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Mentally Ill and Locked-up Kids, State of the City, and Police Brutality

April 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BACKGROUND ON RAHEEM HOUSSEINI’S ILLUMINATING STORY ABOUT HOW MENTALLY ILL KIDS WIND UP IN JAIL

Here in California, there has been ample discussion about how adults with mental illnesses are winding up in jails and prisons instead of receiving appropriate treatment in their communities or in mental health facilities. (And in LA County, in particular, District Attorney Jackie Lacey is working on a comprehensive mental health diversion program.)

Sacramento-based reporter Raheem Hosseini found, almost by accident, that the same thing is happening to mentally ill kids in California, and wrote in-depth about the issue last November.

This week, Hosseini published a story-behind-the-story about how he came upon this troubling set of facts and the difficulties he faced in reporting on kids with mental illness in the juvenile justice system. Here’s a clip:

Interim chief probation officer Suzanne Collins spent her limited time summarizing her department’s mandate: supervising adult offenders once they exit custody; producing in-depth assessments for the courts to consider at sentencing; and housing juvenile delinquents. While describing this last mission, Collins made the off-hand comment about juvenile hall having turned into a “commitment facility” for mentally ill children with no other place to go. The session quickly moved onto other business. In my head, however, the bell had been rung.

I had become familiar with the shifting complexion of adult prisons and jails, where a third to half of inmates experience mental health issues, depending on who — and when — you asked. But I had done little reporting on the juvenile justice system, and I was surprised to hear such an alarming assertion dropped so casually.

Because, if true, this is where the prison pipeline began for children who needed help, not institutionalization.

It wasn’t until weeks later that I was able to schedule a tour of juvenile hall. The kids I briefly met, especially in the special needs unit, stuck with me. Who were they? What brought them here? And where would they go next?

I managed to pick story subjects with multiple, co-existing privacy obstacles: Minors (1) with mental illnesses (2) in the juvenile justice system (3).

How would I find them? And can a mentally ill minor even grant consent to their story being told? That’s a question I posed to a few of the speakers present at a week-long health reporting fellowship at the University of Southern California in February 2014. I got sympathetic shrugs in return.

When I started reporting, I immediately reached out to multiple youth justice foundations, advocacy groups and researchers to see if they could put me in touch with mentally ill incarcerated juveniles, former juveniles and their families. Many requests went unanswered; some referred me to other groups or individuals; most said they couldn’t put me in touch with anyone.

Meanwhile, locating hard data on mental health trends within the juvenile justice system proved almost as tricky…

Here’s a clip from Hosseini’s original story about how kids who really need mental health care get ensnared in the juvenile justice system (where they are over-prescribed antipsychotics) and what counties are doing, or are not doing, to rectify the situation:

Ashley Drake is trying to be something other than a cautionary tale. In a north Sacramento law enforcement office, the 22-year-old waits on a probation officer, the same one she’s had since childhood. It’s time again to reach for the straight and narrow.

She’s never had much help in that department.

Afflicted with bipolar disorder, clinical depression and avoidant personality disorder symptoms, Drake’s childhood is a blur of family discord, 10 juvenile hall detentions and 13 separate group home placements. Therapy, counseling and treatment? They never happened. Instead, she began self-medicating with hard drugs as an adolescent, and has since graduated to adult jails…

According to a comprehensive analysis completed in September for the Sacramento County Criminal Justice Cabinet, nearly 43 percent of the average daily juvenile hall population received mental health services this year, a 19-percent increase over 2000. Of the 84 children who were served, 52 received psychotropic drugs. The representation of medicated juveniles at the hall rose by 16 percent in comparison to 2004, when the population was larger and the number of medicated kids smaller—around 32—an examination of state and local data shows.

“About half of our juvenile hall is a mental health facility. And we don’t have adequate services to keep up with that,” says Arthur L. Bowie, supervising assistant public defender of the county’s juvenile division. “We’re making criminals out of them, instead of what they are.”

What they are, says Bowie and others, are victims of abusive homes and failed institutions. Institutionalized at a young age and too often deprived of proper psychiatric care, they’re groomed for lives on perpetual lockdown.

“Half these kids don’t belong in detention,” says deputy probation officer Gabo Ly, who supervises the special needs unit, where juvenile hall’s most emotionally and psychologically unstable are segregated. “But this is all we have.”

It’s a crisis in quiet, sapped of any grand political campaign or national outcry.

Read the rest.


LA MAYOR’S STATE OF THE CITY: COMMUNITY POLICING, TARGETING CRIME HOTSPOTS, FUNDING GRYD

At CSUN on Tuesday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his second annual State of the City address. The mayor announced a new 40-officer LAPD unit that will focus on community policing, as well as other activities (like coaching sports teams) that will build better relationships between cops and the neighborhoods they serve.

The LAPD will also hire 200 new Metropolitan Division officers to target high crime areas. (KPCC’S Frank Stoltze has more on this plan and why critics say it may harm the efforts of community policing.) Each police division will also receive a new specialized domestic violence unit.

Among other noteworthy changes, an extra $5.5 million in funding will go to the Gang Reduction Youth Development program, which allows for GRYD’s Summer Night Lights program to be extended to include non-summer Friday nights in some park locations.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has more on the State of the City address. Here’s a clip from the mayor’s speech:

“We should all be very proud: we reduced overall crime at the end of last year to its lowest level per capita since 1949.

But our city’s violent crime numbers were up.

And as long as I’m your Mayor, I won’t duck bad news. I’m going to own it and I’m going to attack it.

Here’s how:

First, we’re nearly doubling the ranks of LAPD’s elite Metropolitan Division, so we can quickly saturate a neighborhood with additional officers when crime spikes.

Second, because domestic violence increased in our city last year, we’re also doubling the number of our Domestic Abuse Response Teams so there’s one in every LAPD division — and today, I am proud to announce that they will be on the streets by July first, six months ahead of schedule.

DART teams are civilians who roll out with police officers and give victims of domestic abuse the legal, medical, and emotional support they need to break the cycle of violence.

Third, we know that intervention works…when our Gang Reduction and Youth Development workers step in, guns are lowered and lives are saved.

Today, I’m pleased to share that the budget that I’m sending City Council next week will include five point five million dollars more for the GRYD program, so we can cover new territory and 50 percent more gang-related violent crime.


TA-NEHISI COATES: BEYOND POLICE REFORM, SITUATIONS FOR WHICH LAW ENFORCEMENT MAY NOT BE THE BEST SOLUTION

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates says that instead of questioning whether a police use of force was within the law and department policy, we should question whether we should have sent the officer(s) out to deal with the situation that led to a use of force. Coates says we should ask, for instance, whether there are safer (for both officers and the public) and more peaceful ways to deal with a person who is skipping out on child support (instead of arrest), or to help someone in the throes of a mental health crisis. Here’s a clip:

There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.

When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.”

Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was informed of the killing of Tony Robinson by a police officer. Robinson was high on mushrooms. The police were summoned after he chased a car. The police killed him. A month earlier, I’d been thinking a lot about Anthony Hill, who was mentally ill. One day last month, Hill stripped off his clothes and started jumping off of his balcony. The police were called. They killed him.

[SNIP]

Police officers fight crime. Police officers are neither case-workers, nor teachers, nor mental-health professionals, nor drug counselors. One of the great hallmarks of the past forty years of American domestic policy is a broad disinterest in that difference. The problem of restoring police authority is not really a problem of police authority, but a problem of democratic authority. It is what happens when you decide to solve all your problems with a hammer. To ask, at this late date, why the police seem to have lost their minds is to ask why our hammers are so bad at installing air-conditioners.

STEVE LOPEZ: COPS GET TOO MUCH LEEWAY ON USE OF FORCE

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez says that while officers have to make extremely difficult, split-second decisions to protect their own safety and the safety of the public, deadly use of force incidents resulting from minor civilian misdeeds seem to occur too frequently. And, after questionable uses of force, officers are investigated by their own department, District Attorneys with close ties to local law enforcement agencies, and sympathetic juries. Here’s a clip:

The job is inherently dangerous, split-second decisions are hard to make under pressure, and sideline critics like me have the advantage of hindsight in second-guessing the use of deadly force.

But too often, it seems to me, we’re left trying to understand how a minor infraction or mere suspicion of criminal activity could have escalated into a deadly confrontation, and why police didn’t use better judgment.

[BIG SNIP]

It’s also time for police to refine the widespread broken-windows strategy — a full-bore crackdown on minor infractions to discourage serious crime — that can border on harassment and have deadly consequences, even if it does conveniently fill local treasuries with money from nuisance citations.

I’d like to put in a vote for the development and use of less lethal arms and ammo — such as a non-penetrating bullet now being tested in Ferguson, Mo. — that can incapacitate a suspect without killing him.

And it’s time to review deadly force policies and training.

Stephen Downing, a retired LAPD deputy chief, said he thinks a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on use of force has led to varying interpretations that give police too little guidance and too much latitude in determining when to shoot.

In training and practice, Downing said, the standard has been pushed “closer to what is justified by law as opposed to what is expected by the community. Thus, we see more and more, ‘He reached for his waistband’ rather than, ‘I opted to take cover, assess, develop a tactical alternative to use of deadly force and do all in my power to avoid taking a life.’”

And as for cops who negligently or maliciously cross the line, no more free passes. As Los Angeles attorney Walter Katz argued last week in a Harvard Law Review commentary, it’s time for independent investigations of police shootings, to help restore police accountability and public trust.


MAN SUING LAPD FOR ALLEGED BRUTALITY SAYS COPS ARE HARRASSING HIS FAMILY

Clinton Alford Jr., a 22-year-old man who filed a lawsuit last year against the LAPD for alleged excessive use of force, says officers are retaliating against him. Alford says officers drew guns on him during a traffic stop, have driven by his house heckling Alford and his family, and flown a helicopter so low above his home that the house shook.

Last fall, a store security camera captured video of an officer allegedly kicked Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. LAPD officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

Flanked by his father and his attorney, Clinton Alford Jr. told reporters that officers have repeatedly driven past his South L.A. house. And helicopters have flown so close overhead that walls and windows shook.

The 22-year-old’s attorney, Caree Harper, said officers had “heckled” Alford and his family while driving past their home. Last week, she said, officers drew their guns on her client after stopping him for a traffic violation.

Harper said she planned to amend a federal civil rights lawsuit she filed on Alford’s behalf to include the allegations of retaliation by police.

“They want to catch him doing anything,” she said. “Even if he’s not doing anything.”

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, declined to discuss the Oct. 16 incident, citing an ongoing internal investigation and civil litigation.

“There’s already an internal affairs investigation into this matter,” he said. “If they have any other allegations of misconduct, we’re eager to hear them and have internal affairs investigate them fully.”

Posted in Eric Garcetti, jail, juvenile justice, LAPD, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

LA County’s Proposed Budget…Feds Investigate SF Jail Abuse Allegations…CA Bill to Reduce Drivers License Suspensions…and Criminal Justice Questions for Presidential Candidates

April 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S REFORM-MINDED BUDGET PROPOSAL ALLOCATES MORE $$ TO MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION, JAIL SERVICES, FOSTER CARE

In a press conference Monday morning, the office of LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai released the 2015-16 budget proposal.

A spokesman for the CEO emphasized that the new budget is focused on “major programatic reforms, with new positions and funding” going toward “improvements in the criminal justice system, child protection, and improvements in health care delivery.”

Out of $26,923 billion, only an additional 10.2 million is going to mental health diversion, but it’s a big step in the right direction. In June, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is expected to present to the Board of Supervisors her task force’s report on creating a comprehensive mental health diversion plan for the county.

An even larger step is the $66.9 million to fund 542 additional child protection positions, in order to lighten social workers’ cases loads, a crucial move in the name of child safety. Over-stressed social workers are more likely to miss things.

Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that the proposed budget “provides critically needed resources to support ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to ensure the compassionate treatment of inmates in the nation’s largest jail system, while also continuing to develop smarter justice system approaches to those in our community suffering from mental illness.”

Public budget hearings are slated to begin in mid-May.

The LA County Supervisors are also scheduled to vote today on a motion to institute some additional oversight for probation in the form of an audit.


FBI JOINS THE GROUP OF AGENCIES PROBING REPORTS OF SF DEPUTIES FORCING INMATES TO FIGHT AND BETTING ON THEM

The FBI has initiated an investigation into allegations that four San Francisco deputies forced jail inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. SF District Attorney George Gascon, the SF Police Department, and the sheriff’s department have also launched investigations into the matter. (WLA will continue to track this story.)

KQED’s Alex Emslie has the updated story. Here are some clips:

The four deputies named at the center of an independent investigation initiated by [San Francisco Public Defender] Jeff Adachi remain on paid leave, [SF Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said. Their names are Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely. The law firm representing the deputies did not return a call seeking comment.

The federal inquiry officially started April 3. Special Agent Greg Wuthrich said the FBI investigation is at a very early stage.

“Civil rights allegations are definitely huge for the bureau,” Wuthrich said. “These kind of things, we take very seriously.”

[SNIP]

Adachi said in a statement that he is pleased with the FBI’s involvement and commended Mirkarimi for taking the unusual step of inviting the federal probe.

“Eliminating this sort of brutal and sadistic conduct starts by leading an investigation that isn’t tainted by conflict of interest or misplaced loyalty,” Adachi said. “I look forward to a thorough and fair investigation that includes determining whether additional deputies were aware of the abuse and complicit in their silence. To ensure this never happens again, there must be accountability — not only for the perpetrators, but for those who fail to speak up.”


CA BILL WOULD CUT DOWN ON ALL-TOO-COMMON LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR NON-VIOLENT TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

A new bill by CA Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) aims to reduce the number of drivers whose licenses are suspended after failing to pay (often exorbitant) fines for non-violent traffic offenses.

SB 405 follows closely behind a report condemning California’s policing-for-profit system as not unlike the situation in Ferguson, MO. In both places, fines pile on top of fines when a driver is unable to pay a ticket, burying the person (often poor to begin with) under a mountain of debt. And often failure to pay these fines results in a suspended license, which prevents the person from driving to a job to earn money to pay the fines. One in six California drivers have had their licenses suspended, and according to a separate report, nearly half of people whose licenses are suspended lose their jobs.

The bill would reinstate drivers licenses lost due to non-violent traffic infractions, as long as the licensee then paid back the debt through the state’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program.

A New Way of Life Reentry Project, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children cosponsored the bill.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Hertzberg’s website:

Hertzberg said suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their license without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license.

“This is a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty,” Hertzberg said, pointing to a recent New Jersey study that found that when a license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept their job, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

In California, the number of licenses suspended during an 8-year period from 2006 to 2013 exceeded 4.2 million. In that same timespan, only 71,000 driver licenses were reinstated.

Under existing law, it is virtually impossible for the driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments are completely paid. This jeopardizes economic stability in the state, limits the available workforce, and forces employers to bear the cost of replacing workers and finding qualified replacement workers with valid licenses.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, the sheer number of suspended licenses poses a threat to public safety. Evidence suggests that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take the suspensions less seriously. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving – often without insurance.


RADLEY BALKO: CRUCIAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE QUESTIONS WE SHOULD ASK ALL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has a “quick and dirty” list of important criminal justice reform questions for all presidential candidates.

If you are wondering who has thrown their hat in, thus far, the NY Times has a nice little chart (updated as of yesterday, April 13).

Here are four from Balko’s list, but there are … more where these came from:

The Obama administration has made heavy use of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate patterns of abuse and civil rights violations by local police departments. Would you continue this policy in your administration? To what extent is the federal government obligated to step in when local police and prosecutors are either habitually violating or failing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens in their jurisdiction?

[SNIP]

Several media reports, advocacy groups and judicial opinions (including a recent opinion by Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit) have described an epidemic of prosecutor misconduct across the country. Do you believe there is a widespread problem of prosecutor misconduct in America? Do you believe the federal government has a responsibility to address it?

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.


Posted in Board of Supervisors, DCFS, District Attorney, FBI, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, Public Defender | No Comments »

Video Shows San Bernardino Deputies Beating Man…Nurses Say Health Care in Alameda Jails is Broken…and Walter Scott

April 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HELICOPTER FOOTAGE SHOWS A GROUP OF SAN BERNARDINO DEPUTIES BEATING A MAN ON THE GROUND AFTER A HORSE CHASE

On Thursday, video captured from NBC’s NewsChopper4 appeared to show a small crowd of San Bernardino County deputies beating a reportedly unarmed man during an arrest.

The man, Francis Jared Pusok, 30, lead officers on an intense chase, by car, on foot, and finally, on a stolen horse. When deputies caught up with Pusok, the horse bucked, throwing Pusok to the ground. The man, still on the ground, then spread his arms out and then put them behind his back, after which, deputies appear to taser him. Then, the video shows a number of deputies gather around Pusok, punching, kicking, and kneeing the man dozens of times for more than two minutes.

Allegedly the man was then left lying on the ground for at least 45 minutes without medical attention. Pusok is now in a hospital being treated for unknown injuries.

San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon said he was “disturbed” by the video and quickly launched an internal investigation.

NBC’s Jason Kandel and Tony Shin have the story. Here are some clips:

In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times and punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head. The allegedly stolen horse stood idly nearby.

The man did not appear to move from his position lying on the ground for more than 45 minutes. He did not appear to receive medical attention while deputies stood around him during that time…

Three deputies were injured during the search. Two suffered dehydration and a third was injured when kicked by the horse. All three were taken to a hospital for treatment.

[SNIP]

Deputies said the Taser was ineffective due to his loose clothing and a use of force occurred.

“I can certainly understand the concerns in the community based on what they saw on the video,” McMahon told NBC4. “I’m disturbed by what I see in the video. But I don’t need to jump to conclusions at this point, until we do a complete and thorough investigation. If our deputy sheriff’s did something wrong, they’ll be put off work and they’ll be dealt with appropriately, all in accordance with the law as well as our department policy.”


PRIVATE HEALTH CARE CO. NURSES IN ALAMEDA JAILS THREATEN TO STRIKE IF MEDICAL CONDITIONS DO NOT IMPROVE FOR INMATES

Nurses employed by a troubled private company in charge of health care in Alameda County jails say they will strike if the company doesn’t improve the substandard care provided to inmates.

The Corizon nurses are calling on the company to add more nurses to the rotation. One worker said the ratio can sometimes be as bad as 23 inmate patients to one nurse. She says, at most, the ratio is five patients to one nurse in regular hospitals. The nurses also say medical equipment is often broken or unsanitary.

The understaffing means that medication often goes out hours late, medical intakes are rushed, and sometimes inmates die due to lack of adequate and timely health care, according to the nurses.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is sending around a strike petition. If union members vote in favor of striking, the decision will be announced to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Supervisors.

Corizon is no stranger to lawsuits. In February, Corizon (and Alameda County) agreed to a record-breaking $8.3 million wrongful death settlement to the family of a jail inmate who was tasered to death by ten deputies while suffering from severe, untreated alcohol withdrawal.

As part of the settlement, Corizon agreed to stop hiring less expensive Licensed Vocational Nurses instead of Registered Nurses (as state law requires) to perform inmate medical intakes.

Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein has the story. Here are some clips:

Clara, who works as a Registered Nurse at the jail, described abysmal conditions including broken or dirty equipment, rushed procedures and severe understaffing.

For example, when inmates are first booked, nurses examine them and ask them about their full medical history. Clara said Corizon’s procedures in this phase, designed to save time and money, puts everyone at risk.

“The patients come in right off the street. They’re often under the influence of drugs. You don’t know what their mental state is,” she said. “They’ve got three nurses seeing three inmates at once in one little cramped room, maybe 15 by 15 feet. So there’s no confidentiality. One inmate is sitting so close he could touch the next one, and we’re asking them very personal questions, like if they’re HIV positive. HIPAA [privacy] laws are totally violated there.”


DEATH OF WALTER SCOTT: LAPD CHIEF SAYS SHOOTING WAS UNLAWFUL…WHAT NEWS REPORTS WOULD HAVE SAID IF THE INCIDENT HAD NOT BEEN TAPED…THE DASH CAM VIDEO…AND SC’S RACIAL HISTORY

On Thursday, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said that as far as he could tell, South Carolina officer Michael Slager’s fatal shooting of the allegedly unarmed, fleeing Walter Scott was “a criminal act.”

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips:

Beck said he would have similarly had the officer arrested based on the video by the bystander. But he also said he’d typically do a more detailed investigation before making such a judgment.

“I will tell you this, based on what I have seen, based on the video, it is a criminal act,” Beck said. “It is well beyond any policies of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

[SNIP]

Beck said such an incident impacts all officers, but it doesn’t diminish his pride in their willingness to take risks daily.

“To have somebody 3,000 miles away take away from that by a criminal act, it’s disheartening,” Beck said. “All of us suffer when somebody in the profession acts illegally.”


The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Nick Wing have penned a version of what they believe news reports would have looked like, had a bystander not videotaped the shooting. Here’s how it opens:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

The shooting was the 11th this year by a South Carolina police officer. The State Law Enforcement Division has begun an investigation into the incident.

Police identified the officer involved as Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager and the suspect as Walter Lamar Scott, 50, of Meadowlawn Drive in West Ashley. Slager, 33, served honorably in the military before joining the North Charleston Police Department more than five years ago. He has never been disciplined during his time on the force, his attorney said.

The incident occurred behind a pawn shop on Craig Street and Remount Road. Slager initially pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. During the stop, police and witnesses say Scott fled the vehicle on foot. When Slager caught up with him a short distance from the street, Scott reportedly attempted to overpower Slager. Police say that during the struggle, the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.


On Thursday, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division released dash camera footage of the incident. The video shows the initial traffic stop for a broken tail light, which wasn’t captured by the anonymous bystander’s video.


And for some interesting context, the New Yorker’s Jack Hitt delves into South Carolina’s complicated racial history. Here’s a clip:

The police officer was fired and charged with murder. North Charleston’s mayor, Keith Summey, announced, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong” and said that police officers can’t hide a bad decision “behind the shield.” He said that the police force’s “thoughts and prayers are with the family.” North Charleston’s police chief, Eddie Driggers, said he was “sickened.” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who rose to office as a darling of the Tea Party, said that the shooting was “unacceptable.” Senator Lindsey Graham called the video “horrific.” Senator Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who grew up in North Charleston, called the shooting “senseless” and “avoidable.” The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, immediately took control of the investigation, and the F.B.I. has opened its own investigation, as well. The victim’s brother told the local paper, “We don’t advocate violence. We advocate change.”

I grew up in Charleston, and, as someone close to North Charleston’s mayor told me, “Before the sun was down, everyone was unified.”

It’s crucial to point out that had the bystander not turned on his smartphone camera, that creaky counter-narrative—I thought he was reaching for my weapon—would almost certainly have given Slager a pass. And no doubt, the swiftness of the political and narrative unity in the shooting death of Scott owes much to the lessons of Ferguson. But South Carolina is not Missouri—its racial past, in fact, is more violent, but its attempts to move away from that history, while less known, have been more bold. The state’s history of violence against black men and women is excruciating to know, or to read. If you are unfamiliar, then Google “George Junius Stinney, Jr.,” “Julia and Frazier Baker,” the Hamburg massacre, or the Orangeburg massacre. That is South Carolina at its worst. But there is a streak of fair-mindedness in the state’s history—an ancient ideal that Mark Twain parodied as coming straight out of the chivalric fiction of Sir Walter Scott’s mist-filled novels of courtly knights. While reserved exclusively for whites for most of its history, this tendency appears from time to time and is always surprising, especially to outsiders.

All Charlestonians are required to know the story of their Civil War-era representative, James Petigru, the state’s only Unionist, who voted against secession. Charlestonians have made a centuries-long career out of tweaking the rest of the state for its rustic views. Petigru opposed withdrawing from the United States back then because, as it is often quoted, “South Carolina is too small to be a Republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.”

But even during the collapse of Reconstruction, when racist Democrats took back control of the state’s government from Republican politicians backed by federal troops, there was a streak of fair play in the reformed Confederate General Wade Hampton, who was elected governor in 1876, and who, in his inaugural speech, said, “It is due, not only to ourselves, but to the colored people of the State, that wise, just, and liberal measures should prevail in our legislation.” (To those writing rebuttal posts right now to argue that this was mere racist palaver, I will note that however rhetorical Hampton’s views were, those earliest attempts at sane post-bellum racial decency in South Carolina were relatively real efforts at moderation, despite the fact they were, absolutely, crushed underfoot by pro-lynching extremists, like “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, who thought that Hampton was out of his mind.) In the mid-twentieth century, a famous Charleston judge named Julius Waties Waring sought to steer a number of criminal cases toward the ideal of fair play, including a hideous police beating of a black man and later a local desegregation case that would eventually merge with others to become Brown v. Board. A cross was burned in the judge’s yard, and he eventually fled the state.

Posted in Charlie Beck, jail, LAPD, law enforcement, medical care, racial justice, unions | No Comments »

Incompetent to Stand Trial and Warehoused in Jails, SFPD Chief Blasts SF DA’s Task Force, 22 Pardons, and P22

April 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NO HOSPITAL BEDS: LA’S MENTALLY ILL AND DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED DEFENDANTS DECLARED INCOMPETENT WAIT IN JAIL

Porterville Developmental Center is California’s only hospital that admits developmentally disabled criminal defendants. Because Porterville has a lengthy waiting list, there are around fifty inmates declared incompetent to stand trial waiting more than two years, on average, in jails across the state for space to free up at the hospital.

The number is even higher for mentally ill defendants declared incompetent. There are more than 300 waiting for beds at the five state hospitals that can accept them.

When defendants are deemed unfit to stand trial, they are supposed to be sent to a mental hospital for treatment until they can understand the charges against them.

But it’s not as easy as just spending money to create more hospital beds. Counties, including LA, are waiting to see if Prop 47 (the reduction of many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors) will help alleviate the problem. But the state is leaning on counties to implement jail treatment programs for the mentally ill inmates awaiting transfer.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In January 2014, Edward Lamont Mason allegedly attacked and injured a woman with a baseball bat.

He was arrested and has been in jail ever since, even though a judge ruled he was unfit to stand trial.

Mason, it turns out, is developmentally disabled. The victim of the alleged assault was his caretaker. And while the judge ordered him sent to Porterville Developmental Center — the only state hospital set up to house and treat developmentally disabled criminal defendants — there is no room.

So while the case against the Hayward, Calif., resident has been temporarily suspended, he remains an inmate in Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail, not receiving the treatment that would allow his case to move forward.

Mason’s lawyer, assistant public defender Brian Bloom, said if his 37-year-old client had been convicted and sentenced, he probably would have served less time than he has now spent waiting for a hospital bed.

“He’s confined in jail for no other reason than he’s developmentally disabled, which is really quite horrific when you think about it,” Bloom said.

State officials say there is nothing they can do about it…

Both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have set up small programs to treat mentally ill defendants in jail. Los Angeles, already under fire for poor treatment of mentally ill inmates, is looking into doing the same, but there is no easy solution to the problem.

The program would have some financial advantages, as the state would pay to house and treat the inmates in the county jail. Currently, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department receives no reimbursement for housing inmates awaiting transfer to state hospitals.

Some advocates, attorneys and treatment providers are adamantly opposed to the proposal.

“I think it’s a foolhardy idea,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who specializes in jails. Mentally ill jail inmates spend most of their time in a cell and, in some cases, in isolation, which can exacerbate their symptoms, he said.

“Of course it’s possible to do quality treatment in the jails,” Kupers said. “I’ve just never seen it happen.”


SAN FRANCISCO POLICE CHIEF BUTTS HEADS WITH SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY OVER MISCONDUCT TASK FORCE

On Monday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced a new task force would look into some troubling misconduct allegations within the SF Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, and the DNA crime lab. (More on that here.)

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr criticized the DA’s move as good press for an election year, and said Gascon was overstepping boundaries by launching the task force.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vivian Ho has the story. Here’s a clip:

The chief said police were already cooperating with the district attorney’s office in both the DNA and text-messaging cases, but that Gascón “has no role in supervising or overseeing either the Sheriff’s Department or the Police Department.”

“But then again it’s an election year, and task forces generate press conferences,” Suhr said.

Suhr also said the crime-lab supervisor who was put on leave after failing a DNA proficiency exam, Cherisse Boland, was also a supervisor while Gascón was police chief. A defense attorney complained about her during Gascón’s tenure, Suhr said, but she remained on staff.

“It’s important that we have a hand-in-glove relationship to make the best cases, and I don’t think that’s in jeopardy,” Suhr said of Gascón’s office. “But I’m the chief of police. I’m responsible to and accountable for anybody and anything that goes on in my department, just as he should be as the district attorney and Sheriff Mirkarimi should be as the sheriff. As our systems connect, I think we need to be respectful of everybody’s charge.”

The investigation into the text messages should be done by the end of the week, Suhr said, and the crime lab investigation should take four to six weeks.

[Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said he supports a third party looking into the allegations against his department, but he thinks the district attorney is too connected to the two departments and would not be able to clearly evaluate the cases.

“A task force could be a good idea, but the district attorney’s office is entwined with many of the systemic issues that implicate the police and sheriff’s departments,” he said. “Rather, a true independent task force would not be burdened by potential conflicts. In our case, this is why I initiated a request to the U.S. attorney and attorney general.”


PRESIDENT OBAMA PARDONS 22, HIS LARGEST NUMBER OF INMATES YET

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 non-violent drug offenders.

All of those pardoned have spent more than ten years behind bars, and the majority would have received shorter sentences if they had been sentenced under current drug laws.

Obama has faced criticism from activists in past years for granting so few people clemency. These 22 new recipients make up the largest group Obama has pardoned thus far, bring the president’s total up to 43. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office.

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Sari Horwitz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The 22 inmates whose sentences were commuted Tuesday were nonviolent offenders serving time for the possession, sale and distribution of substances including methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine. One, Terry Andre Barnes of East Moline, Ill., was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced in July 2005 to 246 months in prison, a term that would have kept him behind bars until 2025.

Obama wrote a letter to each of the inmates — all but one of whom, including Barnes, will be released July 28 — urging them to use the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity,” Obama wrote. “It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. . . . But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices.”

“I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong,” the president concluded, “So good luck, and Godspeed.”


HOW NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER STEVE WINTER SHOT ICONIC LA COUGAR (P22) PHOTOS

National Geographic photographer Steve Winter tells LA Magazine’s Marielle Wakim about how he captured rare photos of P22, LA’s most famous cougar, over the course of fifteen months with cameras hidden around Griffith Park.

Here are some clips (but definitely go over to the LA Mag interview for the photos):

You have built a career on photographing much larger, scarier cats for National Geographic—although personally, I find mountain lions scary. How was the challenge of shooting in Griffith Park different from shooting in wilder areas?

All my work in the middle of nowhere helped when thinking about the fact that I needed to get an image of a cougar in an urban setting. I first started in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and that didn’t pan out. I went to a mountain lion meeting in Bozeman, Montana, where I met L.A. wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich. I told him, ‘Jeff, I really need to get this picture, do any of the cats in the Santa Monica Mountains walk into suburban or urban areas?’ because I had heard there used to be a cat that would walk onto Cher’s property. But Jeff said no, that they’re smart cats—they’ll go into urban areas at night, but if they don’t see any prey, they’ll turn around and come back.

After he said this, I had said to him jokingly—but never really jokingly— wouldn’t it be great to get a picture of a mountain lion with the Hollywood sign? He later told me he thought I was crazy, but he was being polite, so he said, “Well it would, except that there are no cougars or mountain lions in Griffith Park.” I told him to let me know if something changed. Eight months later, I was in the dentist’s chair, and my phone vibrates: it’s a text from Jeff saying ‘Call me now.’ He said that there was a bobcat study being done with remote cameras in Griffith Park. There’s a hill with a cross on it on the other side of the 101, and there was a remote camera right by that cross—the beginning of Griffith Park. And boom: they got a picture of a mountain lion. That’s how it all started.

What was your ultimate goal with this shot?

I was visualizing two things: Getting a picture of a cougar with L.A. in the background, and [having the image] speak to everyone around the world. City lights say ‘city lights,’ but they don’t say ‘L.A.’—everyone recognizes the Hollywood sign. Those were my goals, and we got both of them, but it took forever to figure out. It took me 15 months to get that picture and to figure out what trail that cat walks on. Nobody had seen the P22, so figuring out where to put these cameras was hard. Griffith Park is not that big, and there aren’t that many trails. There are even fewer where you can see the Hollywood sign or where you can see L.A., especially from the height of a cat. So figuring out a place to put the cameras in Griffith Park where I could get the shot and where the cameras wouldn’t get stolen was a big issue.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Mental Illness, Obama | No Comments »

LA Deputy Saves Stray Dogs and Cats, FBI Informant Anthony Brown Sues LA County, Task Force to Investigate SF Law Enforcement Misdeeds, One-in-Three Homicides Unsolved in US

March 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD PARKS DEPUTY GOES ABOVE AND BEYOND, MOONLIGHTS AS ANIMAL RESCUER

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Brittany Fraser rescues animals—lots of them. Off and on duty patrolling LA County parks, Fraser picks up stray dogs, cats, and other animals in need. Other deputies now also bring found animals to Fraser instead of leaving their fate in the hands of animal control. If Fraser can’t find the animal’s human family, she bathes and vaccinates them and cares for them until they are adopted through her Brick Animal Rescue. Thus far, Fraser has saved more than 100 homeless animals.

The Daily Breeze’s Carley Dryden has the story. Here’s a clip:

“As much as I want to help people, it’s the same for animals,” Fraser said. “When people need help, they can ask for it. But dogs can’t. They don’t have a voice. You have to be paying attention.”

Sgt. Craig Berger recalled the night he came across two pit bulls eating trash on the on-ramp to the 110-105 freeway interchange. One was clearly young and starving, its ribs sticking out.

“Pre-Brittany Fraser, I probably would have had no choice but to take them to animal control, and that would have been a death sentence,” he said. “But I was able to call her from the freeway, tell her what happened and drive them to her house. She took care of them and took them to the vet.”

Berger, Fraser’s former supervisor, said Fraser has changed the mind-set of deputies when they see or approach stray animals.

“Before, they would just ignore the problem, or maybe occasionally, if they had time, they might call animal control,” he said. “Eventually, the culture was created to call Deputy Fraser.”

[SNIP]

“She is the animal whisperer,” said her husband, Nick Resendez, who met his wife when they were partners at the Lomita sheriff’s station…

Resendez acknowledged that he didn’t have pets growing up, so having a dog in his bed at night now has been quite the adjustment.

“She’ll come home, and I’ll say, ‘What do you have under your coat jacket?’ She’ll smile and reveal a Chihuahua or a cat,” he said. “One time she came home with a raccoon and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But this is the woman I married. She is compassionate and loving. To know that she has the ability to put those feelings into animals is amazing.”


SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY LAUNCHES TASK FORCE TO LOOK INTO WAVE OF SHERIFF’S DEPT. AND POLICE MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS

Moving quickly, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Tuesday the launch of a new three-team task force to investigate three separate allegations of law enforcement misconduct.

On Monday, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced that at least four deputies allegedly forced inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. (We linked to that story here.) There have also been allegations of racist text messages between veteran police officers. DA Gascon says there has also been a breach of protocol in the DNA labs, affecting 1,400 cases.

CBS has more on the new task force. Here are some clips:

[SF District Attorney George Gascon] said that during his more than 30 years in law enforcement, he has seen a great deal of misconduct and scandals involving law enforcement officials, but that the frequency and magnitude of these recent allegations are “unusual” and “repulsive,” as well as some of the worst allegations he’s heard.

Gascon said he is concerned that if these allegations are determined to be true, there could be serious potential repercussions for criminal cases, including some which were possibly prosecuted years ago.

Gascon said that these alleged incidents are concerning not only because of “the level of hate that is reflected” but because of “the impact they may have on the criminal justice system.”

He said his office, as well as the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, will be taking a second look at cases from the past 10 years involving officers and deputies named in recent allegations.

[SNIP]

Regarding the gladiator-style fights reported this month at the San Francisco County Jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, Gascon said that it is unlikely only four deputies knew about the alleged abuse and misconduct…

Gascon said he wants to know who else knew about the alleged fights, when they knew and if there have been similar cases of misconduct at the sheriff’s department.

Regarding racist and homophobic text messages from police officers that were recently released in federal court documents, Gascon said he wants to know if other people were involved and to see if any prosecutions could be impacted.


FBI INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN SUES LA COUNTY, SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS, AND 7 DEPUTIES CONVICTED FOR HIDING BROWN WITHIN JAIL SYSTEM

FBI informant Anthony Brown is suing LA County, former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, former captain Tom Carey and the seven deputies convicted last year of obstruction of justice for hiding Brown from his federal handlers. (More about that here.)

Brown is alleging cruel and unusual punishment, as well as retaliation, conspiracy, failure to provide medical care, and municipal and supervisory liability.

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley has the story. Here’s a clip:

Brown was moved around the jail system, his name was changed multiple times and computer records were falsified to make it appear that Brown had been released from LASD custody.

“I was kidnapped, my name was changed,” said Brown. “They put me in cars late at night and took me places. I think I had more than a dozen guards on me 24/7.”

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages for cruel and unusual punishment, municipal and supervisory liability, failure to provide adequate medical care, retaliation and civil conspiracy.

“As soon as defendants became aware of plaintiff’s cooperation with the FBI’s investigation, they conspired to retaliate against plaintiff for his participation as an informant and obstruct that investigation intentionally… hiding and/or kidnapping plaintiff in the jail system under fictitious identities, covertly moving him about and throughout LASD’s jail system, and unreasonably kept him in isolation without cause,” the lawsuit states.

Brown says he was in “dire fear for his life that defendants would carry out a threat on his life or order/allow other jail inmates/gangs to kill plaintiff because defendants told him, ‘No witness, no conviction.’”


WHY HAVE HOMICIDE SOLVE RATES DECLINED BY 26% SINCE THE 1960′S?

In the 1960′s law enforcement officers solved homicides at a rate of about 90%, fifty years later (and despite the advent and development of DNA testing), the national clearance rate is just 64%.

NPR’s Martin Kaste has more on the numbers and what factors may be adversely affecting murder case clearance. Here are some clips:

…that’s worse than it sounds, because “clearance” doesn’t equal conviction: It’s just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.

[SNIP]

Vernon Geberth, a retired, self-described NYPD “murder cop” who wrote the definitive manual on solving homicides, says standards for charging someone are higher now — too high, in his opinion. He thinks prosecutors nowadays demand that police deliver “open-and-shut cases” that will lead to quick plea bargains.

He says new tools such as DNA analysis have helped, but that’s been offset by worsening relationships between police and the public…

Since at least the 1980s, police have complained about a growing “no snitch” culture, especially in minority communities. They say the reluctance of potential witnesses makes it hard to identify suspects.

But some experts say that explanation may be too pat. University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford points out that police are still very effective at clearing certain kinds of murders.

“Take, for example, homicides of police officers in the course of their duty,” he says. On paper, they’re the kind of homicide that’s hardest to solve — “they’re frequently done in communities that generally have low clearance rates. … They’re stranger-to-stranger homicides; they [have] high potential of retaliation [for] witnesses.” And yet, Wellford says, they’re almost always cleared.

Posted in District Attorney, DNA, FBI, jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 65 Comments »

Media & Crime & Race…Emotion Makes Bad Law…..Were SF Jail Deputies Behind Inmates Gladiator Fights?…A SF Jail Deputies Behind Inmates Gladiator Fights?

March 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


DEAR MEDIA, ABOUT THE CRIME & RACE THING…YOU’RE NOT HELPING

We know that, statistically, poor minority defendants fair far less well when they come in contact with the American criminal justice system than do non-minorities.

Now, according to a recent report by Media Matters, it turns out that the media also tends to give disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African-American suspects, over those involving non-black suspects.

Think progress has more on the story.

Compared to the percentage of crimes they actually commit, African Americans are grossly overrepresented on local news broadcasts about criminal activity, according to a new report from Media Matters for America. In New York City alone, black people make up 75 percent of criminals discussed on local channels, whereas they only make up 51 percent of the actual arrest rate.

Summarizing the report, the Color of Change, a black advocacy organization, concluded that all four [NYC] channels [studied] failed to contextualize the crimes that were reported, making no mention of discriminatory policing that targets African American communities or systemic factors that contribute to crime, such as unemployment. By portraying black people as the vast majority of perpetrators, the news stations detracted from criminal activities perpetrated by non-black persons and fueled racial bias.

Unfortunately, media bias parallels extensive research that shows how African Americans are far more criminalized than their white counterparts, nationwide. One study about “who looks criminal” determined that police officers frequently associate black faces with criminal behavior. According to a 2010 survey, white people overestimated African Americans’ participation in burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crime by 20-30 percent. Additionally, white people support stricter criminal justice policies if they think that more black people are arrested as a result.

There’s more, so read the rest.


EMOTION MAKES FOR BAD LAW—PARTICULARLY WHEN IT COMES TO SEX OFFENDERS

California Proposition 83—otherwise known as Jessica’s Law—passed easily in 2006, and has made a mess ever since, as evidenced by two recent court decisions. Jessica’s law, in case you don’t remember, set down a bunch of regulations and prohibitions about where sex offenders could and could not live after being released from prison. The answer too often was nowhere, which has resulted in homeless sex offenders living on the street, under bridges, in cars—hardly safe situations for anyone.

The LA Times editorial board lays the matter out in a strong and sensible editorial that includes some suggestion solutions.

Here’s how it opens:

Jessica’s Law — California’s version of it, anyway — was a mess from the beginning. Voters here adopted it (as Proposition 83 in 2006 )because they mistakenly believed they were cracking down on horrific crimes against children. They were urged on by nightly harangues from national TV commentators who campaigned on-air for swift action following the rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida, a crime that touched an especially sensitive nerve here because the circumstances nearly mirrored the nightmarish killing of Polly Klaas in California a decade earlier. But emotional outpourings of fear, revulsion and collective guilt too often translate poorly into policy and law, and that was surely the case with Proposition 83.

The latest reminder of the law’s failure came last week, when state parole officials announced that they would no longer enforce the measure’s blanket ban on paroled sex offenders living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children regularly gather.

That decision follows a state Supreme Court ruling this month invalidating the ban as it applied in San Diego County.

Californians have every right to protect their children from child molesters, so it would be understandable if they were perplexed by the actions of the court and corrections officials — until they realize that the residency restriction did nothing of the sort.

In fact, it likely undermined public safety for everyone, children included, by pushing paroled sex offenders from their homes and compelling them to live homeless or as transients, leaving the public in the dark as to their whereabouts and making parolees harder for agents to find.

Besides, it is important to remember that the law did not single out child molesters. It did not distinguish parolees at high risk to commit new crimes, or those more likely to target children, from any of the other 6,000 parolees required to register as sex offenders — or indeed any of the approximately 80,000 Californians not on parole but with a sex offense on their record….


SAN FRANCISCO JAIL DEPUTIES ALLEGEDLY FORCED INMATES TO FIGHT WHILE THEY PLACED BETS

San Francisco’s public defender, Jeff Adachi, announced on Thursday that at least four of the county’s jail deputies reportedly had a little side bets on gladiator-like fights they threatened and cajoled inmates into staging.

(Really, people? After all the scandals in and around the jails in LA, you still think this is a good idea?)

In any case, Vivian Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story.

Here’s a clip:

San Francisco sheriff’s deputies arranged and gambled on battles between County Jail inmates, forcing one to train for the fights and telling them to lie if they needed medical attention, the city’s public defender said Thursday.

Since the beginning of March, at least four deputies at County Jail No. 4 at 850 Bryant St. threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they did not fight each other, gladiator-style, for the entertainment of the deputies, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

Adachi said the ringleader in these fights was Deputy Scott Neu, who was accused in 2006 of forcing inmates to perform sexual acts on him. That case was settled out of court.

“I don’t know why he does it, but I just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I just see the look on his face,” said Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, one of the inmates who said he was forced to fight. “It looks like it brings him joy by doing this, while we’re suffering by what he’s doing.”

An attorney for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Association said that the allegations were “exaggerated,” and that what happened was basically “horseplay.”

District Attorney George Gascón called the allegations “deplorable.”

Vivian Ho provides has a lot more about the accusations, so read on.


Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, jail, media, prison policy, race, race and class | 7 Comments »

John Oliver Blasts Municipal Fine Swindle-System, LAPD Empathy Training, LA City Crime Rates, and Former LA DA Paid to Lobby for New Jail

March 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOHN OLIVER SHINES A LIGHT ON MUNICIPAL FINES AS ABUSIVE MEANS TO FUND CITIES

Many cities use the revenue from tickets for municipal violations to fund public services, and happily heap on further penalties for inability to pay—fines for the fines. Obviously, this system disproportionately affects the poor. In addition to incurring impossible debt, people who cannot pay their tickets can also lose their drivers licenses in many states. This, in turn, means that they can no longer drive to a job to earn money to funnel into the city’s coffers, and the pockets of private probation debt-collecting companies. Sometimes an inability to pay these fines can even land them in (debtor’s) prison.

On Last Week Tonight John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales, including the story of a grandmother who racked up thousands of dollars in insurmountable late fines. The grandmother lost her car, lost her license, and spent ten days in jail.

We highly suggest watching the above segment in its entirety.


NEW LAPD TRAINING: EMPATHIZING TO DE-ESCALATE

LAPD officers are receiving a new one-week empathy-focused training on how to de-escalate encounters with people who are mentally ill and showing signs of aggression. The goal to equip cops with better techniques for interacting with people suffering a mental health crisis who do not pose an immediate threat, to avoid unnecessary use of lethal force. Officers are taught to use humor, first names, and other non-threatening conversational strategies while slowly backing away. The safety of officers and the public are, of course, still of highest priority.

Participants are also taught about various types of mental disorders they may come in contact with. Thus far about 1,000 of the 10,000 sworn have taken the new course.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the new training. Here are some clips:

The scene was tense: Two Los Angeles Police officers approach a man yelling and screaming at the end of a cul de sac. He looks angry and aggressive as he paces back and forth in the middle of the street.

“I just got back two weeks ago,” he shouts. “Two weeks ago!” The man is an Iraq War veteran.

“Tell me about it,” an officer calmly asks. He is met with anger. “What are you trying to do? Don’t try to talk to me. Nobody understands what it was like over there.”

“Sir, I’m here to help you,” the officer responds. He watches the man’s hands closely to see if he grabs a weapon.

The man is unarmed. He starts to calm down.

Suddenly, lights come on.

The two officers are standing in front of a screen inside the LAPD’s “force option” simulator.

[SNIP]

Peter Moskos, who teaches at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the techniques taught at this class only work if everyone uses them.

Too often, he said, a patrol officer may be bringing down the stress when a more aggressive “obnoxious” cop swoops in and makes a mess of things.

“This frustrates cops to no end,” said Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer. “You could be de-escalating the scene, and someone in your squad shows up, and you go, ‘Oh, my god, now it’s going to explode, because they just don’t know how to talk to people.’ Because they don’t have that empathy.”


BIG FLUCTUATIONS IN LOS ANGELES CRIME RATES

The LAPD reported Tuesday that shootings have risen 31% (54 incidents) over last year. Violent crime went up 27% overall, and property crime increased 12%. Several other types of crime experienced similar spikes. Homicides, however, dropped 2%.

The sizable disparity in crime numbers may be due, in part, to the LAPD correcting crime classification issues (more on that here), but it’s hard to tell this early. Department officials believe gang-related violence may be behind the the jump in shootings.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton and Ben Poston have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

“We are putting our officers in corridors that are the hottest for crime,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

The department is also relying more on crime data to help predict where hot spots might develop and deploy extra resources there, Beck said.

[SNIP]

Officials said fixing the classification process has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.

But the crime increase in 2015 goes beyond this one offense.

Villegas cited a jump in robberies, particularly in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas. Robberies are up 19% citywide compared to this time last year. Police have reported 7% more rapes this year compared to 2014.

Some of the crime, Villegas said, is connected with the skid row homeless population fighting over territory as well as an increase in street crime. Central Division, which includes skid row, has recorded a 73% surge in violent crime this year compared to 2014.


FORMER LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE COOLEY LOBBYING FOR NEW JAIL DEAL

Former LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley has taken up lobbying for an Adelanto jail plan…for pay.

Back in December, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 in favor of building a new 3,264-bed jail, with the idea that LA County would lease the $324 million facility and fork over what, for the small San Bernardino city, would be some much-needed cash.

Private developer Doctor R. Crants hired the former DA to throw his weight behind the controversial jail proposal, and hopes to pitch the idea to the LA County Board of Supervisors as soon as possible.

The Hesperia Star’s Brooke Self has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re working on it (but) we haven’t been able to schedule a vote yet (with the Board of Supervisors),” Johns said about progress and potential support from LA County. “We (hope) to be able to have a presentation with the Sheriff next week. Once we meet with the Sheriff and get the green light there — we won’t go to the Supervisors until we get encouragement from the Sheriff.”
When asked how he thought Cooley’s influence might impact L.A. County’s decision, Johns said “trust me, we wouldn’t hire him if we didn’t think so.”

“He’s one of the foremost public safety officials in the state,” Johns said of Cooley. “He’s been serving in that capacity for a very long time. I would think his support would be meaningful for those people looking to receive direction and input. I think he’ll be very helpful.”

Cooley, 67, was the longest-serving DA in L.A. County history, serving from 2000 to 2012. He worked for 39 years and four months as a county prosecutor. Last year, he was a public supporter of new L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s successful campaign for the top law enforcement post.

McDonnell’s office is in charge of producing the county’s jail plans and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. On Thursday, Cooley said the two have been friends for 15 years, but he didn’t believe that there were any ethical concerns with him lobbying his office.

“I don’t have legal issues,” Cooley said. “I’m a private person, an attorney to practice law. I have some degree of expertise in this arena and I can advocate for whatever I think is in the client’s best interest. And certainly this is in the county’s best interest. The fact that I have a 15-year relationship with the county Sheriff is irrelevant. Adelanto wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen when I was out there supporting McDonnell. Any suggestion of any ethical issues are misplaced and not even logical. When I do register as an L.A. County lobbyist, then certain rules come into place and I’ll honor those rules.”

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, Mental Illness, prison policy, racial justice | No Comments »

LASD, Probation, AG Kamala Harris Introduce Anti-Recidivism Pilot in LA’s Jails

March 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday morning, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, along with Probation Chief Jerry Powers,will host Attorney General Kamala Harris
at the Pitchess Detention Facility to announce a new recidivism reduction pilot program, everyone is calling “Back on Track LA.”

The pilot program is a cooperative effort between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, LA County Probation, the AG’s office, plus Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department, local community colleges, a local charter school and private foundations, including the Ford Foundation.

Sheriff McDonnell is reportedly very high on the new pilot strategy. “We have too many people in jails who can and should be contributing members of our community,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “Under the Back On Track program, inmates will receive instruction, mentorship system, and a supportive structure — both in and out of custody — which will facilitate their return to our community and give them a better shot of not returning to our care. This unique program offers hope to those who too often cycle in and out of our jails and will serve as a model for national thinking around these important issues.”

We like the idea too, and will have more on the new Back On Track recidivism reduction program on Thursday.

Posted in jail, Jim McDonnell, Kamala Harris | 15 Comments »

Scott Budnick, For-profit Foster Care, the Youth Welcome Center, and Reentry Employment

March 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SCOTT BUDNICK: FROM PRODUCING THE HANGOVER MOVIES TO FOUNDING THE ANTI-RECIDIVISM COALITION

Jesse Katz has an excellent longread profile for the California Sunday Magazine on Scott Budnick and his journey from pre-med student to Hollywood producer to full-time criminal justice reform champion.

Budnick began mentoring kids in Sylmar’s juvenile detention center more than a decade ago through the Inside Out Writers program.

Budnick, executive producer of the Hangover series, left Hollywood behind in 2013 in order to take on criminal justice activism full-time. Budnick says he has Dede Gardner, producer of 12 Years a Slave, to thank for his decision.

After the split, Budnick founded the Anti-Recidivism Coalition with a $400,000 grant from California Endowment. While ARC was in its earliest stages, Budnick was instrumental in pushing SB 260 (a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who were convicted of murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole) through legislature and into Governor Jerry Brown’s hands. Budnick also used ARC as a platform to campaign for the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014.

Here are some clips from Katz’s profile:

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems.

[SNIP]

The break was unlikely, though, only if you did not know Budnick and his growing distaste for a business rife, he says, with “ego and selfishness and people that make every decision out of fear.” It was no coincidence, either, that he took his leave the same year that both The Hangover Part III and 12 Years a Slave hit theaters, the fierce moral compass of one making the other look even more aimless. After a day of guiding Dede Gardner, one of 12 Years’s Oscar-winning producers, around juvenile hall, Budnick credits her as the person “who changed my life, who made the movie that kicked me out of the business.”

Forgoing a paycheck at first and, he says, tapping much of his savings, Budnick began 2014 as a full-time activist, putting everything into the Anti-Recidivism Coalition — arc — a support and advocacy nonprofit he had begun in his garage. arc now has a $1.2 million budget, a paid staff of six, and an office in the downtown L.A. building that houses the rooftop lounge Perch. Instead of clients, arc has what Budnick calls “members” — 160 formerly incarcerated men and women, murderers and carjackers and tweakers — nearly all of whom he met and mentored while they were locked up.

“He is kind of an oddity,” says Robert Downey Jr., the onetime recidivist turned world’s highest-paid actor, who serves on arc’s board of directors. “In politics, usually, you try to align yourself with things that make you look as good as possible and disconnect with anything that’s the least bit tainted.”

Befitting a veteran of broad commercial entertainment, Budnick has chosen his moment shrewdly. After decades of throw-away-the-key policies, the nation is again considering the philosophy of second chances. With a growing number of conservatives daunted by the cost of mass incarceration, libertarians dismayed by the broad license to police that drug laws give the government, evangelicals committed to the promise of personal transformation, and the most crime-ravaged communities also the most crippled by tough-on-crime tactics, the movement defies easy labels.

California, a pioneer of three-strike sentencing laws, is now at a different forefront. In recent years, through ballot initiatives and legislative measures, the state has given breaks once unthinkable to thousands of felons: parole dates, sentence reductions, educational alternatives, employment opportunities. Budnick, campaigner and noodge, has had a hand in it all.

“When I first heard about him, I have to be honest with you: A white Hollywood guy? He can’t be real,” says Robert K. Ross, president and ceo of the California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation. Then Budnick invited him to visit Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A., where Ross was so moved by Budnick’s rapport with the inmates, he helped launch arc with a $400,000 grant. “Scott Budnick,” Ross says, “is the most extraordinary force in the state of California on badly needed incarceration and justice reform.”

[SNIP]

In the long run, Budnick dreams of removing every young person, 18 to 25, from the adult prison system and placing them on a campus with educational and therapeutic programs. He has been sketching plans for what he calls the California Leadership Academy for more than a decade — a Warner Bros. set designer helped with the earliest diagrams — and since his recent appointments to both the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the Board of State and Community Corrections, he now has more platforms for making it happen. While still years away, the project just received an $865,000 endorsement in Governor Brown’s budget. This sweeping proposal, with all of its promise and uncertainty, is not rooted in an especially religious perspective, nor is it particularly ideological. If pressed, Budnick will repeat the axiom “hurt people hurt” — and its corollary, “healed people heal.”

We’ve written about Budnick before (and, full disclosure: he is a pal of WLA’s).


THE DEATH OF ALEXANDRIA HILL…AND THE PROBLEM OF PRIVATIZED FOSTER CARE

In July of 2013, two-year-old Alexandria Hill was murdered by her foster mother, a woman screened and supervised by Mentor Network, a huge for-profit foster care agency.

After Alexandria’s death, Mother Jones’ Brian Joseph dove into an 18-month investigation into the world of privatized foster care.

Overloaded and understaffed child welfare departments across the US turn to private foster care companies to pick up the slack. These for-profit companies receive a bunch of tax dollars to vet potential foster families, train them, place kids in their care, and supervise them.

And there’s not much oversight.

Joseph found that very few states are even keeping a record of how many kids are in private foster care. No states are collecting data on how many kids involved in private foster care are being abused. And no one is running the numbers on the cost difference between privately-run and government-run foster care.

Here are some clips from Joseph’s investigation:

With blond hair and blue eyes, Alexandria stood 32 inches tall and weighed just 30 pounds. She liked kitties and the color purple….

At about a quarter to seven that evening, Clemon Small woke from a nap and left for a meeting at a nearby restaurant, leaving Sherill alone with Alexandria and the infant. About 15 minutes later, Sherill dialed his number, then 911.

First at the scene was Ward Roddam, the chief of the Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department, who was so surprised to find no one in the front yard waving him down that he called dispatch to make sure he had the right address. Inside, he encountered what he would describe as one of the strangest scenes in his 25-year career: Alexandria’s limp body lay on the floor while Clemon sat on the couch and Sherill talked to 911. Roddam found mucus on Alexandria’s mouth, suggesting that CPR, which foster parents are trained to administer, had never been attempted.

On the witness stand 15 months later, Roddam was asked if the Smalls seemed panicked. “‘Panic’ does not describe it at all,” he said. They seemed “very calm.”

What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities.

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

Nationally, no one tracks how many children are in private foster homes, or how these homes perform compared to those vetted directly by the government. As part of an 18-month investigation, I asked every state whether it at least knew how many children in its foster system had been placed in privately screened homes. Very few could tell me. For the eight states that did, the total came to at least 72,000 children in 2011. Not one of the states had a statistically valid dataset comparing costs, or rates of abuse or neglect, in privately versus publicly vetted homes.

[SNIP]

The bottom line for private foster care agencies—whether large, for-profit corporations or small, local nonprofits—is tied to the number of foster parents on their roster, and thus their ability to place children quickly. Given that every foster parent represents potential revenue, Zullo says, an agency may be more likely to overlook sketchy personal histories or potential safety hazards. There’s little incentive, he adds, to seek out reasons to reject a family, to investigate problems after children are placed, or to do anything else that could result in a child leaving the agency’s program. And as tough as the margins are for nonprofit agencies, the perverse incentives are exacerbated at for-profit agencies that need to make money for owners or shareholders.

“What happens,” Zullo says, “is the lives of these children become commodities.”

In 2013, the California spent $308 million on private foster care. Joseph was given a glimpse inside Positive Option, a small Sacramento set-up that is in charge of 70 kids. Here’s a clip from what he found there:

Kovill, the cofounder, is an energetic 82-year-old with a white beard who continues to manage the organization on a day-to-day basis. Kovill feels a special kinship with the foster children he serves: He says he was abandoned by his father when he was about seven and given to a shoemaker as a laborer. “Foster care is a good system,” Kovill said. “I wish it had been there when I was a kid.” (Kovill told me he changed his name long ago to break from the family that abandoned him. He wouldn’t tell me what his old name was.)

Kovill told me the margins are tight in private foster care, especially if child welfare is your top priority. He said he once had to sell land he owned in Arizona to keep Positive Option, which has annual revenues of about $1.2 million, afloat. Some of his employees report taking 10 percent pay cuts several years ago for the same reason, cuts that remain in effect today. “I’m still a businessman, and I still try to stay in the black as best I can,” Kovill told me one day in the cramped office he shares with his wife, Luan, who works at the agency for free. “But if it meant a car seat for a baby, if it meant diapers for a baby, if it meant safety for a child, the bottom line is gone.”

Kovill took responsibility for Positive Option’s problems, saying they came about in part because he was distracted by the agency’s financial struggles during the recession. “I just trusted everybody to do what I do—I work hard,” Kovill said, referring to some former employees he eventually fired. “I figured they did too. Well, you can’t do that.”


WHERE DISPLACED FOSTER KIDS GO TO WAIT

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf visited LA County’s Youth Welcome Center, the original purpose of which was to house kids new to the system while social workers placed them with foster parents or in group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like kids in their late teens, LGBTQ kids, and kids suffering from mental illness.

Here are some clips from Therolf’s story:

The center — outfitted with couches and televisions — was designed as a comfortable waiting room for children newly removed from their families; it was intended to house them for just one night while the staff tried to place them with a foster home.

Instead, the center has evolved into a holding facility for the most difficult to place youths who have been thrown out of foster homes. No one is turned away.

The facility is the last stop for some of the most desperate and extreme cases, a stark window on the difficulties of a child protection system that is burdened with maddening bureaucracy, a shortage of foster homes and crushing demands from a growing number of troubled children.

The youths who end up here are often older teenagers, sexual minorities, mentally ill or medically fragile. A significant number are involved in prostitution.

They stay here for nights, sometimes weeks, because there are so few homes willing to take them. Sometimes, the children refuse the homes offered to them and leave to live on their own. They come back sporadically to the center for a shower and a night’s rest — a respite from a life on the streets.

[SNIP]

Two of the system’s most debilitating pressures — the desperate shortage of foster homes and the swelling ranks of foster youths involved in prostitution — have conspired here to make this a place where social workers feel as though they are on a never-ending chase to find lasting foster homes for the children.

On this night, out of nearly 30 youths, only one has just entered foster care for the first time: Ruben, a small 13-year-old boy swimming in an oversized T-shirt….

Ashley spent her days in the department’s Torrance office to be near the social worker who was assigned to find her a new home. The worker was too busy to see her, however, and each night, she returned in a van to the Youth Welcome Center, where social workers take over the search on nights and weekends.

“When are you guys going to finally take me back to school?” Ashley asked the employees at the door.

“That’s not our job here at the YWC,” the woman with the clipboard replied.

“That’s not fair,” said Ashley, who was two grades behind in school.

She hoped to become a choreographer or child psychologist. She said, “I want to get my education.”


OP-ED: GOV. JOBS PROGRAM FOR RELEASED (AND SOON TO BE RELEASED) INMATES WOULD BE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

Boston saw a record-breaking “snowpocalypse” in February that is on track to break an even larger record: the snowiest season in Boston’s recorded history. All that snow buried streets, train tracks, cars, and even turned Nantucket waves into slush.

In addition to union workers and the National Guard, Boston has put county jail inmates to work shoveling the city out from under the snow. The inmates provide the labor for pennies on the hour.

In an op-ed for the Atlantic, Bruce Western and Linda Forman Naval say that local municipalities, taxpayers, and inmates would be better served if the government created a reentry job program—one that pays more than $.20 per hour and employs both incarcerated and newly released inmates.

The public maintenance jobs program would give those locked-up and recently released inmates a chance to make the money necessary for successfully transitioning back into life on the outside: for food, shelter, and paying back their debts. It would also fill a need on the city and county levels by building a public maintenance workforce, and on the individual taxpayer level by targeting recidivism.

Here’s a clip from the op-ed:

A regular government jobs program for formerly-incarcerated people could play a valuable role in maintaining public areas and infrastructure while assisting the transition from the prison to the community. Such a program would also provide a readily available workforce that could respond in moments of catastrophe.

Better yet, extending the program to provide real jobs to those who are about to be released would help them build a nest-egg to transition back into society. Pay all these workers the prevailing wage, and they will be able to afford rent and other necessities for successful reentry. And set up a payment plan so that former prisoners can pay back their debts, such as fines owed to the courts, once they are back up on their feet.

Such a payment plan for fees and fines would represent a big upgrade over the usual work-release programs. Financial obligations are usually deducted from the paycheck up front, and debt can follow formerly incarcerated people around for years. This erodes their incentive to work, makes crime more tempting, and absorbs money that might otherwise procure stable housing and other basic necessities.

People who have been incarcerated—mostly minority men with low-incomes and little schooling —continue to pay a price long after they have left prison. They often enter prison with close to nothing and return to society with little money to get established after incarceration.

Compounding the problem, they also face significant barriers to finding employment upon release.

Bruce Western is a sociology professor and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Harvard University, and the director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Linda Forman Naval is Deputy Director of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Reentry | No Comments »

Are American Jails Being Misused? A New Report Says YES…(And How Do LA Jails Rate?)

February 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Every year there are nearly 12 million admissions to local jails in the U.S.
—almost 20 times the number of admissions to the nation’s state and federal prisons.

Yet while Americans seem finally to be having a sober conversation about the collateral damage done by our disastrously outsized prison systems, comparitively little attention has been paid to the rapid growth of the nation’s jails.

Now a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice looks at the key policies that have contributed to the rise in the use of jails, and the impact of jail incarceration on individuals, families, and communities.

The report, called Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of MacArthur’s just announced $75 million Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, through which the Foundation will fund up to 20 jurisdictions throughout the country to rigorously examine how well or poorly their local jails are being used. Then out of the 20, 10 entries will be selected and given up to $2 million a year to design and implement plans for using “innovative, collaborative, and evidence-based solutions” to reduce the use of jail incarceration without compromising public safety.

The Safety and Justice challenge is competitive and, on Wednesday, MacArthur released its request for proposals [RFP], for the first round of the competition, entries for which are due March 31.

“We’ve had expressions of interest from a number of counties in California,” Laurie Garduque, the director of Justice Reform for MacArthur told me. “I expect we’ll get applications from some of those jurisdictions—especially in light of the impact of realignment and other legislation, that has focused more attention on what is happening at a county level with the local jails”

As to whether anyone had expressed interest from Los Angeles County, the MacArthur and the Vera people I spoke with said they hadn’t yet talked directly to any of the main players about the challenge, but that they hoped LA would apply.


FACTORS AFFECTING OVER USE OF JAILS

The Vera report points out that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

According to Vera, however, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report points out, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

Vera also points to success stories, like that of Portland, Oregon, where every police officer receives training in how to respond to a suspect who appears to suffer from mental illness or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “For those people whose mental illness or substance use disorder is driving their repeated encounters with law enforcement—-typically as suspects in drug or property crimes—-the department participates in a Service Coordination Team that offers treatment in lieu of detention.” The strategy worked, both in terms of public safety, and fiscally. Between 2008 and 2010, the team saved the county nearly $16 million in jail costs alone.


WHAT ABOUT LA?

Interestingly, in 2011 the Vera Institute delivered a 289-page jails study commissioned by Los Angeles county’s board of supervisors. The report was titled the Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project and, as its name suggests, it was focused on the LA county jail system specifically. The two-year Vera analysis (which was first completed in 2008, then revised in Sept. 2011) was exhaustively thorough, and yielded 39 detailed recommendations for LA, many focusing on things like pre-trial release programs and more effective responses to the mentally ill. Few of those recommendations, however, seemed to be included when, last spring, the board ordered up its $2 billion jail replacement and building plan.

More recently, spurred by the leadership of district attorney Jackie Lacey and by escalating threats from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, LA has finally taken some heartening steps in the direction of a comprehensive community diversion program for the non-dangerous mentally ill who, at present, cycle in an out of LA county jail with grinding regularity.

Yet pre-trial release has been pretty much a non-starter.

So now that we have a new reform-minded sheriff, two new supervisors who are unhappy at the size of the county’s jail population, and a district attorney who continues to demonstrate her engagement with reform, will LA County fill out an application for the MacArthur Safety and Justice challenge?

“I think it’s a real opportunity,” said Nancy Fishman, one of the authors of the new 54-page report. “We’re all just at the beginning of what will be a massive outreach to counties, Los Angeles included. And we hope LA applies.”

More on that as we know it.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, pretrial detention/release | 4 Comments »

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