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Skid Row Shooting Points to Larger Problems…..Attica Dramas, Past & Present…CA Supremes Overturn Sex Offender Housing Law…..Holder’s To Do List

March 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

TWO BODY CAMERAS IN SKID ROW SHOOTING REPORTEDLY OFFER TELLING INFO, AS DEADLY INCIDENT POINTS TO LARGER PROBLEMS, EXPERTS SAY

The above video of Sunday’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill Skid Row man by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department is the original one shot by a bystander that’s gone viral on YouTube, not one of the body cam videos that are expected to play a role in determining what actually happened, and if use of deadly force could have been avoided.

The shooting, which has inevitably sparked controversy, was covered by at least two amateur videos as well as the security camera of the Union Rescue Mission, and two body cameras worn by LAPD officers who activated their devices prior to the action.

While the LAPD has not yet released the body cam videos, LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton talked to police sources who have reviewed the videos. Here is a clip from the story outlining what Winton and Mather learned:

Footage from body cameras worn by an LAPD officer and a sergeant involved in Sunday’s deadly shooting in downtown’s skid row does not show whether the man reached for an officer’s gun, law enforcement sources said.

But three sources who reviewed the footage from the chest-mounted cameras said the video was still consistent with accounts that the man did grab an officer’s holstered pistol.

One source said an officer is heard on the video shouting “He’s got my gun” multiple times. The footage then shows the officers pulling away from the man as though his actions posed a threat, the sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

The new information comes a day after an LAPD sergeant and two officers shot and killed a man in downtown’s skid row, an area heavily populated by homeless people.

The LAPD has said the officers were responding to a 911 call about a robbery and that the man tried to fight the officers after they approached him. During the struggle, the LAPD said, the man reached for a probationary officer’s holstered pistol, prompting police to open fire.

In a press conference on Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed a still photo from the bystander’s video that appears to show the homeless man reaching for an officer’s weapon. Beck also said that two of the officers involved were among those had received extensive training in dealing with the mentally ill.

Reverend Andy Bales, the highly respected executive director of the nearby Union Rescue Mission, who said he knew the homeless man shot by officers, who called himself “Africa, told reporters that Skid Row is becoming an increasingly difficult area to police due to the influx of homeless from elsewhere in LA County where officials, rather than deal with their own homeless residents, send them to Skid Row. Bales called current conditions the worst he’s seen.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who has been widely praised for his own longterm work on Skid Row, echoed many of Bales’ observations on his Facebook page on Monday regarding the about the newly dire nature of conditions for LA’s homeless. (Joseph was not present at the shooting on Sunday.) The current system “is failing the mentally ill,” he wrote, “it is failing the community they live in, as well as the officers who serve them.”

URM’s Bales went further and strongly recommended far more training for law enforcement, and that the specially trained officers be allowed to take the lead in approaching homeless who are likely mentally ill, while armed officers wait nearby.

The veteran homeless expert told the LA Times columnist Sandy Banks that he’s frequently seen encounters similar to Sunday’s go wrong, “because the officers are all using one hand to protect their guns.”


A BEATDOWN OF AN INMATE INSIDE ATTICA PRISON BY GUARDS WAKES OLD GHOSTS AND RESULTS IN NEW CHARGES—AND A VERY UNEXPECTED SETTLEMENT

Built in the 1930′s, the supermax prison located in Attica, New York, seems to have more than the usual number of ghosts—vivid collective memories that still haunt nearly everyone locked up in or working at the place.

Attica Correctional Facility entered the national lexicon in September 9, 1971 when, after weeks of tension, the inmates rioted and took over the facility, beating a guard fatally in the process. Although guards took most of the prison back within hours, 1,281 convicts retained control of an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. When negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an uncontrolled storm of bullets.

A total of 43 people died. That number included the original guard killed by inmates, William Quinn, and three inmates who were beaten to death by other prisoners. The extensive investigation that followed showed that the rest were killed by gunfire, and that the inmates never had access to firearms.

The terrible riot happened nearly 45 years ago. But now a new case of a brutal inmate beatomg by guards has resurrected many of the old ghosts.

A story by Tom Robbins, for both the Marshall Project and the New York Times, investigates the more recent incident, and also looks at it’s psychological resonance with the past.

The story concerns an inmate named George Williams, a 29-year-old African American man from New Jersey who was doing two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan. What happened to Williams occurred around 30 minutes after a noisy verbal exchange between a guard and an inmate, in which the guard swore, and the inmate swore back, then added a disrespectful and obscene suggestion, after the swearing.

Here are some clips detailing what happened next:

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

[SNIP]

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica…

[SNIP]

After the beating ended, an inmate who was across from the dayroom, Maurice Mayfield, watched as an officer stepped on a plastic safety razor and pried out the blade. “We got the weapon,” Mr. Mayfield heard the guard yell.

Mr. Williams was handcuffed and pulled to the top of a staircase. “Walk down or we’ll push you down,” he heard someone say. He could not walk, he answered. His ankle was broken. As he spoke, he was shoved from behind. He plunged down the stairs, crashing onto his shoulder at the bottom. When guards picked him up again, he said, one of them grabbed his head and smashed his face into the wall. He was left there, staring at the splatter of his own blood on the wall in front of him.

An extensive investigation resulted. And on December 13, 2011, a New York state grand jury handed down criminal indictments against four Attica guards.

Inmates at Attica were stunned by the indictments as well. To them, the remarkable thing about the beating Mr. Williams endured that August night was not the cynical way in which it seemed to have been planned, or even the horrific extent of his injuries. What was truly notable was that the story got out, and that officers had been arrested and charged.

“What they did? How they jumped that guy? That was normal,” said a prisoner who has spent more than 20 years inside Attica. “It happens all the time,” he said. That view was echoed in interviews with more than three dozen current and former Attica inmates, many of whom made the rounds of the state’s toughest prisons during their incarceration. They cited Attica as the most fearsome place they had been held, a facility where a small group of correction officers dole out harsh punishment largely with impunity. Those still confined there talked about it with trepidation. If quoted by name, retaliation was certain, they said.

Those now beyond the reach of the batons described life at Attica in detail. Antonio Yarbough, 39, spent 20 years in the prison after being convicted of a multiple murder of which he was exonerated in 2014. Unlike Mr. Williams, Mr. Yarbough could go head-to-head with the biggest of Attica’s guards: He is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. But he said that fear of those in charge was a constant. “You’re scared to go to the yard, scared to go to chow. You just stay in your house,” he said, using prison slang for a cell.

That fear was palpable to Soffiyah Elijah when she visited Attica a few months before the beating of Mr. Williams as the Correctional Association’s newly appointed executive director. The organization holds a unique right under state law that allows it to inspect state prisons. “What struck me when I walked the tiers of Attica was that every person, bar none, talked about how the guards were brutalizing them,” Ms. Elijah said. “There are atrocities as well at Clinton and Auburn, but the problem is systemic at Attica.” In 2012, the association began calling for Attica to be shut down. “I believe it’s beyond repair,” Ms. Elijah said.

On Monday, a day after the publication of the above story, the case was unexpectedly settled when three of the guards accused of beating Williams so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg, each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. Tom Robbins and Lauren D’Avolio report for the New York Times about the last-minute plea deal that spared the three any jail or prison time in exchange for quitting their jobs.


CALIFORNIA STATE SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST LAW SEVERELY RESTRICTING WHERE SEX OFFENDERS CAN LIVE

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that the residence restrictions imposed by the the 2006 voter approved Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act—AKA Jessica’s Law—violate the constitutional protections laid out in the 14th Amendment.

Jessica’s Law prevents registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or park where children gather, regardless of whether or not the offenders’ crimes involved children, or if the offender’s crimes suggested he or she posed any kind of credible future threat.

The law was challenged by four sex offender parolees in San Diego County who contended that the restrictions made it nearly impossible to find a place to live, thus undermining public safety by often forcing offenders into homelessness.

Jacob Sullum writing for Reason Magazine has more. Here’s a clip:

The state Supreme Court agreed, noting that the 2,000-foot rule excludes 97 percent of the land zoned for multifamily housing in San Diego County. Writing for the court, Justice Marvin Baxter said such an onerous burden, imposed without individual evaluation, cannot be justified even under the highly deferential “rational basis” test, which requires only that a law be rationally related to a legitimate government interest:

Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has severely restricted their ability to find housing in compliance with the statute, greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them, and hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative social services available to all parolees, while further hampering the efforts of parole authorities and law enforcement officials to monitor, supervise, and rehabilitate them in the interests of public safety. It thus has infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators, and has violated their basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive official action.

The court said residence restrictions are still permissible as a condition of parole, “as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee.”

The ruling technically only affects San Diego County, but opens up challenges for other California counties, especially those containing large cities.


NEW US AG LYNCH UNLIKELY TO BE CONFIRMED ‘TILL NEXT WEEK, BUT HOLDER HAS A TO DO LIST

While according to Politico, it appears that U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch will not be confirmed until next week. (She was nominated by President Obama in November to replace outgoing AG Eric Holder.) In the meantime, however, in the Washington Post, Holder has put forth a four point To Do list of “unfinished business” in the realm of criminal justice. Here are Holder’s big four:

1. RETROACTIVITY ON THE CRACK/POWDER FAIR SENTENCING ACT “First, although Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act to eliminate a discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, thousands of individuals who committed crimes before 2010 are still serving sentences based on the old ratio. This is unfair. Congress should pass legislation to apply that statute retroactively…”

2. PASS A LAW RESTRICTING MANDATORY MINIMUMS “Second, while the Justice Department has declined to seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences in cases where they are not warranted, we need to codify this approach…”

3. ONCE YOU DO YOUR TIME, YOUR VOTING RIGHTS SHOULD BE RESTORED: “Third, in individual states, legislatures should eliminate statutes that prevent an estimated 5.8 million U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote because of felony convictions….”

4. OPERATIONAL DRUG COURTS IN EVERY FEDERAL DISTRICT: Finally, we should seek to expand the use of federal drug courts throughout the country for low-level drug offenses. These programs provide proven alternatives to incarceration for men and women who are willing to do the hard work of recovery…

Posted in Homelessness, How Appealing, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Sentencing, Skid Row | No Comments »

Women and Reentry, Obama Supports Smarter Sentencing Act, Former 3rd-Strikers Stay Out of Prison…and More

February 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A NEW WAY OF LIFE: HELPING WOMEN ON THE OUTSIDE

in a story for Cosmopolitan, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky takes a look at how critical reentry programs are to combatting the nation’s sky-high recidivism rates, with a particular focus on women.

If they are lucky, when women are released from prison (and jail), they will be connected with services and programs to help them successfully reenter their communities. And while reentry and rehabilitation offerings are growing, the majority of women leaving prison still don’t receive the help they need to make it on the outside. More than half of women return to prison within five years.

In South LA, one sober-living transitional housing program,a New Way of Life (ANWOL), has an 80% success rate, and has helped more than 750 women reintegrate, go back to school, find jobs, stay sober, and navigate the piles of treatments and classes and meetings with their probation and parole officers.

ANWOL’s founder, Susan Burton, has a personal knowledge of prison’s revolving door, having cycled in and out of lock-up herself for 15 years.

Here are some clips from Friedman-Rudovsky’s story:

Tiffany Johnson felt excited, scared, and a little incredulous on the day she was released from Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the world. She’d done 16 years of her life sentence, which she got for killing her mother’s boyfriend — the man she says raped her every day from age 5 to age 10. As Tiffany exited the prison gates, two thoughts ran through her mind: “I can’t believe this is happening” and “It’s a trick.”

A few hours later, the mixed emotions distilled into fear. “I tried to take a shower,” recalled Tiffany of that April 2010 night. She turned on the water, but it came out from the tub faucet below and she couldn’t figure out how to get it to flow from above. “I cried and cried,” she said. “I felt like if this is a problem, just turning on a shower, what else am I going to run into? What other struggles am I going to have?”

The list began with the mundane, like learning to use a cell phone and getting used to closing a door herself to be alone in a room. Then there were real challenges. As a felon, she was banned from most low-income housing, and finding a job seemed near impossible. In prison she had become an expert electrician, supervising and training the other women in her penitentiary’s electrical sector. Yet every time she applied for a job, she had to check a box admitting her criminal history and never even got interviews. She finally contacted the electronic company her prison subcontractor supplied, figuring they’d give her a chance. “They didn’t,” Tiffany, now 46, said, rolling her eyes. “I served my time and I was out. But it didn’t matter. It’s like I was still serving a life sentence.”

[SNIP]

“Effective reentry programs are the exception to the rule in terms of women’s transitions back into society,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based criminal justice research and advocacy organization. Hundreds of these programs have sprouted up over the years, but the supply is not nearly enough to deal with the demand, and few prison systems have adequate prerelease programs that inform women about their options. Though prisoners’ rights advocates hold prerelease seminars when they can, often inmates are left to find out about these services through word of mouth or chance. Tiffany learned about ANWOL from an offhand comment by a member of her parole board.

Though no one keeps track of the exact number of people released into reentry programs in the U.S., experts say the vast majority of newly released people land on their own and on the street. Women face all the challenges men do, plus added pitfalls, including limited job options, specialized housing needs, and social stigma. “Compared to 20 years ago, we have a greater understanding and concern about the situation for women,” Mauer said. But, he added, there’s a long way to go.

[SNIP]

Most parole and probation arrangements demand regular compliance checks, drug tests, limited contact with possible co-conspirators, restrictions on travel, group meetings, and frequent in-person reporting, on top of finding a job and place to live. “Who knows where she slept last night and you’re asking her to do all this?” said Evelyn Ayala, ANWOL’s case manager supervisor. “Disaster waiting to happen.”

Release practices are just part of the problem, Mauer of the Sentencing Project said. “Almost all our correctional systems say they are committed to reentry,” he said, “but the scale of what they do in practice is often pretty modest.” The trouble, he explained, is twofold: not enough programming to prepare women (or men) before they are released and the availability of services once they get out.

“When you get listed on parole, they are supposed to tell you everything that is available to you,” Tiffany said. “They don’t tell you all that. They just inform you that you have the right to get assistance from the parole agent.”


OBAMA BACKS SMARTER SENTENCING ACT TO CUT MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCES

President Barack Obama says he wants the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act to pass. (If you’re unfamiliar, the proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, would cut certain mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses in half.)

Obama expressed his support of the bill at a meeting with members of Congress to discuss ways to fix the nation’s broken criminal justice system.

USA Today’s Gregory Korte has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

White House spokesman Frank Benenati said Wednesday that the White House is still reviewing the text of the legislation, but that “it certainly appears” that the Labrador proposal meshes with the president’s aims to “make our communities safer, treat individuals more justly and allow more efficient use of enforcement resources.”

Obama has signaled his support for sentencing changes as recently as Monday, when he praised governors who had signed similar bills at a White House dinner.

“Last year was the first time in 40 years that the federal incarceration rate and the crime rate went down at the same time,” Obama said. “Let’s keep that progress going, and reform our criminal justice system in ways that protect our citizens and serves us all.”

Labrador said that’s an important point for Obama to make. “The main obstacle is the perception that sentencing reform will lead to more crime. And I think the opposite is true,” he said. “The concern is that we want to continue to be tough on crime, but we want to be smart on crime.”

[SNIP]

“There’s a profound zeitgeist. There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come,” Booker said. “Well, this idea is coming and that power I think is gonna push something good through Congress.”


ONLY 4.7% OF CA’S FREED THIRD-STRIKERS RETURNED TO PRISON…10 TIMES HIGHER SUCCESS RATE THAN THE REST OF CA PRISONERS

Since the 2012 passage of Prop 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), more than 2000 inmates serving life-sentences for low-level “third-strike” offenses have been resentenced and released in California.

An average of 18 months after being freed, only 4.7% of former third-strikers are locked up again for new crimes, compared with the rest of California’s prison population, which has a recidivism rate of about 45% a year and a half after release. And when third-strikers return to lock-up, it is most often for a drug or burglary offenses.

Erik Eckholm, in today’s front-page NY Times story has more on the former lifers and why they are triumphing over the statistics. Here’s how it opens:

William Taylor III, once a lifer in state prison for two robbery convictions and the intent to sell a small packet of heroin, was savoring a moment he had scarcely dared to imagine: his first day alone, in a place of his own.

“I love the apartment,” he said of the subsidized downtown studio, which could barely contain the double bed he insisted on having. “And I love that I’m free after 18 years of being controlled.”

“My window has blinds, and I can open and close them!” he exclaimed to visitors the other day, reveling in an unaccustomed, and sometimes scary, sense of autonomy.

Mr. Taylor, 58, is one of more than 2,000 former inmates who were serving life terms under California’s three-strikes law, but who were freed early after voters scaled it back in 2012. Under the original law, repeat offenders received life sentences, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years, even if the third felony was as minor as shoplifting.

Formerly branded career criminals, those released over the last two years have returned to crime at a remarkably low rate — partly because they aged in prison, experts say, and participation in crime declines steadily after age 25, but also because of the intense practical aid and counseling many have received. And California’s experience with the release of these inmates provides one way forward as the country considers how to reduce incarceration without increasing crime.

“I hope the enduring lesson is that all of these people are not hopeless recidivists,” said Michael Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, which provides legal aid to prisoners and training to public defenders.


FREE MINDS INSPIRES TEENS BEHIND BARS, AND HELPS THEM ACHIEVE THEIR DREAMS ONCE RELEASED

In Washington DC, a non-profit jail book club, Free Minds, uses poetry as an emotional and creative outlet for teens behind bars, and provides them with a support system of reentry services and fellow alumni to keep each other on track and motivated (and to eat pancakes and share poetry with) once they are released. We’ve covered the healing power of poetry before: here, and here.)

The Washington Post’s Robert Samuels has more on the program, and the teens and young men who benefit from it. Here’s a clip:

…they stick together. The support system that strengthened them then is the one they are counting on to help them now that they’re out. The unlikely community has become an unlikely lifeline, as they try to defy the patterns that send ex-offenders back to jail.

They fall into a high-risk category: Juveniles tried as adults are 34 percent more likely than youth tried as juveniles to return to prison, according to a 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The alumni of the book club have no interest in becoming part of this statistic. So they work together to create goals. They applaud when someone meets his goal, such as when Barksdale got a job working full time as a city maintenance worker. They share job leads and work out together and meet up for pancakes.

They particularly like to lead writing workshops, which is why they are at this English class on a January day.

Barksdale recites a poem he wrote in his sixth year of prison, at 22:

“The things we took up are guns, knives and bats, yeah, we be armed and strong

But how do you know it’s not right if you’re being taught wrong?”

Read more poetry from the young men of Free Minds, here. And go over to the Washington Post to watch participants share their poetry.


BOOSTS TO ARTS EDUCATION IN LA, INCLUDING PARTNERSHIPS WITH COMMUNITY ARTS PROGRAMS

The Los Angeles Unified School district is seeking to re-establish community arts education partnerships (once spurned) to bring art back into classrooms. The school district is also developing a formula to allocate arts funds more appropriately to schools and that need it most.

KPCC’s Mary Plummer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Pullens lauded the district’s recent announcement clearing the way for arts funding for low-income students, and pointed to new allocations this year that helped some of the district’s schools purchase items like art supplies.

He also said the district is working on a school survey to create an arts equity index that will change the way the district allocates arts funds. The index would measure how well schools are providing arts instruction and arts access to students. Originally planned for release last year, the index is now expected next month.

But Pullens also painted a grim picture of the district’s current arts offerings. He said about a third of the district’s middle schools currently offer little or no exposure to the arts. Some of the district’s students can go through both elementary and middle school without taking a single arts class, he said. Because of gaps in arts instruction, students who start learning an instrument in elementary school, for example, might not have classes to continue music study in their middle or high schools.

Posted in Homelessness, LAUSD, Obama, prison, Reentry | No Comments »

“Ghettoside”….Unsolved Murders….a CA Prison Healthcare Company and Inmate Deaths…and Helping Homeless Kids

January 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

“HOMICIDE REPORT” CREATOR JILL LEOVOY’S NEW BOOK PORTRAYS VIOLENCE IN INNER CITY COMMUNITIES

In her brand new book, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, LA Times crime reporter Jill Leovy tells the story of an 18-year-old son of a homicide detective, Bryant Tennelle, who was shot by gang members looking for an easy target from a rival neighborhood. Tennelle was a smart, black kid who was not in a gang.

Ghettoside uses Tennelle’s tragic death and subsequent investigation as a human portrait of homicide in Los Angeles and across the country, particularly young men of color killing other young men of color, breakdowns in the criminal justice system, and why so many of these murders go unsolved.

Leovy’s book is already getting a lot of well-deserved attention (and we’ll have more on Ghettoside when it’s released).

Prior to writing Ghettoside, Leovy created the LA Times’ Homicide Report, a ground-breaking blog that endeavored to record every homicide in LA County, and told the stories of the unknown and unnoticed victims, matching faces to the statistics.

NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Leovy about her book, which will be released tomorrow (Tuesday). Here’s a clip:

On what the Tennelle murder investigation found:

The [detectives] … call it “profiling murder.” And so what’s happening is gang members will get in a car, they will go to the rival neighborhood to send a message and they will just look for the easiest, most likely victim they can find. And [it's] probably going to be a young black man. And if he fits the part, that’s good enough. And an astonishing number of victims — I did a count in 2008 of 300-some LA homicides of the gang-related homicides, and I think something like 40 percent of the victims were this sort of a victim: non-combatant, not directly party to the quarrel that instigated the homicide, but ended up dead nonetheless.

On the challenge of getting witnesses to talk:

Well, everybody’s terrified. I’ve had people clutch my clothes and beg me to not even write that there was anybody at the scene. I’m not even describing them. They just don’t want anyone to know that there was somebody at the scene. …

In the big years in LA, in the early ’90s, young black men in their early 20s — who, by the way, are a disproportionate group among homicide witnesses because this is the milieu they’re in — had a rate of death from homicide that was higher than those of American troops in Iraq in about 2005. So people talk about a “war zone” — it was higher than a combat death rate. They are terrified, they have concrete reason to be terrified and then the justice system comes along and asks them to put themselves in possibly even more danger. What would you do?

Ghettoside also landed a front-page NY Times book review by Jennifer Gonnerman.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE UNSOLVED HOMICIDES IN L.A. OF YOUNG MEN OF COLOR…

The LA Daily News has two excellent stories sharing common themes with Leovy’s Ghettoside.

In the first, Sarah Favot, compiled and analyzed mountains of unsolved LA County homicide data from 2000-2010. Favot found that 46% of the 11,244 homicides recorded during those years remain unsolved. At 54%, LA County had nearly a 10% lower success rate than the national average (63%).

Here are some clips from Favot’s report:

The homicide information analyzed by this news organization is the first-of-its-kind database of unsolved homicide cases in L.A. County from Jan. 1, 2000, through Dec. 31, 2010. A 54 percent countywide clearance is not satisfactory, said L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “In the real world, these are people’s lives and their memories and how they view the system,” McDonnell said. “You can never bring the person back, but at least there is some level of justice when people are held accountable; it adds to the credibility of the system.”

[SNIP]

The data analysis is based on 11,244 homicides recorded over the time period by the L. A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. Law enforcement agencies throughout the county provided the statuses of 10,501 homicide investigations. Information was not provided on 682 cases and detectives determined an additional 61 deaths were no longer considered homicides.

In 44 percent of the cases in which the status was known, a suspect had been arrested. About 10 percent of the homicides are considered “solved by other means” either because the suspect had died, the case was deemed a murder-suicide or police investigators determined the death to be justified, as in the case of an officer-involved shooting.

“This is eye-popping data when you look at it in detail,” said Jody Armour, the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at USC. “You see stark differences in just homicide numbers and (clearance) rates as a function of race….It’s a window on race and class and crime in L.A. and therefore in much of America.”

[SNIP]

Half of the homicides of black victims remain unsolved. Black victims made up about 34 percent of all homicides recorded in L.A. County during the 11-year period.

Blacks and Latinos are killed most often because they are more likely to live in high crime and gang-affected areas where illegal weapons proliferate, said Jorja Leap, a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and nationally recognized gang expert conducting a five-year research study evaluating the impact of Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention and re-entry program in Los Angeles.

In the second, Rebecca Kimitch explores two crucial reasons many of these homicides go unsolved—witnesses’ mistrust of law enforcement and fear of retaliation for “snitching”—as well as what can be done to build trust between cops and communities. Here are some clips:

…some departments in large cities across the United States, including Houston, Denver, San Diego and Jacksonville, have bucked the trend, boasting homicide clearance rates of 80 to 90 percent. They’ve even cleared more of the most difficult to crack cases: those involving gangs.

How have they done it?

To start, by finding something that doesn’t cost a dime but eludes most police departments: community trust.

[SNIP]

“People just don’t want to get involved. Nobody would tell me, ‘Detective Yu, this is what I saw,’ ” the detective said. “That happens a lot in gang cases. At the end of the day, the common denominator is people are scared to talk.”

It’s the snitch rule, explained 26-year-old South L.A. student Shea Harrison. Talking means risking your life, he said, and it doesn’t matter if the victims weren’t part of a gang.

“It’s just the code,” he said.

On the rare occasion that witnesses come forward with information in gang-related homicides, getting them to testify in court “can take an act of God,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide Detective Frank Salerno.

And with the Internet and social media making it easier to track people down, the fear of retribution is growing, Salerno said, making the public less and less inclined to get involved. While social media has also made it easier, in come cases, for police to track down witnesses, just because someone said something on Twitter, they aren’t necessarily going to say more to police or in a courtroom, Salerno said.

In some cases, it’s not gangs that potential witnesses fear, it’s the police…


PRIVATE PRISON HEALTH CARE COMPANY SUED FOR INADEQUATE CARE IN THE WAKE OF INMATE DEATHS

California Forensic Medical Group provides health care (and in many cases mental health care) to 65 adult and juvenile facilities in more than 20 counties, including Ventura, Yolo, Monterey, and Sonoma.

Allegations of negligence via inadequate physical and mental healthcare, drug detox services, and severe understaffing have emerged as the number of healthcare-related deaths have jumped in counties across the state. CFMG has come up against more than a dozen lawsuits by California inmates’ families.

From 2004 to 2014, 92 people either committed suicide or overdosed on drugs under the care of CFMG in county facilities. In 2012, when CFMG took over health care in Santa Cruz, four people died within the nine months. Last year in Sonoma, four inmates died in less than a month.

The Sacramento Bee’s Brad Branan has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

On a Saturday morning in 2010, Clearlake police showed up at the home of 38-year-old Jimmy Ray Hatfield after he barricaded himself in his bedroom and told his parents he had a bomb.

Hatfield was mentally ill and thought someone was going to kill him, his parents told police. After a lengthy standoff, he was brought to a hospital, given an antipsychotic and a sedative and transported to the Lake County jail, records show.

The jail nurse received paperwork from the hospital detailing his psychotic state, but said she did not review it because that was the job of another nurse. That nurse wasn’t scheduled to work for another day and a half.

By then, Hatfield was found unresponsive in his cell, hanging from a bed sheet.

The company responsible for the jail’s health care, California Forensic Medical Group, was accused by Hatfield’s family of negligence in his death and settled the case for an undisclosed amount. It has faced allegations that it failed to provide proper care in dozens of U.S. District Court cases over the last decade.

CFMG is the state’s largest for-profit correctional health care company, delivering medical service in 27 counties, including El Dorado, Placer and Yolo. The company also provides jail mental health service in 20 counties.

The company started in 1984 with a contract to provide care in Monterey County and has consistently grown by taking over inmate health care in small and medium-size counties. Bigger counties, including Sacramento, tend to provide their own correctional health care.

Since the state started sentencing lower level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons in 2011, attorneys who successfully sued the state over inmate health care are now suing counties. That realignment has prompted more counties to rely on private companies such as CFMG to oversee jail health care to control costs and reduce liability.

At least three county grand juries have criticized the company’s role in inmate deaths. Some investigations have been spurred by a spike in deaths – four people in Sonoma County in an 11-month period ending in 2007 and four people in nine months in Santa Cruz County after CFMG took over health care in 2012.

Sonoma County officials are promising yet another investigation following the death of four inmates in less than a month last year.

A common thread in the reports and court complaints: CFMG allegedly provides insufficient mental health and detoxification services, two of the most persistent needs in jails.


NINE PRINCIPLES FOR HELPING KIDS ESCAPE HOMELESSNESS

In LA County in 2013, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members were children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s homeless count.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Robin Rivera, once a runaway herself, points to nine evidence-based approaches to help children out of homelessness, established by the Homeless Youth Collaborative on Developmental Evaluation.

Here are the first four:

Journey Oriented: Recognizing that everyone is on a journey and conveying that message to the client. It is helping them to see a future and they get to choose what they will create.

Trauma-Informed: All staff that have contact with clients need to be trauma trained as to be more successful and to not inflict any additional traumatic experiences for the youth.

Non-Judgmental: To make sure that clients know they will receive services and support regardless of their past, present, or future choices. This creates trust and openness.

Harm Reduction: Help clients to minimize risky behaviors in the short and long-term scenarios. This means understanding that risky behaviors do not go away over night, but an emphasis on working towards reduction.

Posted in Foster Care, Gangs, Homelessness, mental health, prison, racial justice | No Comments »

Realignment and Homeless Probationers, San Francisco to Nix Costly Jail Phone Calls, and Restorative Justice in Massachusetts Prisons

July 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INCREASE IN HOMELESS AB109 PROBATIONERS, AND HOW COUNTIES ARE DEALING WITH THE ISSUE

The diversion of lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision through California prison realignment, AB 109, was designed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding and recidivism while saving the state money. But realignment has greatly increased the number of homeless people under county supervision, where they were previously supervised under state parole officers, and many counties are struggling with the expanded responsibility.

Los Angeles County may decide to consider homelessness a violation of an inmate’s terms of release, a “solution” that many advocates see as more destructive than effective (and WLA agrees). Other counties are increasing shelter beds or providing temporary shelter for homeless probationers.

The Associated Press’ Gillian Flaccus has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

Gov. Jerry Brown based his recent overhaul of the state corrections system in part on the idea that having those convicted of lower-level crimes supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole agents when they are released would help them stay clean, find jobs and avoid committing new crimes.

A cornerstone of the law’s success is housing, yet county probation officers throughout the state say homelessness continues to undermine their ability to help ex-cons rehabilitate, get drug treatment and find jobs. Some California counties report that up to one in five of the parolees they supervise under the governor’s realignment law is homeless.

“You’ve got somebody and … they’re gang-involved, you want to get them in classes, but they live under a bridge,” said Andrew Davis, an analyst with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. “They’re not going to show up; they don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Counties across the state are dealing with the problem in different ways. Many are trying a patchwork of solutions as they adapt.

In Marin County, probation officers sometimes pick homeless parolees up at the prison gates and pay for motel rooms until they can find a bed. Santa Cruz County has contracted with local homeless shelters, a move that stirred controversy last year.

Homeless parolees in Riverside County are required to check in at an electronic kiosk and have their photo taken daily. In San Diego County, where nearly 400 former prison inmates are reporting as homeless, there’s a plan to spend $3 million to add 150 shelter beds. Parolees who say they are homeless must check in weekly with probation.

In Los Angeles County, where 758 convicts released under realignment say they have no permanent address, county attorneys are considering whether being homeless could be classified as an automatic violation of a parolee’s terms of release. That’s in part because many counties are finding that former inmates will claim homelessness to avoid close supervision.

Los Angeles has spent more than $6.5 million on housing for convicts who would have previously been the responsibility of state parole.

Counties say the number of lower-level offenders — defined as those who have committed crimes that are non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent — who are homeless upon their release has not necessarily changed since the realignment law took effect in 2011. State officials are still tallying the number.

The difference is that previously, these felons were the state’s responsibility. Counties are not strangers to dealing with homeless probationers, but now the numbers have increased.

Read on.


SAN FRANCISCO MOVES TO LOWER EXORBITANT RATES FOR LOCAL PHONE CALLS FROM JAIL

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. But because the cap only applies to out-of-state calls, contracted companies like Global Tel-Link continue to charge inmates’ families outsized fees for in-state calls and other services.

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to modify the county’s contract with Global Tel-Link to reduce the costs of local and regional calls from SF County jails by up to 70%. San Francisco is one of the first counties to take a stand against contractors like GTL overcharging inmates’ loved ones. We hope other counties in California (ahem, Los Angeles) and other states follow suit.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has the story. Here’s a clip:

The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions — in some cases to pay for inmate programs — while charging fees to cover those costs, according to regulators, lawmakers and inmate advocates.

Now, San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice — one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so.

At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to dramatically reduce the cost of calls, which can burden inmates’ families.

“We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society often depends on strong family ties.

The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70%, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45 — a 38% drop.

Earlier this year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.

So far, most state efforts have focused on prisons, not local jails, like San Francisco’s.

California and at least seven other states ban prisons from accepting commissions…

Verizon, which isn’t in the corrections business, has weighed in against the practice, telling the FCC: “Forcing inmates’ families to fund [inmate services] through their calling rates is not the answer. … Other funding sources should be pursued.”

County-run jails have opposed regulation, and have largely managed to avoid it.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) hopes to change that. He has introduced a bill that would ban commissions and require contracts to be awarded to providers offering the lowest cost of service for inmates. It would apply to all jails and juvenile facilities statewide.

The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes the measure, contending the changes would “negatively impact inmates” by reducing funds for inmate services.

But Quirk said, “I think there are better ways to fund it other than taxing grandma.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.


MASSACHUSETTS TO LAUNCH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROGRAM IN PRISONS

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a new restorative justice prison program (based on the Victim Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison) aimed at reducing recidivism. During the 34-week course, offenders will have the opportunity to connect with victims in a mutually healing environment and take responsibility for harm they caused to others.

The NY Times’ Dina Kraft has the story. Here’s how it opens:

For many of his 15 years behind the soaring prison walls here, Muhammad Sahin managed to suppress thinking of his victims’ anguish — even that of the one who haunted him most, a toddler who peeked out from beneath her blankets the night he shot and killed her mother in a gang-ordered hit.

But he found it impossible to stop the tears as he sat in a circle together with Deborah Wornum, a woman whose son was murdered, and more than a dozen other men serving terms for homicide and other violent crimes. Each participant — victim and inmate — had a very different, personal story to share with the encounter groups that met here on a recent weekend in a process called restorative justice.

Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.

“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”

Lifting his head to look directly at Ms. Wornum, he projected his crime onto the murder of her son: “I kind of feel like I caused the pain, like I’m the one who committed the crime.”

The unusual two-day gathering took place south of Boston at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, one of the state’s oldest prisons as well as its largest, with about 1,500 inmates. Under the whirring of overhead fans in an auditorium of exposed red brick, it brought 150 inmates together with victims, judges, prosecutors and mediators. Gov. Deval Patrick attended briefly and met with a small group of those present.

Restorative justice, a process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures that resurfaced in the United States and abroad in the 1970s, has begun to make headway in some states, including Massachusetts, where legislation was introduced last year to promote its practice. It brings offenders and victims together voluntarily. Offenders take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims and loved ones as well as their own families and neighborhoods. The victim is given a chance to ask questions of the offenders and share how their lives were affected by the crime. Advocates say it is key to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism….

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a curriculum on restorative justice, modeled on a program called the Victim Offender Education Group, which was developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. Meeting weekly for 34 weeks, participants will undergo a probing process aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused.

Posted in Homelessness, jail, Probation, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice | No Comments »

$5.9M LAPD Ticket Quota Settlement…Fed. Judge Orders Improved Care for CA’s Mentally Ill on Death Row…LA Social Worker Strike Ends…and More

December 11th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LAPD TRAFFIC TICKET QUOTA LAWSUIT SETTLED FOR ALMOST $6M

On Tuesday, the LA City Council approved unanimously a $5.9M settlement to 11 LAPD officers who claimed they were forced by superiors (namely West Traffic Division Captain Nancy Lauer) to comply with a traffic ticket quota of 18 tickets per shift, 80% of which were to be for major violations. The officers further alleged that they were retaliated against when the failed to make the quota or raised objection to it.

The settlement brings the LAPD’s total for legal fees and payouts from quota suits to roughly $10M, with one more case pending, according to the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Catherine Saillant. Here are some clips:

The ticket controversy has been a black eye for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ticket quotas are against state law. After the officers’ allegations were made public, LAPD officials met with police union representatives and signed a letter emphasizing that the department prohibits quotas.

Dennis Zine, a former City Council member and career LAPD motorcycle officer, said the settlement calls into question LAPD’s traffic division management. Zine is also incensed that Capt. Nancy Lauer, who ran the LAPD’s West Traffic Division at the time of the allegations, has been promoted.

“This whole thing clearly shows me that management did not do what they needed to do and taxpayers are footing the bill for that,’’ said Zine, who lost a bid for city controller in this year’s municipal elections.

[SNIP]

The lawsuits alleged that Lauer, who ran the division starting in 2006, required officers to write at least 18 traffic tickets each shift and demanded that 80% of the citations be for major violations.

Officers who failed to meet the alleged ticket minimums or raised concerns about them were reprimanded, denied overtime assignments, given undesirable work schedules, and subjected to other forms of harassment, according to the lawsuits. In a few instances, Lauer allegedly tried to kick officers out of the motorcycle unit, the lawsuits claim.

In a statement, Chief Charlie Beck defended the division’s practices. Management set “goals” to reduce traffic violations that resulted in serious injury and death, Beck said, but the jury in a separate 2009 case interpreted that as quotas, he said.

“We do not agree with the original jury’s findings,” he said. “Unfortunately the large jury award in the earlier court case made settling this case the most prudent business decision.”

Lauer, who currently runs one of the department’s patrol divisions, said she instructed officers to ticket illegal driving but did not set quotas.

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov also covered this story. Here’s a clip of LA Police Protective League Prez Tyler Izen’s take on the settlement:

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said he hopes the suit sends a message to the department.

“I hope this is the last time any of our officers have to settle a grievance in the court system,” Izen said. “I would like to see us get to a point where we can figure out a way to enforce the laws without us ending up in court.”


FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL DEATH ROW INMATES NEED INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC CARE

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the CDCR is not providing adequate psychiatric treatment to California’s mentally ill death row inmates, and ordered state officials to come up with a solution. The ruling by US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (a member of that three-judge panel who ordered Gov. Jerry Brown’s compliance with a prison population reduction SCOTUS ruling) is a development in a federal case brought in 1991 against the state alleging rampant abuse of mentally ill prisoners. (Here is an October WLA post about recent hearings.)

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered state officials to work with a court-appointed monitor to find solutions. Options include creating a specialized inpatient psychiatric facility at San Quentin State Prison, which houses condemned inmates.

State officials are not meeting their constitutional duty to provide condemned inmates with sufficient inpatient treatment, the Sacramento-based judge said in a 28-page ruling.

“The state is committed to providing quality medical and mental health care for all inmates,” Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement. She said the state will work with the court’s special master to make sure that mentally ill inmates on death row receive proper care.

Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill inmates in the ongoing class-action lawsuit, called the ruling “a very significant victory.”

[SNIP]

Inmates’ attorneys would not object to creating a psychiatric unit at San Quentin to treat inmates awaiting execution, Bien said. That would keep the inmates close to their families and attorneys while saving the state the expense of building a high-security mental health unit at another prison, he said.


LA COUNTY DCFS STRIKE ENDS, BUT NOT BEFORE DEMONSTRATORS ARE ARRESTED

A six-day LA County social worker strike ended Tuesday after heated rallies and the arrests of seven protestors who refused to move from the middle of an intersection. (In case you missed the story this week: the striking DCFS workers were demanding smaller caseloads in order for DCFS workers to adequately serve LA’s “most vulnerable” kids.)

DiamondBar-Walnut Patch posted this story from City News Service. Here’s a clip:

Social workers who walked off the job Thursday were expected back at work Wednesday. The resumption of labor talks was bargained by a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.

“Today the county got the message loud and clear,” according to Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721. “When they saw the incredible solidarity of our members on the street, the supervisors knew they had to act. And now I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county.”

Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police…

Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.

“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.

About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.

The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.


RECOMMENDED LONGREAD: LIFE FOR A HOMELESS CHILD IN A NEW YORK SHELTER

We didn’t want you to miss NY Times’ Andrea Elliot’s excellent five-part longread that, over the course of several months, follows an eleven-year-old named Dasani who shares a room in a crumbling Brooklyn shelter with her parents and seven younger siblings. Here’s how it opens:

She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire State Building, the first New York skyscraper to reach 100 floors. Her gaze always stops at that iconic temple of stone, its tip pointed celestially, its facade lit with promise.

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she says, taking inventory: The fork and spoon are her parents and the macaroni, her siblings — except for Baby Lele, who is a plump chicken breast.

“So that’s a lot on my plate — with some corn bread,” she says. “That’s a lot on my plate.”

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

Homeless children across the country are living in very similar conditions—many without even a shelter to provide the most basic necessities. In LA County, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members are children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2013 homeless count.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, DCFS, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LAPPL, Mental Illness, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Inmate Tech Entrepreneur Program Comes to Twin Towers…Help for LA’s Homeless Moms…Suicide of Deputy’s Girlfriend Leaves Much Unanswered…and a Bill for Brightly-Colored Fake Guns

November 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TO TRAIN TWIN TOWERS INMATES FOR FUTURE JOBS WITH TECH START-UPS

A relatively new business tech program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison expanded this month to serve inmates at LA County’s Twin Towers Jail. Participants take classes twice a week for six months where they learn how to create and launch tech companies—from actual experts.

If inmates graduate the course, they are guaranteed paid internships upon their release from prison or jail. The program has been a successful anti-recidivism tool thus far: the five released San Quentin graduates are all employed in the tech sector.

KPCC’s Martha Mendoza has the story. Here’s a clip:

The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.

“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today’s high-tech, wired world,” says co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has launched thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange…

“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?’” [Redlitz] recalled.

After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.

Now, during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google— practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.

The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and now a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.

They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.


NEW PROGRAM TO HELP LA’S HOMELESS MOMS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

A new program will provide 60 homeless mothers with desperately-needed housing, mental health services, and help finding employment with funds raised by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The program is an extension of Project 50, a homelessness initiative created by Supe. Yaroslavsky to locate and house Skid Row’s 50 most at-risk residents.

The LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here are some clips:

Named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.8 million wing inside the Didi Hirsch Via Avanta building on Glenoaks Boulevard was hailed by county leaders and nonprofit groups as proof that collaboration can help solve one of the biggest problems in the region.

[SNIP]

About 54,000 people were counted as homeless in Los Angeles County this year, an 18 percent increase compared with the last survey in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. About 15 percent of the county’s homeless are from the San Fernando Valley, which also is an increase, especially among families, the LAHSA figures show.

To help the homeless, Yaroslavsky championed Project 50 in 2010, an initiative to identify Skid Row’s 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless, and get them housing, medical care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment so they can live off the streets. But the supervisor acknowledged that it’s a massive undertaking, especially in Los Angeles, which continued to see an increase among the homeless this year compared to 2012, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Didi Hirsch program is an extension of Project 50, organizers said.

Didi Hirsch President and Chief Executive Officer Kita S. Curry said the new wing will help 60 women with children for six months. Afterward, the women will move into housing, thanks to vouchers secured by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.


A SUSPICIOUS SUICIDE AND A SHODDY INVESTIGATION: DEATH OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S GIRLFRIEND STILL LEAVES TROUBLING QUESTIONS

In September 2010, in St. Augustine, FL., a young mother died from a wound inflicted by her boyfriend’s sheriff’s dept.-issued handgun. The young deputy, Jeremy Banks, said he heard the gunshots from several rooms away, and found his girlfriend Michelle O’Connell bleeding to death.

Investigated by Banks’ own department, the crime scene DNA was left untested, the neighborhood uncanvassed, family and friends uninterviewed, and O’Connell’s suspicious death was quickly pronounced a suicide. And, although new pieces of the puzzle turned up and pointed to Banks, including alleged domestic violence, efforts made to re-open the case were stamped out.

The NY Times’ Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber have an excellent interactive narrative of the case and the aftermath. (A PBS “Frontline” documentary produced concurrently with the article will premiere Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 10:00p.m., but has already been released on the PBS website.)

Here are some clips:

At 11:25 p.m., the three St. Johns County officers arrived at 4700 Sherlock Place, a one-story suburban house in this historic seaside community. A young deputy, Jonathan Hawley, was already there. “Oh my God,” he cried, seeing a young woman he knew lying on the bedroom floor, an inert, bloody mess.

Michelle O’Connell, 24, the doting mother of a 4-year-old girl, was dying from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was a semiautomatic pistol that belonged to her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a deputy sheriff for St. Johns County. A second bullet had burrowed into the carpet by her right arm.

Ms. Maynard quickly escorted Mr. Banks, who had been drinking, out of the house. “All of a sudden he started growling like an animal,” she said. With his fists, Mr. Banks pounded dents in a police car.

“I grabbed him and tuned him up,” another deputy, Wesley Grizzard, recalled. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”

Within minutes of the shooting on Sept. 2, 2010, Mr. Banks’s friends, family and even off-duty colleagues began showing up, offering hugs and moral support. He huddled with his stepfather, a deputy sheriff in another county, before a detective interviewed him in a police car.

With his off-duty sergeant listening from the front seat, Mr. Banks gave this account: Ms. O’Connell had broken up with him and was packing to move out when she shot herself with his service weapon. He said he had been in another room.

Ms. O’Connell’s family, immediately suspicious, received a starkly different reception from the authorities. Less than two hours before she died, Ms. O’Connell had texted her sister, who was watching her daughter: “I’ll be there soon.” Yet when her outraged brother tried to visit the scene, officers blocked his way. The family’s request for an independent investigation was rebuffed, as was one sister’s attempt to tell the police that in the months before she died, Ms. O’Connell said she had been subjected to domestic abuse by Mr. Banks.

Before the sun rose the next morning over this place that calls itself “the nation’s oldest city,” the sheriff’s investigation was all but over.

Ms. O’Connell, the sheriff’s office concluded, took her own life. Detectives were so certain in their judgment that they never tested the forensic evidence collected after the shooting. Nor did they interview her family and friends, who would have told them that she was ecstatic over a new full-time job with benefits, including health insurance for her daughter.

Over time, though, the official narrative began to change. The sheriff asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-examine the case, and investigators found two neighbors who said they had heard a woman screaming for help that night, followed by gunshots. Their account prompted the medical examiner to revise his opinion from suicide to homicide, a conclusion shared by the crime reconstruction expert hired by state investigators.

Eventually, however, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and closed the case early last year. But that was hardly the final word. The state law enforcement agency asked for a special inquest into the death, saying significant questions remained. The sheriff, David B. Shoar, struck back in support of his officer, prompting an extraordinary conflict between two powerful law enforcement agencies.

And through it all, the O’Connell family continued to believe that the sheriff’s office, investigating one of its own, had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse is believed to be the most frequently unreported crime, and it is particularly corrosive when it involves the police. Taught to wield authority through control, threats or actual force, officers carry their training, their job stress and their guns home with them, amplifying the potential for abuse.

Yet nationwide, interviews and documents show, police departments have been slow to recognize and discipline abusers in uniform, largely because of a predominantly male blue wall of silence. Victims are often reluctant to file complaints, fearing that an officer’s colleagues simply will not listen or understand, or that if they do, the abuser may be stripped of his weapon and ultimately his family’s livelihood.

[SNIP]

The Times examined the case in collaboration with the PBS investigative news program “Frontline,” reviewing police, medical and legal records, interviewing dozens of people connected to the case, and consulting independent forensic and law enforcement experts.

The examination found that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors. Because detectives concluded so quickly that the shooting was a suicide, investigators failed to perform the police work that is standard in suspicious shootings, including collecting and testing all available evidence and canvassing neighbors.

(We highly recommend you go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


BILL TO REQUIRE FAKE GUNS TO BE PAINTED IN BRIGHT COLORS TO BE REINTRODUCED

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require all fake guns—BB, airsoft, etc.—to be manufactured in bright colors. The revived bill comes in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County deputy who mistook his airsoft gun for an assault rifle. (Read more about the shooting, and the previously failed legislation, here.)

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

The death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, who was carrying a replica of an AK-47, might have been prevented if deputies could have determined the gun was not a real assault weapon, lawmakers said.

“When officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child.”

De Leon plans to reintroduce a measure he wrote in 2011 that would have required BB guns to be painted a bright color.

That bill was requested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in response to an incident in which 13-year old Rohayent Gomez was shot and left a paraplegic when police mistook his replica firearm for a real weapon. That bill failed passage in an Assembly committee.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

Released After 40 Years in Solitary, Tanaka’s Denials, Baca’s Pitchman Fiasco, and Gov. Brown’s Bill-Signing

October 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

JUDGE ORDERS RELEASE OF DYING PRISONER AFTER DECADES IN ISOLATION

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has a heartening update on a piece he wrote last week about Herman Wallace, a member of a group of Black Panthers known as the Angola 3, who was held in solitary for 40 years on an disturbingly weak murder conviction. (Seriously. Go read the original piece.)

Wallace, now suffering from advanced liver cancer, was denied compassionate release by state officials. His last ditch hope for mercy was a case review by federal trial judge Brian Jackson.

On Tuesday, Judge Jackson ordered Wallace to be immediately released on the grounds that Wallace’s 14th Amendment rights had been violated when women were not allowed to serve on his jury.

Here are some clips from Cohen’s latest piece:

U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson did a remarkably good and decent thing today — something that every judge should aspire to do in the right circumstances. He found a way to bring a small measure of justice to a man whose entire life had been rife with injustice. He found a way to order the immediate release of Herman Wallace, a terminally ill prisoner who spent 40 years in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana in a 6′ by 9′ cell for a murder there was no valid evidence he committed.

Last week, I wrote about this case here at The Atlantic because I felt it comprised so many of the failings of the American justice system. A black man whose trial is marked by racial animus. A defendant whose attorney does unconscionable work. A lack of physical evidence or adequate investigation. Co-defendants and state witnesses with obvious incentives to lie. Punishment that was both cruel and unusual. Deliberate indifference on the part of reviewing courts. It all happened to Herman Wallace. All of it and more; his case was a disgrace from the beginning.

Here is the link to Judge Jackson’s order. If you read it, you will discover that he did not focus upon any of these constitutional infirmities in granting Wallace the relief he sought. Instead, Judge Jackson held that the original indictment against Wallace, over 40 years ago, was constitutionally flawed because women were excluded from his grand jury. So you can add “equal protection violation” to the heap of ways in which Wallace’s rights were denied by our courts for four decades.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova also covered Herman Wallace’s release. Here’s a clip:

Herman Wallace was freed on Tuesday evening. His legal team issued a statement saying the “four decades which Mr. Wallace spent in solitary confinement conditions will be the subject of litigation which will continue even after Mr. Wallace passes away. It is Mr. Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola 3′ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone.”

And the NY Times editorial board echoed Cohen’s frustration with this justice system defect. Here are the two final paragraphs:

The standard justifications for imprisonment — incapacitation, deterrence and retribution — become irrelevant in a prisoner’s final days or weeks. Elderly people near death do not commit crimes, and refusing mercy to an aged, dying prisoner does not deter anyone from criminality. That leaves retribution, or the belief that it is somehow in society’s interest to ensure that some prisoners suffer until the day they die. The state penal systems that operate under this view are not making society more just.

To the contrary, as the prison population in the United States rapidly ages — the number of prisoners older than 55 nearly quadrupled between 1995 and 2010 — this brutal mentality harms everyone. The capacity for mercy, critical to any justice system, is eroded every time those in power fail to exercise it wisely.


TANAKA DENIES COMMISSION’S FINDINGS…AND MORE

In an interview with the Malibu Times’ Melissa Caskey, former undersheriff and current sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka appeared to have an attack of truthiness in refuting allegations regarding his role in creating a culture of inmate abuse in LA County jails and his involvement in alleged unethical fundraising for Carmen Trutanich’s DA campaign. (We suspect that a lot of Tanaka’s denials are going to haunt him as the election heats up.)

Here are some clips from Caskey’s article:

The department is currently the subject of separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over allegations of corruption, inmate abuse and bribery. Tanaka was specifically accused by a blue ribbon commission of helping to create a climate in the county jail system in which aggression among deputies was encouraged, loyalty placed above merit and discipline discouraged, according to reports. Tanaka resigned following the commission’s findings in what was widely perceived as pressure from Baca.

But Tanaka, formerly a trusted lieutenant of Baca who served as his second-in-command from 2011 until his ouster, denied the allegations last week and said he has been made a scapegoat in the process.

“That [report] was by a blue ribbon commission, none of whom have ever worked inside of a jail,” he said.

“If you go back and read all the testimony, you’ll see that if you did not like Paul Tanaka, you went in there and you made all these allegations,” he said. “You never got questioned on your credibility, or your sources, or whether or not you were telling the truth.”

[SNIP]

In addition to the jails inquiry, the FBI is investigating claims by a former Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputy that the former captain at the station told him and other subordinates to sell tickets to a 2011 fundraiser for Carmen Trutanich’s unsuccessful bid for district attorney. Baca, who campaigned for Trutanich, denied issuing orders down the chain of command to raise money for allies, but the investigation has been seen to weaken his re-election candidacy.

Tanaka said he was aware of the allegations and said he had “expressed his disapproval” to Baca of “certain individuals that hung around” him, but that he had no knowledge of any improper fundraising.


THE BACA NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENT ENDORSEMENT SAGA CONTINUES

Baca’s latest embarrassment does not appear to be vanishing any time soon. Both Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly and the LA Times editorial board have now weighed in on the controversial story.

Here’s a clip from the sharply-worded LA Times piece:

Sheriff Lee Baca, his spokesman says, wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about the nutritional supplements he was pitching if he’d known the promotional video would be seen by the public. That backward mea culpa is just as poorly thought out as the Los Angeles County sheriff’s unseemly use of his public office to promote a company’s product.

[SNIP]

It doesn’t help that the company itself has been the target of multiple complaints to the Federal Trade Commission that it is running a pyramid scheme. But even if Baca were pitching a universally admired product, his ad-man appearance would be an embarrassment to his office and the county. We’d say it’s an embarrassment to Baca himself, especially considering that he received a campaign donation and travel money from Yor Health, though he was not paid for the video appearances. But it’s unclear at this point exactly what it would take for the sheriff — with his poor management of the jails and the continual allegations of special treatment for his friends and donors — to feel shame.

And here’s a clip from Gene Maddaus’ witty assessment:

Sheriff Lee Baca has always been a little strange, but he’s 71 now, and his eccentricities are becoming more pronounced with age. Among his more out-there ideas is his fixation on living to be 100 years old.

How’s he going to do that? So glad you asked! With YOR Health nutritional shakes!

As ABC7 reported on Monday, Baca has been doing promotional videos for YOR Health — a multi-level marketing company which, depending on whom you ask, may or may not be a pyramid scheme. Baca seems to believe that the company’s products will allow him to cheat death for decades to come.

“Hi, I’m Lee Baca and I’m the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and I’m going to live to be 100 years old and beyond,” he says in one promotional video.

Well, if ex-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa can promote a multi-level marketing company, then why not the sheriff? Well, there is the small fact that Baca is still in office. Generally, you’re supposed to cash in on your government service only after you quit.


BILLS, BILLS, BILLS

Gov. Brown this week signed a multitude of bills on education, foster care, and homelessness. Here are a few of the highlights:


AB 549

A bill prompting school districts to set up clear guidelines for the role of police and mental health professionals on campus, AB 549, was signed into law.

The Associated Press has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill by Democratic Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles encourages schools to prioritize mental health and intervention services as well as positive-behavior intervention over punitive measures such as expulsion.


AB 652

Here’s a clip from LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy about AB 652, an approved addition to the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act:

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said his bill gives those serving foster youths discretion in cases where youths might otherwise be taken into police custody or returned to a home from which they have fled.

“Young people escaping intolerant homes can now begin to get the help they need, so they don’t have to remain homeless – without ending up in police custody or being returned to unsupportive environments,” Ammiano said in arguing for his AB 652.


SB 342

Authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), SB 342, says that no more than two consecutive monthly meetings between a foster child and their social worker can be held outside the foster home. At the same time, it requires social workers to inform youths that they can ask that a private conversation with the social worker take place away from their foster home and caregiver.


SB 744

A bill to establish safeguards for kids that are transferred or involuntarily transferred to community schools, SB 744, is still on Brown’s desk. Among other things, the bill would ensure that involuntarily transferred students are given “geographically accessible” schooling options. This is really important for the many kids in rural areas who are removed from traditional schools but have no means of getting to the nearest community school. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has recently done some excellent reporting on this issue.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, Homelessness, LASD, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary | 12 Comments »

Central CA School Replaces Zero-Tolerance With Restorative Justice…VA Group Aids Homeless Female Vets…Baca & Yor Health…and More

October 1st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LE GRAND HIGH SCHOOL’S “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE LEAGUE” ANNIHILATES ZERO-TOLERANCE PRACTICES

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens brings to our attention a little high school in Le Grand (a rural town in Central California) that has eradicated zero-tolerance school discipline and replaced it with restorative justice practices to great success. The program, funded by the California Endowment, began as a group of twelve seniors, self-titled the “Restorative Justice League” acting as peer-mediators. Now, in it’s third year, the program has expanded and become a meaningful example for other California schools. Last year, suspensions were down 70% from two years prior, and expulsions dropped from six to just one.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ story:

At Le Grand High School, all 487 students are given a tablet computer for the year. They’re free to use cell phones (appropriately). One-third of the students participate in after-school programs, including martial arts and cooking. Where there used to be regular gang brawls, only two fights have occurred over the last two years. Half of last year’s graduates attend college.

The school, which also draws students from the nearby communities of Planada and Plainsburg, isn’t wealthy. In fact, the high school is 100% “free and reduced” — education-speak for the fact that students come from farm families (workers and owners) that live just above, at, or below poverty level. But [Principal Javier] Martinez is a grant-writing machine. Over the last five years, he’s brought nearly $2 million to the school to support technology and programs for the students and their parents, including a restorative justice program.

At the core of this restorative justice program is the Restorative Justice League. Starting off as a dozen students flailing uncomfortably with their mission, they evolved into a tight-knit band that jumped in to help resolve a major school crisis. In doing so, they became the tipping point in the school’s decision to jettison its zero tolerance policy, and replace it with a supportive approach to school discipline.

[SNIP]

They trained to become peer mediators by role-playing made-up conflicts, and by discussing the confrontations they saw at school and developing strategies to intervene appropriately. Then Griggs gave them assignments, such as talking with a student they had never spoken to. Each took a different approach. For example, Briana Biagi talked with a fellow student at a college entrance exam, while Yuhuen Ceja texted to as many of the students as she could: “Who wants to be my friend?” “That got a lot of people talking to me,” she said.

[SNIP]

By June, the Restorative Justice League students have trained 50 juniors, sophomores and freshman to be mentors for the 2013-2014 school year’s incoming freshmen. They hosted a restorative justice conference for students from surrounding school districts. And, they have seven interventions under their belts.

Their first intervention was for a fellow senior, a gang member who got into a fight and broke his hand. At an intervention panel, the Restorative Justice League members listen to students who have committed an offense that would normally result in suspension or expulsion, offer ideas for restitution, and, if the students agree, follow up to make sure they carry through. In the case of this gang member, they asked him to write a formal apology, to clean up after all school dances, and to become involved in something positive after school. The process uncorked his creativity and changed his life. He founded the Modeling Club – a fashion club that attracted 20 student members who learned how to do photography and magazine shoots, and put on modeling events for the school. He’s now attending Merced College.

(The above demonstration video was made by the student members of the Restorative Justice League for their fellow students.)


VETERAN’S GROUP PROVIDES MUCH-NEEDED HELP TO LA’S HOMELESS VET WOMEN

A Los Angeles VA outreach team led by chief of community care, Michelle Wilde, has prioritized finding and aiding LA’s homeless female veterans. The team combs through areas with dense homeless populations and reaches out to women whom, Wilde says, often don’t seek help because they don’t fit the “stereotype of a man coming back from war.” Through HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), women are provided housing vouchers and helped to find homes, support, and treatment when needed.

LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Many women, when we initially outreach to them, may not even identify themselves as veterans,” said Michelle Wilde, chief of community care at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

“They still think of that stereotype of a man coming back from war,” Wilde added.

Wilde’s department was the first in the nation to organize an outreach team specifically to find and help homeless women veterans, whether they served tours overseas or stayed stateside, in times of war or in peace.

The team formed right on time, especially in Los Angeles County, when the number of homeless women veterans rose 51 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That meant there were nearly 1,000 homeless women veterans living in cars, converted garages, and elsewhere across the region.

[SNIP]

With some federal funds from the Obama administration’s “Opening Doors” initiative, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program has given projects like Wilde’s a boost in finding housing and assistance to homeless veterans.

[SNIP]

Like men, women veterans also may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, some because of sexual assault. They may return home and find that family support has vanished. Or they may have returned to jobs that no exist.

But the outreach team’s efforts have helped. Of the 3,000 homeless veterans placed in homes, 10 percent were women. And the number of homeless veterans in Los Angeles County also has shown an overall drop, from 8,131 in 2011 to 6,248 this year according to the latest figures. Among women, the stats have fallen from 909 in 2011, to 352 this year.


BEFORE ABC7 AIRS BACA PITCHMAN STORY, HIS ENDORSEMENT VIDEOS MAGICALLY VANISH

ABC7 aired a segment Monday night on Sheriff Lee Baca’s involvement as a pitchman for the company Yor Health. (Which we previewed here.)

Here’s a clip from the segment:

“Hi, I’m Lee Baca and I’m the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and I’m going to live to be 100 years old and beyond,” Baca says in a video. “You still need some nutritional support.”

Does this look like a commercial to you? The pitchman might make you do a double-take.

“The advice I give my friends who are trying to take full control of their body is to take the YOR Health products, sustain their daily nutritional needs and operate on less than 2,500 calories a day,” Baca says in the video.

“To me, this is 100 percent unethical,” says Dr. Maki Haberfeld of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

ABC7 noted that Baca has been a special guest speaker at YOR Health’s annual conferences every year since 2010, and appears in a YOR Health magazine.

Baca also stated at a 2010 Yor Health conference, “We are selling these products in the sheriff’s department emporium for the deputies,” Baca said at a 2010 conference.

So what, if anything, did the sheriff get in return?

ABC7 found that Yor Health gave Sheriff Baca a $1000 campaign donation in 2010, and a $527 reimbursement for travel expenses.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, had this to say about whether the endorsement violates LA County’s conflict of interest laws:

“I’m not convinced that he’s kicked over that threshold, but when we look at the purpose of the conflict of interest statutes and the spirit of the law, then I think it’s perfectly fair to ask questions.”

ABC7 shared some complaints that had been made to the FTC:

“Yor Health is really a pyramid scheme.”

“It’s focused more on recruiting others than selling the actual product.”

“It brainwashes and manipulates people.”

…and “uses cult-like techniques to get people to join their company.”

The FTC wouldn’t disclose to ABC what was being done about the allegations, if anything.

When ABC7 did the math, they found that over a third of representatives made no money, and half of all representatives lose money.

ABC7 pointed out that today, after three years, the Yor Health videos featuring Sheriff Baca were made private and the sheriff’s photo was removed from the company’s website.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said that Sheriff Baca would now be separating himself from Yor Health, and that Baca was under the impression that the videos he shot were only for use within the company.

(CBS2 followed ABC7′s lead and also did a story on Baca’s Yor Health connection, which you can find here.)

Posted in Homelessness, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Veterans, women's issues, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 16 Comments »

Skid Row Injunction May Go to SCOTUS…Fired LAPD Officers Want Cases Reopened

February 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


IN THE MIDST OF TB OUTBREAK ON SKID ROW, LA AUTHORITIES FILE WITH SUPREME COURT TO OVERTURN RULING ON HOMELESS BELONGINGS

Citing the recent outbreak of tuberculosis in downtown LA’s Skid Row, , the City of Los Angeles will try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to toss an earlier ruling by the 9th Circuit that prevents the random seizure and destruction of belongings that homeless Skid Row residents leave temporarily unattended on public sidewalks.

The LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein and Alexandra Zavis report on the matter. Here are some clips from their story:

The Supreme Court filing comes after two years of legal wrangling between Los Angeles officials and homeless advocates over a controversial campaign to clean up downtown’s skid row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the city.

“We have an obligation to the homeless, as well as to the other residents and businesses on skid row, to ensure their health through regularly cleaning skid row’s streets and sidewalks,” City Atty. Trutanich said in a statement. “The current outbreak of tuberculosis among that most vulnerable population should serve as a stern reminder to us all of just who and what is at risk.”

Carol Sobel, who represents the homeless plaintiffs, said the TB outbreak, which has infected nearly 80 people and killed 11, has nothing to do with the property left on the streets. She accused city officials of deliberately allowing conditions to deteriorate in order to bolster their case, saying: “They have a public health issue of their making.”

The dispute began when eight homeless people accused city workers, accompanied by police, of seizing and destroying property they left unattended while they used a restroom, filled water jugs or appeared in court. The seven men and one woman had left their possessions — including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries — in carts provided by social service groups and in some cases were prevented from retrieving them, Sobel said.

In a 2-1 decision last September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the belongings the homeless leave on city sidewalks for a short period of time may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public health or safety or constitute evidence of a crime. In such cases, the court said, the city may not summarily destroy the possessions and must notify the owners where they can collect them.

This is a tough one. Homeless advocates had long battled the LAPD, whom they said often confiscated and trashed even those homeless-owned possessions that were tidy and clearly not abandoned, but left very temporarily.

On the other hand, Andy Bales, who heads up the Union Rescue Mission and is a deeply compassionate and dedicated advocate for the homeless, told the LA Times reporters that the 9th Circuit’s ruling has had a destructive effect.

Just days after a cleanup, trash and debris begin to pile up again, said Andy Bales, who heads the Union Rescue Mission on skid row.

“We never, ever had to battle that before the injunction, which has taken skid row back at least eight years to before all the improvements,” he said. “It has emboldened people to leave their stuff everywhere.”

It is not clear whether or not the Supremes will take the case, so all this discussion may be for naught.

(If we get news later today or Friday, we’ll update this post.)


YOUTH INCARCERATON DECLINING WITHOUT HARMING PUBLIC SAFETY

In their just published Kids Count data report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the rate of young people locked up because they were in trouble with the law dropped more than 40 percent over a 15-year period—from a high of !07,637 to 70,792 in 2010, with no decrease in public safety.

The report also recommends ways to continue reducing reliance on incarceration and improve the odds for young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

It notes, however, even with the drop, that most of the kids incarcerated are in for nonviolent offenses, and that African American kids are still locked up with great disproportion (as are Hispanic and Native American kids, but not near to the degree that African American kids experience).

NOTE: The Annie E. Casey Foundation is well known for its Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative that helps persuade counties to try programs other than correctional facilities for certain kids, and to establish small, treatment-oriented facilities for those kids who are locked up, using methods that have been proven effective. The results for counties, like Santa Cruz CA, who’ve become models for AECF’s initiative has been extremely encouraging in terms of drops in youth incarceration and recidivism.


POST DORNER, FIRED LAPD OFFICERS NOW WANT CASES REOPENED.

The Post-Dorner complexities continue. After LAPD Chief Charlie Becker agreed to reexamine the whole of Christopher Dorner’s Board of Rights case that led to his termination, other fired officers don’t see why their cases can’t be reexamined too.

The AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips.

At least six fired police officers want their disciplinary cases reopened after the Los Angeles Police Department began reinvestigating the termination of a former officer who left a trail of violence to avenge his firing.

Police Protective League President Tyler Izen wouldn’t provide details on the former officers who asked to have their cases revisited, but he said the decision by Chief Charlie Beck to reopen Christopher Dorner’s case is unprecedented and “has left many of our members in absolute limbo.”

[CLIP]

Dorner’s case brings up a significant issue about what to do when allegations of police misconduct are unfounded, said Commissioner Richard Drooyan. Dorner was dismissed for filing a false report alleging his training officer kicked a mentally disabled man.

“How do you make sure that you are punishing anyone who makes a false allegation or makes a false statement, while also at the same time not discouraging people from bringing potential misconduct to the attention of the department?” Drooyan asked.

Deputy Chief Bob Green, who oversees the South LA area, which is predominantly black and Latino, said the Dorner case has reopened “old wounds of trust” in the community….

Posted in Homelessness, LAPD, Public Health | No Comments »

It Turns Out the Skid Row Homeless Have 4th Amendment Rights Too….and More

September 6th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


9TH CIRCUIT PANEL SEZ THE LAPD CANNOT SNATCH AND TRASH PROPERTY OF LA’S HOMELESS

Okay, yes, of course, it’s complicated—as most things are. But ever since the city—with the LAPD as its agent—began working to clean up Skid Row, a long list of homeless have complained that when they left their belongings for a short period to, say, take a shower (or make other uses of bathroom facilities) and similar necessary errands, that they would return to find that all of their stuff had vanished.

The trashed stashes often included crucial medication, family momentos and other items that you and I would be unhappy to lose. For a homeless person, who has next to nothing, the loss becomes more fundamental.

With this in mind, seven Skid Row residents brought suit against the city of LA.

The AP’s Christina Hoag reports on this week’s judicial response. Here’s a clip:

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that found the city’s confiscation of homeless people’s bundles violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure.

One of the three judges dissented, agreeing with the city that unattended personal property can be seized in the public interest of health and safety.

Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said the office would evaluate whether to continue the appeal by requesting a review by the full appellate court, but noted the city is complying with an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Gutierrez in June 2011.

Under that ruling, the city must store items taken from sidewalks for up to 90 days and leave a notice directing property owners to the storage site so they can retrieve them. The city is permitted to discard hazardous items and trash.

Here’s the slightly more technical report from Tim Hull of the Courthouse News Service:

The “most basic reading” of the Constitution prohibits Los Angeles from unreasonably seizing and destroying the personal property of homeless residents, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Nine homeless residents of Skid Row sued the city for violations of their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights after police confiscated the property they left on the sidewalk. They say their legal papers, family pictures and other possessions were immediately destroyed.
Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles is home to one of the nation’s largest homeless populations. The men and women who dwell there say they left their property unattended but not abandoned while eating, showering or using the bathroom.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez issued a narrow injunction barring the practice in cases where the items did not pose a public hazard. A divided panel of the federal appeals court in Pasadena affirmed Wednesday.
Los Angeles had claimed that the Fourth Amendment does not protect the property in question since there can be no expectation of privacy for those who leave personal belongings unattended on a public sidewalk.
“The city has … asked us to declare that the unattended property of homeless persons is uniquely beyond the reach of the Constitution, so that the government may seize and destroy with impunity the worldly possessions of a vulnerable group in our society,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the panel majority. “Because even the most basic reading of our Constitution prohibits such a result, the city’s appeal is denied.”


NPR TALKS TO THE AUTHOR OF THE NEW YORKER STORY ON CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS.

Last week we drew your attention to an excellent New Yorker story by Sarah Stillman, about the use of young confidential informants by law enforcement and how some of them had gotten killed as a result of their cooperation with the cops, who did not appear to adequately protect them. However the story was hidden behind a pay wall so, unless you suscribe to the New Yorker, you couldn’t read the full story.

Neal Conan talks to Stillman and others about the story and the issue in Wednesday’s Face the Nation. It’s long and good, and makes for very interesting listening. Here’s a clip from the transcript:

...I spoke to, you know, the family of one of the convicted murderers, who told me that essentially they’d never been planning a drug deal in the first place. What they were actually planning was to take the massive – I believe it was $13,000 that Rachel was bringing to the bust, because, you know, it was quite huge.

It was, you know, 1,500 ecstasy pills and cocaine and a handgun that she was sent to purchase.

CONAN: And they found the wire on her?

STILLMAN: Exactly. They opened up her purse, because the wire had actually been placed in her purse, which was against, you know, standard procedures there, but it had all been done in a bit of haste, and she’d been sent off with the wires in her purse. And, you know, it’s a bit unclear exactly what occurred because, you know, no one was there to witness it, but the understanding was that they took her purse and found the wire, and she was shot.

CONAN: And the police, how did they lose track of her? There was aircraft involved.

STILLMAN: Exactly. Well, it was a series of really – you know, a series of both poor planning and coincidence. You know, one big issue was that it was in a very wooded area. The location was changed a number of times, and the DEA had offered a surveillance plane. But it turned out the drug deal went down in a location that was covered in this tree canopy.

I mean, I saw it. It was thick and dripping with Spanish moss and not the kind of place that a plane had any hope of seeing the transaction.

CONAN: Your piece in The New Yorker is titled “The Throwaways,” and it’s your contention that in fact in their eagerness to get drug busts, the police do not pay anywhere near enough attention to the safety of their informants, and to some degree, in some cases, their attitudes may be pretty cavalier….


AIRPORT EVACUATIONS AND LIFE

As you can see, the posting is a little light today. This has much to do with the fact that, yesterday evening, I found myself stuck for hours in the San Jose airport due to a cancelled flight followed by the full evacuation of the airport’s large, new terminal B.

It seems that someone spotted smoke in an elevator shaft at the far end of the terminal.

The good news was that, in fairly short order, the firefighters determined the smoke was caused by overheating hydraulic fluid, and ably handled the situation. The bad news was that well after the supposed fire threat was over, for reasons that the San Jose police airport officials insisted on evacuating everyone—which looked like a couple thousand of us—and then turning us right around and running us, in a preposterously time consuming fashion, back through the TSA check. A pile up of grounded flights resulted, creating a scheduling snarl for air traffic controllers and so on.

Thus, as I said, posting will be a little light.

(I was in Santa Clara County looking at two remarkable programs for kids who break the law to help them get on the right track, both run by Santa Clara’s juvenile programs. You’ll be hearing more about these and other programs around the state in the coming months.)

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