Friday, September 19, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

immigration


SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Gov. Signs Bill to Curb Deportations for Misdemeanors….Federal Judge Argues in Favor of Firing Squads….Representation for 46K Affected by Retroactive Sentencing Guidelines

July 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO KEEP LEGAL IMMIGRANTS CONVICTED OF LOW-LEVEL CRIMES FROM BEING DEPORTED

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a piece of legislation that aims to reduce the number of deportations of legal immigrants for non-felony crimes.

Federal law allows for deportation of permanent legal residents who commit crimes carrying a one year sentence (or more). The measure, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) lowers the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor from one year to 364 days. The bill garnered bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly.

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

As of Jan. 1, SB1310 will reduce the maximum penalty for misdemeanors to 364 days to conform to the federal law.

“Amazingly, the fact that it’s 364 means it’s not an aggravated felony under federal law,” said Steven Rease, a criminal defense attorney in Monterey County. “It’s a very small change in terms of 365, 364, but it’s going to make all the difference in the world to a legal immigrant…whose chances of deportation are greatly reduced.”

Rease is co-chairman of the legislative committee of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which represents defense attorneys and sought the change in state law.

He estimated the change could affect thousands of people in California, based on the scores of cases he has seen mainly among farm workers in his county who have been convicted of misdemeanors for things like writing bad checks.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also projected the change could affect thousands of immigrants in California. It estimated that more than 100,000 children legally residing in the United States had a parent deported for a misdemeanor crime between 1997 and 2007. It said similar legal changes have been adopted by Nevada and Washington state.

“While the federal government continues to turn a blind eye to our broken immigration system, California continues to advance state legislation to ensure aspiring citizens are integrated into our fabric instead of being in the shadows,” the group’s policy and advocacy director, Joseph Villela, said in a statement.


9TH CIRCUIT CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI TELLS STATES TO BRING BACK FIRING SQUADS

In a dissent criticizing execution by lethal injection, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, called for states to go back to using firing squads.

The judge’s dissent came in the case of an Arizona man seeking a stay of execution after the state refused to release information on the drugs to be used in his lethal injection. (The death row inmate, Joseph Rudolph Wood, won the stay, but the Supreme Court promptly reversed the lower court’s ruling and lifted the stay.) The ruling followed five days after U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional.

Kozinski, a supporter of the death penalty, called lethal injections a “misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions.”

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Legal scholars say the judge’s splashy approach is aimed less at shocking the public than asking it to confront its own relationship with the death penalty.

The dissenting opinion came in the case of an Arizona inmate scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday. Joseph Rudolph Wood, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father, sought a delay on the grounds that Arizona has refused to disclose details of their execution protocol. Wood won the stay, and the 9th Circuit decided not to review his case–a decision Judge Kozinski disagreed with on the cases’ legal merits.

Kozinski used his dissenting opinion, however, to launch into a bit of a tangent on lethal injection—the preferred execution method of all state’s that have the death penalty. Firing squads may be disturbing, he said, but unlike lethal injection, they’re relatively fool-proof.

The judge wrote:

“Whatever the hopes and reasons for the switch to drugs, they proved to be misguided. Subverting medicines meant to heal the human body to the opposite purpose was an enterprise doomed to failure. Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.

But executions are, in fact, nothing like that…They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf…

Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”

Kozinski, it should be noted, is not a death penalty opponent.

Read the rest.


NO RIGHT TO LEGAL AID FOR 46,000 FEDERAL DRUG OFFENDERS ELIGIBLE FOR SENTENCE REDUCTIONS

On Friday, the US Sentencing Commission voted to make retroactive drug sentencing guidelines that reduced sentences for most drug trafficking offenses by an average of two years.

The decision is expected to affect more than 46,000 federal prisoners who will be able to seek sentence reductions.

Law professor and sentencing expert, Doug Berman, in his blog Sentencing Law and Policy points out that federal prisoners do not have a right to legal counsel in sentence modification court proceedings. Berman explains that normally, public defender offices try to provide legal help to those seeking sentence reductions, but will not be able to handle the influx of nearly 50,000 inmates seeking aid.

Experts like Berman point out the necessity to find some solution to the problem because, as Berman says, ” …the proper application of new reduced drug offense guidelines can involve various legal issues that may really need to be addressed by sophisticated legal professionals.”

Here’s a clip:

As hard-core federal sentencing fans likely already know, most lower federal courts have ruled that federal prisoners do not have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel applicable at the sentence modification proceedings judges must conduct to implement reduced retroactive sentencing guidelines. Consequently, none of the nearly 50,000 federal drug offense prisoners who may soon become eligible for a reduced sentence have any right to legal assistance in seeking this reduced sentence.

Fortunately for many federal prisoners seeking to benefit from previous guideline reductions, many federal public defender offices have traditionally made considerable efforts to provide representation to those seeking reduced sentences. But even the broadest guideline reductions applied retroactively in the past (which were crack guideline reductions) applied only to less than 1/3 of the number of federal prisoners now potentially eligible for reductions under the new reduced drug guidelines. I suspect that pubic defenders are unlikely to be able to provide significant legal help to a significant number of drug offenders who will be seeking modified sentences under the new reduced drug guidelines.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

An NY Times editorial praises the US Sentencing Commission’s vote in favor of retroactivity, and calls on Congress to let the decision stand. Here’s a clip:

The commission’s bold step, which will ease overcrowding in federal prisons, stands in stark relief to the mind-numbing failure of Congress to make meaningful progress on criminal justice reform. At the same time, it is consistent with a healthy trend among state governments that are finding innovative ways of shrinking prison populations while also reducing crime.


Posted in Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, Sentencing | No Comments »

This American Life Does the LASD, Garcetti Says Why He Will Do the Right Thing With Border Kids….And More

July 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THIS AMERICAN LIFE LOOKS AT THE WHEN THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT GETS MAD

This past weekend, in a show called “Mind Your Own Business” American Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story having to do with The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In particular, they talked about what happened when the FBI began to investigate brutality against inmates at the LA County Jail system, and the sheriff’s department decided they didn’t like being investigated.

Here’s how the segment, produced by Nancy Updike, opened:

There’s been a big, messy, fascinating story unfolding in Los Angeles for awhile… involving two big law enforcement agencies: the LA county sheriff’s department, which is huge, and the FBI. A secret investigation got exposed. There were accusations and counter-accusations, and clandestine recordings, and by the end, a bunch of people’s careers were over.

For the story (which begins shortly after the 30 minute on the podcast) producer Updike interviews LA Times reporter Robert Faturechi. Then she plays excerpts from three of the recordings that were introduced as evidence at the recent federal trial that ended with six members of the LASD being convicted of obstruction of justice.

The first recording she plays is from 2010 in which FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the lead investigator looking into inmate abuse at the jails, is covertly recording a conversation with Deputy William David Courson (with whom she’s on a semi-date) who told her—among other things—about what he called the “unwritten rules” of how to treat inmates. For instance, he said, “… you learn that any inmate who fights with a deputy goes to the hospital.”

They don’t have to make the first move, he says, they can just be thinking about it.

There’s lots more. So listen.


MAYOR GARCETTI EXPLAINS WHY HE WILL SHELTER ENDANGERED IMMIGRANT KIDS

This weekend, as anti-immigration protestors around the country continqued to oppose any kind of government help for the more than 50,000 unaccompanied kids now detained who have crossed American borders in recent months, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti talked to Arun Rath of NPR’s Weekend Edition, about his controversial announcement last Tuesday that Los Angeles would help find temporary homes for many of these kids while the courts tried to sort out what to do about the ballooning humanitarian crisis.

Here’re a couple clips from the NPR interview:

RATH: Determining the final status of these children could take a while. Immigration hearings can take years to schedule. This take us sort of beyond housing to, you know, schools, health care, other services. Won’t this seriously strain city resources over the long-term.

GARCETTI: Well, you know, Los Angeles already faces the broken immigration system and its costs when we can’t award scholarships to students who are A-students and have only known the United States but might be undocumented, when we see, you know, emergency room visits and other things. There’s no doubt that there’s been a strain on local budgets, which is why I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. But this is a different issue here. This is an emergency situation. These are kids first and foremost. And then of course, you know, we do have to go through formal procedures on what will happen with them. I would love to see those things accelerated. I would love them to see, you know, a faster path to citizenship for people who already live here. I would love to see our borders secured, but that shouldn’t keep us from action at moments of humanitarian crisis.

[SNIP]

RATH: Mayor, what would be your message to potential immigrants or those who are considering potentially risking their children’s lives to get them to this country?

GARCETTI: Well, I don’t think – the system that we have, it’s very wise. And for me, the reason that I’m reaching out is we have children that are here. But I certainly wouldn’t encourage people to send their children or for children to cross the border. That’s an incredibly dangerous journey. And I’d want people to hear that loud and clear. But just as loud and clear, I think we have an obligation, once we suddenly have children that are in our country here, to be caring about them while we determine their final status.


THIS IS NOT AN IMMIGRATION CRISIS, IT IS A REFUGEE CRISIS

If you are newly grappling with this issue, for one of the quickest, clearest pictures of why the growing number of unaccompanied minors represents a different brand of immigration dilemma, we recommend reading the whole of last Sunday’s NY Times op ed by the Pulitzer-winning author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario.

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read the whole chilling—and informative—essay, but here’s the opening to get you started.

Cristian Omar Reyes, an 11-year-old sixth grader in the neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, tells me he has to get out of Honduras soon — “no matter what.”

In March, his father was robbed and murdered by gangs while working as a security guard protecting a pastry truck. His mother used the life insurance payout to hire a smuggler to take her to Florida. She promised to send for him quickly, but she has not.

Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head and dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it, and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house.

“I’m going this year,” he tells me.

I last went to Nueva Suyapa in 2003, to write about another boy, Luis Enrique Motiño Pineda, who had grown up there and left to find his mother in the United States. Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus. Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras — more than from anywhere else.

Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa last month, a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.


TRAINS, AMPUTATIONS AND WHY KIDS ARE ON THE RUN

And for an additional view, read this by another very experienced reporter, the Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris, who writes of what she saw about kids fleeing violence ten years ago when she was based in Latin America for the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, and how much worse things have gotten now.

Ferris also writes about how dramatically different an outcome is likely to be for a child in immigration court— depending upon if he or she has a lawyer, or is without one.

Here’s a clip:

A Syracuse University project known as TRAC released a report this week analyzing more than 100,000 juvenile cases filed in the nation’s immigration courts over the last 10 years. Only 43 percent of kids in these cases were or are currently represented by lawyers who help plead for asylum or another form of legal status, according to TRAC, the acronym for the university’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Immigration courts are clogged with backlogs, but juvenile cases only represent about 11 percent of all cases currently pending.

Kids, like adults, do not have the right to the appointment of attorney in immigration proceedings.

But TRAC found that having a lawyer increased the odds that kids would win their claims against deportation: In cases that have been resolved, nearly half the children who had attorneys — 47 percent — were allowed to remain in the United States. When children did not have legal representation, courts allowed only one in 10 to remain here.


SUNDAY, UNACCOMPANIED KIDS WERE THE SUBJECT OF LA’S ANNUAL IMMIGRATION MASS

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has that story. Here’s how it opens:

During Sunday Mass at a sunlit cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a 22-year-old woman stepped timidly to a podium and began her story.

“My name is Dunia Cruz,” she said in Spanish. “I came here from Honduras.”

As she spoke of the gang violence that she said drove her and her toddler son from Central America in April — and of their dangerous journey across Mexico — Cruz was interrupted by bursts of applause.

Her tale resonated with many of the transplants from other countries in the crowded church pews….

Posted in immigration, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD | 9 Comments »

Sheriff’s Candidates Wax Progressive at Debate….Tanaka’s a No-Show….Eric Previn Wants 2 be Supe…& More

March 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

SHERIFF’S CANDIDATES GET NOTABLY PROGRESSIVE AND PAUL TANAKA PULLS A LAST MINUTE NO-SHOW AT THE 2ND BIG PUBLIC DEBATE

Mercado La Paloma in South LA was jammed Thursday night as five of the seven candidates running for LA County Sheriff took their seats for the second public debate, and answered questions on such topics as alternative sentencing, building new jails, immigration enforcement, data gathering on stop & frisk, and more—all topics to which the five men gave consistently progressive-leaning answers that featured more agreement than difference.

For instance, the candidates were asked if they were in favor of solving the jail overcrowding problem by building new jails?

By and large they are not. They’d rather manage the jail population by finding appropriate therapeutic housing for the mentally ill who routinely turn up in the jails, and most favored some kind of alternate sentencing and pretrial release.

Bob Olmsted wants to create a special court for the mentally ill.

“We need to free the bed space for those who really need to be locked up,” he said.

“We need community based mental health clinics,” agreed Jim McDonnell.

Jim Hellmold and Lou Vince said no to any kind of jail expansion. “Once we do that, those beds are always going to be filled,” said Vince.

“Community based alternatives can reduce recidivism by ten or twenty percent,” said Todd Rogers and then proceeded to expand enthusiastically on the topic.

The candidates also favored a more appropriate, family-friendly environment for women who are locked up.

“Right now our women are housed in facilities that are intended for men in complete lockdown,” said Hellmold.

All the candidates were roundly in favor of a robust citizen oversight body for the LASD

And so it went on topic after topic. While there were degrees of difference, there was more often agreement that leaned in a distinctly reformist direction.

“They were more progressive in many cases than the majority of the board of supervisors,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, after the questioning was over. (The ACLU was one of the event’s sponsors.) “For example, there was a real unanimity in the suggestion that LA is incarcerating way too many people. Whereas what appears to be the board’s response, which is to build more jail beds, that’s clearly not what these candidates want to be doing.”


WHILE 5 CANDIDATES OPINED, 2 CANDIDATES WERE MISSING

Two candidates in the field, however, were not available for comment.

Pat Gomez had another event he felt he had to attend so wasn’t able to take part in the debate, but according to Eliasberg, Gomez notified the debate staff a week or two in advance.

Paul Tanaka, in contrast, cancelled “because of a conflict” at exactly 12:37 pm on the day of the event, said Eliasberg.



AND IN RELATED NEWS: AD HOC WATCHDOG ERIC PREVIN RUNS FOR SUPERVISOR

Eric Previn, our favorite ad hoc LA County watchdog, would now like to join the ranks of those he has previously enjoyed hectoring mightily on regular basis.

Hillel Aron (whom we’re happy to note will now be writing full time for the LA Weekly) has the story. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven isn’t like other gadflies, those full-time roustabouts who skulk the halls of L.A. government making public comment after comment until every bureaucrat is ready to put a gun to his or her head. Preven is different; he’s… well, he’s cleaner. And more normal looking. And: Preven digs up good dirt.

Inspired by something weird that was done to Preven’s mom’s beloved labrador a few years ago (by L.A. County Animal Control), he’s acquired a compulsion to appear each Tuesday to castigate the five powerful members of the County Board of Supervisors, who oversee government programs affecting 10 million people*, control a budget of about $25 billion – and enjoy power and authority virtually unrivaled in California.

They meet Preven with a bitter indifference or, more often, open disdain. But now, the biggest thorn in the Supervisors’ sides is running to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, so he can join the bunch he taunts with surprisingly well-informed criticisms and news scoops.

Here’s Previn in high theatrical form.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS & BUDGET PRIORITIES TO WATCH in 2014

Californians for Safety and Justice, a non-profit that gives voice to crime victims and brings them together with community leaders, policymakers, law enforcement and more, has created a wish list of 2014 bills and budget priorities to keep an eye on.

Here is a representative sampling of the items on their list:

BILLS

AB 1919 (V.M. Perez) – Increase the Use of Risk Assessments: Research shows that we reduce repeat offenses when people in the justice system are matched with programming and supervision determined by an individual risk and needs assessment. This bill will encourage counties to use a validated risk and needs assessment for people in their local justice system.

AB 2612 (Dababneh) – Increase Access to Drug Treatment Programs: Nearly two-thirds of all jail inmates suffer from a substance abuse disorder, and, if unaddressed, such disorders drive criminal behavior. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, California has an opportunity to increase the use of federal Medi-Cal dollars to fund drug treatment programs as an effective alternative to warehousing people in jails. This bill would address existing barriers to increased placement in residential programs.

SB 466 (DeSaulnier) – Creating the California Institute for Criminal Justice Policy: This bill would create a nonpartisan, independent institute to conduct timely research on criminal justice and public safety issues. Its primary responsibility will be creating a Master Plan for California Public Safety based on research and evidence-based practices in the field, and the Institute will also analyze any criminal justice bill to determine its effectiveness, cost-benefit and suitability within the Master Plan.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

Help Crime Victims Recover, Avoid Repeat Victimization by Expanding Trauma Recovery: Victims often experience long-term effects, including trauma and mental health conditions. Left unaddressed, these conditions can impact victims’ ability to recover and may lead to financial problems, mental health issues, substance abuse, depression and further victimization. The existing system can be confusing to access and often only offers short-term support. The Trauma Recovery Center model takes a holistic approach to healing the person in a welcoming and safe environment that provides long-term support.

Improve the Outcomes for Women and Families via Alternative Custody Programs: Research has shown that women in the justice system who maintain a relationship with their children are less likely to reoffend, and their children are less likely to suffer trauma and to be incarcerated as adults. By implementing programs that allow women who have committed nonviolent, non-serious to serve their time in alternative custody programs, we can reduce crime and population pressures on prisons and jails.

Ensure Structured Reentry to Reduce Recidivism by Expanding Split Sentences: The first few weeks an individual is released from prison or jail is a crucial time. Structured reentry, through the use of reentry services and supervision, can reduce the likelihood of reoffending and increase public safety. Under Public Safety Realignment, some people are serving their entire sentence in jail and have no support or supervision upon release. By making split sentences the default (unless a judge rules otherwise out of the interest of public safety), we can ensure individuals have a more effective reintegration into the community.

Reduce Jail Pressures, Costs by Incentivizing the Use of Pretrial Programs: Using jail space to house low-risk people awaiting trial is expensive and paid for public safety. For low-risk people not yet convicted of a crime, evidence-based pretrial programs can increase court appearances, reduce recidivism and save valuable public safety dollars.

Click here for the rest..


TREATING PREGNANT WOMEN IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Dr. Corazon Navarro has been treating pregnant state prison inmates since 1987. She is the OB/GYN at the California Institute for Women in Chino.

In KPCC’s First Person project, Navarro tells about her work and what she loves about it.


Posted in 2014 election, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

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

January 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from the abstract:

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

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

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

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


TWO INTERESTING EDITORIALS FROM THE LA AND NY TIMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Kids Still Locked Up for Life Despite SCOTUS Rulings…Youth Justice Grant $$ Cut from Federal Budget….Obama on Marijuana Policy…and the US Immigration Lock-Up Quota

January 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STATES’ RESPONSES TO SUPREME COURT RULINGS ON LIFE SENTENCES FOR JUVENILES

The United States Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life sentences for kids via the 2010 Graham v. Florida and the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decisions. In Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS ruled that juveniles cannot serve life without the possibility of parole where no murder was involved—kids must be given a chance to seek parole based on their level of rehabilitation. The Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for children was unconstitutional (but did not strike down LWOP for youth altogether).

Many states are dragging their feet, only partially complying with the landmark rulings. (See clip below for how California’s efforts rate.)

The NY Times’ Eric Eckholm has the story. Here are some clips:

In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.

But most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings, which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts…

Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in nonhomicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing…

The plaintiff in one of the Florida lawsuits, Shimeek Gridine, was 14 when he and a 12-year-old partner made a clumsy attempt to rob a man in 2009 here in Jacksonville. As the disbelieving victim turned away, Shimeek fired a shotgun, pelting the side of the man’s head and shoulder.

The man was not seriously wounded, but Shimeek was prosecuted as an adult. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery, hoping for leniency as a young offender with no record of violence. The judge called his conduct “heinous” and sentenced him to 70 years without parole.

Under Florida law, he cannot be released until he turns 77, at least, several years beyond the life expectancy for a black man his age, noted his public defender, who called the sentence “de facto life without parole” in an appeal to Florida’s high court.

[SNIP]

Among the handful of states with large numbers of juvenile offenders serving life terms, California is singled out by advocates for acting in the spirit of the Supreme Court rules.

“California has led the way in scaling back some of the extreme sentencing policies it imposed on children,” said Jody Kent Lavy, the director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which has campaigned against juvenile life sentences and called on states to reconsider mandatory terms dispensed before the Miller ruling. Too many states, she said, are “reacting with knee-jerk, narrow efforts at compliance.”

California is allowing juvenile offenders who were condemned to life without parole to seek a resentencing hearing. The State Supreme Court also addressed the issue of de facto life sentences, voiding a 110-year sentence that had been imposed for attempted murder.


SUBSTANTIAL FEDERAL JUVENILE JUSTICE GRANT CUT FROM BUDGET

Funding for the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JAGB) was cut from the 2014 budget Congress sent to the president’s desk late last week. The grant provided money for important programs across the country, including a restorative justice program in California that was successful in keeping kids out of the system. At the same time, the budget reserves $10M for building and expanding corrections facilities. Advocates are dismayed, saying the lost juvenile justice dollars indicate misplaced governmental priorities. (We agree.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Gary Gately has the story. Here’s a clip:

Juvenile offenders and their parents in California signed contracts agreeing to school attendance, curfews, drug testing and counseling – and the agreements prevented the youths from being incarcerated.

New York state funded programs in Syracuse and Utica to divert from arrest youths who had committed non-serious illegal acts at school.

Georgia made funds available to 159 county juvenile courts to find community-based services as alternatives to detention.

The efforts in the three states were funded in part by the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program, which gives states resources to improve juvenile justice systems.

But the JABG funding has been eliminated in a fiscal year 2014 spending bill released this week by House and Senate negotiators.

[SNIP]

[Executive Director of the Coalition for Youth Justice, Marie] Williams, told JJIE that the JABG funding “does a lot of really, really good things that I think states are going to be missing the funding for,” including prosecutors, drug courts, risk-assessment tools and school safety.

[SNIP]

While eliminating the JABG grant funding, the spending bill allows states to spend up to $10 million of the $55.5 million in Title II grants for “building, expanding, renovating, or operating temporary or permanent juvenile correction, detention or community corrections facilities.” (The Title II grants are based on formulas in which the federal government and states contribute to juvenile justice initiatives.)

Williams said singling out such facilities for funding reflects misplaced priorities on Capitol Hill.

“To us, it’s a clear indication they’re out step with the trend in juvenile justice, which is de-incarceration,” Williams said. “Why on the one hand is Congress defunding things like juvenile courts, restorative justice programs, improving juvenile justice systems, but making a point to include $10 million for juvenile corrections facilities?”


OBAMA ON MARIJUANA POLICY

In David Remnick’s interesting (and extensive) new profile of President Barack Obama for the New Yorker, the president shares his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana and the racial and social class sentencing disparity.

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion — the legalization of marijuana — he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked.

[SNIP]

Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.”


CONSEQUENCES OF THE US IMMIGRATION INCARCERATION QUOTA

For the last six years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been forced to fill a quota of 34,000 immigrants in lock-up at all times.

The NY Daily News’ Robert Morgenthau rightly points out that setting a numerical quotas when it comes to incarceration policy—for immigration or otherwise—-completely undermines the notion of justice in any court process. Here are some clips:

The detention quota is unprecedented and unique to the immigration context. As Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, explained to Bloomberg News in June 2013: “No other law enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people that they must keep in jail.”

But hard-liners in Congress fight tirelessly to keep it in place. Last year, when the prisoner population dipped to 30,773, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul wrote a pointed public letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, informing him that he was “in clear violation of the statute” and its 34,000 prisoner requirement.

Notice that’s not the number of immigrants Congress wants to deport; it’s the number Congress insists on incarcerating while they await their fate.

[SNIP]

Such a rigid number cannot help but have a corrupting influence on the entire process. Imagine trying to get a fair trial in criminal court if your state legislature mandated that judges had to fill a certain number of prison cells each day. It would be impossible.

How can lawyers representing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement do their job dispassionately — seeking incarceration only of those who truly represent a danger to society or a risk of flight — if they know their funding is dependent upon hitting a number?

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Obama, racial justice, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

House Votes to Deport “Dreamers,” Tar Pits Cold Case…and More

June 7th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(Video of Thursday’s House decision getting booed.)



HOUSE PASSES AMENDMENT AGAINST DEFERRED DEPORTATION OF YOUTH

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to block funding for the Obama administration program (similar to the Dream Act) that defers the deportation of young immigrants who are in school or the military. The change came in the form of an amendment added to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill currently being considered by the House.

Huffington Post’s Elise Foley has the story. Here are some clips:

The House voted 224-201 on Thursday to end Department of Homeland Security discretion policies that allow it to delay deportations for young, undocumented immigrants and other people deemed low-priority, effectively demanding the government force out Dreamers who came to the United States as children.

[SNIP]

The King provision was added to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill currently being considered by the House. It’s almost certain to be opposed by the Democratic-run Senate, or by President Barack Obama, who has expanded the use of discretion in deportation proceedings.

[SNIP]

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement on Thursday vowing the amendment will not be signed into law. The full statement:

As the Senate prepares to debate bipartisan commonsense immigration reform next week, House Republicans chose to spend today passing an extreme amendment to strip protections from “Dreamers.” These are productive members of society who were brought here as young children, grew up in our communities, and became American in every way but on paper. This amendment, sponsored by Representative Steve King, runs contrary to our most deeply-held values as Americans. It asks law enforcement to treat these Dreamers the same way as they would violent criminals. It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law.


LAPD TAKES A DIVE INTO TAR PITS

A law enforcement task force sent an LAPD diver into the oozing La Brea Tar Pits in search of cold case evidence on Thursday.

LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein has the story (and there’s a short video). Here are some clips:

LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman would not discuss details of the case and wouldn’t say exactly what authorities were searching for, other than that it involved investigators from a joint task force.

“They requested the assistance of our dive team to search for an item of evidence related to an ongoing homicide investigation,” Neiman said.

[SNIP]

“It’s horrible in there,” Neiman said. “There’s a diver in the water in a full dry suit which is completely enclosed. He’s covered with tar. It’s a mess.”

On the warm afternoon when this story broke, LA Times writers couldn’t resist coming up with an endless series of tweet-puns. Here are our favorites from Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin:

Joel Rubin ‏(@joelrubin)
.@anblanx Sources tell me it’s a homicide from the Ice Age – a very cold case.

Andrew Blankstein (‏@anblanx)
Cold Case-La Brea Tar Pits @joelrubin: @RobertFaturechi says they are trying to find who killed the dinosaurs. #VeryColdCase #LAPD #FBI


RECOMMENDED READING: FRESH JOURNALISM IN SB

A promising new Santa Barbara investigative and narrative non-profit news site, Mission & State, launched Thursday. M&S has some big journalistic talent behind it, including Joe Donnelly, the former deputy editor of LA Weekly and the founding publisher and co-editor of the quarterly reader Slake: Los Angeles.

They have a page full of interesting articles already up, like this one on Santa Barbara County Main Jail’s problematic releasing of inmates in the middle of the night. Here’s a clip:

There were 8,602 people released from county jail between January and April, according to Santa Barbara County Main Jail Custody Lieutenant Tim McWilliams. Approximately 2,508 people were released between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., about 20 per day. While the jail provides bus vouchers, Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District buses generally don’t run between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and the bus serving the section of Calle Real adjacent to the jail doesn’t run between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Pressure to release inmates early is coming from two sides—court-ordered caps on the county jail population and AB 109, the state-mandated prison realignment that diverts low-level criminals from state prisons to local jurisdictions. The average daily population has increased from 887 in 2011 to 1,009 as of March 2013 partially because of the realignment, according to Lt. McWilliams.

Posted in immigration, journalism, LAPD, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Solitary Kids, Leimart Park Stop (Finally!), Gangs and Immigration, and Gay Scouts

May 24th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

UPDATE ON REFORM BILL FOR KIDS IN SOLITARY

A bill that would define and limit the use of solitary confinement for kids in juvenile facilities—SB 61, authored by Sen. Leland Yee—made it through the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday and is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate next week.

Here’s a clip from the update from Sen. Yee’s office:

In 2011, a CDCR internal audit found that youth were often locked up in their cells for over 21 hours a day. In one 15-week period, there were 249 incidents of solitary confinement, and in one case, a youth received only one hour out of his cell in a 10-day period. In local juvenile facilities, there have been reports of youth locked up in isolation for 23 hours a day.

“I felt completely unwanted and unnoticed” said Tanisha Denard, who was held in solitary confinement as a juvenile. “It is by far the worst feeling I have ever experienced.”

“The mission of the juvenile justice system is to offer youth an opportunity for rehabilitation while also promoting public safety” said Dr. Laura Abrams of UCLA. “The use of solitary confinement is counter to these goals. Not only does solitary confinement undermine rehabilitation efforts, but also as the potential to return a young person to society with exacerbated trauma and mental illness that can manifest in violence toward self or others.”

FYI, here are some of the provisions of SB 61:

- Define solitary confinement as the involuntary placement in a room or cell in isolation from persons other than staff and attorneys.

- Provide that solitary confinement shall only be used when a minor poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or the security of the facility, and all other less restrictive options have been
exhausted.

- Provide that a minor or ward shall only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time necessary to address the safety risk.

- Empower existing county juvenile justice commissions to report on the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

(For more recommended reading, Sen. Yee has an excellent editorial on the bill over at U-T San Diego.)


METRO STOP AT CULTURALLY IMPORTANT LEIMART PARK

The LA Metro board finally approved funding for an underground metro station in historic Leimart Park, an significant addition to the Crenshaw line that LA Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas has been pushing hard for since 2011, along with outgoing LA Mayor Villaraigosa.

KPCC’s Corey Moore has the story. Here’s a clip:

The action comes a day after the L.A. City Council committed $40 million in Measure R funds for the station in the culturally historic African American community. And now, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will fund the rest, which in total, amounts to $120 million.

Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pushed to make this happen, along with L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the motion. MTA members voted in favor, 10 to 1. Metro plans to choose a contractor for the project next month.


HARMFUL IMMIGRATION REFORM AMENDMENTS DISCARDED

Several discriminatory immigration reforms were shot down earlier this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, including an amendment authored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have banned undocumented immigrants suspected of gang affiliation from becoming legal citizens, even if they had no criminal record. Another rejected amendment by Sen. Grassley would have allowed law enforcement officers to profile based on nation of origin.

Here’s a clip from gang intervention non-profit Homies Unidos Director Alex Sanchez’s letter to supporters:

Thank you for standing up for justice and dignity. Your calls to the Senate Judiciary Committee members helped to defeat three dangerous amendments to the immigration reform bill: Sessions 32, Grassley 43 and Grassley 49. These amendments sought to increase and normalize the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement in our communities. Session’s amendment would have mandated 287(g) nationwide, while Grassley’s amendments would have penalized young people accused of gang membership and allowed profiling based on national origin. Thank you for pushing back against these harmful amendments. We could not have won this without you.

Despite the good news, Graham 3 passed. The amendment requires additional screening for individuals applying for “registered provisional immigration” (RPI) status who are from certain regions or countries deemed national security threats by the Department of Homeland Security. This will likely target individuals from predominantly Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Middle Eastern countries and is a setback against the fight to end racial profiling.

LA Times’ Sandra Hernandez has more on the defeat of Grassley’s amendment targeting suspected gang members. Here’s a clip:

Deporting immigrants who have serious criminal records makes sense as a matter of public safety. The Times’ editorial page has supported such policies. But Grassley’s amendment wouldn’t have furthered that goal. Instead, it sought to exclude immigrants who are suspected of gang membership from legalizing simply because their names appeared on a gang database or on an injunction.

Los Angeles pioneered the use of gang injunctions and databases as a way to help neighborhoods plagued by violence regain control of their streets. But these lists and civil restraining orders aren’t perfect tools. Individuals can find themselves on such lists because of factors like tattoos, style of dress or identification by an informant.


BOY SCOUTS END EXCLUSION OF GAY YOUTH

The Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to end their policy banning gay youth from participating in the program. There is still a ban on openly gay adults acting as leaders, and gay youth can still be forced out of the group when they turn eighteen, but this is a welcomed step in the right direction.

NY Times’ Erik Eckholm has the story. Here’s a clip:

The decision, which followed years of resistance and wrenching internal debate, was widely seen as a milestone for the Boy Scouts, a symbol of traditional America. More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The top national leaders of the Boy Scouts had urged the change in the face of vehement opposition from conservative parents and volunteers, some of whom said they would quit the organization. But the decision also put the scouts more in tune with the swift rise in public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger parents who are essential to the future of an institution that has been losing members for decades.

The decision is unlikely to bring peace to the Boy Scouts as they struggle to keep a foothold in a swirling cultural landscape, ensuring continued lobbying and debate in the months and year to come. The group put off the even more divisive question of whether to allow openly gay adults and leaders, and those on both sides of the debate predicted that, with the resolution’s passage, the Boy Scouts would soon be forced to start allowing gay adults, whether by lawsuits or embarrassment at the twisted logic of forcing an Eagle Scout who turns 18 to quit.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, immigration, juvenile justice, social justice, solitary, transportation | 2 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 »

« Previous Entries