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After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

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

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Convictions in Coast Guard Killing, Probationers Jailed for Inability to Pay for Supervision, Admissions Blocked at New Stockton Prison, and Jobs for Justice-Involved Kids

February 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

US ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES CONVICTIONS IN DEATH OF CALIFORNIA COAST GUARD

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed while intercepting a suspected drug-smuggling boat in the Channel Islands National Park in December of 2012. Horne and four other officers left their Coast Guard cutter Halibut and deployed a small inflatable boat to approach the Mexican fishing boat (called a “panga”). When the coast guards identified themselves, the two suspects manning the vessel sped up, and rammed the officers’ boat, sending Horne and another officer overboard. Horne sustained a fatal head injury from the boat’s propeller.

Today prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office announced two convictions in this heartbreaking case.

One of the Ensenada men operating the panga, Jose Meija-Leyva was convicted of murder, plus two counts of failure to heave to (or slow the vessel for law enforcement boarding), and four counts of assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The other man, Manuel Beltran-Higuera, was convicted of the two counts of failure to heave to, and the same four counts of assault. He faces up to 60 years in federal prison.

Here’s a clip detailing the events from the US Attorney’s Office, Central District of CA:

“We are pleased with the verdict and that those responsible for Senior Chief Horne’s death will be held accountable,” said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard. “While the conviction of Senior Chief Horne’s killers cannot make up for the loss of a family member, friend and shipmate, we do hope that the conclusion of this case provides some level of comfort and closure to his loved ones. The Coast Guard will continue to honor the legacy Senior Chief Horne and his selfless service to our nation.”

Chief Petty Officer Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the Coast Guard cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified another suspicious vessel nearby in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, The airplane reported that the suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove was an approximately 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

Coast Guard officers aboard the Halibut launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. The Coast Guard small boat crew located the panga boat approximately 200 yards from the eastern shore of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 1:20 a.m. on December 2. As the Coast Guard’s small boat approached the panga boat, the officers activated the boat’s police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement. The crew members of the panga boat then throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat. As the panga boat rapidly approached the Coast Guard’s small boat, the officer at the helm attempted to avoid a collision by steering the small boat out of the path of the panga boat.

Despite these efforts, the panga boat rammed into the Coast Guard’s small boat, ejecting Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. Chief Petty Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a fatal injury. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.

Horne, a 34-year-old, well-liked father of two (with a baby on the way) was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927. Horne’s death was an unimaginable blow to his family of course, but also to his fellow Coast Guardsmen and the greater community.

“To call him a shipmate, to call him a big brother, doesn’t do him justice,” said Lt. Stewart Sibert at Horne’s funeral, reported the Daily Breeze. “In reality, he was closer to our guardian angel…he never turned down anyone who needed help.” Sibert was the skipper of the Coast Guard Cutter Halibut on the day Horne died.


FOR PROFIT PROBATION COMPANIES CHARGING PROBATIONERS FOR THEIR SUPERVISION, AND LOCKING THEM UP WHEN THEY CAN’T PAY

In some states, particularly Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, probationers under the supervision of private probation companies are being incarcerated for the inability to pay their (often exorbitant) supervision fees, according to a report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Watch.

Here are some clips from the report’s summary:

This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US. It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors. It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this. It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay. In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.

The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se. Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protec probationers from abusive and extortionate practices. All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.

[SNIP]

Traditionally, courts use probation to offer a criminal offender conditional relief from a potential jail sentence. If the offender meets regularly with a probation officer and complies with court-mandated benchmarks of good behavior for a fixed period of time, they escape a harsher sentence the court would otherwise impose. Courts in some US states charge offenders fees to help defray the costs of running a probation service. This is called “offender-funded” probation.

Probation companies offer courts, counties, and municipalities a deal that sounds too good to be true—they will offer probation services in misdemeanor cases without asking for a single dime of public revenue. All they ask in return is the right to collect fees from the probationers they supervise, and that courts make probationers’ freedom contingent on paying those fees. Those fees make up most probation companies’ entire stream of revenue and profits.

[SNIP]

Many courts have repurposed probation into a debt collection tool and are primarily interested in the services of probation companies as a means towards that end. In what is euphemistically referred to as “pay only” probation, people are sentenced to probation for just one reason: they don’t have money and they need time to pay down their fines and court costs. Pay only probation is an extremely muscular form of debt collection masquerading as probation supervision, with all costs billed to the debtor. It is essentially a legal fiction and it is the cornerstone of many probation companies’ business.

Offenders on pay only probation could wash their hands of the criminal justice system on the day of their court appearance if only they had the money on hand to pay their fines and court costs immediately and in full. Because they can’t, they are put on probation for periods of up to several years while they gradually pay down their debts to the court. Each month, they are charged an additional “supervision fee” by their probation company, whose only task is to collect their money and monitor whether they are keeping up with scheduled payments.


CALIFORNIA’S NEWEST PRISON FACILITY ORDERED TO HALT ADMISSIONS

The federal Receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, halted admissions at the state’s newest prison facility located in Stockton after reports of unsanitary living conditions and medical negligence.

An inspection commissioned by prisoners lawyers found inmates were left to sleep overnight in their own feces, that some had to towel off with dirty socks or forego showering, and that one inmate allegedly bled to death when nurses did not heed his calls for help. (This is not a particularly encouraging sign, to say the least.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

After meeting last week with corrections officials, Clark Kelso, the court-appointed medical receiver, ordered admissions stopped at the 6-month-old California Health Care Facility in Stockton and the opening of an adjacent 1,133-bed prison facility put on hold.

In a report to federal courts Friday, Kelso said the prison’s inability to provide adequate medical and hygiene supplies and unsanitary conditions “likely contributed to an outbreak of scabies.”

Kelso said the problems at the Stockton prison call into question California’s ability to take responsibility for prison healthcare statewide. He accused corrections officials of treating the mounting healthcare problems “as a second-class priority.”

An inspection team sent in by prisoners’ lawyers in early January found that inmates had been left overnight in their feces, confined to broken wheelchairs or forced to go without shoes.

A shortage of towels forced prisoners to dry off with dirty socks, a shortage of soap halted showers for some inmates, and incontinent men were put into diapers and received catheters that did not fit, causing them to soil their clothes and beds, according to the inspection report and a separate finding by Kelso.

The inspectors also found that nurses failed to promptly answer call buttons in the prison’s outpatient unit. Inmates told the inspectors of a bleeding prisoner on the unit who died Jan. 8 after nurses disregarded his repeated attempts to summon help.

[SNIP]

The report said there were so few guards that a single officer watched 48 cells at a time and could not step away to use the bathroom. The prison relied on other inmates — also sick or disabled — to assist prisoners. One man in a wheelchair with emphysema said he had been assigned to push the wheelchair of another disabled inmate. Nurses told the inspectors they were “unclear” how soon they should answer call buttons.


JOB PROGRAMS CRITICAL FOR YOUTH RE-ENTRY

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake explains the importance of making job programs available to at-risk kids. Here’s a clip:

…job readiness is critical to achieving self-sufficiency for our citizens – young and old alike. For kids involved in the justice system, employment is clearly a positive outcome and a part of a normative approach and environment.

How do we create in young people the understanding that work is normal and desirable; that awaking at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. is necessary; that absences are not allowed and that you do not get to choose everything that you must do on the job?

One common system response is to organize summer jobs programs. Too many such efforts are created by finding unspent money in other government programs and slapping together a summer jobs program close to the end of the school year. Administrators scramble to find willing employers, and politics influences who gets the programs and whose kids get the jobs. Although not well planned, these summer efforts are well-intentioned, and any job experience will help the teenaged employee along his or her way to understanding that reliability and willingness to undertake job duties is a normal way to get ahead.

However, there are effective and evidence-based models for youth employment. YouthBuild, the U.S. Department of Labor’s extraordinarily successful approach to job readiness, is one. Youth who are school dropouts, including kids involved in juvenile justice systems, are provided with substance abuse treatment, GED preparation and real job skills. Volunteers and employees from the building trades and social services move students along a trajectory to finishing school and getting a job. This highly structured and well-financed approach produces thousands of new employees each year.

Not every community has YouthBuild, but all can learn from its lessons…

(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)


The above photos of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne were both taken by U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Lt. Stewart Sibert.

Posted in Human rights, juvenile justice, prison, Probation, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

Supervisors Ever-Changing Jail Plans, Vallejo Schools’ Restorative Justice Comeback…and More

October 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA TIMES POINTS TO LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS’ CHRONICALLY REACTIVE JAIL PLANS

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina withdrew her support for (and introduced a motion to cancel) a $75M contract to move 500 jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. The Supes were unaware that there was ongoing litigation between the CDCR and Kern County. (Read the backstory here.)

An LA Times editorial says that the Supes should have known about the lawsuit before they voted in favor of the contract. The editorial pointed to several other instances in which the Supes, in their haste to ease overcrowding, made quick decisions on [often excessively costly] jail solutions that would have benefited from being thought through a little more thoroughly.

Here’s a clip:

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how they could have been left in the dark about such an important matter as they were preparing to approve a $75-million contract. But this is not the first time the board has been forced at the last minute to rethink its plans for fixing the county’s sprawling jail system, which has been plagued by overcrowding, poor conditions and allegations that excessive force has been used against inmates. In May, for instance, the board hired a construction company to come up with a plan to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail and renovate other facilities. The company unveiled the plan this summer, just weeks before the Department of Justice announced it was launching a civil rights probe into the treatment of mentally ill inmates, including where and how they are housed. The plan is now under review; the supervisors fear it could be in conflict with the forthcoming findings by the Justice Department.

And at least four other proposals submitted in the last five years by Sheriff Lee Baca or county Chief Executive William T Fujioka have been voted down by the supervisors; they complained that the plans lacked basic information. The board has continued to turn solely to Baca for guidance even as is has increasingly expressed a lack of confidence in his ability to manage the jails, much less fix them.


VALLEJO, CA SCHOOLS REVERSING DAMAGE DONE BY ZERO-TOLERANCE HISTORY

The Superintendent of Vallejo schools Dr. Ramona Bishop is reconstructing the Vallejo school system, replacing deeply rooted zero-tolerance policies with restorative practices like Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS). Just two years into her tenure, referrals, suspensions, and expulsions have dropped dramatically, and dropout rates are on the decline.

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of the heartening progress made in Vallejo. Here are some clips:

When Dr. Ramona Bishop walked into her office on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the Vallejo schools had hit rock-bottom: The system had been in receivership since 2004. Its 14,000 students were racking up nearly 80,000 referrals, suspensions, and expulsions that school year, making it one of the top ten suspending schools in the state. Academic scores had tanked. Only half the students were making it to graduation. And morale? What morale?

[SNIP]

To turn around a whole system? That’ll take seven years, she says.

One-third of the way through the process, things are already looking up: Since the 2010-2011 school year, referrals have plummeted 75 percent. Suspensions dropped nearly 70 percent. Expulsions are down by 50 percent. Graduation rates are inching up from the 50-percent dropout rate. When she arrived, the system was losing 500 students a year, because parents were removing their children. This year, the system lost only 100 students, and Bishop expects an increase next year. In April, nine years after it went into receivership, the Vallejo Unified School district regained control of its schools.

And they have a long way to go: The numbers of referrals, suspensions and expulsions still total more than the numbers of students in the system. African-American students still make up more than half the referrals, suspensions and expulsions, even though they’re only 32 percent of the student population. Academic scores haven’t increased; during the last school year, they dipped or remained stagnant.

But the foundation to support a successful and sustainable transition is nearly in place, says Bishop.

[SNIP]

If there’s a road map for a system of successful schools these days, says Bishop – one in which no student is expelled or suspended, and all students are educated, it includes these elements:

leaders who are strong, teachers and staff who are engaged, a committed community, involved parents, all of whom agree on common goals;

solid academics;

and a combination of the implementation of a system of trauma and resilience-informed practices, positive behavioral support, such as PBIS, and restorative practices based on restorative justice.

Although the details of the road map will vary from school to school, says Bishop, the basic belief that underlies such a road map is this:

There is no such thing as an uneducable child.

(Read the rest. There’s also a worthwhile interview with Superintendent Bishop.)


A JUSTICE SYSTEM FAIR COUNSEL FAILURE

Earlier in October, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Terrence Miller, a man who met with his lawyer for a few minutes before his hearing, and was denied a request for a continuance because the judge had an axe to grind with the public defenders’ office.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen points out the numerous ways the system failed Terrence Miller—from the actions of his original judge, to the NJ appellate judges, to the Department of Justice and the US Supreme Court—and why the implications of his case are so important. Here are some clips:

In State v. Terrence Miller, four justices of the state supreme court—over a lone dissent—affirmed the conviction of a man indicted on drug charges who met his lawyer for the first time for a few minutes in a stairwell at the courthouse on the morning of trial. The lawyer had not tried a criminal case in seven years and had been appointed to Miller’s case only four days before trial. He never spoke to any witnesses, or to Miller’s former attorney, or to investigators in the public defender’s office. He didn’t know what his client would say on the witness stand.

[SNIP]

When it comes to indigent defense, the Obama Administration gets an “A” for candor and an “F” for results. The feds know there is a terrible problem. And they know how to solve the problem. But they won’t spend, or push Congress to spend, what it would take to do it. This year, for example, the Justice Department proudly announced it would give $1.8 million in grants to “improve access to criminal legal services and strengthen indigent defense across the nation.” This is not remotely enough. Funding for legal aid and criminal defense “should be a priority,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday. She’s right.

[SNIP]

But the biggest failing of all was the failure of the appellate judges to recognize and rectify these serious mistakes. The majority opinion here is one of the most indefensible I have ever read. The trial judge “would have better served the competing interests at stake” by adjourning the trial, the justices declared, but did not “abuse his discretion” when he didn’t. How can this be? Because the United States Supreme Court, in a series of cases that have undercut the premise of Gideon, have sent the unmistakable signal to lower court judges that the right to counsel is some malleable proposition. Tell that to a man who goes to trial with a public defender who doesn’t know a thing about his case.

[SNIP]

As the Miller case tells us, however, money isn’t the only problem. Money for more public defenders, or for more judges to handle more indigent defense cases, won’t overturn the Supreme Court precedents upon which New Jersey relied in precluding Terrence Miller from a fair trial. The state justices held that a lawyer doesn’t have to know the facts of the case, or have any connection with any witnesses or evidence, for the client to be competently represented at trial. All the attorney has to do is show up, and declare himself prepared, and that’s that. Money alone, I submit, simply can’t overcome this level of crazy.

Here is what the lone dissenting NJ Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin had to say about this troubling case:

No attorney can provide effective representation at a motion-to-suppress hearing [or any kind of hearing for that matter] if he has not spoken with his client beforehand, listened to his account, interviewed his witnesses, or prepared him for his testimony. Miller had witnesses waiting in the wings but his attorney could not call them because he had not spoken with his client. Sitting next to Miller was a total stranger who happened to be his state-appointed attorney. The failure of the attorney to consult with Miller in any meaningful fashion, to prepare him for his testimony, and to present corroborating witnesses at the motion-to-suppress hearing rendered the attorney per se ineffective.

Posted in CDCR, Human rights, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Public Defender, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Examining the Decade-Long National Drop in Crime….Controversy as Calif Considers Private Prisons…Racial Bias and Stand Your Ground Laws

August 9th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:
Light posting today as we are working on larger stories, two of which are scheduled for next week.


SO WHAT HAS CAUSED THE NATONWIDE DROP IN CRIME?

In his recent letter to the LA Times, Sheriff Lee Baca claimed as one of his accomplishments, the drop in crime in LA County in the last 10 years under his watch.

Certainly crime has dropped in LA County since 2003. It has also dropped to historically low levels in LA City—under the watch of the LAPD.

And in New York City under the NYPD. And so on.

The truth is, of course, that there has been a great drop in crime nationwide in the last decade, a trend that, with a few hiccups, has been fairly steady in most American cities since the mid-1990s.

It is a drop that no one has been able to definitively explain.

Certainly the idea of “policing smarter, not just harder,” as Bill Bratton used to put it, would seem to be at least one of the big causes of the slide in crime stats.

But just how big a cause seems unclear.

So why has crime dropped? Theories range from the widespread availability of abortions to the cleanup of lead in the air. (Mother Jones did a great story on the lead research. That’s their graphic above.)

Now, with funding from the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice, the National Academy of Sciences has organized a round-table project with experts from academia and law enforcement to address the question.

University of Missouri criminologist Richard Rosenfeld is heading up the effort.

Ted Gest of The Crime Report talks with Rosenfeld about some of what the project hopes to examine.

Here’s a clip:

TCR: The most popular explanations for the crime drop now seem to involve criminal justice measures. What do we know about that?

Rosenfeld: The evidence from policing research is robust that “smart policing” in high-crime areas can reduce crime in those areas. There also is evidence that increases in incarceration can reduce crime in the short run. So there is evidence that the criminal justice process makes a difference

(However), no study has shown that criminal justice efforts, not necessarily limited to the police and corrections, are responsible for all or most of the crime decline.

I use the analogy of doctors and hospitals. While we wouldn’t discount their role, they don’t control lifestyles, and are not wholly responsible for increases or decreases in illnesses. Clearly medical intervention makes a difference, just as criminal justice has. (But) when the cancer rate goes up, we don’t blame hospital directors….

There’s more here. But for fuller answers and opinions, we await the project results.


CALIFORNIA LOOKS AT RENTING BEDS IN PRIVATE PRISONS, BUT NOT EVERYONE AGREES

In order to meet the court-ordered prison population reduction of 9400 prisoners, Governor Jerry Brown is reconsidering paying private prisons to take some of California’s overflow inmates.

However, there is disagreement about the strategy. For instance, some on the right say that California would be better served to use the same money to build more prisons. (Although how that would solve the immediate population reduction problem is unclear. And some of the rest of the math is fuzzy.)

Don Thompson of the AP has that story.

Here’s a clip:

Some Republicans, including former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, are calling on Brown to build new prisons or reopen closed facilities. Maldonado is exploring a run for governor next year, when Brown is expected to seek re-election.

The $1 billion that California has spent on private out-of-state prisons since 2006 would have more than paid for two of the 5,000-bed maximum-security prisons of the sort the state last opened in 2005.

The state estimates it costs an average $56,000 to house an inmate in a California state prison, more than double the $26,000 annual average cost for a contract cell in another state.

Officials say the out-of-state costs are lower because only healthy and less dangerous inmates are sent to other states, while California bears the higher costs for inmates who have physical or mental health problems or who are housed in maximum-security prisons, isolation units or on death row.

Criminal justice advocates recommend instead using so-called “good time credits” to shave less than a year off the sentences of certain prisoners, contending that this plan would not endanger public safety.

The LA Times Chris Megerian has that story. Here’s a clip:

Don Specter, a lawyer for inmates who have sued the state over prison conditions, said the state’s plans to relocate inmates would only provide a temporary solution.

“It’s expensive. It doesn’t do anything to further rehabilitation,” he said. “It just perpetuates the same policy.”

James Austin, a prison consultant, said it makes more sense to expand credits for good behavior, allowing low-security inmates to be released early. He said that will save the state money without increasing the crime rate.

“It works,” he said. “And it doesn’t jeopardize public safety.”


STUDY LOOKS AT RACIAL BIAS AND STAND YOUR GROUND LAWS

Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor has this interesting and nuanced story.

Here’s a clip from the middle of the story:

In states with stand-your-ground laws, the shooting of a black person by a white person is found justifiable 17 percent of the time, while the shooting of a white person by a black person is deemed justifiable just over 1 percent of the time, according to the study. In states without stand-your-ground laws, white-on-black shootings are found justified just over 9 percent of the time.

Such findings “show that it’s just harder for black defendants to assert stand-your-ground defense if the victim is white, and easier for whites to raise a stand-your-ground defense if the victims are black,” says Darren Hutchinson, a law professor and civil rights law expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “The bottom line is that it’s really easy for juries to accept that whites had to defend themselves against persons of color.”

The potential reasons behind this are multilayered….

Posted in criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Human rights, law enforcement, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Thinking of Nelson Mandela

June 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Former South African president Nelson Mandela, 94, is currently critically ill in a hospital in Pretoria. where he has been attempting for some time to fight off a recurring lung infection. Now Mandela is reportedly unable to breath unaided. After visiting him late Wednesday night, President Jacob Zuma was concerned enough to cancel his planned trip out of the country for a summit.

The recording above was written in 1984 by Jerry Dammers and intended as protest song, calling for Mandela’s release from prison, yet it was remarkably celebratory despite the dead serious nature of its message.

When sung in front of a big crowd, with the crowd singing along, as it was 23 years ago on Friday, June 29, 1990, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when Nelson Mandela came to LA five months after his release from nearly three decades in prison, and stood quietly on the specially erected stage, the effect was hypnotic. Incantatory.

Posted in Human rights, international issues, Life in general | 1 Comment »

The Amazing Wendy Davis & the Texas Fillibuster

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, many eyes were trained on the Supreme Court,
grieving the savaging of a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act, and hoping for rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act—DOMA—and California’s Prop. 8, that would lean toward human rights and the future rather than maintainin the ethics of the past, when some people’s rights, dignity and happiness mattered more than those of others.

Then this morning, of course, two decisions came down from SCOTUS that our grandchildren, and their children will still be talking about.

But on Tuesday, there was another amazing drama taking place in the Texas Legislature, where the daughter of young teenage single mom, and herself once a once-teenage single mom, now a Harvard Law School grad and a Texas state senator, filibustered for more than ten hours—without a bathroom break, without sitting down, without changing the subject away from the retrograde legislation up for a vote that would shutter most clinics that offer abortions in the state, which she was attempting to block

Here’s Rolling Stone’s explanation of why Texas state senator Wendy Davis’s fillibuster was important. Jessica Mason Peiklo has the story. Here’s a clip:

On Monday, the Texas State House voted overwhelmingly to pass a draconian proposal that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, as well as adding stringent new restrictions on how clinics get licensed. The intent was clear: Supporters of the bill, known as SB 5, openly acknowledged that the law would have closed 37 of the state’s 42 clinics, leaving hundreds of thousands of women in Texas and neighboring states like Oklahoma with no way to access abortion care. With a conservative majority in the State Senate and the support of Governor Rick Perry, the measure seemed certain to become law.

But on Tuesday, Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, backed by an army of feminist supporters, launched an epic 13-hour filibuster and shut the whole thing down.

Davis began her filibuster just after 11 A.M. yesterday, reading aloud testimony from doctors and women who would be impacted by the restrictions. For the filibuster to work, Davis had to speak until midnight – the deadline for the end of a 30-day special session called by Gov. Perry to address left-over GOP priorities like closing nearly all the abortion clinics in the state and redistricting. This wasn’t the kind of symbolic filibuster in name only seen in the U.S. Senate: Under Texas’ parliamentary rules, Davis was required to speak continuously and only on the topic of the bill the entire time. She couldn’t take breaks to eat, take a sip of water or go to the bathroom. She could not lean against anything for support. If Davis broke any of these rules, the filibuster would die and SB 5 would become law.

Just before the midnight deadline, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sustained a third and final challenge to Davis’ filibuster – this one on the germaneness of discussing the 2011 law that forces Texas women to undergo invasive ultrasounds – and called for a vote. Hundreds of protesters who had gathered in the senate gallery erupted in outrage.

With the clock still running, Davis’ colleagues stepped up. State Senator Leticia Van De Putte, who arrived at the Capitol in the afternoon after spending the morning at her father’s funeral, challenged Republican leaders at the podium who did not recognize one of her attempts to speak: “At what point does a female senator need to raise her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?” Van De Putte’s procedural mic drop prompted even louder, sustained cheering from the crowd; Republicans pounced on the chaos, trying to force through a vote…..

(Read the rest for the outcome of this consequential legislative drama.)

Posted in Human rights | 12 Comments »

SCOTUS Sez OK to DNA Swab at Arrest, Scalia Protests….Crime in Schools Down, Bullying Not….Juvie Justice Reform in Nebraska

June 4th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


In a 5/4 decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers
can take one’s DNA if one is arrested for a serious offense, a decision that elicited howls of protest from certain quarters. However, the primary howl of dissent came, not from the liberal justices or advocacy organizations, but from Justice Antonin Scalia.

(For the record, all three liberal-leaning female justices voted in the minority block. Breyer voted with the majority.)

And, be advised, Scalia didn’t just write a dissent, he insisted on reading it aloud—with much drama, lots of well crafted and colorful verbiage, and general passion.

Here’s a clip from Joan Biskupic’s story for Reuters on Scalia’s dissent :

Writing for the minority, Scalia was joined by three liberal justices. But his 11-minute oral statement – a departure from the usual practice in which only the majority opinion is read aloud – was classic Scalia. It relied on his “originalist” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and employed forceful rhetoric as clever as it was heated. He declared that the majority’s rationale “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” An adroit writer, he sprinkled in words from decidedly non-legal contexts, such as “hash” and “genuflecting” and mixed in references to American revolutionary Patrick Henry and the biblical Leviathan.

The latter came at a moment of high drama in the white marble courtroom when Scalia concluded: “It may be wise, as the court obviously believes, to make the Leviathan all-seeing, so that he may protect us all the better. But the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection. I dissent.”

Only a few times each term does a justice read a dissenting opinion aloud. It typically happens in a close, hard-fought case, when a dissenter is especially angry and wants to call attention to a decision he or she believes especially unwise…..

And here’s a clip from Adam Liptak’s more general story on the decision for the NY Times:

The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody.

But the Fourth Amendment forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime, he said, a point the majority did not dispute….

Scalia’s dead right, of course. And, although WLA is agnostic on the issue in general, we too are bugged by the legal underpinnings of this ruling. Given how long it typically takes to get DNA results back, the majority’s rationale is a major stretch for the average felony arrest. And we don’t like it that the majority used this squishy and not-terribly supportable line of reasoning as a way to get around any Fourth Amendment problems.

The good news is that the ruling for swabbing will help solve more crimes. And, with luck, fewer innocent people will be convicted. But, it sets a weird precedent.

So, yes, go Antonin! Thank you for not going into your minority status quietly.

PS: For this one brief and shining moment, the ACLU agrees with Scalia, and name checks him in their post ruling statement.


NEW REPORT SHOWS CRIME AND VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS ARE DOWN SINCE 1992, BUT BULLYING HAS REMAINED DISHEARTENINGLY STEADY

Last Friday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new report that looks at violence and safety in schools and the numbers tell a complicated story.

For example, victimization of students at school by theft and violent crime dropped precipitously from 1993 to 2011 with a high in ’93 of around 165 students per thousand, to only around 35 students per 1000 in 2010.

When it comes to homicides in schools, the numbers were high in 1992, and then again in the 2006-07 school year, but steadily declined after that.

The number of kids who’d brought a weapon to school in the last 30 days has gone down quite a bit since the early 1990s. But still, 5 percent of students have brought a weapon to campus at least one day in the last 30 days (down from more than 12 percent in 1993.)

Yet, while violence and crime in schools dropped, bullying did not.

In 2011, 28 percent of kids between the ages of 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school, with the numbers slightly higher for girls at 31.4 percent, than for boys, at 24.5 percent.

There has been, as one might guess, much more in the way of safety measures put into place since the early 1990s (security cameras, restricted access to campus during school hours, etc.). And yet, while the percentage of schools with security guards, or school police, has remained about the same since 2005 (after rising a bit in 2007) the number of armed personnel on campus has dropped.

Take a look at the numbers and charts for yourself.


NEBRASKA TAKES BIG STEP TOWARD JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM

Although, nationally, juvenile incarceration is dropping, Nebraska had an 8 percent rise between 1997 and 2010, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation analysis released this year.

But now the state has taken a significant step in the direction of turning that trend around, according to a story by James Swift of the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

Nebraska’s juvenile justice system will have a new focus on rehabilitation thanks to a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Legislative Bill 561 (LB561), introduced by state Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha), will allocate $14.5 million towards several new services, as well as a grant program to aid counties in treating juvenile offenders.

The bill decreases the state’s dependency on juvenile detention programming, placing a greater emphasis on youth rehabilitation. The new measure also transfers juvenile offender supervision over to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration, which is subordinate to the state’s Supreme Court. Prior to the legislation taking effect, Nebraska’s juvenile populations were instead overseen by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, Human rights, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Supreme Court, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

The Trouble with Turning Deportees into Criminals….an Upsetting Foster Care Probe….and Election Extras

May 23rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

BIG ISSUES WITH ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

A new report from Human Rights Watch examines the consequences of prosecuting immigrants for illegal entry and reentry into the U.S. (a misdemeanor and felony respectively, and the most prosecuted federal crimes).

Here’s a clip from the HRW press release:

The 82-page report, “Turning Migrants Into Criminals: The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions,” documents the negative impact of illegal entry and reentry prosecutions, which have increased 1,400 and 300 percent, respectively, over the past 10 years and now outnumber prosecutions for all other federal crimes. Over 80,000 people were convicted of these crimes in 2012, many in rapid-fire mass prosecutions that violate due process rights. Many are separated from their US families, and a large number end up in costly and overcrowded federal prisons, some for months or years.

“The US government is turning migrants into criminals by prosecuting many who could just be deported,” said Grace Meng, US researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Many of these migrants aren’t threats to public safety, but people trying to be with their families.”

The Senate immigration reform bill, proposed by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” calls for an additional US$250 million for increased prosecutions of these cases in Tucson, Arizona, and increasing the maximum penalties for many categories of people charged with illegal entry and reentry. The US government should instead end unnecessary prosecutions for illegal entry or reentry.

The report is based on a thorough analysis of US government data and interviews with more than 180 people, including migrants and their families, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges.


LA TIMES ASKS IF THE LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS ARE TOO SLOW TO PULL THE PLUG ON A TROUBLED FOSTER CARE PROVIDER

LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina were unable to win majority support for their push to sever all ties to a foster care contractor with a history of substantiated child abuse and financial malfeasance.

Under the supervisors’ proposal, the county board had been scheduled to take a public vote Tuesday on the county’s relationship with Teens Happy Homes, a contractor that has received up to $3.6 million per year and cared for more than 1,100 foster children in recent years.

But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas moved the item to a closed-door session where the proposal died, at least temporarily. A spokeswoman for Ridley-Thomas declined to say why he removed the item from the public schedule.

In closed session, the item was referred back to the offices of its sponsors who are free to bring back the proposal at a subsequent meeting.

Molina was on vacation Tuesday and not due to return until May 30. Antonovich’s spokesman said his office will be discussing the matter with Molina’s aides to decide how to proceed….

EDITOR’S NOTE: In several investigative stories on the LA County Foster Care provider known as Teens Happy Homes, which is responsible for the care and well being of hundreds of the county’s foster children, LA Times reporter Garrett Therolf paints a picture of an agency rife with financial malfeasance and perhaps a lot worse.

Here, for example, is a clip from Therolf’s April 29 story:

The routine audit of Teens in 2003 faced problems from the beginning. Shortly before auditors arrived, a sewage backup destroyed many financial records. The remaining documents painted a picture of financial chaos.

There were canceled checks showing the agency repeatedly bought cigarettes and beer with foster care money — in one instance, 30 cases’ worth. There was $46,000 in unpaid federal payroll taxes. The agency’s bookkeeper wrote $13,000 in checks to herself. “The agency was unable to explain the nature of these expenditures,” auditors wrote.

The bookkeeper, fearing criminal prosecution, wrote to county auditors, saying Robinson had ordered two workers to “come up with receipts” to help keep staff “out of jail.”

He was not going to get caught up in falsifying any documents.”
— Teens Happy Homes bookkeeper, in a letter.

The plan fell apart when one manager refused. “He was not going to get caught up in falsifying any documents,” the bookkeeper wrote in her letter, which was obtained by The Times.

After the 2003 audit, Therolf reports, the Supes expanded the Teens Happy Homes contract rather than canceling it.

Now in the light of further allegations surfaced by the Times, people like Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of L.A. County’s Juvenile Court (and WLA’s hero for opening the courts to reporters) and Leslie Starr Heimov, Executive Director of the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, have called for the county to yank its contractual support and transition the good foster families under its umbrella to other agencies.

So why hasn’t that happened? Two sources close to the Supes offices plus DCFS spokesman, Armand Montiel, told WLA that there is a set process for determining whether or not a contract requires severing, and that the process is…well…in process.

“We have the ability to remove a child or children from a location if we think that child is in danger,” added Montiel, “and we won’t hesitate to do so.”

In the meantime, with regard to Teens Happy Homes, the “process” has to be completed, explained one of our sources. “If we don’t do something like this properly, we can wind up with a lawsuit.”

Okay. We get that. But when it comes to the well being of children, a little more communication from the board would help.

C.F.


GARCETTI ON SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES

We thought you’d be interested in this interview with Eric Garcetti by Youth Justice Coalition in which he discusses some of the issues that matter most to WitnessLA like juvenile justice, gun violence, and education reform.

[YJC]: Los Angeles locks up more youth than any other city in the world. Given that this is in part due to policing, but also due to court and Probation systems outside your direct control, what would you do to improve the justice system for youth from arrest through detention and incarceration?

Eric Garcetti: I would make sure that the reforms I have proposed for our job training system specifically include initiatives to train and employ formerly incarcerated individuals. Unfortunately, AB109 provides little to no resources for community-­‐based solutions. As Mayor, I will use my office and partner with the Council to develop and advocate for the implementation of legislative actions that reduce the recidivism rate and improve public safety and social justice. I want to stop the prison system’s revolving door to get people on the right path, to reduce crime and to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers. Prison is more expensive than prevention, job training and counseling.

[YJC]: Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, local law enforcement have increased their presence at schools and Senator Boxer is calling for the National Guard and armed police at schools across the nation. Do you agree with these policies to address school-­based violence? What are your school safety strategies?

Eric Garcetti: Gun violence takes the lives of more than 30,000 nationwide each year. It is time to act. I am proud to have led on the issue of reducing gun violence for years. I helped pass and write laws here in L.A. to get illegal guns off the streets, to ban the open carrying of guns, and to get rid of large caliber weapons and ammunition. I also created At the Park After Dark (now Summer Night Lights), which provides a safe place to go until midnight for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles youth during the summer months. As Mayor, I am going to continue to take this fight nationally in order to keep our schools safe and keep guns off our streets.


ELECTED OFFICIALS OPINE ON ELECTION RESULTS

For more worthwhile after-election reading, LA Mag’s Shayna Rose Arnold has LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, City Council President Herb Wesson, and City Councilwoman (and primary mayoral candidate) Jan Perry’s thoughts on Tuesday’s election results.

Posted in DCFS, Human rights, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Mayor | No Comments »

The Cost of Bad Justice, in CA, TX and Back to CA Again

February 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


INMATE LAWSUITS COST CALIF. $200 MILLION A YEAR (AND THAT’S BEFORE YOU GET TO THE COUNTY AND CITY LAWSUITS)

The AP’s Don Thompson did the math on how much inmate lawsuits cost the state.

Here’s a clip:

Gov. Jerry Brown has begun aggressively challenging federal court oversight of California’s prison system by highlighting what he says is a costly conflict of interest: The private law firms representing inmates and the judges’ own hand-picked authorities benefit financially by keeping the cases alive

How much are they making?

A tally by The Associated Press, compiled from three state agencies, shows California taxpayers have spent $182 million for inmates’ attorneys and court-appointed authorities over the past 15 years. The payments cover a dozen lawsuits filed over the treatment of state prisoners, parolees and incarcerated juveniles, some of which have been settled.

The total exceeds $200 million when the state’s own legal costs are added.

While the amounts are a blip on California’s budget, they provide a continuous income stream for the private attorneys and experts involved in the ongoing litigation. And that is the point Brown is trying to make.

By highlighting what he says is a costly conflict of interest: The private law firms representing inmates and the judges’ own hand-picked authorities benefit financially by keeping the cases alive.

There’s a lot more—about the costs ofthe court receiver’s office that has been overseeing the state’s prison health system since it was killing people so regularly that it was put in federal receivership.

The attorneys make the case that nonprofit lawfirms in particular are not exactly doing the work for the money.

Yet there is also a case to be made that consciously or not, some of the consultants, “special masters” and attorneys working for the court-appointed authorities, all of whom are taking hefty personal fees and/or salaries, may be fiscally disincentivized from calling a halt to such fee-producing endeavors as the CDCR’s seemingly neverending receivership.

As the AP noted:

In his budget address last month, Brown said the money that would be saved by ending court oversight in the mental health and health care cases could be spent instead on inmate education, substance abuse treatment and other rehabilitation programs, as well as to supervise convicts once they leave prison.

Excellent point. Let’s hope it comes to pass.

Of course, the cynical person might point out that, ideally, the state would behave in such a way that it didn’t open the door to giant lawsuits and federal receiverships.

But that’s another conversation altogether.

PS: Here’s the breakdown of dollar amounts that went to individual law firms, et al


TEXAS HANDS OUT $65 MILLION FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS….AND COUNTING

Texas leads the nation in money paid to exonerees—in part because it compensates wrongly convicted people more than most other states. But also because Texas convicts a lot of innocent people. Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman has the story.

Here’s a clip:

For a state perhaps best known as the leader in executing murderers, Texas now has another distinction: It is the most generous in compensating those who were wrongly locked up.

In all, the state has paid more than $65 million to 89 wrongfully convicted people since 1992, according to updated state figures.
And if legislation being discussed at the Texas Capitol becomes law, that tab could soon grow.

“The justice system in Texas had fundamental flaws, and this is the result,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a longtime champion of the falsely imprisoned. “At this point, I don’t think anyone can seriously doubt that we had a problem — a big problem.”

For a hint of how off-track Texas’ justice system once was, and how expensive those mistakes have become for taxpayers, consider the case of Michael Morton, the exonerated former Austin-area resident who served 25 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. A Williamson County court convicted him in 1987 of killing his wife Christine.

Morton, who was 57 when he was freed from prison in 2011, so far has received $1.96 million for his mistaken imprisonment, state records show.
Under a law signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009, some exonerees will receive $80,000 each year for the rest of their lives and are eligible for the same health insurance as employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where the ex-prisoners did their time.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC, CALIFORNIA LEADS THE NATION IN EXONEREES WITH 120 SINCE 1989, AT A COST OF $129 MILLION

According to the Wrongful Convictions Project at UC Berkeley, as of Sept 2012, California is the winner of the wrongly convicted sweepstakes. We lead the nation in exonerees (counted after 1989), with 120 individuals in the National Registry of Exonerations, zooming past Illinois (110), Texas (100), and New York (100).

It is, by the way, sobering to note that 53 of those wrongful convictions were overturned because of the Rampart scandal.

Note: The National Registry requires a post-conviction showing of new evidence for inclusion.

(By the way, just in my personal circle, I have two friends—Franky Carillo and Mario Rocha, both excellent men who were exonerated after having been given life sentences.)

In addition to the costs to individuals and their families of life lost behind bars, according to the Wrongful Conviction Project, the direct costs of incarcerating and compensating our wrongly convicted Californians so far totals $129 million.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Light posting today because I’m fluish (or whatever this stupid cold/flu thing is that’s come and gone and come again this winter. Also, I figure you’re getting plenty of Dorner news elsewhere, at least for today. And WitnessLA generally doesn’t cover the Pope—except to say that, like many, we find it very irritating that Mahoney gets to vote on the Papal selection.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Human rights, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

40 Years of Roe…..Coroner Says Man Killed by Deputies Shot in Back….Controversy Over Restitution for Victims of Child Porn…..3 Strikers Getting Out Face Challenges

January 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


40 YEARS OF ROE V. WADE MARKED WITH RALLIES AND COUNTER RALLIES IN SF AND ELSEWHERE

THere were rallies marking the 40′s anniversary of Roe v. Wade all over the county this past weekend. Matthai Kuruvila from the San Francisco Chron has an account of the rally and counter rally in San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

The account of the events in San Francicso. Abortion activists on each side of the issue converged on San Francisco Saturday, creating parallel universes testifying to what 40 years of reproductive rights have wrought.

At Justin Herman Plaza, pro-choice activists danced and spoke about liberating women from the horror of back alley abortions conducted by coat hanger-wielding quacks.

Before legal abortions, what might happen to you “was a terror in the back of your mind,” said Chris Malfatti, 64, of San Francisco, who knew someone who lost her fertility to an illegal abortion.

Katheryn Smith of Politico covered the events in DC.


RELEASE OF CORONER’S REPORT FUELS CONTROVERSY OVER CULVER CITY MAN SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES BY DEPUTIES

The newly released autopsy report on the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of Jose De La Trinidad shows that De La Trinidad was shot 7 times, all from the rear, five of the shots striking the Culver City father in the back.

The LA Times Wesley Lowery has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.

De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.

“Here’s a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff’s Department…


THE PRICE OF A STOLEN CHILDHOOD

In a deeply affecting story for this week’s New York Times Magazine Emily Bazelon writes about two young women with the first names of Nicole and Amy who, as children, were sexually abused, with their rapes recorded on video and distributed to thousands of men. In the cases of Nicole and Amy, however,the court has ruled that they can both obtain monetary restitution from those who downloaded the videos of them to mitigate the harm that was done to them. Bazelon’s article explores, among other things, if financial restitution actually helps victims of child pornography.

Here’s a clip:

The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.

The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.

Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.

Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”

When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone…..

The idea of the kind of restitution Bazelon’s story describes is not without controversy. It seems that, as terrible as such crimes are, creating tough laws that don’t also capture in their net the wrong people along with the predators, can be challenging, as Jennifer Bleyer of Slate points out.


THREE STRIKERS NEWLY RELEASED FACE A MULTITUDE OF CHALLENGES, OFTEN WITH NO HELP

Tracey Kaplan at the Contra Costa News has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison “gate money” and the clothes on their backs.

These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.

The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of “strikers” alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law — as well as the inmates themselves.

“I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing,” said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

[SNIP]

“We want these people to succeed,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project. “We don’t want them committing crimes and creating more victims.”

Proponents say the main reason they didn’t foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly — after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36.

Under California’s realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Romano said the issue is now being litigated in Los Angeles County, where a prosecutor claims strikers should be supervised by probation officers. But even if they are, he said, many counties lack the resources to help the mostly male population of former lifers make a successful transition….



Photo of San Francisco rally for 40 years of Roe v. Wade by Christine Duong

Posted in Child sexual abuse, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Human rights, LASD, Life in general, Prosecutors, Reentry, Sentencing, women's issues | 1 Comment »

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