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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 »

Does California Need an Innocence Commission?…ABA Sez No More LWOP 4 KIDS….Confronting Lynching…MacArthur Puts Up $$$ to Reform U.S. Jails

February 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


DOES CALIFORNIA NEED AN INNOCENCE COMMISSION?

North Carolina is the only state in the union that has an innocence commission, a neutral government agency that investigates claims of wrongful convictions.

The rest of the 49 states, California included, depend on the work of nonprofits, like the Innocence Project, along with certain activist lawyers who give a percentage of their time to working on innocence cases.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations compiled by the University of Michigan, since 1989, there have been 1,543 exonerations in the U.S. In 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since ’89. In 2013, Texas moved into first place, and remained in the top spot for 2014.

But whether or not we win first prize for exonerees in any given year, our populous state—with its massive criminal justice system–continues to make its share of tragic legal mistakes.

So do we need our own innocence commission?

The Atlantic’s Matt Ford writes about Joseph Sledge who spent 39 years in a North Carolina prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The state’s innocence commission got him set free at the end of last month, on January 23, 2015.

“In 49 other states, Joseph Sledge would still be in prison,” Ford writes.

Here are some clips from Ford’s story.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is the first full-time state agency dedicated to investigating post-conviction claims of actual innocence. “The innocence commission is the only one of its kind in the nation,” the executive director, Kendra Montgomery, told me. Other states have nonprofit organizations like the Innocence Project or think tanks with similar names, “but we’re the only state that has a government agency that is neutral to investigate these cases,” she said. 1,642 claims have been submitted to the commission since its creation in 2006; Sledge’s case marked the eighth exoneration.

Because it is a state agency, the commission has powers that other institutions lack. Investigators can compel testimony with subpoenas, for example, and gather other kinds of evidence for their cases. “The commission has the unique power, because we are a neutral, fact-finding state agency by statute, to collect and test physical evidence in criminal cases,” said Sharon Stellato, who led the commission’s investigation of Sledge. This ability can be decisive: In at least 18 cases, commission investigators were able to locate evidence that had been officially declared lost or missing by other state agencies. Three of those cases resulted in exonerations, while some others confirmed the convictions.

[SNIP]

Exonerations, which were once exceedingly rare, have become regular features of the American justice system. The National Registry of Exonerations tallied 125 cases in 2014, the highest annual total so far. The group records 1,535 exonerations nationwide since records began in 1989. Of the 125 wrongful convictions thrown out in 2014, 33 came from Harris County, Texas after faulty testing procedures were uncovered there. Even without Harris County, however, the number of exonerations last year still outnumbered those in preceding years.

125 exonerations might seem paltry compared to the estimated 1 million felony convictions per year, but the number of wrongful convictions is likely far higher. Many jurisdictions don’t devote the same level of resources towards exonerations that North Carolina does, and even then, the process can be achingly slow. For a justice system that exalts due process and the presumption of innocence, any wrongful conviction represents a serious breakdown of justice. Even a handful of high-profile wrongful convictions can ripple throughout the public consciousness, undermining confidence in the system. “The country is having to psychically cope with conclusive evidence that we make, with some regularity, errors in criminal trial outcomes,” Tate said.

Investigating possible wrongful convictions, especially those that don’t involve DNA evidence, is a difficult and time-consuming matter. Even so, exonerations, as Ford writes above, are becoming a regular feature of our justice system.

But how many innocent people are still locked up who, for one reason or another, have not been able to get the attention of a willing lawyer, or non-profit?

The question becomes even more pressing when those convicted have been sentenced to die by the state’s hand.

According to a 2014 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, since 1973, when the first death penalty laws now in effect in the United States were enacted, 143 death-sentenced defendants have been exonerated.

To put it another way, since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1978, for every ten whom we executed there was one death row exoneration. Not a comforting set of numbers.

Oh, and the great majority of those death row innocence cases—78—were black men.

PS: One of the arguments against a state commission is the expense. However proponents of an innocence commission counter that keeping innocent people locked up indefinitely is also a very high cost endeavor, both fiscally and morally.


AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION VOTES TO END TO LIFE-WITHOUT-PAROLE FOR CHILDREN

On Monday, the American Bar Association, passed a strongly-worded resolution calling for an end to the practice of sentencing children to life-in-prison-without-parole and urging “meaningful periodic opportunities for release.”

The ABA is the nation’s largest membership organization for lawyers, representing 400,000 prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, litigators and others.

“With the adoption of Resolution 107C, the American Bar Association has sent a clear message to the legal community and policymakers across the country that children should never be sentenced to die in prison,” said ABA President, William C. Hubbard.

Hubbard called the practice of juvie LWOP “a severe violation of human rights.” He added, “The ABA applauds those states that have already taken steps to reform their laws and urges other states to pass similar reforms as soon as practicable.”

The text of the resolution itself uses even more forceful language. Here’s an excerpt:

The United States stands alone in permitting life without parole for juveniles. It is the only country other than Somalia that has not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life without parole sentences for youth. The legal developments in [Supreme Court rulings] Graham and Miller, along with the advances in brain and behavioral development science showing how children are fundamentally different from adults… support a conclusion that it is inappropriate to decide at the time of sentencing that life without parole is an appropriate sentence for a juvenile offender. This resolution encourages jurisdictions to go one step further than Miller and to join the policy position of the rest of the world by eliminating mandatory life without parole sentences for youthful offenders.


THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LYNCHING IN AMERICA

There were 3959 lynchings of black people in 12 southern states between the end of reconstruction in 1877, and 1950, according to a report released this week by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the non-profit law and advocacy firm founded by attorney, Bryan Stevenson. (We’ve reported on Stevenson several times in the past.)

That number is at least 700 more lynchings than previous research has reported.

EJI and Stevenson maintain that in order to begin to cure the racial inequality that exists in the American criminal justice system, it is essential to have a conversation about the racial ills and profound trauma of the past, lynching included.

This is from the introduction to the report:

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in America and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administra- tion of criminal justice especially is tangled with the history of lynching in profound ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.

This report begins a necessary conversation to confront the injustice, inequality, anguish, and suffering that racial terror and violence created.

As Stevenson notes, Germany and South Africa has have each had their versions of truth and reconciliation in order to heal. The U.S. has not.

The NY Times’ Campbell Robertson also has a story on the release of the report, which you can find here.


MAC ARTHUR FOUNDATION LAUNCHES $75 MILLION INITIATIVE TO REDUCE USE OF AMERICA’S JAILS

On Tuesday, the MacArthur foundation MacArthur announced a five-year, $75 million investment that “seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.” (The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations.)

The plan that MacArthur is calling its “Safety and Justice Challenge” hopes to support and reward cities and counties across the country “seeking to create fairer, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and lead to better social outcomes.”

The new initiative is based on a MacArthur-supported report released Wednesday by the Vera Institute, called Incarceration’s Front Door: the Misuse of Jails in America.

[More on the Vera report tomorrow.]

Julia Stasch, MacArthur’s President summed up the foundation’s thinking: “For too long America has incarcerated too many people unnecessarily, spending too much money without improving public safety,” she said. “Jails are where our nation’s incarceration problem begins…”

Okay, MacArthur, how about starting in Los Angeles, the city with the nation’s largest jail system, thus the ideal test case.

Posted in Innocence, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, race, race and class, racial justice | No Comments »

Richmond PD Chief Improves Cop Morale….DOJ Calls Albuquerque Police “Reckless” ….Prop 47 Lowers Jail Pop….Luis Rodriguez’s Words Save Lives…..Saying Goodby to Rick Orlov

February 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



RICHMOND, CA, POLICE CHIEF STRESSES COMMUNITY POLICING OVER SHOW OF FORCE

When Richmond CA hired Chris Magnus, an openly gay white guy from Fargo, North Dakota, to take over its scandal ridden police department, local cops and members of Richmond’s primarily minority communities were….how to put it?….skeptical.

But Magnus didn’t blink at the initially less-than-enthusiastic reception. He immediately disbanded the department’s “street teams,” units of heavily armed officers deployed in high-crime areas. He didn’t like the impression that the the street teams gave of being an occupying army that arrested people for small amounts of drugs and other minor crimes. Instead, he asked his officers to attend community meetings and employed a system he called a “Neighborhood Beat Policing” model. “Our goal is to build continuity of presence and the strongest possible relationships between officers and the public in every area of the city, he wrote on the Richmond PD website.

Now crime is down and morale in the Richmond PD is up.

Aron Pero of the Associated Press has more. Here are some clips:

Magnus also eliminated the seniority system that allowed officers to choose the areas they would patrol. He required officers to take on more responsibilities on their beats beyond responding to calls. Beat officers are required to attend neighborhood meetings and to maintain a high profile at churches, schools and businesses. They’re encouraged to hand out their mobile phone numbers and email addresses to residents.

“A lot of people were skeptical at first … I know I was skeptical. I mean, not only was he coming from outside the department, he was coming from Fargo, of all places,” said Officer Virgil Thomas, a 19-year veteran of the force and the newly installed president of the police union. “But he came in with a plan and stuck to it, and the image of the city and of the police has changed dramatically. Morale has improved greatly.”

Controversy erupted in December, however, when at a local protest over events at Ferguson and in New York City, Magnus held up a sign reading “#blacklivesmatter.” But even that criticism dissolved quickly.

The [police] union initially objected to the police chief’s participation in the Dec. 9 demonstration. The association’s lawyer said Magnus’ appearance in uniform “dishonored the department” and violated a law barring political activity on duty. But Thomas said the union backed away from those claims after sitting down and talking with Magnus about the demonstration.

“We talked about it, and I understand what he was trying to do,” Thomas said. “He’s trying to bridge the gap, like we all are.”

It helped, of course, that policing in Richmond is effective under Magnus’ stewardship.

The city in 2014 recorded 11 murders, the lowest rate per capita in recent decades. It was the fifth straight year the murder rate declined in Richmond. Violent crimes and property crimes alike have plummeted, as have officer-involved shootings. The U.S. Department of Justice recently added Magnus to a panel of experts investigating police relations with the community in Ferguson, Missouri.


ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: A RASH OF KILLINGS

While the relationship between members of the Richmond PD and those it serves has blossomed, in Albuquerque matters appear to be going in a less positive direction.

In 2007, crime was higher than the national average in Albuquerque, NM, and the city’s police department was having trouble recruiting police officers, despite the perks the APD offered to those who signed up. Pressured, the department higher-ups started cutting corners. They stopped consistently using psych exams for applicants, and began taking men and women who had washed out of other departments, and others whom the department’s training officers warned had….issues.

By 2011, the rate of fatal shootings by police in this city of five hundred and fifty thousand, was eight times that of New York City. More half of those killed were mentally ill. No officer had ever been charged, and few were disciplined.

Writing for the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv tells the story of one of those fatal shootings. It’s a tale that involves threats, intimidation, the DOJ and one more shooting last March. But this time the shooting of a homeless mentally ill man named James Boyd was caught on video and, in January, resulted in charges.

Here’s a clip from Aviv’s story:

Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.

Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said.

Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself.

When Stephen asked the police what had happened to Christopher, he was told only that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Stephen offered to let the officers inside the house, but they refused. Stephen called a close friend on the force, who said that a person had been taken off in an ambulance earlier in the afternoon, at around two o’clock. Stephen called the three main hospitals in Albuquerque, but Christopher hadn’t been admitted to any of them.

Stephen called a neighbor, Val Aubol, who lived across the street, to find out what she could see. Aubol peeked through the shutters of her front window and saw ten officers lined up against a neighbor’s garage, next to the Torreses’ house. The SWAT team’s Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck was parked in front of them. When Aubol went into her back yard, she saw a rope dangling from her roof. An officer had climbed up and was pointing his gun at the Torreses’ house. Another officer was crouching behind the gate at the side of her house. She told the officers that she’d spoken with Christopher’s father, but an officer waved her back inside. “Stay in the house!” he shouted.

At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene.


RECKLESSNESS & DEADLY FORCE

Nick Pinto at RollingStone has another feature on the Albuquerque police, which has the details on the James Boyd shooting.

Here are some clips from Pinto’s story:

…On the afternoon of March 16th, 2014, Albuquerque police received a 911 call from this part of town, a man complaining that someone was illegally camping in the foothills. Two Albuquerque officers responded and, sure enough, encountered James Matthew Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia. Boyd was clearly not well, ranting, telling police that he was an agent for the Defense Department.

Unauthorized camping is a petty misdemeanor. The officers could have told Boyd to move along and left it at that. But as Officer John McDaniel approached, Boyd wouldn’t show his hands and McDaniel drew his gun. When the officers moved to pat him down, Boyd pulled out two small knives; the cops stepped back and called for backup, setting off a spectacular circus, with as many as 40 police officers reportedly joining the standoff. Among them were uniformed cops and members of the SWAT team, the tactical K-9 unit and the Repeat Offender Project squad.

Not present, Boyd’s family would later allege in a complaint, was anyone clearly in charge. Keeping Boyd surrounded, often with guns drawn, officers tried to get him to surrender his knives. Finally, after three hours, Boyd prepared to come down from the hills. “Don’t worry about safety,” he told the police. “I’m not a fucking murderer.” But as Boyd packed his stuff, both hands full of possessions, Detective Keith Sandy — who hours before, on arriving at the scene, boasted on tape that he was going to shoot “this fucking lunatic” with a Taser shotgun — tossed a flash-bang grenade, a nonlethal weapon designed to disorient and distract. Another officer fired a Taser at Boyd, and a third released a police dog on him. Boyd drew his knives again. Advancing on him, officers ordered Boyd to get down on the ground. Boyd began to turn away, and Detective Sandy of the ROP squad and Officer Dominique Perez of the SWAT team each fired three live rounds at him, hitting him once in the back and twice in his arms. Boyd collapsed, face down, crying out that he was unable to move. “Please don’t hurt me,” he said. Another officer fired three beanbag rounds from a shotgun at Boyd’s prone body. The K-9 officer again loosed his German shepherd on Boyd, and the dog tore into his legs. Finally, officers approached and handcuffed him.

After roughly 20 minutes, Boyd was transported in an ambulance to the University of New Mexico hospital. In the final hours of his life, Boyd had his right arm amputated and his spleen, a section of his lung and a length of his intestines removed. At 2:55 a.m., he was pronounced dead. He was the 22nd person killed by the Albuquerque police in just more than four years.

Boyd’s death conformed to many of the patterns governing deadly police violence in Albuquerque. Living with mental illness, Boyd fit the profile of the marginal Albuquerqueans most likely to find themselves shot to death by the city’s police. The escalation of a low-level encounter to a standoff involving numerous heavily armed officers wasn’t anything new, either. Few were surprised when footage from the lapel camera that Officer Sandy was required to keep running was inexplicably absent. And, as in so many previous officer-involved shootings, Boyd’s death was followed by a press conference by the chief of police, who declared the shooting justified and painted Boyd as a dangerous criminal….

Finally, a group of families whose loved ones had bend killed by members of the APD persuaded the Department of Justice to take a look at what was going on with the high number of deadly shootings.

Reviewing 20 fatal police shootings from 2009 to 2012, the [DOJ] report found a majority of them to be unconstitutional. “Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an imminent threat,” the report found, noting that “Albuquerque police officers’ own recklessness sometimes led to their use of deadly force.”


PROP 47 ALREADY BRINGING DROPS IN JAIL POPS ACROSS CALIFORNIA

It’s early still, but the effect of Prop 47 on the state’s jail populations, thus far, has been to lower them. This drop is particularly welcome after jail numbers had been driven higher due to the state’s 2011 AB 109 realignment strategy that shifted the incarceration burden for certain low level offenders to the various counties.

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

Inmate populations are falling in once-overcrowded California county jails since voters decided in November that certain drug and property crimes should be treated as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

While some are avoiding jail, many of those who are sent to county lock-ups for crimes not covered by the ballot initiative dubbed Proposition 47 are spending more time there because jail officials no longer must release them early due to overcrowding.

Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties are among those with fewer early releases, according to an Associated Press survey of the 10 counties that together account for about 70 percent of California’s total jail population.


LUIS RODRIGUEZ & THE POWER OF WORDS

KCET’s So Cal Connected is doing a story on Los Angeles poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, on Wednesday at 8 pm. If you’re around, be sure to tune in. Rodriquez is the best known for his classic memoir Always Running– La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, about how he escaped Los Angeles gang life in the 1960′s. It’s a wonderful book, and one that dozens of disaffected kids I’ve met over the years told me was the first book they’d ever read, cover to cover, a book that introduced them to the joys of reading ever after.

Rodriguez has also published poetry, fiction, and other works of nonfiction, along with acting as the publisher for Southern California poets and writers. If that was not enough, he founded and runs Tia Chucha’s, a bookstore and cultural center in Sylmar, teaches writing inside California’s prisons, and mentors at risk young men and women looking to get out or to stay away from gang membership. He changes lives. I’ve seen it happen.

“Luis is a great man,” Father Greg Boyle once said to me, summing the matter up with simplicity.

Yes, He is. And we’re so lucky to have him here in LA. So, check out So Cal Connected Wednesday evening, and get to know him.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF ICONIC LA WRITERS…WE ARE GOING TO MISS REPORTER/COLUMNIST RICK ORLOV, R.I.P

Respected LA Daily News city hall reporter Rick Orlov died on Monday of complications of diabetes and the city’s reporting community is completely in shock.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had this to say about Orlov on Twitter:

Posted in American artists, American voices, CDCR, jail, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Los Angeles writers, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Jail Population Declining, Unsolved Homicides Update, Unaccounted-for Mental Health $$, and Sluggish County Settlements,

January 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY JAIL POPULATION DOWN THROUGH PROP 47 AND BOOST TO SPLIT-SENTENCING

LA County has started catching up with other counties using their realignment money to implement split-sentencing—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation. Last July, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey instructed prosecutors to seek split-sentences.

Since then, the county’s use of split-sentencing for low-level offenders has risen from 5% to 16.6%, according to a Probation Dept. report presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. (Still a far cry from counties like Contra Costa, where 92% of non-serious offenders were serving split sentences by June of last year.) And as of January 1, across the state, split-sentencing for felonies will be mandated unless a court decides “that it is not appropriate in a particular case.”

Thanks, also in large part, to Proposition 47, the LA County inmate population has dropped low enough to ensure that most offenders will now serve nearly the full length of their sentences. (If you need a refresher: Prop 47 reclassified certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.)

These numbers may come into play during the LA County Board of Supervisors’ discussions about whether to spend $2.3 billion on a 4,860-bed replacement for Men’s Central Jail. (We hope so.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who manage the jail system, complained that the resulting influx of offenders serving longer sentences was leading to the early release of thousands of other inmates. At the same time, probation officials have had trouble adjusting to a new population of offenders with lengthier criminal records and more serious mental health and substance abuse problems.

In November and December, the first two months after the penalty-reduction law took effect, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office reported that felony sentences of prison, jail or probation had dropped by 41% from the same period in the previous year. And the number of inmates in county jails decreased from about 18,700 at the end of October to fewer than 16,000 at the end of December.

As a result of the falling population, the Sheriff’s Department has reversed a long-standing policy of releasing most inmates after they serve a fraction of their sentences. For years, most men convicted of lower-level crimes served only 20% of their sentence and women served 10%. Now, McDonald said, most inmates are serving 90%.

[SNIP]

…Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, who joined the board after November’s election, have expressed reservations about the size of that jail.

Kuehl said Tuesday that she continues to question the need for that many beds and “whether there is more capability and better capability to do mental health and substance abuse treatment in the community than in a locked facility.”

By the way, there is a ton of other interesting information in the Probation Department year-three realignment report. Or you can skim a condensed summary (with charts!) in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.


LAPD’S RESPONSE TO INVESTIGATION INTO CLOSED—BUT UNSOLVED—HOMICIDE NUMBERS

Between 2000-2010, the LAPD closed unsolved homicides without arresting or charging a suspect at a rate more than double that of the national average, according to an investigative story by Mike Reicher as part of the LA Daily News’ fantastic series called “Unsolved Homicides.” (More on that in our previous post, here.)

Since then, the LAPD has responded, saying that they are unable to provide more data about why so many murders were cleared without being solved because they do not have the man power to pull the records, and provide the information. But former LAPD chief (and current city councilmember) Bernard Parks says collecting the information would not be difficult.

Here are some clips from Reicher’s update on this story:

“I would want them to be extremely transparent and clear about the numbers,” said Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine. “How many arrests are brought forward and declined by prosecutors? It could be that the courts are overwhelmed, that the resources aren’t there to deal with the volume. These are important questions that nobody has an answer to.”

[SNIP]

When asked for the reason each case was closed, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith wrote, “We do not have the staff available to pull the concerned cases, conduct the research and provide you the detailed information you requested.”

Those reasons should be easily accessible, said City Councilman and former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. Each detective has to justify why a case is closed, he said.

“If they’re not watched, and they’re not evaluated, people can easily manipulate them to have better stats,” Parks said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not only transparency, it’s the basic element of filing a case. You can’t just say, ‘I cleared it, and I’m not going to tell you why.’ ”

LAPD Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said the agency already discloses enough information: “I think our guys are as transparent as any department in America.”


HOW DOES CA SPEND $13 BILLION ALLOCATED FOR THE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHERE ARE THE RESULTS?

In 2004, California’s Proposition 63 approved an extra 1% tax on millionaires to provide $13 billion in additional funding for mental illness programs state-wide. A report from the Little Hoover watchdog panel found that the state is unable to show how the money was spent (continuing a ten-year trend), or whether the extra money has helped California’s mentally ill.

The report gives six sensible recommendations on how to realize the full potential of this funding, through data collection, financial reporting, and weeding out ineffective programs, among other efforts.

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

An investigation by The Associated Press in 2012 found that tens of millions of dollars generated by the tax went to general wellness programs for people who had not been diagnosed with any mental illness. Those programs include yoga, gardening, art classes and horseback riding. The state auditor reported similar findings a year later….

Counties are responsible for choosing and running their own programs, but an oversight commission was not established until eight years after the funding began and it has little authority.

Because of that, the report said, there are few repercussions for sloppy accounting or insufficient data, making it difficult for the state to evaluate the programs.

Commissioners said that during hearings on Proposition 63 last year they heard anecdotal stories of individual success, but the state cannot show “meaningful big-picture outcomes — such as reduced homelessness or improved school attendance.”


EDITORIAL: SWIFTER SETTLEMENTS TO PARTIES WRONGED BY LA COUNTY AGENCIES

When a lawsuit against an LA County department (the sheriff’s department, for instance) results in a settlement, county lawyers regularly draw out the process, even when there is no other option but to settle. The Board of Supervisors can (and do) further defer finalizing legal settlements.

The Supervisors understandably aim to be good stewards of the county’s money, and sometimes it’s necessary to make certain that the department at fault takes corrective action. But injured parties wait longer to receive restitution when the county delays action, and it can cost taxpayers even more money.

An LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to ensure a timely payment to the those wronged, and if necessary, to lean on departments taking too long to remedy violations. Here are some clips:

Joseph Ober was an inmate in another case; he said that deputies beat him without justification and denied him medical treatment. He and county lawyers reached a settlement in May, and one of the terms was final sign-off by the supervisors within 120 days. That deadline passed in August, and the court ordered the county to pay daily interest on the $400,000 settlement amount. The supervisors finally approved the agreement last week.

[SNIP]

County officials face an inherent tension when settling lawsuits. They want to protect the county treasury as much as possible, so they bargain hard and sometimes drag their feet in quest of a better deal. But they also have an obligation to make victims of county mistakes and misdeeds whole; and they must make sure that the problems that led to the suits are fixed. To that end, the supervisors understandably demand to see evidence of corrective action — so the same thing won’t happen over and over — before they approve settlements.

But many of these delays cost the county additional money, as in the Ober case…

Posted in District Attorney, jail, LAPD, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness, Realignment, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 6 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

December 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy James Sexton became the 7th member of the LASD
to be sentenced to prison for a conviction of obstruction of justice due to his part in a plan to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Sexton to 18 months in a federal lock-up, plus an additional year of supervision after he is released.

Sexton, 30, is a former Eagle Scout who was offered an appointment to West Point and recently got his master’s in public administration at USC. He was 26, and in the department for three years, when in August 2011, he was assigned by then lieutenant Greg Thompson, his boss on the Operation Safe Jails unit (OSJ), to participate in a complex scheme to keep federal informant Brown away from the FBI and other federal representatives with whom he’d previously been in contact. Brown was, at the time, part of a civil rights investigation into brutality by deputies against inmates in Men’s Central Jail, plus other forms of LASD corruption.

According to department higher ups, the hiding of Brown was for the inmate’s own safety. Sexton and his team members were told that the order to move Brown to various secret locations within the county jail system, through the use of name changes and computer manipulation, came from the very top of the department, namely from Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who were briefed regularly on the operation that Sexton began unofficially calling Operation Pandora’s Box.

Judge Anderson gave Sexton the shortest sentence of any of the seven, stating that the deputy was “the least culpable” of the group. (Co-conspirators Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig and Maricela Long drew terms ranging from 41 months for former lieutenant Steve Levins, to 21 months for former deputy Mickey Manzo, after being convicted in July of this year in a trial separate from Sextons)

Sexton’s attorneys had pushed for a far lower six month sentence, or even probation with no jail time, pointing out that Sexton had repeatedly cooperated with the feds as a whistleblower in 37 different meetings, and had been convincingly threatened by department members once his whistleblower role became known. (Sexton was the only one of his co-defendents who was allowed by the judge to keep his personal firearms until his conviction this fall.) Anderson, however, was adamant that “the public” expected a sentence that did not trivialize the offense.

“The public expects that the police will not obstruct justice,” said the judge

At the same time, Anderson praised Sexton’s “loving family,” that the deputy “has respect of many in his hometown,” and was “smart and educated” and was “devoted to public service.”

Anderson paused, then added, “Obviously at some point he allowed the core values that had served him well to give way...to the corrupt values of the sheriff’s department.

Finally Anderson spoke directly to Sexton.

“Sir, you didn’t show courage in your misguided attempt to protect the LASD.”

While Sexton and his family looked both grim and saddened by the sentencing outcome, they seemed unsurprised. Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.
The September trial was Sexton’s second legal go-round for the same charges. His first trial, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

When questioned outside the federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said that the sentencing of Sexton was not the end of the story when it came to pursuing civil rights violations and corruption inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He ticked off some of the trials of other LASD members that will take place in 2015. “This is the end of one chapter,” Fox said, “but we have many chapters yet to come.”

As to whether the feds are focusing on other department members for possible future indictments, Fox would only say “it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Fox also declined comment on the news that Captain Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative unit, ICIB, had recently been relieved of duty, pending an LASD investigation. Carey, who testified in both Sexton’s trials, was asked by Fox when he was then on the stand if he was aware that he was the focus of an ongoing criminal federal investigation.

Sexton will surrender to authorities to begin his sentence on February 2015. His six co-defendents are required to surrender on January 2.

Sexton reportedly has made plans to appeal his conviction.


Be sure to read ABC7 Lisa Bartley’s excellent account of Monday’s proceedings. Bartley has also linked to some documents pertinent to the sentencing including letters of support from such people as an L.A. County Deputy District Attorney, a retired CIA official, a Captain in the U.S. Special Forces, a Green Beret and the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 36 Comments »

LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 Comments »

Did Board of Supes Violate the Brown Act with $2 Billion Jail Vote?…WLA on KCRW’s WWLA? Monday Nite…and About That Rolling Stone UVA Rape Reporting Debacle

December 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SO CAL ACLU SEZ SUPES VIOLATED THE LAW WITH $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN VOTE

According to Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the ACLU of Southern California, the LA County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act last May when they voted to go ahead with a costly plan to replace Men’s Central Jail.

The problem, according to Eliasberg and his fellow ACLU attorneys, is that although the board listed on its agenda for the May 6, 2014 meeting in question that it would be discussing various possible pricey plans for rebuilding MCJ (along with a women’s prison at Miraloma) that had been submitted to the board by Vanir Construction Management, there was no specific listing nor any motion in the agenda that indicated the board might actually vote on whether or not to go ahead with one of the plans at the upcoming meeting, and all that such a go-ahead would entail.

But vote they did.

During the meeting, Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina—both of whom had been pushing for a robust jail rebuild and expansion—read a motion into the minutes calling for a vote to proceed with one of Vanir’s five plan options. The vote was taken and passed 3-1. (Zev Yaroslavsky voted against going ahead, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.)

Now it turns out that the non-agenda-ized vote may have been a no-no.


SO WHAT IS THE BROWN ACT ANYWAY?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the statute, the Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953 by the California state legislature (and authored by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown) to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The Brown Act, which has expanded in length over the years due to various amendments, governs certain ways that such meetings must be conducted in order to secure public participation.

One whole section of the Brown Act has to do with requirements surrounding meeting agendas—when they must be posted and what must be on them. To wit:

At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words.

Then in another section specifies:

No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a legislative body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by persons exercising their public testimony rights.

The motion for the vote was not on the agenda.

There are exceptions to the agenda rule, as in cases of emergency and the like. But the jail plan vote doesn’t appear to qualify for any of those exceptions.

On Tuesday of last week, the ACLU sent a letter to District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office asking Lacey to look into the matter. The letter—obtained by WLA—opens this way:

Please investigate whether the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act at its May 6, 2014 meeting when Supervisor Antonovich and former Supervisor Molina read into the agenda a joint motion calling for the Board to “adopt” one of five jail plan options presented by Vanir Construction Management, Inc in its Los Angeles County Jail Plan – Phase 2. The Board voted and adopted the motion by a vote of 3-1, with Supervisor Ridley- Thomas abstaining. The written agenda for the meeting did not provide for the Board’s voting on any of the options; it provided for only a discussion on the five options by Vanir. …we believe that the vote on the oral motion was a clear violation of the Brown Act. If you agree, we request you take all appropriate action….

Lacey’s office—which has acted previously on Brown Act allegations—has yet to reply but, if the past is any guide, the DA’s office will take a while before deciding what if any action to take.


IS A POSSIBLE ILLEGALITY AN OPPORTUNITY?

The issue is a timely one because, if the vote to approve that multi-billion dollar jail plan was taken today, it would likely have a different outcome. Gloria Molina’s successor, Hilda Solis, talked last Monday at her swearing-in about the “incarceration-industrial complex that will sink our economy as well as our society if we allow it to.”

Kuehl went even further, expressing in an interview, according to the LA Times, that she wanted to revisit the costly jail plan vote altogether.

That same day, newly sworn-in Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that, while he believed Men’s Central Jail needed to be replaced, he thought the size of the replacement plan might need to be “recalibrated” in that 20 percent of the inmates in LA County’s jail facilities are mentally ill. Thus, if the diversion programs that he and Jackie Lacey favor are put into place, fewer total beds would likely be needed in the county’s facilities

Eliasberg pointed out that the ultra-expensive Vanir plan put into motion in May not only failed to include the population drop in the jails that diversion programs for the mentally ill would surely produce, but also failed to take into account “the substantial downward effect Proposition 47 will have on the jail population.”

In addition, it neglected to factor into its jail population math such programs as a greater use in LA County of split sentencing (now required by the state) and the institution of strategies like risk-based pretrial release, that could lower the need for jail beds still further.

“In other words,” said Eliasberg, “the [existing jail building] plan is both flawed in concept and was adopted in an illegal manner. The new Board members have an opportunity to rectify these mistakes.”

Let us hope so.



WITNESSLA ON WHICH WAY LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY TALKING ABOUT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT…AND ALL THAT JAZZ

I’ll be on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney Monday night at 7 pm on KCRW 89.9. We’ll be talking about the likelihood of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and similar topics.

You can listen in realtime here.

If you missed realtime, you can listen to the podcast here.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..REPORTING ON RAPE: A NECESSARY LEVEL OF JOURNALISTIC DUE DILIGENCE DOES NOT EQUAL INSENSITIVITY

The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot has a level-headed, no nonsense take regarding the reporting debacle that erupted last friday when Rolling Stone magazine suddenly backpedaled madly regarding an explosive article they ran last month about an alleged brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, based on extensive, highly emotion-generating interviews with a student identified only as “Jackie.”

Talbot describes the situation, the subsequent storm of reactions that ignited among other journalists and activists, and what we can take away from the whole sad mess.

Here are some clips from her essay:

…..It now appears that key details of the story, reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, may not be true. Other journalists—notably, my friend Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt, at Slate, and Paul Farhi, Erik Wemple, and T. Rees Shapiro, at The Washington Post—raised doubts about the reporting late last month, but Rolling Stone dismissed them. Then, on Friday, the magazine issued a statement saying, “In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.” (An earlier version of the statement had emphasized the magazine’s trust in Jackie, and regretted that it had been “misplaced”—wording that seemed to settle too much responsibility for the story’s shortcomings on Jackie and not enough on the reporter or her editors.) Rolling Stone’s statement did not enumerate the discrepancies, but the Post did.

….According to Erdely’s story, Jackie was asked on a date, in September, 2012, by “Drew,” a lifeguard she worked with at the campus aquatic center. Drew brought her back to the Phi Kappa Psi house and invited her to an upstairs bedroom. There, she was shoved to the floor, fell through a glass table, and, while lying on shards of glass, was raped by seven men. Drew egged them on in what, horribly, seemed to be some sort of hazing ritual for new pledges. When Jackie stumbled out of the fraternity hours later, dazed and bleeding, and found her friends, they convinced her not to report what had happened to the police or campus authorities, because they were worried that it would jeopardize her social standing and theirs.

When the Post contacted the friends last week, they said the account of the attack she gave them that night differed from the version in Rolling Stone. Jackie had not appeared to be physically injured, when they saw her late that night, they said, and she told them she’d been at a fraternity party where she had been forced to have oral sex with multiple men. They offered to get her help, but she declined. While she may have given Erdely a fuller and more accurate description of the events—perhaps she was too shaken that night to tell the friends more—the discrepancies seem to be troubling her friends.

The Post also tracked down the man called “Drew” in the article, whom Jackie identified for the first time this week, and he said he had never met Jackie or taken her on a date. He could be lying, of course, but at the least, his account raises questions about Rolling Stone’s. He also was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi. The fraternity chapter issued a statement last week that said it would continue to coöperate with a police investigation into the charges, but had found no evidence for them. “Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiating process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.”

One of Jackie’s friends, “Andy,” whom the Rolling Stone article described as having advised her not to report what happened to her, told the Post he never spoke to a reporter from the magazine. (The original article leaves ambiguous whether Erdely confirmed this part of the story with anyone other than Jackie.) Andy said, “The perception that I’m gravitating toward is that something happened that night and it’s gotten lost in different iterations of the stories that have been told. Is there a possibility nothing happened? Sure. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.”

[SNIP]

Neither “Drew,” the central figure the Post tracked down, nor any of the other men at the fraternity party appear in the article outside of Jackie’s recollections of them. We don’t read about them denying the charge, or unwillingly lending support to it, or complicating or corroborating or casting doubt on Jackie’s account in any of the ways they might have. That makes for a remarkably weak piece of journalism, and an enormously frustrating situation. If this story does turn out to be largely false, it will do real damage to the important new movement to crack down on sexual assault on college campuses. “One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies emerging is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie’s who survived a rape and a rape attempt at U.V.A., said to the Post. “However, we need to remember that the majority of survivors who are coming forward are telling the truth.” She went on, saying, “While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: rape is far more prevalent than we realize, and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions, and society at large.” She’s exactly right.

When Hanna Rosin interviewed her on Slate’s DoubleX podcast, she asked Erdely several times about whether she attempted to contact the accused men, and this is what Erdely told her:

I reached out to them in multiple ways. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an e-mail, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.

That isn’t exactly journalistic due diligence in a case where such extreme allegations are being made. As a journalist, it’s hard to talk to sources who may contradict a vulnerable person with whom you empathize, and in whom you have invested your trust. I hate that part of reporting, and would skip it if I could—but you can’t.

[SNIP]

…“Believe the Victims” makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.

For additional backstory on the matter, read the story by the Washington Post’s T. Reese Shapiro, which originally questioned the Rolling Stone reporting.

Posted in ACLU, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Rape | 1 Comment »

Prop. 47, the Releases Have Begun….McDonnell Makes Plans…. How Elections Affect LA….Monday’s American Justice Summit Live Streams

November 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



In the days since California voters passed Prop. 47 by a healthy margin
, real world responses to the initiative’s victory have been swift. For instance, Kristina Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that in San Diego County, teenagers were released from juvenile hall the day after voting day, while the SD Public Attorney’s Office was getting 200 calls an hour from inmates in the county’s jail hoping for reduced sentences.

In the Bay area, judges did not even wait for election results to be certified before resentencing inmates and reducing charges write Matthias Gafni and David DeBolt in the San Jose Mercury News.

And in Santa Rosa County one lawbreaker was very, very cheery when he showed up in court on November 5, according to the Press Democrat’s Paul Payne.

Here’s a clip:

When Judge Lawrence Ornell took a seat in his Santa Rosa courtroom the morning after Election Day, a man with an “I voted” sticker on his lapel walked up to the bench, beaming.

Ornell noticed the man’s sunny disposition then looked down at the charge. It was possession of cocaine, an offense that a day earlier was a felony but with the passage of Proposition 47 by California voters had been reduced to a misdemeanor.

His chances of receiving a stiff punishment vanished overnight.

“He was smiling ear to ear,” Ornell said Thursday, recounting the man’s good fortune. “He was a happy man.”

The scene is playing out frequently these days as courts, prosecutors and police grapple with a new reality intended to cut prison crowding and save hundreds of millions of dollars for rehabilitation.

Proposition 47 reclassifies nonviolent offenses that used to be felonies — including many property crimes valued at $950 or less, grand theft, forgery, shoplifting and simple drug possession — and reduces them to misdemeanors carrying lighter punishments.

Some estimate a third of all felonies, many drug-related, will be downgraded to lesser crimes, creating a domino effect that will keep petty criminals out of custody and free some who are already behind bars.

Statewide, as many as 40,000 people a year could be affected, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said.

State prison officials estimate 4,770 inmates would be eligible to petition the court for resentencing and possible release. Nineteen are from Sonoma County, local prosecutors said, and the Sheriff’s Office has identified 209 of its 1,200 jail inmates for possible consideration.

All would go before a judge who would review the details of their offenses and their records. Those previously convicted of violent or serious crimes would not qualify, Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker said.


SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL WILL GATHER INFO BEFORE STAFFING & FOCUS FIRST ON LA COUNTY JAILS

Soon-to-be LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was still in a post-election daze, with zillions of requests for meetings, interviews, and call-backs piling up, when LA Daily News reporter Rick Orlov talked to him about his plans.

Here’s a clip:

“I am not looking at any big transition team,” said McDonnell, who spent the bulk of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was second-in-command, and served as a chief of police in Long Beach since 2010. “I will reach out to different experts, but I want to talk to the people in the department and see the talent that is there.”

His first priority in rebuilding confidence in the troubled department, McDonnell said, will be a review of the county jail system to determine what changes have been made since the release of a critical report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which he was a member. Its jail system — the largest in the world — holds an average of 18,000 to 20,000 inmates a day, about 17 percent of whom are believed to have mental illnesses.

“I want to see what has been done and what can be done as quickly as possible,” McDonnell said. “It is our top priority.”

But before he does that, there is a long-delayed trip to Boston to see his 88-year-old mother and celebrate with his family back there.

“I’ll be there four days, but there is not a lot of time left before I take office,” McDonnell said. “I have just a few weeks before I take office on Dec. 1.”


NATIONAL ELECTIONS WON’T PARTICULARLY AFFECT SO CAL BUT STATE ELECTIONS WILL, WRITES LA TIMES JIM NEWTON

LA Times columnist Jim Newton lists those of last Tuesday’s races most likely to affect the actual lives of So Cal voters—most particularly the election of Jim McDonnell as LA County’s new sheriff, the passage of Jerry Brown’s water bond, and the victory of Sheila Kuehl in the LA County Supervisor’s race. Here’re are some clips:

The Sheriff’s Department has struggled for decades, resisting attempts to reduce violence in jails and impose meaningful civilian oversight. Sheriff Lee Baca often seemed overwhelmed by the task, and Baca’s former top deputy, Paul Tanaka, who ran against McDonnell in last week’s election, was widely seen as an impediment to reform.

McDonnell, by contrast, has pledged to move ahead with efforts to constrain excessive force and to lead the agency into a more sophisticated relationship with the public and county government. And he has the right credentials to make that happen. Most recently, McDonnell headed the Long Beach Police Department. Before that, at the LAPD, McDonnell helped lead the department to a new kind of policing that embraced community engagement, and he did it at a time when that department was trying to reconstruct trust after years of controversy — as the Sheriff’s Department is today.

It won’t be easy, but McDonnell has a chance to make real progress.

[BIG SNIP]

Most of the post-election commentary on Kuehl’s victory has focused on whether she can hold the line on county worker pay hikes, given the backing that public employee unions gave her. That’s a fair question, though Kuehl is famously stubborn and a little bit prickly, so I wouldn’t envy the person trying to call in a chit with her.

To me, the more intriguing aspect of her victory is what it might mean for one of the county’s gravest responsibilities: the operation of its foster care system, which cares for children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect and which has seen too much tragedy. This is an area that Kuehl knows and cares about.

Kuehl, whose sister is a judge in the Sacramento foster care system, speaks movingly of her determination to help young people. And as a state legislator, she wrote a slew of bills intended to protect children in the system.

Now she’s about to join a board that oversees the largest child welfare system in the nation, one that is responsible for more than 30,000 children at any given time.


DAILY BEAST’S TINA BROWN HOSTS AMERICAN JUSTICE SUMMIT LIVE STREAMING ON MONDAY

Tina Brown Live Media is co-hosting what is being called The American Justice Summit, which will live stream on Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, featuring the likes of John Jay College president Jeremy Travis, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Equal Justice Initiative founder and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Right on Crime’s Grover Norquist, and many, many more.

I’ve you’ve got an interest in criminal justice issues, it’ll likely be worth your while to tune in to this event.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, race, racial justice, Sentencing | 36 Comments »

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