prisons. State prisons are equally vulnerable to Eighth Amendment challenges concerning whether inmates are subjected to “substantial risk of serious harm.”

America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” And “severe” physical pain is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain, or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.

Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds.

I was happy to note that Will references “Hellhole,” the excellent 2009 article New Yorker article by surgeon/writer Atul Gwande that explores whether or not solitary confinement is torture. (If you’ve not read it, I strongly, strongly recommend it.)


DENVER SCHOOLS LEAD NATION WITH SMART DISCIPLINE POLICIES

This article by Julianne Hing in Colorlines Magazine has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Already home to one of the most progressive school discipline policies in the country, Denver has set out to best even its own record. On Tuesday, Denver Public Schools and local and county police departments inked a five-year agreement specifically designed to limit student interaction with the juvenile justice system. The agreement offers a rare example of a school system that is bucking the national trend toward criminalizing student misbehavior.

Just two months after the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., and in a state that has had its share of mass shootings, the Denver pact comes at a pivotal point in the national debate on firearms and school security.

The school system had already articulated a commitment to minimizing police contact with its students. But because of a lingering zero-tolerance framework that required harsh and automatic penalties for student misbehavior, the 15 officers assigned to the city’s schools were functioning as disciplinarians, meting out suspensions, expulsions and tickets for minor infractions like chewing gum, fighting in the schoolyard and exposing their tattoos.

The new agreement—the result of a collaboration between law enforcement, school officials and a Denver-based community organization called Padres y Jovenes Unidos—turns the concept of minimal police contact into an official, districtwide policy.

“This is a historic collaboration between a school district, a police department and an organization [that] represents parents and young people of color who are most impacted by these policies,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that partnered with Denver-based Padres y Jovenes Unidos to secure the agreement.

With the new agreement, police officers are now being directed to know and observe the difference between disciplinary issues and criminal acts. Law enforcement officials have agreed that they will only respond to serious offenses. The district will use restorative justice practices to address routine student misbehavior.

“It’s not, ‘You did something wrong, go home for five days and watch television,’ ” Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the Washington Post. “It’s, ‘What did you do wrong? Who did you harm? How are you going to make them whole, and what are you learning from this?’ ”


SOCIAL TRENDS DRIVING GUN AND GANG VIOLENCE

The Atlantic’s Ta-nehisi Coates has a very interesting discussion about trends in gun violence with the Chicago Crime Lab’s Harold Pollack.

Here’s a clip:

Like everyone, we at The Atlantic have spent the weeks since Newtown thinking about the role of guns in America. In our ongoing effort to broaden the conversation, I spent some time talking to Professor Harold Pollack, who co-directs the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago. Pollack is one of the foremost voices on gun violence from a public health perspective. Pollack and his colleagues at the Crime Lab have done yeoman’s work in helping us understand how guns end up on the streets of cities like Chicago, and how precisely they tend to be used.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Hi, Harold. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us over here at The Atlantic. We’ve had several off-line conversations which have been illuminating to me. I greatly appreciate your willingness to take some time to do this for the Horde, as we say on the blog.

Harold Pollack: It’s great to correspond with you, Ta-Nehisi, regarding what can actually be done to reduce gun violence. I’m a big fan of your work. I should mention by way of self-introduction that I am a public health researcher at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Here in Chicago, we have become the focus of much national attention because we had our 500th homicide [of the year in 2012]. We’re sometimes called the nation’s murder capital — though this mainly reflects the fact that we are a big city. We’re more dangerous than L.A. or New York, but we’re actually in the middle of the pack when it comes to homicide rates. Still, we’re dangerous enough. The declining homicide rates in many prosperous and middle-class neighborhoods casts a harsh light on the high rates facing African-American (and to a lesser-extent) Latino young men on the city’s south and west sides. Lots to talk about. I am looking forward to talking. So let’s get to it.

I don’t know if I’ve told you how I come to this issue, but I should say for everyone reading this that I am from Baltimore — the West Side, as we used to call it. I came of age in the late 1980s and early 90s, a period in which violence spiked in our cities. I don’t know if Chicago today is as bad as it was in, say, 1988, but this was a period of deep fear for everyone in the black communities of Baltimore. And the fear was everywhere.

It changed how we addressed our parents. It changed how we addressed each other. It changed our music. The violence put rules in place that often look strange to the rest of the country. For instance, the mask of hyper-machismo and invulnerability — the ice-grill, as we used to say — looks strange, until you’ve lived in a place where that mask is the only power you have to effect a modicum of safety.

I’m in my late 40s. I was a typical suburban kid graduating high school outside New York. It wasn’t as tough for me as it was on the west side of Baltimore, but crime certainly touched my life. On one occasion, I was in Washington Heights on my way to an AP class at Columbia University. A group of middle-school or early-high-school kids jumped me in the subway station, and they attempted to wrest away my watch. My high school sweetheart had just given it to me; I didn’t want to give it up. So a kid grabbed me by the hair and smashed my head against the concrete floor until I finally relented. As you know, my cousin was beaten to death by two teenage house burglars a few years later.

So I remember very well both the fear and the anger that accompanies one’s sense of physical vulnerability. Of course this anger often comes with a race/ethnic/class tinge that poisons so much of what we are trying to do in revitalizing urban America.

Read on.

Posted in Gangs, guns, prison, prison policy, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, torture, Uncategorized, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Five Months at Harper High School in Chicago—With 29 Kids Shot at & 8 Dead

February 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA is taking Monday off. We’ll be back to our regular reporting tomorrow.


In the meantime, we want to strongly recommend to you a completely extraordinary 2-part story produced by the public radio show, This American Life.

This 2-part series takes a look at the violence affecting Harper High School in Chicago where, during the last school year, 29 current and recent Harper students were shot. Twenty-one of those kids were wounded. Eight of them eight died.

“Watching this,” said the program’s host, Ira Glass, “it’s hard not to think that if you grafted these facts on to another high school, in a wealthier place, maybe a suburb…In other places that would be national news, right? We would all know the name of that school.”

But most of us have never heard of Harper.. Nor do we hear much about a similar kind of everyday violence that goes on in certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles. When we do hear about a shooting, it’s often labeled “gang-related,” the unstated implication being that the victim must have somehow deserved it, that what goes around comes around—unless, of course, the victim is specifically designated “innocent.”

This story of Harper High School drills down past those careless assumptions.

“For everything we’ve all heard about children and gun violence,” says Glass, “there are basic things we don’t hear so much about. Like what it’s like to live in neighborhoods that have to cope with so much bloodshed. This is a school that knows this problem in a way that most of us around the country don’t.”

The administrators at Harper (who seem, by the way, like unusually caring and level-headed educators) gave TAL’s three reporters remarkable access for a full semester, five months. When violence struck—as it does with some regularity—the reporters recorded the staff as they jumped into action. They recorded private and painfully difficult meetings with families and students.

The result is one of the most affecting and accurate pieces of journalism I’ve run across in a very long time.

I’ll have more to say after Part 2. But for now, just listen.


Back tomorrow with our regularly scheduled programming.

Posted in Education, Gangs, guns, juvenile justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention, Youth at Risk | 9 Comments »

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