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CA Spent $21 Billion on Crime Last Year, Despite Reforms – by Jeremy Loudenback

November 2nd, 2016 by witnessla


In the story below, reporter Jeremy Loudenback, the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at a recently released report that reveals discouraging data on California and its counties’ level of spending last year on incarceration and other costs related to responding to crime. Despite reforms that reduced the California prison population, half of the $20.7 billion spent at the state and county levels during fiscal year 2014-2015 was funneled into incarcerating people in state prisons.


by Jeremy Loudenback

A new report lays out a stunning price tag for the cost of crime in California last year: nearly $21 billion.

Even as the state has launched criminal justice reforms in recent years aimed at reducing its prison population, California’s expenses related to responding to crime and incarceration have continued to rise to an all-time high for the state.

The tally comes from a new report from the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit that seeks to provide nonpartisan evaluation of state budget and tax policies.

Using publicly available data from the Department of Finance and the state controller’s office, the report found that 73 percent of the total — or $15.1 billion — was spent on the incarceration of adults and juveniles at both the county and state levels.

The remaining $5.6 billion was spent on activities related to responding to crime. This includes money for trial courts as well as county spending on the prosecution of cases through the district attorney offices, probation, public defenders, some court activities at the county level, juvenile wards of the court, grand juries and associated capital outlay.

The number did not include the cost of law enforcement because some police work can be considered preventative, according to Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center.

Hoene called the $20.7 billion an indictment of California’s priorities. By contrast, the state spends around $8 billion on the University of California system, the California State University system and the California Student Aid Commission, which provides financial aid to California students pursuing higher education.

“We’ve been through several decades of an experiment of being as tough on crime as possible by throwing the book at people and locking them up for as long as possible, and we don’t have enough evidence showing it had a large public safety benefit,” Hoene said. “But there’s loads of evidence showing that it’s been very costly and had real trade-offs in terms of how we can otherwise spend those dollars and have positive impacts on our communities.”

Hoene estimated that a billion dollars across the state was spent on incarcerating juveniles last year.

In Los Angeles County, spending on juvenile detention — costs related to the incarceration of juveniles at the county’s system of juvenile camps and halls, but not including money spent on the Probation Department — topped $355 million last year.

Hoene said the money spent on youth in the juvenile justice system across the state, including incarceration, court costs and probation officers, should prompt a re-evaluation of spending patterns.

“With juveniles in particular, that level of spending calls into question what our priorities are and whether we be better spending those monies on services that would improve outcomes both for those juveniles and for the communities that they’re coming from,” he said.

The steep costs of addressing crime in California comes at a time when a wave of reform has scrutinized the financial and social costs of incarceration across the state. In November 2014, voters across the state approved Proposition 47, a ballot initiative that has re-classified some felony convictions as misdemeanors.

In the upcoming Nov. 8 election, the state will decide on another initiative aimed at criminal justice reform. Championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Proposition 57 would increase opportunities for early parole for offenders convicted of certain nonviolent crimes and would task judges with the decision about whether to prosecute juveniles as adults.

Lizzie Buchen from Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a group that opposes the construction of new incarceration facilities, says that despite recent criminal justice reforms in California, she is somewhat skeptical about the state’s efforts.

In recent years, the state has authorized $2 billion in bonds for jail construction and has continued plans to replace or renovate 12 of its aging prison facilities, she said.

“With all the talk about reducing incarceration and the actuality of some reduced incarceration, we’re still funneling money into the system,” Buchen said.

“Before putting any more money into imprisonment, we need to prioritize finding ways to address these issues outside of jail, outside of prison because we know that’s what most effective and most cost-effective and what results in the better outcomes for people and their families,” Buchen said.

For further reading, Here’s a breakdown of data gathered and methodology used by the California Budget & Policy Center.

Holden Slattery contributed to the data analysis for this story, which originally appeared on the Chronicle of Social Change.

Posted in jail, prison | 1 Comment »

Mapping Jail Spending in Los Angeles County

September 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A new project from UCLA researchers, Million Dollar Hoods, is a website and mapping system that shows how much the LA County Sheriff’s Department spends to incarcerate residents in each neighborhood across the county.

“We made this choice because Los Angeles operates the largest jail system in the United States and we wanted to better understand the impact of L.A.’s jails and lockups,” said Kelly Lytle-Hernandez, UCLA professor of history and African-American Studies.

Users can sort map data on the site by race, gender, specific crime, and top cause for arrest.

Bright red hot-spots—South LA, Lancaster, Palmdale and others—reveal that LA County is spending the majority of its jail budget incarcerating people from a handful of concentrated areas.

Lancaster alone accounted for approximately $82,240,000 of the county’s jail budget between 2010-2015 (a total of close to $6 billion). The map also paints quite a racially disparate picture. Of those jailed Lancaster residents, 43% were black, 27% were Latino, and 30% were white. In 2010, the city’s population was 20.5% black, 38% Latino, and 49.6% white.

The Million Dollar Hoods researchers have also partnered with the LA County Commission on Human Relations to hold community meetings for people impacted by policing and incarceration to give personal testimony. The first public hearing was held on September 10, in the 5th Supervisorial District, which includes Lancaster and Palmdale. (You can watch videos from that meeting here.) There will be five more meetings—one in each of the other four districts, as well as a final meeting to allow law enforcement officials to respond to the messages and testimony given by members of the public.


This Sunday, at 10:00p.m., CNN will air an episode of “This Is Life with Lisa Ling” exploring the Los Angeles County jail system, which holds America’s largest jail population and even acts as the country’s largest mental health care provider.

The jail system is over capacity by nearly 2,700 inmates. At any time, there are between 17,000 and 20,000 inmates spread between seven jail facilities across the county. The daily population is nearly double that of the next largest jail system—New York City. And more than half of LA County’s inmates have not been convicted—they are sitting in jail awaiting trial.

Watch reporter Lisa Ling’s not-to-be-missed “This is Life” episode Sunday night on CNN to learn more about the complex and sprawling jail system.

Posted in jail | 4 Comments »

Prop. 47 Easing Jail Overcrowding, Peacemakers in South LA, and Patt Morrison Talks with Luis Rodriguez

April 1st, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Jail populations in California dropped by 9% overall, and fewer inmates have been released early due to overcrowding following the passage of Proposition 47 in November 2014, according to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

(If you need a refresher: voter-approved Prop 47, which reclassified six low-level drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors, and was supposed to ease overcrowding in prisons and save the state more than $100 million each year.)

The PPIC report found that Prop 47 freed enough jail space to reduce early inmate releases by 65% in six California counties—Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and Stanislaus—all under court orders to reduce overcrowding in their jails.

“Taken together, there were significant changes in county jail populations following the passage of Proposition 47,” said Mia Bird, PPIC research fellow and co-author of the report. “For counties with court orders to cap their jail populations, Prop 47 created flexibility, allowing jail space to be reallocated toward more serious offenders who might otherwise have been released.”

Researchers found the percentage of pretrial releases increased among people accused of Prop. 47 offenses. There were also fewer bookings on arrests and warrants for Prop. 47 offenses, and fewer convictions for those crimes. And those convicted of Prop. 47-qualifying offenses spent less time behind bars, on average.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore says that thanks to Prop. 47, the county has been able to do away with early releases caused by jail overcrowding.

The vacant jail beds have also allowed the county to book people for misdemeanor offenses, rather than handing out citations to people accused of misdemeanors. (Note: Los Angeles has had a much different reaction to Prop. 47. In LA, officers have stopped booking people on these reduced offenses, instead handing out citations. In a series of LA Times video op-eds, LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell says the low-level offenders are receiving the citations because Prop. 47 did away with consequences for those crimes.)

Unfortunately, there have been some issues with how much money Prop. 47 has saved the state and where it should be directed.

Money saved by Prop. 47 is earmarked for community mental health and rehabilitation services, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services. CA Governor Jerry Brown’s budget has calculated that savings to be $29.3 million—a far cry from the original estimate of $100 million in yearly savings. And the ACLU and other advocates have criticized Gov. Brown for putting Prop. 47 money back into the prison system by subtracting certain supervision and court costs from the Prop. 47 savings total.

A report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million. Local officials and advocates have asked where that savings has gone. According to California Department of Finance’s Amy Jarvis, the projected savings was calculated before the state started implementing realignment, which altered the savings math.


In an excellent series called Peacemakers, KCRW introduces three people working end the cycle of violence in South LA.

The first Peacemaker profiled by KCRW is Skipp Townsend, who was once a member of a Bloods gang called the Rollin’ 20s, but works with the LAPD as a gang interventionist. Here’s a small clip, but don’t miss the audio, video, and pictures (and comics) in this interactive series:

Townsend now works as a gang interventionist with the LAPD. His job is to find out why shootings happen and to prevent retaliation. Townsend sees himself as a “cushion” between the police and the community. “The police, of course, know protocol and procedure and the community doesn’t know that protocol and procedure,” said Townsend. “It’s just a matter of being bilingual.”


As an interventionist, Townsend deals with angry and grieving survivors: young men proving themselves and mothers facing their worst fears. It is painful, dangerous work, and the pay is terrible.

At 17, Townsend became a full fledged member of the Rollin’ 20s, a Bloods street gang from the West Adams neighborhood. He did jail time for selling drugs and stealing cars.

At 34, Townsend was arrested again, facing two life sentences on an attempted murder charge. He says he was innocent. But he was in jail for nearly a year. “It was probably one of the worst times in my life, knowing I wasn’t the person they said I was,” he said. “But I still had some things that were in the closet, some things that had never been uncovered that I was wrong for doing, things that I didn’t get caught for. So I gave it to God and said you know this must be my fate.”

At the trial, the victim testified that Townsend was not the person who shot him. Two jurors still found him guilty and the trial ended in a hung jury. That close call changed his life…

The next Peacemaker in KCRW’s series, is Lt. Michael Carodine, a 31-year LAPD veteran who worked in the Nickerson Gardens housing project, and has strived for better police-community relations for decades.

The final Peacemaker is Lita Herron, a 69-year-old grandmother who got started working to heal the violence in South LA, and got involved with Cease Fire, after her neighborhood exploded in violence 30 years ago, and she watched a young man and his pregnant girlfriend get shot outside a funeral.

Go over and experience the whole series as part of KCRW’s “Below the Ten.”


The LA Time’s Patt Morrison has a fabulous interview with LA’s poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, who talks about the importance of poetry and his journey from a gang-involved, drug-addicted teen in LA in the 60′s, to a celebrated author, poet, activist, and mentor to young men and women seeking healthy alternatives to gang life.

Here’s a clip from the interview, but do go over and listen to the whole thing.

And for you, your personal story is also a very compelling one to reach young people, people who have had troubled pasts themselves.

I grew up in a situation where I was a troubled young man. I was a dropout, I was in and out of jails and juvenile hall, I was on drugs, I was in a gang, but people helped me. And so ever since then, I’ve been crime-free, gang-free, drug-free for more than 40 years. But ever since then I’ve tried to help others.

What is the appeal of poetry for you? A lot of people say, poetry, it sounds so sissy.

I love to read books and that’s what my saving grace was. I didn’t know English very well growing up, but books were like the one place where I could hide. And even when I was homeless and in the worst straits of drug abuse, I would go to the downtown library. That was beautiful, just to read books, book after book, so when I wanted to think about what I wanted to do, I was sitting in jail actually, and I started writing.

Somehow, those words came into me in such a way that I felt maybe I could write. It took me a while, but I learned how to write and I’ve been doing it ever since.


Why the Central Library? What got you in the doors of the library?

What happened was, I was downtown homeless, and in those days, it was a different time, but still there were a lot of places to sleep. There used to be abandoned cars everywhere, now they’re all gone — abandoned warehouses, the concrete river, the LA River, there were all-night movie theaters. There was all these places I would sleep but during the day, I really loved that library. It was my refuge. Books never beat me up and never told me I wouldn’t amount to anything. Books were always open to me. And it really helped me, I think, get through all the troubles.

Do you remember some of the first books you pulled off the shelves?

Actually, I do. I loved Ray Bradbury.

Who also loved the Central Library.

Yeah! I didn’t really know that [then]. “The Martian Chronicles,” I think, was one of the first books I picked up. I loved African-American experience books at the time – I’m talking about Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land,” Perry Thomas – I ate ‘em up.

Because they were the only books I really could relate to. They might have been from Harlem or Chicago or other places, and they might have been African-American, but to me, they were telling my story from their viewpoint.

They were outsider stories.

They were outsider stories but also because they were troubled men who somehow found a way, and that was important for me.

When you talk to kids who feel like outsiders themselves, what do you tell them to maybe pull them into the fold, to let them know there’s a medium, an art form that might work for them?

You know, one of the things that’s been most effective is the idea of owning your life. Because one thing that happens when you’re on the streets, you think you own your life, you think you’re not dependent on anybody, but when you’re in a gang, you end up doing what the gang wants to do. When you’re on heroin or any drug, you do what the heroin wants you to do.

I keep telling them, we keep turning our lives over to others or other things. At a certain point, you gotta say, I want to own this life. I don’t want to have to answer to anybody other than myself.

Actually kids are very smart. And one thing you can’t do is BS them, as you know. So they look at me, I don’t look like a gangster, I look like a regular schmo to them. I look like somebody’s uncle, or I look like the janitor in the school. I look like a regular guy now. Once they see me talking, telling my story, then they get it, you know, and they see my tattoos, they know that I’ve been somewhere and then they open up.

Posted in jail | 4 Comments »

Feds Say Message is Needed With Sentencing of Santa Barbara Jail Deputy

January 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Federal prosecutor Bruce Riordan says a year behind bars sends a crucial message to former Santa Barbara sheriff’s deputy,
Christopher Johnson, who was convicted of obstruction of justice in September by a federal jury after he falsified report to his superior that failed to mention the fact that his partner, custody deputy Robert Kirsch, had kneed and kicked a handcuffed jail inmate, causing injury, after the man had already been slammed to the floor.

According to the prosecution, after a verbal conflict, Johnson used force to take handcuffed inmate, Charles Owens, to the ground and then held him down while his co-defendant “repeatedly struck” Owens with his leg and knee. “As conclusively demonstrated by the trial exhibits, at one point during the beating, defendant intentionally used his bulk to turn the defenseless and handcuffed Victim onto his side to allow his co-defendant to deliver a blow to the Victim’s midsection.”

The jury agreed with the prosecution that Johnson “prepared an incomplete and misleading incident report and safety cell report in order to cover-up the beating that he and his co-defendant had just inflicted…”

The same jury acquitted Johnson and his partner of deprivation of rights under color of law in the form of the alleged assault.

“The criminal justice system depends on the integrity and accountability of sworn law enforcement officers,” wrote federal prosecutors Bruce Riordan, and Michael Azat, in a sentencing recommendation sent to Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell. “Custodial deputies, like all law enforcement officers, must report accurately on their use of force incidents or the criminal justice system will be tarnished. Sworn personnel are not entitled to manipulate the truth for their own purposes as the defendant tried to do in 2013 – and as he continues to try to do today.”


The route to Johnson’s conviction and his upcoming sentencing on January 11 was a slightly complicated one.

In August of 2013, the two former Santa Barbara County sheriff’s custody deputies, Johnson and Kirsch, were each charged by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office with the alleged June 2013 beating of a handcuffed jail inmate, who was at the time awaiting trial.

The original complaint leading to the charges was brought to the SB DA by a local public defender the day after the alleged assault.

Then in April 2014, rather than going ahead to trial on its own, the local DA’s office reportedly asked the FBI and the US Attorney’s office to take the case. The feds agreed to step in and, in short order, a federal grand jury indicted to two deputies for the beating, charging a violation of the inmate’s rights. Prosecutors also asked for and got the additional charge of obstruction of justice against Johnson for allegedly lying on his report about his partner’s kicking and kneeing of inmate Owens.

(For the record, the inmate, Charles Owens, was charged with the murder of 25-year-old Lompoc resident Michael Jason Spradling, and in a separate case, faced multiple charges of sexual assault involving his ex-girlfriend. He has since been convicted of the consolidated cases, and sentenced to life without parole.)

To make matters slightly more interesting, prior to the feds stepping in, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department conducted its own internal investigation into the two deputies’ actions, which resulted in deputies Kirsch and Johnson being terminated from the SBSD on March 7, 2014 and March 19, 2014, respectively.

Fast forward to 2015, when the case against the two deputies went to trial. There were two trials, actually, and the outcomes were mixed. The first trial occurred in the summer of 2015 and resulted in a mistrial, with a 9-3 hung jury.

Trial two concluded in September 2015. This time the jury acquitted the deputies of the assault and rights violation charges, but found Johnson guilty of obstruction of justice for falsifying his post incident report by omitting any reference to the use of force against inmate Owens.

Much of both trials, reportedly, hinged on a video, which captured a part of the incident in question but was shot at a slow frame rate from a single camera mounted 40 feet down a hallway from where the jail incident took place, and 12 feet off the ground. Thus while some kind of force was reportedly visible, after less than a day of deliberations, the jurors did not find the force to be illegal.

The jurors did, find that Johnson had obstructed justice by failing to mention any of the use of force by him and his partner when he wrote his report.

While the prosecutors thought that Johnson, as a first time offender with an otherwise good work record and strong family ties, should receive a lower term than the 15 to 21 months delineated in federal sentencing guidelines, Riordan felt some prison time is needed to “reflect the seriousness of the offense,” and “to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct.”

In other words, a message must be sent.

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SF District Attorney Fights Jail Construction Plan, Racist Texts Between Santa Clara Jail Guards, and Helping CA’s Exploited Kids

December 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón spoke out against a $240 million plan to build a new jail, arguing that the city should instead use the money to renovate existing jails and boost diversion and re-entry programs. Gascón said that if the city increased its use of pretrial release and mental heath programs, the jail population could be reduced from 1,300—which is just 50% of capacity—to around 900.

“Take a look at virtually any street corner in downtown San Francisco, we have a mental health treatment problem, not a jail capacity problem,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “I’m very concerned as I believe San Francisco is on the cusp of making a terrible mistake that we will look back on as wasteful and out of touch for years to come.”

Gascón was joined by James Austin of the JFA Institute with a report detailing how San Francisco has effectively ended mass incarceration and become a model worthy of replication elsewhere in California and across the nation.

The report found that since 2009, California has lowered the number of people in jail, prison and on probation or parole by nearly 150,000. And if the rest of the US cut inmate populations at the same rate as San Francisco, the US would lower community supervision numbers from 7 million to 2 million. The nation’s 2.3 million prison and jail populations would decline to below 700,000. By taking advantage of Realignment and Prop. 47 resources, San Francisco has launched a new reentry council, a risk assessment project, the Community Corrections Partnership, the San Francisco Sentencing Commission, the Justice Re-investment Initiative, the Jail Re-entry Pod, and more.

Despite opposition from Gascón and community advocacy groups, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to put the jail plan to the full board for a vote. The vote is scheduled for December 18 to allow time for the newly-elected Supervisor Aaron Peskin to be sworn in on December 8. Peskin, a progressive, has the potential to sink the jail plan, depending on how he votes later this month.


At least 12 Santa Clara County jail guards allegedly sent each other racist text messages over the course of a year.

“We could hang a n—-r in Haiti for about 75 bucks tops,” one text reportedly reads.

One guard sent a group text that said, “Cops have already killed 550 people in 2015.” Another guard replied, “If they’re black, it doesn’t count.”

Some of the other text messages reportedly indicate that the guards coerced or coaxed inmates to perform sexual favors for them.

Santa Clara’s recently elected Sheriff Laurie Smith called the text messages “repugnant and vile” and “absolutely shameful.”

“If the ongoing independent investigation surrounding these disgusting text messages are found to be attributed to any member of the Sheriff’s Office, I will move to fire those individuals because they have no business in law enforcement, let alone civilized society.”

Note: this is a different racist text message scandal than the one in San Francisco involving 14 police officers that led to an investigation by the SF District Attorney’s Office into the 3,000 arrests made by the officers involved (1,600 of those arrests resulted in convictions).

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracey Kaplan and Robert Salonga have the story. Here’s a clip:

LaDoris Cordell, an African-American former judge and independent police auditor for San Jose who chairs the county’s jails improvement commission, called the texts “absolutely shocking.”

“To think that the county and taxpayers have entrusted these people to protect other human beings who are black, Latino, Asian and Jewish is frightening,” Cordell said. “These people need to be fired and anyone who defends this, or is in a leadership position but who never did anything about it, needs to go.”

While the offensive texts generally appear to be grounds for discipline but not prosecution, authorities are concerned that the jail guards’ attitudes may have translated into criminal behavior on the job, although the three guards implicated in the death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree are not among those who exchanged the messages.

Some texts suggest that certain guards may have either coaxed or coerced inmates into giving them sexual favors, multiple sources familiar with the investigations said. Other texts indicate that some guards may have urged a probation officer they knew to come down hard on inmates who were perceived as difficult to handle when they were in jail, the sources said. Those texts are not among those reviewed by this newspaper.

Authorities are still combing through thousands of messages collected during the investigations, the sources said. In interviews with six sources close to the investigation, this newspaper has reviewed several dozen of the texts deemed objectionable. It wasn’t clear from the review how many such texts have surfaced or how frequently they were sent. Not all of the texts that were reviewed included the names of the senders and recipients.

Two sources familiar with the investigations told this newspaper about the texted images, including the pictures of a lynching and a swastika, but did not say who sent or received them.

Even if authorities cannot link the texts to any crimes, the county may be able to take disciplinary action for conduct unbecoming an officer, a catchall policy for behavior likely to diminish the public’s trust.


Last year, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 855, a bill that defined sex-trafficked children as victims and in need of assistance from the child welfare system when their parents or guardians are unable to protect them. The bill also allocated $5 million for the 2014-2015 year followed by $14 million annually for specialized training for social workers and caregivers to identify and prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of kids.

California’s Department of Social Services and the Child Welfare Council’s task force have made progress toward the bill’s goals, and California counties (Los Angeles included) are working to decriminalize exploited kids. But the bill is now more than a year old and children are still being arrested and locked up for “prostitution.”

In an op-ed for the Chronicle of Social Change, Leslie Starr Heimov, executive director of Children’s Law Center of California, and Kate Walker Brown, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, say it’s time for the state and counties must move past planning and discussion and take action to protect, rather than criminalize, trafficked children. Here’s a clip:

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has taken the necessary first steps by hiring program staff, issuing guidance and allocating funds. The Child Welfare Council’s CSEC Action Team has created a framework of guiding principles and other resources for counties to implement new policies to help this vulnerable population. And counties have spent months planning, discussing, and debating.

Despite these efforts, SB 855 is well over a year old, and trafficked, exploited children are still being charged with prostitution and sent to jail. Now is the time to act; gatekeepers at every decision-making point must ensure that these children are protected and supported by the child welfare system and the community. The courts, law enforcement, public agencies, private entities, survivor advocates, policymakers, and community organizations must join hands to protect and heal our children.

Today, the CSEC Action Team, in partnership with the Judicial Council of California and CDSS, is convening twenty-one counties’ CSEC multidisciplinary teams, bringing together nearly 250 individuals—judges, lawyers, law enforcement, social workers, probation officers, health and mental health professionals, policymakers, advocates and, survivors. Individually and collectively they have the ability to make the necessary practice changes these young victims so deserve. We must take this opportunity to move beyond talk to action.

Posted in jail | 7 Comments »

Lawsuit Says High-Priced Jail Phone Calls Are Illegal $$$ Machines for CA Counties

November 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Global Tel*Link guarantees to pay Los Angeles County $15 million
in cash each year for allowing the corrections telecommunications giant to provide the phone system for LA County jail inmates.

It pays a somewhat lower kickback, known euphemistically as a “commission,” to Orange County, for its jail phone contract

And how can GTL afford that kind of high dollar “commission?” .

It’s not a problem in that, while prison phones are relatively expensive to maintain, the prices charged for jail inmates to call home are so usuriously high—more than 10 times that of a non-jail-originated call—that there is still plenty of profit to go around for the service provider after it has paid off its county clients, according to a class action lawsuit announced last Thursday by attorneys Ron Kaye, Barry Litt, Scott Rapkin, and Michael Rapkin in behalf of families of inmates in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“Tens of thousands of California jail inmates… most of whom are not convicted of anything but are facing charges, have been held hostage to grossly unfair and excessive phone charges, forcing them to pay these charges in order to maintain contact with their loved incarcerated ones,” wrote the attorneys in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “These charges force family members desperately trying to maintain contact with their inmate husbands, parents and children to pay for totally unrelated jail expenses or give up their primary lifeline of communication.”


So how much in the way of profit are companies like Global Tel*Link actually making off their various jail and prison contracts, after expenses?

Good question.

Global Tel*Link (GTL) is the nation’s largest jail and prison phone provider with 50 percent of the business. However, GTL and Securus—the number two in the industry with 20 percent of the lock-up call business (including for Riverside and San Bernardino counties)—are both owned by larger privately held companies, which means their annual reports are not publicly available.

Luckily, however, earlier in the year the Huffington Post managed to get their hands on some leaked images from Securus’ 2014 report sent to investors, which showed that the company made $114.6 million in profit in 2014, and is expected to make more this year, if the cheery leaked image you see above is any guide.

Also, both telecommunications companies have been bought within the past five years, with acquisition prices that are also telling: Global Tel*Link was sold for $1 billion in 2011 to American Securities, a New York-based firm. Securus was sold in 2013 to ABRY Partners, based in Boston, for $640 million.

In other words, we can safely assume that those who provide phone service in jails and prisons are doing so with a healthy financial return.


As the legal complaint points out, the inmates themselves don’t pay for the high-priced calls. It is their families who are charged “unjust, unreasonable and exorbitant rates” to communicate with sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and friends.

It doesn’t help matters, the attorneys note, that inmates of the county jails in question are generally “relatively poor and lack significant financial resources…” This is true for the simple fact the majority of those residing in county jails—as mentioned above—are awaiting trial. And those who are not poor, who are awaiting trial, generally manage to bail out and go home while they wait—unless they are accused of a violent crime, thus they represent a threat to public safety.

Among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs is Star Salazar, a mother of two, who is enrolled in community college and has plans of becoming a medical radiologist. Since her husband entered LA County’s Men’s Central Jail, she juggles paying the family’s bills with the cost of letting her kids talk to their locked-up father. Her kids love and miss their dad, she says, “and my husband needs our support during this very difficult time. Why are we, a family simply trying to do the right thing, punished for keeping in touch with our loved one?”

Another plaintiff is Hilda Alarid, whose mentally ill son, Aaron Araiza, is in San Bernardino’s West Valley Detention Center. Alarid is close to her son, and worries that his problems will worsen without daily phone calls from her, which she simply can’t afford. “My son suffers every day from his psychological condition,” she says. “I am the person he turns to for comfort and support.”

It should be noted, by the way, that study after study on jail and prison recidivism shows that, among the main predictors that allow former inmates to succeed after release from lock-up is their ability to retain strong relationships with their families and communities. To put it another way, it is in the best interest of public safety for inmates to be able to have an affordable way to stay in regular contact their loved ones at home.


In 2001, I wrote a story for the LA Weekly that was critical of the ridiculously high priced inmate call system in California’s prisons and jails. But in 2007, the state of California began to phase out phone-generated commissions at its state prisons, ultimately eliminating the commission system by 2010. Prior to August 2007, calls from California’s prisons were $1.50 + $.15/minute for local calls, $2.00 + $.22/minute intrastate. Now, with no commissions, current per minute rates for intrastate and local calls are $0.13 and $0.09, respectively. Thus, a 15-minute intrastate call without the kick-back system is 61.70% less than when the State received commissions. It’s still more than one would pay when not in prison. But it is reasonable, and the state’s expenses are adequately covered.

So, if the state can manage to do without the money it used to rake from the overpriced phone call fees paid by poor families with incarcerated loved ones, shouldn’t the counties be able to manage too?

The lawsuit’s attorneys say yes. Moreover, if they prevail against the four counties named in the complaint, a legal precedent will be set, and they believe the rest of the state’s counties won’t have a choice.

Posted in jail | 3 Comments »

LA County Supe Mike Antonovich Bizarrely Slams the ACLU—Again

September 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday at the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ meeting,
Sheriff Jim McDonnell had just finished giving an update regarding which of the reforms requested by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence had been accomplished, and which still remained to be completed. When the sheriff had concluded, Supervisor Michael Antonovich said he had a question, his tone somewhat contentious.

“We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the jail to see that everything was going well and to be the eyes of the public,” said Antonovich, “…and yet we had all of these allegations which were proven to be factual because of convictions that have taken place. I would like to know how much money did we pay the ACLU to observe the conditions of the jail, and what did they actually do to stop some of the abuses that we’ve had people convicted for that occurred during their watch.”

It was an odd moment.

The rough translation seemed to be that, according to Antonovich, the County of Los Angeles was paying the ACLU many thousands of dollars to report to the supervisors on abuses in the jails. And now those abuses have resulted in a bunch of convictions in federal and in civil court, thus proving their validity, and so what was the ACLU doing all this time to prevent these abuses that they seem not to have noticed?

First there was the bizarre fact that Antonovich seemed to think that the board had hired and had elected to pay the ACLU to monitor the jails. (Mr. Supervisor, you do know that, for several decades now, the ACLU has had monitors in Men’s Central Jail by order of a federal judge, right? Rutherford v. Baca? Does the case name sound at all familiar? If not try its predecessor, Rutherford v. Block, or its predecessor, Rutherford v. Pitchess.)

And then there is the fact that the ACLU puts out very large detailed reports every year, some times twice a year, that the supervisors all receive, yet that Antonovich, it seems, has pointedly ignored.

For instance:

* There is the ACLU’s 2009 report detailing systemic problems with the treatment of inmates with mental illness, and also about excessive use of force, the use of solitary confinement as punishment, and a bunch of other cheery stuff.

That same year, there was a companion report that suggested ways to make things better. (This report, Mr. Supervisor, you might want to note, described a lot of the issues that turned up most recently in that court ordered agreement with the DOJ that you and the rest of the board signed off on this summer.)

* A year later, in ACLU’s May 2010 report they laid out an array of systemic abuses in the jails, including excessive force, illegal retaliation against inmates, severe overcrowding particularly in Men’s Central Jail, and inadequate mental health care.

* In September of that same year, the ACLU wrote yet another report about excessive force and retaliation by deputies against inmates.

One of the really interesting things about this report was that it included among the multi-dozen declarations by inmates, two that described beatings by Deputy Fernando Luviano. Deputy Luviano, in case you don’t remember, was one of the three former LASD members convicted by the feds of beating a jail visitor and then covering up their wrongdoing by lying about it and then falsifying criminal charges against the victim of the beatings. Nice guy that Luviano.

* The next year, in September of 2011, the ACLU folks were tired of being ignored by Mr. Antonovich, among others, so they pulled out all the stops with their newest report entitled Cruel and Usual Punishment, How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA County Jails. This time, in addition to the more than 60 sworn declarations by inmates, they also included statements from a bunch of civilians, including a famous film producer, a chaplain, and a former FBI agent. In some cases, the civilians and inmates described the abuse they had witnessed or experienced on video, all of which was both dramatic and disturbing. The NY Times picked it up, as did other national news outlets. Rachel Maddow even showed some of the video clips on her news broadcast.

(And what was your response, Mr. Supervisor? Did you become concerned? Meet with the ACLU? Ask for more information? Suggest action?)

Although Antonovich reportedly again ignored the ACLU’s newest offering, the feds did not. In fact the declaration by the jail chaplain, who described a harrowing beatings by deputies, formed the basis for another of the federal criminal indictments.

*There was the 2012 report, which had a lot about a pattern of inflicting severe head injuries by deputies in use of force incidents…

*And then the filing of the Rosas, the massive class action lawsuit that resulted in a brand new landmark settlement that includes more court-ordered monitoring….

There are additional reports and letters in that same vein. But those are the relevant broad strokes.

So, yeah, the ACLU was paying attention. But for a long time, it seemed that no one else was.

(You’re welcome, Mr. Supervisor.)

NOTE: Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the Southern California ACLU, sent the supervisor and the rest of the board a letter in which he described what I’ve mentioned above, however in better and more specific detail.

Posted in jail | 3 Comments »

Private Prison Medicine, Foster Care Benefits for Dual Status Kids, Presidential Pot Pardons, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on WWLA? …and More

July 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The private medical company, California Forensic Medical Group, is the largest prison health care provider in CA. And, not unlike the largest prison health care company in the nation, Corizon Correctional Health Care, CFMG continues to rake in money despite being mired in scandals and lawsuits alleging mistreatment, neglect, and short-staffing.

CFMG holds medical care contracts for 64 detention facilities in 27 of California’s 58 counties. Most of the counties are rural, like Imperial and Yolo, but CFMG is also responsible for thousands of inmates in counties like San Diego, Ventura, Santa Cruz, and it’s hometown, Monterey.

Around 200 inmates have died in the last decade under CFMG medical care, and more than 80 lawsuits have been filed against the company in the last 15 years, according to an investigation by FairWarning.

FairWarning’s Brian Joseph takes an in depth look at CMFG’s history (which is not unlike many other private prison companies), as well as the stories of inmates who died seemingly preventable deaths while under the care of CFMG. Here are some clips:

The outsourcing of medical care in jails and prisons reflects a nationwide push for privatizing government duties. The private sector, outsourcing advocates say, offers better services at a lower cost. But while other government services have outspoken constituencies, jails and prisons do not. Inmates usually have little clout to demand change if they believe they are receiving poor health care.

“Society doesn’t really care about prisoners,” said Neville Johnson, a Beverly Hills lawyer. Johnson sued CFMG and Yolo County, near Sacramento, over the August 2000 jailhouse suicide of Stephen Achen. A drug addict, Achen warned some jail staffers that he could become self-destructive but promised another that he wouldn’t hurt himself. “As we got into it, we were astonished at what we felt [was] the deliberate indifference of the jail staff and especially CFMG, which is nothing but a money-making machine,” Johnson said. CFMG settled with the Achen family for $825,000 after a judge found evidence of medical understaffing, according to media reports.

The private sector started providing health services to jails and prisons in the 1970s, when negligent medical care became a foremost prisoners’ rights issue. Inmates across the country filed lawsuits alleging inadequate care. Courts ruled that depriving prisoners of competent medical services was unconstitutional and in some cases ordered states and counties to take corrective action. Wardens and sheriffs, lacking backgrounds in medicine, turned to outside contractors for help.


Ryan George, age 22, was serving time for domestic violence in 2007 when he experienced the onset of a sickle cell crisis, a painful, but treatable, condition where blood vessels become clogged by the misshapen cells. For days, Valerie says, Ryan called her from jail in obvious pain, complaining that he was being neglected.

Finally, when he was found “unresponsive” in his bed, Ryan was taken to the hospital, according to court records. But after a couple of days, of treatment, doctors there decided Ryan was exaggerating some of his symptoms and sent him back to jail. Shortly thereafter, Valerie said, a CFMG doctor called her, saying Ryan was getting worse. She says she demanded that the doctor take him to the hospital, but he said “that’s not a possibility.”

The company doctor acknowledged in court papers that he spoke with Valerie George, but disputed her version of what was said. CFMG executives also acknowledged that the company would have incurred more costs if Ryan was sent back to the hospital, but denied that financial concerns had anything to do with his death.

A few days later, Ryan George was found dead in his cell, with dark green fluid oozing from his mouth and eyes, according to the civil complaint. A subsequent Sonoma County Grand Jury investigation found that the “Sheriff’s (department) and CFMG medical staff failed to fully intervene” when Ryan’s condition worsened. “He was not re-hospitalized, despite exhibiting symptoms of jaundice, severe dehydration, bone pain, altered level of consciousness and loss of urinary and bowel control,” the grand jury found. Said Valerie George, whose family settled with CFMG: “They let him die like a dog in a cage because this company would not pay for him to get proper medical treatment.”


“Why wasn’t an ambulance called?” a guard later recalled someone asking when he wheeled a pale Dau into El Centro Regional Medical Center at about 9:30 a.m. on July 23, 2011. A doctor rushed to her side and felt her neck. “She has no pulse!” the doctor yelled, according to a deposition given later by the physician. Hospital staff cut off her jumpsuit and attempted CPR, but it was no use: at 9:56 a.m. Dau was declared dead.

A subsequent autopsy by Imperial County Chief Forensic Pathologist Darryl Garber determined Dau died of heart disease with a contributing factor being acute drug intoxication from the multiple medications she was prescribed. Garber also discovered Dau had a bed sore on her lower back, suggesting that she had been unable to move for some time.

Later, according to the minutes from a meeting about Dau’s death, CFMG and jail staff decided that an ambulance should have been called and that Dau was “probably” going through Valium withdrawal.


A CA bill to give foster kids involved in the juvenile justice system (often called “dual status” or “crossover” youth) extended foster care benefits was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

SB 12, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would close a loophole in existing law, and ensure kids who turn 18 while in juvenile detention receive extended benefits like their non-justice-system-involved peers.

Sawsan Morrar has more on the bill and its progress for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

DeAngelo Cortijo, an intern at the National Center for Youth Law, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about his firsthand experience as a crossover youth. Cortijo was removed from his home when he was two after his mother attempted suicide. He was placed with family members, and at one point returned to his mother, before he was sent to foster care amid reports of abuse. Since then, he was in over four detention facilities, and ran away from group home placements several times.

“When I was released, I faced many challenges,” Cortijo said. “I now have to fend for myself as an adult. I had to find stable and clean housing. I didn’t have an income to support myself.”

Cortijo was left depending on others for the most basic needs like purchasing a toothbrush or borrowing socks.

“Do you know what that does to a person’s confidence? It completely destroys it,” he said.

With extended benefits in place, Cortijo would have received about $800 a month, just like other transition-age foster youth, to help pay for food, housing and school.

Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, said these probation youth in transition are exactly who extended foster care aims to support.

“We know that the rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration for young people who cross from dependency to delinquency are double to triple the rates for youth who are just in dependency or delinquency,” she said.

According to the Youth Law Center there are approximately 4,000 probation-supervised foster youth in California. There are over 50,000 foster youth in the state.


On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, bringing the total number of approved commutation petitions up to 89. While this is a good step in the right direction, there are 95,265 federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses.

The Atlantic’s Zach Hindin makes the case for presidential pardons for all marijuana offenders in federal prison. Former President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences and pardoned 189 during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton commuted 61 sentences and pardoned 396. Our current president has granted just 64 pardons, thus far. (If you are fuzzy on the difference between the two, a pardon wipes a person’s criminal record and restores rights, a commutation shortens a person’s sentence, but does not offer a clean slate.) Obama’s latest move seems far less historically meaningful when compared to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s thousands of post-prohibition acts of clemency for alcohol offenses, says Hindin.

Here’s a clip:

…Compared with the last few administrations, commuting the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders may seem historic. But history sets the bar higher still.

In May 1919, Woodrow Wilson was in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It’s hard to think of a moment when any president had a better reason to shelve domestic affairs, but on Monday, May 12, Wilson telegraphed his secretary in Washington: “Please ask the Attorney General to advise me what action I can take with regard to removing the ban from the manufacture of drink.” A week later Wilson sent another cable, this time to Congress: “It seems to me entirely safe now to remove the ban upon the manufacture and sale of wines and beers.”

Congress declined, and instead introduced a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients.

Unlike Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been ambivalent about Prohibition. During his time in the New York State Senate, the powerful Anti-Saloon League had praised Roosevelt’s “perfect voting record.” Even after the repeal of Prohibition became central to his presidential platform, according to one biographer, “the story persisted that whatever Roosevelt might say, there was a voting record to prove he was ‘dry’ at heart.” But when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied.

Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms.

The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital. And just as Prohibition offered a legal apparatus for racism, today, the racial imbalances in marijuana arrests and sentencing are so stark that many in this country consider them a proxy for racial control. In 49 states, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana—in the worst offending counties, by a factor of eight. The limit of this analogy is scale—together, Wilson and Roosevelt issued some 2,000 alcohol-related acts of clemency. In 2012 alone, almost 7,000 people were convicted in federal courts for marijuana offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than for any other type of drug.


After 10 jail employees were relieved of duty this past weekend in connection with alleged jail abuse, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss jail abuse, transparency, mental illness, and his hopes for the facility that will replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail.

Take a listen.

In another segment, investigative reporter Jeffrey Sharlet talks about his in-depth GQ story about the March LAPD shooting of Charly Keunang, an unarmed homeless man in Skid Row, and the unreleased officer body cam videos he was able to watch of the incident.


In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed man they mistook for a robbery suspect. According to officers involved, Diaz Zeferino appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release videos of the shooting, because of privacy concerns.

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release the videos. And at a press conference on Wednesday, an attorney representing Diaz Zeferino’s family called for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC update:

Mercardo said the videos allow the public to see for themselves what took place shortly after police stopped Diaz Zeferino and two others suspected of stealing a bike.

“The public can be the judge of what really happened that night,” she said, adding the family had been searching for justice, not money.

Diaz Zeferino’s brother, Augustine Reynoso, holding aloft a picture of the two of them embracing, said he wanted to bring the Gardena police department to account for the death of his brother.

“Money is not what’s important in life. Life is what’s important in life,” he said through Mercado, who translated his comments. “I want justice to be done. I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That’s why I’m here.”

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, medical care, Mental Illness, Obama, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Playwright Takes on School to Prison Pipeline… LAT Calls for Real Oversight of the LASD… .LAPD Praised for Handling of Mentally Ill…Update on SB 124, Juvie Solitary

July 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.

When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.

The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.

The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.

All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”

Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”

As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.

Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.

Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.

Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.

In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.

Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle talked to Smith while she was in rehearsal for her Berkeley opening, about what she wants from this part of the process, and from the Pipeline Project as a whole.

Here’s a clip:

“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.

“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”

Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949.


The LA Times editorial board has called for a civilian commission with teeth before, but this time the board lays out the absolutely dismal history of attempts to oversee the department, all of which have failed utterly.

Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.

Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.

In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.

Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.

There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.

To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.


While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.

According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.

NPR’s Stephanie O’Neil has a good new story on the unit and how it functions.

Here’s a clip:

Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.

On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.

“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”

If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.

Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.

The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.

Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.

The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.

“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”


The bill to drastically restrict solitary confinement for California ‘s locked up kids, has one more committee to make it through, and then it goes to the assembly floor and, if passed there, on to the governor.

The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.

Here’s a clip:

In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.

But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.

At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.

Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.

There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.

The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 24 Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial – Day 3: A Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater, and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control said narrative.

The trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano will wind up with closing arguments on Tuesday of this week, and then the case will go to the jury.

When it came to the three federal trials that took place last year, in which seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department were accused of obstruction of justice, the jury’s task was less about determining whether certain events and actions occurred, as it was about deciding what those events and actions meant.

In this trial, however, the outcome depends on which group that the jury believes is telling the truth. Either the three defendants are straight up lying about their account of the events of February 26, 2011, or it is the witnesses for the prosecution who are the bald-faced liars. There is no middle ground.

No one disputes that Gabriel Carrillo was badly beaten by LA County Sheriff’s deputies on that Saturday when he and his girlfriend and his grandmother went to the visitors’ center at Men’s Central Jail, in order to see Carrillo’s brother who had been arrested a few days before, and who had also been beaten by members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department in the course of his arrest.

Nor does any one dispute that both Carrillo and his girlfriend brought their cell phones into the jail visiting area, although phones are clearly prohibited, and to bring one in is a misdemeanor. It is agreed that Carrillo and his now wife, Grace Torres, got caught with their phones, and were each at different times escorted back to an enclosed area off the visiting area called the “break room.”

Once Gabriel Carrillo was taken to the break room, however, the description about what occurred between him and a cluster of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies plus their immediate supervisor, a sergeant, heads in two radically divergent directions.


According to the defense, when former deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—whom his former LASD colleagues refer to as “Z” or “Deputy Z”—learned that Carrillo had a cell phone in his possession, he handcuffed the man, then marched him into the small break room at which point he, shut the door, and uncuffed one of Carrillo’s wrists in order to fingerprint him. But, rather than cooperate, the angry and out of control Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously at Z as a weapon. Zunggeemoge was hurt by Carrillo, at which point a “violent fight” ensued when other deputies came to Deputy Z’s aid.

Carrillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” defendant deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching defendant Luviano as well. In order to subdue the highly aggressive jail visitor, physical force had to be applied, which included blows to Mr. Carrillo’s face and body, plus the use of OC spray also known as pepper spray.

Even after Carrillo was “taken down” and sprayed multiple times, he continued to try to assault deputies by spitting and kicking them, until finally the deputies were able to successfully subdue the man.

Zunggeemoge, was one of the five department members originally indicted in December 2013 for abusing Carrillo and others in the visitors’ center, and then writing false reports to cover up the abuse. But in early 2015, Zunggeemoge reversed his story and said that the above narrative was carefully concocted to cover what had been a brutal beatdown of a man who may have mouthed off slightly but who, while committing a misdemeanor with his possession of the cell phone in the visiting area, cooperated when the phone was discovered—albeit unhappily—and presented no threat.

On Wednesday of last week, “Deputy Z” was the first witness for the prosecution and was not easily rattled by the three defense attorneys who cross-examined him.

On Thursday, first Carrillo’s former girlfriend, now wife, Grace Torrez, then Carrillo himself testified, and each were consistent with their descriptions of what happened on February 26, 2011. Carrillo, 27, who is 5’5″ and weighed around 150-155 lbs at the time of he incident, gave a harrowing description of the day’s events and was not easily rattled by cross examination. (More on Carrillo later.)

After Carrillo stepped down, next up was former deputy Noel Womack.


Former sheriff’s deputy Womack is 6’4,” in his late 30’s, married with kids, and has the body of a defensive linebacker. He worked for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 8 ½ years—much of that time spent working in the visitors’ center—and reportedly he liked his job very much. Now, he works in a warehouse and drives a forklift.

He is the second out of the five originally charged in the so-called visiting center indictment, who asked his attorney to find a way to make a deal with the feds.

The other deputy who flipped was Zunggeemoge, as mentioned above. But Z made his deal early in 2015. Womack did not have his come-to-Jesus moment until near the end of May.

Womack’s involvement in the actions that led to this case, began around midday of February 26, 2011, when he heard what is known as a 415 call over his radio. The 415 means that there is a some kind of fight going on and deputies need assistance. The call was made by his supervisor, former sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who is one of the defendants. The call indicated the trouble was occurring in the break room of the visitors center, which is a small, enclosed room used by deputies for rest and sometimes booking, accessible only by department members.

Womack said that, as he headed for the break room, he saw that the deputy who was his main work partner was also headed that direction. “So I followed him,” said Womack.

When he got to the break room, he saw various deputies inside the room and, most importantly, he saw two visitors’ center deputies—Z and Fernando Luviano (who is one of the five defendants)—hitting a “suspect” who was face down on the room’s floor.

“And there was a lot of blood on the floor.”

Assuming his colleagues were trying to subdue an aggressive dangerous man, Womack rushed to their aid and piled on, grabbing one of the suspect’s legs. His partner rushed in too. But when Womack actually reached the threesome he saw that the man—whom he later learned was Gabriel Carrillo—was actually handcuffed. He was “kicking,” Womack said, but given his facedown position, it was more of a squirming to dodge blows combined with a swimming “flutter” kick.

“He was no threat to anyone.”

“Typically, when a suspect is in handcuffs,” said Womack, “that means the use of force is concluded.”

Plus, as Womack noted in response to questioning by government prosecutor, Brandon Fox, Carrillo was a small man—around a 150 lbs. at the time—he was face down, and he had approximately 800 lbs worth of sheriff’s deputies on top of him. And that was in addition to the fact he was handcuffed.

In this case, however, use of force went on, according to Womack. Luviano OC sprayed Carrillo several times close-up in the face.

Shortly after the spraying, Womack said he heard Luviano say, “Stop spitting! Stop spitting!”

Although Womack knew that the man on the floor posed no danger, the notion that he was spitting at a colleague, even though he did not actually see any spitting action, caused the big deputy to join with the aggressive actions of the other deputies now surrounding Carrillo. Womack slugged Carrillo five times in the leg.

When asked by prosecutor why he repeatedly hit a man whom he saw was no threat, Womack paused for a moment or two, his expression pained.

“I was angry at the fact that he was spitting at my partner.”

Womack hit Carrillo hard enough that he injured his hand, a fact that was demonstrated to the jury with a projected photo of the former deputy’s red and slight scraped right hand in the area surrounding the knuckles.

According to Womack, he, Luviano and Ayala all sought medical treatment for scraped appendages and the like.


After his health clinic visit to get his scrapes looked at, Womack returned to the visiting center to write up his obligatory Use of Force Supplemental Report. But before he did so, Womack said he first checked with his main work partner to see what he had written in Womack’s absence. He checked with Zunggeemoge’s report as well.

Womack said he was not surprised to find that both reports told a completely different story than the events Womack had actually observed. For instance, in the new and improved version, Carrillo was portrayed as not being handcuffed.

Womack said he dutifully fashioned his own report to match the other two, using his partner’s writing as his main “guideline.”.

Although he didn’t copy “word for word,” Womack said, the made sure that his report contained the same essential points as those of his colleagues: Carrillo wasn’t handcuffed, he kicked “violently” at the deputies, attempted “to push himself off the ground, then rolled on his back and spat at deputy Luviano causing Sgt. Gonzalez to tell Luviano to pepper spray Carrillo… and so on.

So was his account true? prosecutor Brandon Fox asked him.

No it wasn’t, Womack said. But he felt he needed to protect his partners and colleagues.

The former deputy said he also lied on the stand at the preliminary hearing for the criminal case against Carrillo that had resulted from the reports Womack characterized as false. Similarly, he lied he said to the investigators from Internal Affairs, and the department’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB.

“Whatever is put on paper, that’s pretty much what you have to stick with.”

And, yes, he lied to the feds, when they came knocking. And kept lying to them.

“I know what’s right and wrong. I’m not denying that I lied,” he said.

But then in the spring of 2015, Womack said he heard a recording of former deputy Zunggeemoge’s revised account of the events February 26, 2011, and learned that Z had made a deal with the prosecutors.

Womack said that, after hearing the recording, he asked his attorney to approach the U.S. Attorney’s office and tell the feds he wanted to plead, and to try to get the best possible deal.

However, at his meeting with the feds on May 11, 2015, Womack wasn’t really ready to come clean. Instead, he basically stuck to a slightly modified version of the description of events that would continue to back up that of his colleagues. “I was still holding on to the defense of my partners,” he said, with an unhappy glance at those “partners” sitting at the defense table.

The prosecutors were not thrilled and made it clear, according to Womack, that he better fork over the full truth, if he wanted to even have any kind of conversation about deals—and even then, no guarantee..

Eleven days later, on May 22, Womack met again with the prosecutors. This time, he said, he told all.

Before he was protecting his partners, he said. This time he decided to protect himself.

“It wasn’t worth it for me to defend a lie and have it affect everything.”


When it was time for cross-examination, defense attorney Patrick Smith and his colleagues hammered Womack hard. If Womack lied on official reports, Smith said, and perjured himself at a preliminary hearing, why in the world should anyone believe him now?

I mean, wasn’t it true that, in order save his own skin, he’d done an about face and was just telling the feds what he knew they wanted to hear?

“I lied to protect my partners,” Womack countered, then said it again for good measure. “I lied for my partners. And, yes, I told the truth to help myself.”

As the cross examination continued, Womack’s composure, which had been solid in the beginning, began to slip.

I’m not denying that I lied. I’m not denying that,” he said. “But I got to the point when I couldn’t continue with the lie.”

As Smith continued to slam his veracity and his motives, Womack struggled for a few seconds to control his now very visible angst. Then, suddenly, he swiveled to face the jury directly.

“I lied!” he said to them, his voice laced with emotion. “I lied!”

The jury members stared back at him, quietly goggle-eyed.

Womack seemed prepared to go further with his jury-directed monologue. However, Judge King quickly pointed a parental finger, and barked at Womack to stop.

Womack stopped.

To be continued…

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 15 Comments »

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