Wednesday, October 7, 2015
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More Bad News Re: Antipsychotics & Medicaid Children….How Should We Compensate the Wrongly Convicted?…..$5.3 Mil Possible Payout for LASD Shooting

April 7th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Last week we reported on an alarming new federal report from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General that documented excessive use of antipsychotic drugs to treat poor children (many of them in foster care) on Medicaid.

Now a new study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics by researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab, suggests that prescription antipsychotics may elevate a child’s risk for Type II diabetes by nearly 50 percent.

Among children who are also receiving antidepressants, researchers found the risk may double.

The research newswire NewsWise reports that researchers cautioned against over-reaction to the findings, pointing out that the baseline risk for diabetes among youth not exposed to antipsychotics was 1 in 400, rising to 1 in 260 among those being given antipsychotics.

Newwise also noted “emerging evidence that Medicaid-enrolled children are far more likely than privately insured children to be prescribed antipsychotic medications.”

Overall, over 25 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children receiving prescription medications for behavioral problems were prescribed antipsychotics by 2008, largely for less severe disorders.

“With such vast numbers of children being exposed to these medications, the implications for potential long-lasting harm can be jarring,” said David Rubin, MD, MSCE, the study’s lead author..

To say the least.


The New Yorker’s Arial Levy writes about John Restivo, who lost 18 years of his freedom after being convicted of rape and murder of a young woman in 1985. DNA evidence set him free in 2003. The story of the $18 million settlement Restivo may or may not get opens the complex discussion about what we owe those who are wrongly convicted.

Here’s a clip:

Restivo had never met the victim and had no criminal record, it became clear that he was a suspect. One of the detectives grabbed him by the throat, he recalled recently. “He starts screaming, right in my face, ‘Is this how you killed her?’ And I’m, like, This is insane.” They kept him at the station for twenty hours, during which he was not allowed to rest or eat or call his girlfriend and let her know where he was. Restivo remembers that when he said he had a right to a lawyer, Volpe told him, “This is un-America: you have no rights here.” Then Volpe’s partner, Robert Dempsey, hit him in the face.

Restivo had grown up thinking of the police as good guys—his father had spent twenty years on the Nassau County force—and he was stunned by his treatment. As soon as he was released, he went to see a lawyer, who took photographs of his bruises and filed a complaint against the detectives. (Dempsey denied hitting Restivo.) But the police did not relinquish the case. “It’s quite possible that the fact that he called a lawyer right away made them think that he was guilty,” Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, one of Restivo’s current lawyers, said. “Anything is a sign that you’re guilty, once they get a feeling that they don’t like something about somebody.”

Restivo’s phones were tapped. His home was bugged. “Everywhere I went, they started following me around,” he said. “I’m trying to continue running a business, and if I go to somebody’s house to do an estimate or a moving job, I’m afraid the cops are going to show up. Anybody I associated with, they’re starting to snatch off the street—and they’re not just bringing them in for a half-hour chat.”

On the night of the crime, Restivo had been in Wantagh, sanding floors at his new house with a friend; the police brought the friend in and questioned him for ten hours. “They told me, ‘We’re going to turn your life into an effing nightmare,’ ” Restivo said. “ ‘And we’re going to turn your brother’s life into an effing nightmare. We’ll turn your mother’s life into a nightmare. We’ll turn your son’s life into a nightmare.’ And they did.”


Restivo was convicted and given 33-to-life. He was released after 18 years when DNA evidence proved him innocent. Now Restivo may or may not get $18 million in compensation.
So what do we owe people like Restivo, or the recently released inmate who served 30 years in an Alabama prison?

It’s an interesting question, and an interesting longread story.

Nina Morrison, of the Innocence Project, told me, “I think for a lot of the clients there’s a sense that this is going to be the thing that helps them move on. But then the jury goes home; we all go home. And then, at the end of the day, they are still left with the enormity of what they’ve lost.”


And while we’re on the topic of damage awards, Jose de la Trinidad was a 36-year-old father of two when he was shot five times in the upper and lower back by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. A witness to the shooting has always maintained that the unarmed De la Trinidad was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

The LA County Board of Supervisors are expected to vote on the high ticket payout on Tuesday.

Frank Stolze of KPCC has more. Here’s a clip:

[If the supervisors agree to the payout, this] would settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family that claimed deputies opened fire on Trinidad, even though he had his hands in the air and his back to deputies.

“He had not violated any law and posed no risk to deputies,” the lawsuit said. “He exited a vehicle and obeyed the instructions of deputies to stop and raise his hands.”

He had two daughters — ages 3 and 6 — at the time of his death. Relatives say he held down two jobs to support them and his wife.

In February, the board agreed to pay $1.5 million to the family of Arturo Cabrales, who was also fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy.


In May, the L.A. County District Attorney’s office concluded the two deputies “acted in lawful self-defense and defense of another when they used deadly force.”

Posted in children and adolescents, crime and punishment, health care, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 5 Comments »

Feds Investigate Rampant Drugging of Poor Children with Antipsychotics

April 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A new report from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General shines some light on the excessive use of antipsychotic drugs to treat poor children (many of them in foster care) on Medicaid.

Researchers requested records from 2011 on 687 claims in five states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. They received information on 485 of the requests (many of the other records were incomplete or nonexistent). These particular states were chosen because they comprised 39% of all Medicaid payments for antipsychotics.

These “second-generation antipsychotics” (SGAs) are often used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism-related irritability. Because minimal clinical research has been completed on how the SGAs affect kids, and there are very specific age-ranges approved for use of the antipsychotics, many doctors prescribe these medications for conditions that are not considered medically accepted.

Thus, kids often receive the wrong treatment, are given a dangerous cocktail of psychotropic drugs, and experience severe side-effects (like suicidal thoughts, paranoia, and hallucinations) and other potentially problematic effects like weight gain, none of which are properly monitored.

In 67% of the claims, the researchers found what they call quality-of-care concerns. Just under half of claims showed two or more of these particular concerns.

A whopping 53% of cases were poorly monitored. Kids vital signs and blood pressure were not regularly tracked, they were not checked for involuntary movements, height and weight were not monitored, and doctors did not run lab work to check for liver and blood issues.

In 41% of kids’ records, there was either no explanation as to why the antipsychotics were prescribed, or they were prescribed for an inappropriate reason. In over one-third of cases, these drugs were prescribed to treat conditions listed on the medication’s FDA boxed warning. (An example of this would be prescribing an antipsychotic medication to a child with major depressive disorder, despite an FDA warning label that says the drug may cause suicidal thoughts in children with major depressive disorders).

Other distressing patterns included prescribing kids too many drugs at once (37%), keeping kids on the antipsychotics for too long (34%), giving the wrong dose (23%), prescribing to kids too young (17%), and negative side-effects (7%).

In one particular case, a child diagnosed with bipolar disorder was prescribed six psychotropic drugs at once. Three were antipsychotics. A vague mention of hallucinations was the only explanation for the heavy drugging. The 16-year-old suffered through insomnia, “paranoia, hostility, unstable mood, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts” as well as significant weight gain, and swelling of the hands and feet. When the teen was taken off these drugs, the originally reported hallucinations vanished.

Only in 8% of the cases were kids’ prescribed these drugs for any of the medically accepted reasons. And of the five states, only New York restricted Medicaid coverage for these drugs outside of medically accepted reasons (unfortunately, 3,366 prescriptions were covered in violation of New York’s policy).

According to the report’s lead investigator, Michala Walker, antipsychotics “should only be used for a medically appropriate reason and, when they’re used, they must be very carefully managed to ensure safety and quality care.”

The report urges the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to partner with state medicaid programs to review how antipsychotics are prescribed to children, and to conduct regular reviews of the medical records of medicaid-covered kids prescribed the drugs, and to work with states to come up with ways to boost oversight. CMS has agreed with these three recommendations.

Karen de Sa, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on how and why California’s foster kids are so heavily medicated, also reported on this new data.

Posted in children and adolescents, Foster Care, health care, mental health, The Feds | 1 Comment »

Reforms Trump Talking About Race, Solitary and Kids’ Brains, Next Steps for NYC Solitary Ban, and LA Foster Care Reform Efforts

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In an op-ed for the LA Times, California Endowment President Robert Ross says that instead of pushing for a national discussion about race issues, we should take advantage of this “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to take action. Ross urges Californians to push forward with meaningful reforms to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for young people of color.

He points to four specific areas, which the state has already made some measure of progress on, where we should focus our efforts—public education, criminal justice, immigration, and healthcare. Here are the details on the first two:

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.

Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47′s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.


Dana Liebelson has an excellent longread for the January/February issue of Mother Jones Magazine, chronicling the history of solitary confinement in the US, and detailing the alarming effects isolation has on young developing brains, exacerbating existing mental illnesses, and even producing new ones. Here’s a clip, but we highly recommend reading the whole thing:

We now know…that new brain cells continue to develop in the hippocampus—a portion of the brain central to cognition and memory processing—throughout adulthood. When scientists began looking at animals kept in isolation, they discovered that they grew fewer new neurons than their nonisolated counterparts. That’s because isolation creates stress, and stress hormones inhibit neuron formation, which can result in harm to memory and learning. The effect is often more pronounced in juvenile animals, whose brains are undergoing rapid development. There “isn’t any question,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, that isolation is harmful to the brain and to overall health.

Last March, researchers from Brazil published a study in which they isolated adolescent marmosets, a kind of adorable South American monkey, in cages as small as two and a half feet across, and kept them from seeing or touching other monkeys. The animals soon grew anxious and spent less time on their usual grooming habits. Compared with controls, they exhibited “significantly” higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a steady drop in neuron production in the hippocampus—just one week in isolation decreased the observed number of new cells by more than one-third.

Ceylan Isgor, an associate biomedical science professor at Florida Atlantic University, has found that the effects of isolation on juvenile animals are “long-lasting.” As she explained it to me, the pruning of synapses—the connections between nerve cells—that occurs during adolescence and helps teenagers grow out of behaviors such as impulsiveness does not occur normally under conditions of extended isolation. Extrapolating from animal studies, she said, the results would suggest that kids already prone to breaking rules will become even more likely to act out: “You’re getting a whole different network.” And while the consequences may not be seen right away, they can pop up later as mental-illness symptoms or vulnerability to drug addiction. In other words, the way we often deal with messed-up kids in juvenile detention may increase the likelihood that they’ll reoffend down the road.

David Chura, whose 2010 book, I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine, chronicles the decade he spent teaching English to juveniles at the Westchester County Jail (an adult lockup in New York), has seen the effects of isolation firsthand. In 2004, the prison opened a new security housing unit, a.k.a. solitary wing. At first, it seemed like an improvement: The rooms, Chura recalled, were clean and quiet and “you could read or whatever.” But then his students began to deteriorate, rapidly and dramatically, and his teaching attempts fell apart: “The motivation for doing anything was lost.” Young men who used to fastidiously iron their orange uniforms stopped bathing. They became angrier and started acting out more. When they were allowed out of their cells into an adjacent recreation area—an empty room with a screen for fresh air—the kids would “plaster their faces against these screens and be yelling back and forth,” Chura told me, as though trying to prove, “I’m alive. I’m really still here.”

The class action suit in Ohio described a boy, “IJ,” who was 14 when he entered state custody in 2006. Grassian, by then retired from Harvard, was asked to review his records. When IJ first came into the system, Grassian testified, he was described as a “cooperative youth” who, despite his intellectual disabilities, didn’t require psychiatric drugs or mental-health services. But after a few years, and a lot of time spent in solitary, the teen was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder and PTSD. Six years into his sentence, he was “seen as simply incorrigible…and a misogynist,” Grassian noted. He assaulted a staff member that year too. “I hated being in my room,” IJ testified. “It made me mad. It made my anger issues way worse.”


Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Corrections unanimously voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger. The decision is particularly important for the young people housed in the notorious Rikers Island Jail.

But while the move is a huge step in the right direction, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Taylor Pendergrass, says formidable obstacles must be overcome in order for the ban to be successful. The first is obtaining sufficient funding.

The Marshall Project’s Clare Sestanovich has the story. Here’s a clip:

Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, who has worked on their federal lawsuit challenging New York state solitary practices, foresees two problems with implementation. The first is one that the Board of Corrections itself has identified: funding. In fact, the board literally underlined this contingency in their new regulations. The ban on solitary will only take effect, they wrote, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.”

Even if funding is secured, a bigger challenge awaits: how to manage such a drastic policy overhaul in a place where, as one former corrections official told The New Yorker, staff has become “severely addicted to solitary confinement.” If this addiction is as deeply rooted as many claim (and Commissioner Joseph Ponte has himself identified a “culture of excessive solitary confinement”) the new policy could face stiff resistance. “The piece that’s complicated and harder to get a sense of,” Kysel says, “is how much buy-in there will be from officers who are putting them in practice.”

But more than getting corrections officers on board, the key, according to Pendergrass, will be “making sure that [guards] have tools other than sending [inmates] to solitary as a knee-jerk response. I think it’s certainly true that if you just take away solitary confinement and replace it with something else, there’s a high risk that the policy will never be properly implemented, or even if it is implemented, you will have a regression back to punitive responses.”

Solitary confinement, he says, has been used as a blunt instrument to respond to a wide array of problems, ranging from mental illness to substance abuse to adolescent defiance, and poses real dangers to those assigned to maintain order. Pendergrass says a long-term solution will require “fragmenting the approach”; tailoring responses to inmates who act out based on their underlying problems. That, of course, requires complicated – not to mention expensive – training. The BOC’s new rule seems to anticipate this approach. It specifies that all staff who monitor punitive segregation units will be provided with training that “shall include, but shall not be limited to, recognition and understanding of mental illness and distress, effective communication skills, and conflict de-escalation techniques.”


After months of delaying the implementation of foster care reform recommendations made by a blue ribbon commission, including the hiring of a child welfare czar, the LA County Board of Supervisors appear to be gaining momentum.

On Tuesday, the Supes voted to move forward with two important child welfare reform recommendations.

Like most of us, the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection attributes the new energy, in part, to the arrival of two new board members determined to implement the commission’s reforms.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick reports that until now, the transition team has come up against resistance from members of the board, particularly Supervisor Don Knabe, who has opposed both the blue ribbon commission and the transition team as unnecessary bureaucracy. In addition, the transition team, once authorized to lend a hand in the hiring of the new czar, were subsequently excluded from the process.

Bolstered by the new activity from the Board of Supervisors, the transition team has set a list of priorities they intend to push in the coming months.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of Renick’s detailed report on the issue:

The transition team appointed to initiate sweeping child protection reform in Los Angeles met for the first time in 2015 this week, and seemed to embrace an optimistic attitude.

“A lot of times you wonder if this is going to be shelved, these recommendations, and what I’m seeing is that it’s alive and well, and we’re moving forward,” said Richard Martinez during the January 12 meeting. Martinez, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is a member of the transition team and Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.

“It’s so exciting that we’re moving forward with this,” said transition team member Janet Teague at the January meeting.

The positive tone belies the team’s frustration over spending the past six months grinding out small wins while being sidelined from the highest priority of the reform process: hiring the person who will oversee it.

The transition team’s meetings – held in the cavernous and almost entirely empty Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in downtown L.A. – have produced some results, such as the expansion of the medical hubs where children and youth receive health screenings.

But fitful relations between the team and some of the county’s five supervisors have left team members and outside observers wondering what could have been if the board had given the deliberative body a stronger mandate.

“We have not yet had an easy communication with respect to the people we’re serving, the Board of Supervisors,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during a December meeting. “A transition team really is only useful if there is a desire to use us in terms of our expertise and our opinions.”

Hope for better relations comes in the form of two new board members, both of whom have voiced support for the reform process.

“We need reports back [from the transition team] more often,” said newly sworn in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, during a recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “I think the public’s confidence in what we’re doing is very low. They haven’t seen us doing much and they don’t know that we will do much.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, health care, immigration, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

Prison Health Care Costs Skyrocket, ACLU Director Slams Baca, New Death Penalty Survey…and More

October 31st, 2013 by Taylor Walker


In 44 states, prison health care spending rose an average of 52% from 2001 to 2008, according to a new Pew study. California was one of a dozen states in which spending jumped 90% or more (102% in CA, to be exact).

Here are a few clips from the study’s overview:

– Spending increased in 42 of the 44 states, with median growth of 52 percent.

– In a dozen states, prison health expenditures grew 90 percent or more. Only Texas and Illinois experienced inflation-adjusted decreases in this spending area.

– Per-inmate health care spending rose in 35 of the 44 states, with 32 percent median growth.


…the number of Americans in prison nearly tripled from 1987 to 2007. The dramatic increase was driven in part by tougher sentencing laws and more restrictive probation and parole policies that have put more people in prison and held them there longer.

This trend, however, has recently begun to reverse in about half of the states as sentencing and corrections reforms have spurred reductions in prison populations. The sheer number of state prisoners does not explain all of the increased spending. Higher per-inmate expenses and the expanding slice of corrections budgets devoted to health care suggest that other factors are also pushing costs up,

– Aging inmate populations.

– Prevalence of infectious and chronic diseases, mental illness, and substance abuse among inmates, many of whom enter prison with these problems.

– Challenges inherent in delivering health care in prisons, such as distance from hospitals and other providers.


Two weeks ago, WLA reported on a federal jury’s decision to hold Sheriff Lee Baca liable for the beating of a Men’s Central Jail inmate, Tyler Willis.

In a sharply-worded op-ed for the LA Daily News, SoCal ACLU executive director Hector Villagra says Baca’s response to the jury’s decision and his intent to appeal it show the sheriff are consistent with a pattern of negligence and an inability to take responsibility. Here are some clips:

A federal jury’s decision earlier this month to hold Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable for the savage beating of an inmate provides yet more proof of the deep-seated culture of violence in Los Angeles County’s jails. The jury took the extremely rare — and courageous — step of finding Baca personally responsible for the actions of deputies who punched, kicked, Tasered and battered Men’s Central Jail inmate Tyler Willis with a metal flashlight in 2009, leaving him with broken bones and head injuries. The jury’s message is clear: The savage violence that has plagued L.A.’s jails is rooted in deficient leadership, and Baca must pay for his failure.

But just as telling as the jury’s decision was Baca’s response, as expressed by Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. “We respect juries, but they made a mistake,” Whitmore said. Baca plans to appeal.


In holding Baca liable for punitive damages, the jury had to meet an extremely high bar, finding that Baca’s actions were “malicious, oppressive, or in reckless disregard” of Willis’ rights. Moreover, unlike ordinary damages, which compensate the victim for his or her injuries, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant.

Peeling back the curtain on L.A.’s jails has brought profound, but long overdue, change to the system. LASD has implemented some new policies, and use of force against inmates has declined. Until Baca remembers and acknowledges the past, it is unlikely that the full scope of reform necessary in the jails will occur. And we will all lose out.


A Gallup poll of 1028 random adults across the country was released Tuesday regarding support of capital punishment in the United States.

The survey found that support is at its lowest since 1972. The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen said this is heartening news (we agree), however, two other particularly interesting results from the poll had quite the opposite effect on Cohen.

The first, was that 52% of those surveyed believed that the death penalty is applied fairly (60% overall favor it). Here’s what Cohen had to say about the statistic:

This means that more than half of those surveyed are—let me be delicate—still tragically misinformed about the nature of capital punishment in America in 2013. The truth is that race plays an enormous role in determining who is and who is not sentenced to death in America. If you are black you stand a far higher chance of getting the death penalty, especially if your victim is white. The evidence and analysis of this fact are so pervasive that it should be beyond debate: 52 percent of Americans are dead wrong in their perception of the fairness of the application of capital punishment.

We can applaud the fact that nine percent of those surveyed—from 61 percent to 52 percent—evidently have changed their minds about this since 2004. That’s also some good news. And we can speculate about why the rest haven’t. Some people simply haven’t taken the time to study the matter and are content to take the easy path and say that the criminal justice system is fair. Some people probably think that it is fair that more blacks are sentenced to death when they kill whites than whites are when they kill blacks. And what about those addled folks—eight percent, according to Gallup—who believe that the death penalty is unfairly applied but who still support it? Yikes.

The second, was that 44% of the surveyed group felt that the death penalty was not imposed often enough, and just 22% believe it is imposed too often.

So twice as many Americans believe the death penalty should be imposed more often than those who believe it should be applied less often. It seems to me these people—let’s call them the “40 percent”— represent the core of support for capital punishment today. These folks are likely never going to be dissuaded that current capital punishment regimes, in states like Texas or Florida or Alabama, violate core constitutional values of due process and equal protection. For them, the frustration is not that judges and juries and prosecutors tip the scales of justice against capital defendants but that they don’t tip the scales enough.

In a perfect world, the United States Supreme Court years ago would have conducted a searing review of the core of capital punishment laws. The justices would have moved to end (or limit) racial disparities in capital sentencing and ensured that murder suspects were given competent defense counsel…

(Read on.)


The LA County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday on Supe Gloria Molina’s motion to end a formerly agreed upon contract to move 500 LA County inmates to a correctional facility in Taft, CA. (Here’s the backstory.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

The supervisors voted last month to approve a $75-million, five-year plan to send about 500 county inmates serving lengthy sentences to the correctional facility run by the city of Taft. The plan was touted as a cost-effective way to free up local jail beds and increase time served by the most serious offenders.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, one of the three who initially voted in favor of the contract, said last week that she had changed her mind after learning that there is ongoing litigation between Taft and the state’s Department of Corrections.

The Taft facility housed state prison inmates until the corrections department terminated its lease in 2011. Taft sued last year, saying the state should reimburse the city for unemployment benefits paid to former employees after the facility closed. The city also sought to bar the state from exercising a contract clause that would have given it the right to lease the facility for $1 a year after 2017.

Molina said in an interview that she did not want the county to get dragged into the dispute and was concerned that the state might have sought to stop the county from leasing the beds or try to take the facility over in 2017.

The vote was 3-2 with Supes Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe dissenting. Here’s what Antonivich had to say:

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who — along with Supervisor Don Knabe — voted against halting the county’s deal with Taft, said lawyers had found that the county was on “strong legal grounds” to lease the beds at least through 2017.

In the meantime, Antonovich said, it would help relieve overcrowding in the county’s jails and increase time served by serious and violent offenders.


The LAPD pilot program to test 60 officer body cameras will officially begin in November and run for 90 days. The hope is that the cameras will bring about increased accountability on the part of officers during encounters and lower the number of civilian complaints.

Newly appointed Police Commission President Steve Soboroff raised almost $900,000 of the $1M necessary to fund 500 lapel cameras after the initial trial. (Read one of our previous posts on the cameras here.)

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Police Department’s chief information officer, Maggie Goodrich, provided the update Tuesday to the Police Commission, the LAPD’s civilian oversight board.

Goodrich said the department will receive different styles of cameras on loan from two companies — Arizona-based Taser International Inc. and Coban Technologies Inc. of Houston. After 90 days, the department will recommend one type of camera and draft policies to govern its use.

The department plans to meet with the union that represents police officers, which supports the use of the on-body cameras, the American Civil Liberties Union, city councilmembers and the Police Commission’s inspector general in creating its policies. Sgt. Dan Gomez said he’s been filling a binder with “best practices” and manuals from other departments using the technology to help inform the LAPD’s plans.

Posted in ACLU, Death Penalty, health care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 6 Comments »

A Breast Cancer Survivor “Pampers” Other Women….Veterans of the Gang World Tell Their Stories….and More on Tanaka Supporters’ Lawsuit

October 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Isabel Guillen was 32-years-old and was raising her four kids
on her own when, on February 7, 2010, she was diagnosed with stage 3-B breast cancer, and nobody seemed to be able to tell her what her chances were of surviving.

In the year before her diagnosis, Isabel gone to the doctor multiple times, worried about a lump in her breast. Yet, incredibly, the docs she saw kept telling her the lump was nothing to worry about. A cyst. Nobody bothered with a needle biopsy. Even when the thing grew from 1 centimeter to 9 centimeters.

It was only when an alarmed nurse cornered a doctor who was examining Isabel, and pestered the man into finally doing a biopsy, that the cancer was discovered. By then, Isabel was told there was no choice but to do unilateral mastectomy. The surgery was followed by 7 months of chemo and radiation.”

Isabel got so sick with the chemo that she had to ask to be laid off by both of her jobs, working for LAUSD, and also for Homeboy Industries. Since she was also too sick to go on job interviews, she was denied unemployment.

So while Isabel worried about what might become of her kids if she died, she also had to worry about how in the world she would pay her bills.

“But I was lucky,” she told me. “I had a lot of friends and family around me who were really supportive. My friends even put on a fundraising benefit for me, which helped me through the worst months. But when I went for my treatments, I saw a lot of women who were as sick as I was, and were from the same kind of neighborhoods I grew up in, but they had no support. They had nobody.”

(Isabel grew up in what were then the Pico-Aliso housing projects of Boyle Heights, a community that, at the time, was one of the poorest and most violence-haunted in Southern California. I first met her in Pico-Aliso when she was 15-years-old, and I was reporting on the area’s gangs.)

Now, three-and-a-half years after her surgery, Isabel is thus far cancer free. She is back working at Homeboy, where she just finished doing field interviews for a substance abuse/mental health project grant project.

But she hasn’t forgotten the needs of the women she met during the months of her doctor visits and treatment.

So this Sunday, Isabel is putting on the 3rd of what she calls “Chavalyta’s Pamper Me Day.” (Chavela and Chavalyta are Spanish variants on the name Isabel.)

This means that 20 women (and a few men) who are struggling with (or recovering from) cancer will receive a day of “pampering.” They’ll get massages, facials, hair-styling, hair and beauty makeovers, and other forms of happy indulgences—plus a gift basket stuffed with goodies to take home.

“We’ve found it really lifts the women’s spirits, and raises their self-esteem,” Isabel told me. “Just feeling good about yourself for a little while can make a big difference.”

All this pampering will take place Sunday, Oct. 27, from 11 am to 4 pm, Aliso-Pico Recreation Center at the corner of 4th and Gless Streets in Boyle Heights.

So for anyone desiring to donate gift items for Sunday’s pampering project, Isabel may be reached at Homeboy Industries, 323-526-1254.


Also on this coming Sunday, Oct. 27, at 7 pm, a special storytelling night with homeboys and homegirls who have transformed their lives.

Father Greg Boyle will be there (and so will WLA.) All proceeds from the night benefit Homeboy Industries.

Sun, October 27, 7:00 pm at The Echoplex
1154 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026. All tickets: $20.00


Several news outlets have followed up on our story earlier this month about the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who are newly suing the department. They claim that Sheriff Lee Baca is retaliating against them because they have openly declared their support for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is challenging Baca for the office of sheriff.

Here are some clips from the LA Times story by Seema Mehta.

….Capt. Louis Duran, has filed a complaint against Baca with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a precursor to a possible lawsuit. Of the nine captains who have publicly backed former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his bid to replace Baca, four were transferred to other jobs earlier this month, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Attorney Brad Gage, who represents Duran and other members of the department claiming to be victims of retaliation, said he expected to sue the Sheriff’s Department next month.


A representative of Baca said any transfers were driven by the department’s needs and the employees’ performance.

“There is absolutely no retaliation. This is politics at its lowest form, and the facts will bear that out,” said spokesman Steve Whitmore.


Duran said in a phone interview that he was a long-time supporter of Baca’s who decided to back Tanaka because of his work righting the budgets of both Gardena, where Duran grew up, and the Sheriff’s Department.

The 33-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department said his career has suffered since summer, when he publicly backed Tanaka. He said he first was removed from his post of five years, as a captain of the Aero Bureau, and assigned to the vehicle theft program, which he said resulted in a “considerable” loss of salary. Earlier this month, he said he was transferred again, to the office of the assistant sheriff, where he has no assignment, no staff, no office, no desk and no chair.

“There is no job for me there. There’s nothing. Lately I’ve been so disheartened, I’ve been burning time, I just haven’t been going in,” he said. “It’s basically purgatory.”

We spoke to Attorney Brad Gage who told us he is representing Louis Duran and several other veterans of LASD’s Aero Bureau (Serg. Casey Dowling and Lt. Robert Wheat), along with Commander David Waters, and others.

According to Gage, still more Tanaka supporters, such as Captains Kevin Hebert and Robert Tubbs, are filing lawsuits with another local attorney, Arnold Casillas.

Posted in American voices, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, women's issues | 65 Comments »

Who has the right to be educated in LA County Jail?…Homeboy Goes to Scotland…Gov’t Sued Over Not Protecting Endangered Species…and More

May 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Michael Garcia, who is about to turn 23 in a California state prison, was sentenced as an adult to 12 years in lock-up for his part in a gang-related crime that occurred in 2006 when he was 15. Garcia will be released in 2016, when he’s 26, at which point he is determined to reboot the trajectory of his life toward a positive—and legal—future. One important step along the way to that new life, Garcia knows, is a high school diploma.

Garcia, however, has a learning disability meaning that he does not fit well into conventional classes or instruction. Nevertheless, until he turned 22 years old, the state of California is legally required to provide him with the rest of his high school education, if he desires it, even if he’s incarcerated.

But once Garcia was moved from a juvenile facility to the LA County jail, no state or county educational agency seemed to want to be the ones to provide him with that education—although everyone seemed to cheerily agree that it was in the best interest of society, and all that good stuff, for someone to do it. The question was: who?

Joanna Lin, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, has the story about Garcia and the growing number of young, learning disabled inmates like him who are falling through a yawning gap in the special education laws, never mind that education is one of the biggest predictors when it comes to determining how well or poorly a person does when he or she gets out of prison and attempts to reenter the legal, working world.

Here’s a clip from Lin’s story:

School ended for Michael Garcia with a routine transfer from juvenile hall to adult county jail. There was no fanfare, diploma or cap and gown. He hadn’t graduated or dropped out.

He’d simply turned 18.

For the next 19 months, he was in limbo, unable to receive the high school diploma that he’ll need for most jobs and to attend college. Despite being eligible for special education under state and federal laws – Garcia has a learning disability, an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment – in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, he was a student that no one wanted to teach.

California and federal laws allow students with disabilities to receive special education services until age 22. But the laws are vague enough that deciding who should provide that education is unclear.

Garcia has spent nearly five years in legal battles trying to hold someone accountable. This year, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear Garcia’s case to determine whether an incarcerated student’s local school district – the one in which his or her parents reside – is responsible for his or her special education.

The case has implications for county inmates with disabilities and school districts across the state that could be required to send teachers into jails to instruct special education students. In L.A. County jails alone, attorneys for Garcia estimate, between 400 and 700 young adults are eligible for special education on any given day.

The court’s decision will come too late for Garcia, who is incarcerated at a state prison – a system beyond the scope of his petition. Still, said Garcia, who turns 23 in June, “it’s the least I can do.”

“I know other people are struggling to get education too but don’t have the courage to keep pushing,” he said. “I already went through that struggle. Why not keep going to help everyone else?”

NOTE: just to be clear, it is not the job of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to educate people like Garcia. It’s LAUSD and/or the state of California that is dropping the ball with young inmates with learning disabilities. (The LASD’s Education-Based Incarceration program is an entirely different kind of program.)


Father Greg Boyle and former prison lifer, James Horton (who now works for Boyle’s Homeboy Industries) were asked to visit Scotland in order to consult with local law enforcement about the uptick in crime and violence that is plaguing the country’s poorest urban areas.

Now Boyle and Horton—plus my pal, UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap—are on the ground in the land of kilts and poets, and the local media has been reporting on their peregrinations. Here’s a clip from the BBC’s coverage by Huw Williams :

Former gang member James Horton spent 12 years on death row in the US but was later cleared of a murder charge. He now works with Homeboy Industries.

“Joining a gang was like a rite of passage, and you did it because you wanted to be accepted by those in your community,” he said.

“I was drug dealer too. I was a criminal. Every opportunity that I had to do something to make some money I was most likely involved in doing that.

“You have to deal with the issue as a whole. You can tell someone ‘come join us, be with us’ but if you don’t give them no hope, or no job, then the gang will always have access to them.

“Father Greg teaches us that you can never take away a person’s hope.”


Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) said one of the biggest challenges for ex gang members and those recently out of prison was finding a meaningful job, so they could contribute economically and socially.

Father Greg Boyle and former gang member James Horton are in Glasgow working with the VRU
The VRU said Braveheart Industries, a social enterprise based on the Los Angeles experience, could improve public safety, make communities healthier and safer, and break the cycle of gang violence.

VRU director Karyn McCluskey added: “Giving people an opportunity and a job has a huge impact on their life and it has a halo effect on their family, it affects the lives of their children and their partners, and I think we can use that experience here.

“We’ve had great policing, Stephen House has driven down violence in Scotland, but the thing that really stops reoffending is giving people a positive destination and I think we can really take some of the experience from Father Greg and Homeboy Industries and use it in Scotland.”

Meetings are to be held in Glasgow, with similar sessions planned in Edinburgh and Kilmarnock later in the week, to see if the work can be replicated across Scotland.


This is one of those bureaucratic gaps that needs to be fixed immediately.

The California Report has an podcast on the topic.

Anna Challet of New America Media has still more on the issue. Here’s a clip from her story:

There are over 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system, and almost all of them are enrolled in Medicaid. Brooke Lehmann, the founder of Childworks, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., says that 80 percent of foster youth have one or more chronic medical conditions that must continue to be treated after they age out of care.

“There’s simply a cliff where they were once provided for,” she says.

To qualify for the extended coverage [to age 26], youths must have been in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday or have aged out of foster care based on their states’ age limits, and have been enrolled in Medicaid. Until now, states had an option (known as the Chafee Option), but not a mandate, to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster youths, and only until age 21. Only 33 states had adopted the Chafee Option. Now all states will be required to cover eligible youth through age 26.

But, under the extended eligibility provision, there is not currently a requirement that states must cover former foster youth who aged out of care in a different state.


The US Department of Justice, which is not exactly having a good month (what with their poorly received new habit of spying on journalists and all), is now rightfully being sued by environmental advocacy groups for their weak-kneed enforcement of protections against killing endangered species.

Julie Cart of the LA Times has the story. Hee’s a clip:

Environmental groups are taking the Justice Department to court over a policy that prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be proved that they knew they were targeting a protected animal.

Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves.

The policy stems from a Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing a wolf near Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog.

McKittrick appealed the conviction and lost, but the Justice Department nonetheless adopted a policy that became the threshold for taking on similar cases: prosecutors must prove that the individual knowingly killed a protected species.

The lawsuit charges that the policy sets a higher burden of proof than previously required, arguing, “The DOJ’s McKittrick policy is a policy that is so extreme that it amounts to a conscious and express abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility to prosecute criminal violations of the ESA as general intent crimes.”

WLA agrees

And to validate the casualness with which the feds seem to view the protection of endangered species, there is this story from early last month regarding the “mistaken” killing of a highly endangered Mexican Gray wolf by a USDA Wildlife Services employee, who said he thought he was killing a coyote.

Posted in bears and alligators, Education, environment, Foster Care, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Jail, LAUSD, wolves | 5 Comments »

New Openly Lesbian LASD Custody Commander…What Factors Lead to Wrongful Convictions…Taxes & Trucks….Dreamers & Healthcare

March 13th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

LASD Captain Kelley Frazer (see above video) is scheduled to be promoted to the position of commander and will be working under Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, the recently recruited head of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s Custody Division.

Frazer is an openly lesbian officer.

To take the promotion, Frazer will leave her post as the highly-regarded head of the LASD’s West Hollywood station, which she has led since April 2010.

When Frazer was promoted to captain and given charge of WeHo she was, at that time, the first openly gay person in department history to serve as an LASD branch commander.

Prior to WeHo, Frazer worked for the department’s Emergency Operations Bureau, and at Carson, Lennox and Temple stations, among other postings.

So what do her troops think of her?

“She’s Amazing!” said watch commander Lt. William Nash, when I called West Hollywood to get a reading. “It’s really bitter-sweet for us. We’re happy for her, and we know she deserves this opportunity but….she will be missed. She’s a great person. Ask anyone here.”

According to Nash, Fraser “cares for everyone in her command,” really looks out for their well being, and knows how to get the best out of people. “But she’s also a tough as nails as a cop,” said Nash. “She wants to make sure we’re on top of our jobs. She wants us to be safe, but she wants this community to be safe. And she really wants to get the bad guys off the street.”

West Hollywood Mayor, Jeff Prang, told the WeHo News that,”That an out member of the LGBT community now is in the highest ranks of the sheriff’s department is really good for West Hollywood and it’s good for LGBT people.”

Indeed. And with any luck Frazer will be good for the LASD Custody Division.


In a fascinating new study, the National institue for Justice looked at 460 erroneous convictions and “near misses,” in which “factually innocent” defendants were released or acquitted post-indictment, and found that there were 10 factors that were most most often led to a wrongful conviction. We’ve long known the elements that most often went wrong in a wrongful conviction (mistaken or coerced eyewitness testimony, false confessions, perjured informant testimony, etc.) but the study concluded that it was incorrect to call those factors “causes.”

Causes, they found, were different. So what elements, if they appear in combination, are most likely to cause a wrongful conviction? Here are the ten factors they found:

*A younger defendant
*A criminal history
*A weak prosecution case
*Prosecution withheld evidence
*Lying by a non-eyewitness
*Unintentional witness misidentification
*Misinterpreting forensic evidence at trial
*A weak defense
*Defendant offered a family witness
*A “punitive” state culture

Anyway, to find out more, here’s the 410-page study itself. (Scroll to the executive summery.) And here’s a quickie look at the study’s contents at The Crime Report.


Surely someone at the LAPD can find a way to cut through this idiotic tax-related impasse… But, evidently so far, they haven’t.

The Huffington Post’s Anna Almendrala has the story. Here’s a clip:

Accusations are flying over the Los Angeles Police Department’s bungled effort to replace a bullet-ridden pickup truck that belonged to two women who were mistaken for fugitive Christopher Dorner one horrifying morning.

Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were delivering newspapers in Torrance, Calif., during the early hours of Feb. 7 when members of the LAPD mistook their blue Toyota Tacoma for Dorner’s getaway car, a gray Nissan Titan pickup. Officers fired 102 bullets into Carranza’s truck. While Carranza was injured by the shattered glass, Hernandez was shot in the back.

Two days after the almost-deadly case of mistaken identity, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck visited the victims’ homes to apologize, and the department publicly promised to give them a new pickup truck by the next week.

Now, more than a month after the shooting, the police still haven’t replaced Carranza’s truck. A prominent car dealership owner and a lawyer representing the two women are pointing fingers about whose fault it is….

Read on.


The video above was just released by the The California Endowment, in partnership with a group of undocumented youth in Southern and Central California. It kicked off the Endowment’s new #Health4All campaign, “an effort to drive a dialog about providing a health care solution for the remaining uninsured.”

This earlier story by Drew Joseph for the San Francisco Chronicle explains the issue from the Dreamers’ perspective. Here’s a clip:

California’s young immigrants who have been granted reprieves to stay in the country stand to gain little from the federal health reform law that the state Legislature is working to implement.

The Affordable Care Act excludes illegal immigrants from accessing the law’s benefits, but some immigrant and health advocates are angry that the young people known as Dreamers have been left out, saying the policy contradicts the law’s intent of expanding coverage to more people.

“It really defeats what the goals of the ACA were to begin with,” said Sonal Ambegaokar, health policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center….

Read the rest (and watch the video!)

Posted in health care, immigration, Innocence, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

Economics and Kids’ Brains, Pretrial Successes, and Overpaid Prison Doctors

October 23rd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Socioeconomic status plays a role in the development of certain parts of kids’ brains associated with memory, learning, and stress response, according to a Columbia University report.

Youth Today’s James Swift has the story. Here’s a clip:

According to the study, researchers observed a correlation between the education and income level of parents and the development of several areas of their children’s brains – in particular, the areas vital to stress reception, learning and memorization.

“Socioeconomic disparities in childhood are associated with remarkable differences in cognitive and socio-emotional development during a time when dramatic changes are occurring in the brain,” the report states.
Using a broad base of subjects, from families that lived at the poverty threshold to families that made more than $100,000 annually, researchers found that the hippocampi – the portion of the brain essential in memorization and learning functions – of children living with parents with higher incomes had a larger “volume” than those in subjects raised by parents with lower incomes. Similarly, researchers found that the amygdalae – the portion of the brain that processes stress – of children living with parents with more educational experiences had lower “volumes” than those in children raised by parents with less educational experiences.

The report, which is behind a pay wall, seems to focus on family income and parents’ education levels. The larger picture, however, points to the fact that children in poorer families with lower education levels are faced with more trauma than their more affluent counterparts.

In a phenomenal September episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass looks at, among other things, the relationship between brain development and education. About a third of the way through the show, Glass introduces SF pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, who explains why early childhood trauma stunts cognitive growth. Here’s his introduction to Burke’s work:

It’s well-documented that poor children do worse on tests and worse in school than better-off ones. This is the so-called achievement gap.

What this new science seems to indicate is that what is holding these children back is not poverty. It’s not the lack of money or resources in their homes. It’s stress. If you grew up in a poor household, it is more likely to be a household the just stresses you out in ways that kids in better-off homes are not stressed out. And that stress prevents you from developing these non-cognitive skills.

Be sure to listen to the whole thing—it’s important and we’ll definitely be coming back to these issues.


Pretrial release programs are seeing success in the Bay Area, with a reported 97% of San Francisco participants showing up to their court dates. Because of the developed pretrial programs, SF boasts jail populations far below capacity, unlike…you know…LA. Advocates say the release of qualified defendants awaiting trial would ease CA jail overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars, and allow nonviolent detainees to continue providing for their families while they wait.

The SF Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has the story. Here’s a clip:

Advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union and some Democratic lawmakers, say the programs promote both public safety and justice by using scientific evaluations to help judges decide whether it is safe to release a defendant before they go to trial. The current bail system, they say, favors wealth and strands low-income people behind bars because they cannot afford bail amounts. They also argue that a defendant who gets out of jail is less likely to accept a plea deal and has a better chance of an acquittal or a shorter sentence if they go to trial.

Opponents, including the bail bond industry and some law enforcement and victims rights groups, say defendants pose a lesser flight risk when they have put up money for a bail bond and that pretrial programs pose a risk to public safety, because they do not focus on the crime a person is charged with.

Under the programs, nonviolent defendants who qualify for pretrial release are either freed on their own recognizance – that is, only a promise to appear, though often there are restrictions on their behavior – or placed on supervised release, which can range from mandated group therapy to probation-like check-ins or electronic monitoring.

In San Francisco, for example, someone placed on supervised release may have to go to an anger management group once a week until the case is adjudicated and will have a case manager checking in to make sure that person appears in court.

Supporters believe the programs help counties better manage overcrowded jails. Jail populations in some counties have increased since Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment program started a year ago. Under the program, judges sentence some offenders to jails who in the past would have gone to state prisons.

But while some counties have overcrowded jails, San Francisco has been able to keep its jail population well below capacity for years, officials say, in part because of its 15-year-old pretrial release program.

“Last year, we released about 1,300 (pretrial defendants). … Our cases are predicated on public safety, and by and large, our folks are indigent,” said Will Leong, director of the city’s Pretrial Diversion Project, who said that as many as 97 percent of participants show up for their court date. “If they could afford to bail out, they do so before we can get to them.”


A 2001 class-action lawsuit (Plata v. Schwarzenegger) against the State of California over the ghastly quality of medical care in the state’s 33 prisons resulted in California’s prison health care system being handed over to a federal receiver in 2005 after the court found that things were SO bad that they violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment). But nothing is ever simple. And so it appears one of the unintended consequences was that the receiver’s unchecked power to set medical staff’s pay grades and make hiring decisions seems have sent him off the rails. The average salary of CA prison doctors last year was nearly $379,000, with the highest salary paid to a Salinas psychiatrist to the tune of over $800,000.

ABC News has the AP story. Here’s how it opens:

A doctor at California Medical Facility was paid more than $410,000 last year, while a registered nurse at High Desert State Prison made nearly $236,000 — more than twice the statewide average in both cases.

A pharmacist at Corcoran State Prison was paid more than $196,000, nearly double what is typical across the state.

Compensation for medical providers has soared in the prison system since a federal judge seized control of inmate health care in 2006 and appointed an overseer with the power to hire and set pay levels.

As the official begins to wind down his oversight, the medical hiring and salary increases have helped lead to an improvement in inmate care, but it has increased the bill for taxpayers too.

It has also led to criticism that the official — called a receiver — provided a “Cadillac” level of care for convicted felons. A state review found that only Texas pays its state prison doctors more that California.

“The problem that we had is that the receiver was not accountable to anybody,” said former state Sen. George Runner, a Republican who has frequently criticized the program.

“So the receiver could just do or choose to spend whatever amount of money he thought was necessary to solve his problem, and unfortunately now the state is stuck with that,” he said.

The receiver for medical care, J. Clark Kelso, said the state has been free to collectively bargain health care providers’ salaries since a court order increasing their wages expired three years ago.

The receiver’s goal was to correct a prison medical system that was ruled unconstitutional for its substandard care and, at one point, contributed to an inmate death each week through negligence or malfeasance.

To do that, the receivership increased salaries, created new positions at high pay and hired hundreds of employees to fill longtime vacancies.

Total spending on medical, dental and mental health care for inmates, numbering 124,700, has more than doubled over the last decade, from $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2003-04 to a projected $2.3 billion this year.

Posted in Education, health care, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, prison | 3 Comments »

Families Locked Out of Juvenile Justice Process, High School Sports Participation Reduces Suspensions and Serious Crime…and More

September 11th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Justice for Families released a report Monday analyzing the areas in which the juvenile justice system lets kids down by not actively involving families in each step of their contact with the justice system. It also lays out a “Blueprint for Youth Justice Transformation” with solutions to specific problems within the system, including the lack of parental involvement.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Kaukab Jhumra Smith has more info on the report. Here’s how it opens:

Every day, nearly 50,000 children are forced to spend the night away from their families because of their involvement in the juvenile justice system, according to a new report.

It’s not as if these youth have no one to care for them. Families of young detainees care deeply about their children, but often feel helpless when their children get into trouble — especially in the face of high adult incarceration rates, zero-tolerance school policies and reduced social services, which can make it difficult for families to offer support. Add to this a juvenile court system that practically shuts out family members from receiving or offering input, and the feelings of frustration and helplessness multiply.

These are the findings of Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice, a report released Monday that offers a blueprint for reforms that involve family members at every step when a child gets into trouble, whether at school or in the juvenile justice system. It’s based on the belief that timely and appropriate intervention, with the help of families, can prevent the inexorable march for some children from school to juvenile court, and ease their transition from detention back into society.

Such detention doesn’t just take an economic and mental toll on detainees and their families; it also affects taxpayers and state budgets. Each day a youth spent in a juvenile facility cost taxpayers $241 in 2007, the report finds. Multiplied by 64,558 youth, states across the county spent a total of $5.7 billion for detention that year.

Family members surveyed for the report said they frequently felt ignored at proceedings in juvenile courts, overlooked by probation staff and shut out of their children’s lives in correctional facilities, even when it was time for their children to be released.


High schools that have high participation rates in sports programs see fewer suspensions and major crimes on campus, according to a recent report from the University of Michigan. (WitnessLA previously posted on a similar planned study to evaluate the effect of sports programs on kids in juvie detention facilities like Camp Kilpatrick.)

Here’s a clip from U-M’s article on the report:

The research includes violent behavior and attempted rape among major crimes, and suspensions involving five or more days out of school.

“Sport participation opportunities within a school might operate to slow down or stop more major forms of delinquency within a school environment from occurring,” said Philip Veliz, a postdoctoral fellow at the U-M Substance Abuse Research Center and the study’s lead author.

He co-wrote the research with Sohaila Shakib, an associate professor of sociology at California State University-Dominguez Hills.

The suspension rates also were reduced in schools with more sports participation opportunities, but this could be related to violent crimes being more likely to result in a long-term suspension, Veliz said.

The study can be found in full (but, unfortunately, behind a pay wall) in the current issue of Sociological Spectrum.


A new report from the Sentencing Project details how the Affordable Care Act could impact corrections and public safety. Here’s a clip:

Expanded Health Care Coverage — The Affordable Care Act gives states the option of expanding Medicaid eligibility and makes prevention, early intervention, and treatment of mental health problems and substance use essential health benefits. In states that opt to expand Medicaid coverage, the Federal government will cover 100% of expenditures for the newly eligible population from 2014 to 2016, with the amount of federal funds decreasing yearly to 90% by 2020 and thereafter.

Reducing Recidivism — Because of the role mental health and substance abuse problems play in behaviors that lead to incarceration and recidivism, the Affordable Care Act could help states reduce the number of people cycling through the criminal justice system.

Addressing Racial Disparities – The new legislation may contribute to reducing racial disparities in incarceration that arise from disparate access to treatment.


Celeste appeared on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? Monday night, along with Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, to discuss Friday’s jails commission meeting and the commission investigators’ findings thus far. (Celeste’s story on the Friday hearing can be found here.)

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