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WLA’s Editor Wins “Online Journalist of the Year” at SoCal Journalism Awards(!)…LASD Civilian Oversight…Costly Prison Phone Calls…and More

June 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WLA’S EDITOR TAKES HOME SOCAL JOURNALISM AWARD

I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, has won 1st place at the SoCal Journalism Award for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The judges called Celeste’s work for 2013: “a compelling look into problems in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Celeste did a great job decoding complex issues into a fascinating narrative.”

The rest of the winners can be found here.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL CALLS FOR CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF SHERIFF’S DEPT.

Citing the Inspector General’s undefined power and tenure, an excellent LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to create a nine-person citizen’s oversight commission to watch over the Sheriff’s Department. The editorial says the commission should hold public meetings, and be free of micromanagement by the Supes, and that members should serve for set terms.

Here’s a clip:

The board started out on the right foot last year when it created the Office of Inspector General. It was designed to replace both a special counsel, who presented regular reports and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors but didn’t get enough public attention to spark any follow-up, and the Office of Independent Review, which relied too much on the sheriff’s voluntary cooperation to be a credible monitor.

But the supervisors rejected the strong recommendation of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to appoint the inspector general to a set term and make him removable only for good cause. And the board still hasn’t brokered an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department over the scope of the inspector general’s powers. So no matter how strong the work ethic and integrity of Inspector General Max Huntsman, he is an at-will employee of the Board of Supervisors with no law establishing his power or authority to investigate the sheriff.

Meanwhile, the county’s contracts with its previous monitors expire Monday, so for the first time in two decades there will be no independent sheriff oversight. Despite the opportunity and necessity for improvement, the county is in danger of falling backward.

Forward momentum will depend on more than new promises by the supervisors to do a better job of keeping an eye on the sheriff. It will require the board to create a citizens oversight commission that conducts its meetings in public and has the kind of insulation from micromanaging that so far the board has denied the inspector general. There should be nine members on the commission, enough for each county supervisor to appoint one while still allowing sufficient appointments by other authorities to prevent the commission from becoming the board’s proxy. Members should serve for set, nonrenewable terms, and be removable only on a showing of good cause.


LAST YEAR THE FCC LIMITED WHAT PRISONERS PAY FOR INTERSTATE CALLS, BUT COMPANIES STILL GOUGE PRISONERS FOR OTHER SERVICES

In prisons all over the country, private companies—Global Tel-Link and JPay, in particular—are charging inmates preposterously high fees for phone, internet, and money services. Unfortunately, the brunt of the costs fall on the families of the incarcerated. And there’s no real competition from other companies who might charge lower fees. Global Tel-Link and JPay both pay cash-strapped cities, counties, and states incentives to secure their contracts within prisons. (In New York State, where these commissions are forbidden, inmates pay a fraction in comparison—72 cents for a 15-minute call.)

Global Tel-Link and JPay both have contracts in California through which they overcharge California prison and jail inmates’ loved ones.

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. That was a significant victory, but Global Tel-Link and JPay can (and do) continue to charge prisoners and their families shocking fees for in-state calls, money transfers, and other services. (For previous WLA reporting on this issue, go here.)

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg have the story. Here are some clips:

It is a lucrative proposition, in part because these companies often operate beyond the reach of regulations that protect ordinary consumers. Inmates say they are being gouged by high costs and hidden fees. Friends and families say they have little choice but to shoulder the financial burden.

But private enterprises are not the only ones profiting. Eager to reduce costs and bolster dwindling budgets, states, counties and cities are seeking a substantial cut in return for letting the businesses into prisons, a review of dozens of contracts by The New York Times found. In Baldwin County, Ala., for instance, the sheriff’s department collects 84 percent of the gross revenue from calls at the county jail. A Texas company has guaranteed the county at least $55 a month per inmate, according to a copy of the contract…

Some corrections departments use the commissions to provide services, said Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Corrections. In Washington State, all commissions go toward compensating victims and improving services like libraries.

But even some industry executives see problems with the current setup, saying the commission system encourages providers to charge inmates more, not less, for services. Companies often win contracts based on how much they will offer states via commissions, rather than the rates they charge inmates.

Global Tel-Link, of Reston, Va., has contracts with 2,200 correctional operations serving at least 1.1 million inmates. It argued in recent comments to the Federal Communications Commission that the more states and cities demand in commissions, the more it will charge inmates. “There is no free lunch,” the company said.

[SNIP]

While the F.C.C. capped interstate telephone rates at 25 cents a minute earlier this year, after agitation from prisoners’ rights advocates, local phone rates can still be steep and other fees vary widely from state to state. For instance, using a phone to transfer $10 into an inmate’s account via JPay to the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., costs $3.95, while a similar transfer to the Illinois Youth Center in Chicago runs $5.95.

Placing a 15-minute in-state call from a Union County, N.J., jail costs $8.50, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently filed a petition asking for lower in-state rates. In New York State, which does not accept commissions from providers, a 15-minute phone call costs just 72 cents.


CDC: WAYS TO PREVENT YOUTH VIOLENCE

Every day in the US, an average of 13 kids, teens, and young adults (between the ages of 10-24) are victims of homicide, and more than 1600 are treated in hospitals for assault-related injuries. In fact, homicide is the third leading cause of death in young people nationwide. And 10-to-24-year-olds comprised 40% of arrests for violent crimes in 2012.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that youth violence and its devastating effects on kids (especially minorities), families, and their neighborhoods can be prevented, and lists evidence-based solutions communities can implement to counteract this violence.

The report suggests a number of tools and programs, from parenting and family training, to bolstering early childhood education, to data gathering, and policy-reform. Here are some examples:

The Strengthening Families program teaches parents to use discipline, manage their emotions, and communicate with their child and teaches youth strategies to deal with peer pressure, manage stress, and solve problems. Evaluations of this program have shown significant reductions in aggression, hostility, and conduct problems and improvements in parent’s limit-setting, parent-child communication, and youth’s prosocial behavior.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care is for youth who need out-of-home placements and includes extensive training of foster parents, family therapy for biological parents, skills training and support for youth, and school-based academic and behavioral supports. This program has been shown to significantly reduce delinquency, violence, and violent crime and sustain improvements over time.

Cure Violence (formally known as CeaseFire) works to interrupt violence, particularly shootings, and change norms about the acceptability and inevitability of violence. An evaluation found reduced shootings and killings and fewer retaliatory killings in most communities where the program was implemented.

These smart, evidenced-based recommendations are a hearteningly long way from the Superpredator theory of the mid-1980s.


TWO DIE IN LASD CUSTODY

Two people died in LA County Sheriff’s Dept. custody on Saturday. A man suspected of being under the influence of drugs was arrested in Lancaster after struggling with deputies. The man became unresponsive in the back of the patrol car, and officers were unable to revive him.

And later that afternoon, a woman was found dead in her bunk at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station jail. The woman had been booked on possession of a controlled substance two days prior, on Thursday.

LASD homicide detectives, Internal Affairs, and the LA Coroner’s Office are investigating both deaths.

KPCC has the story.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Violence Prevention, women's issues | 27 Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Oakland Advocacy Center’s New Future, LA County & the Death Row 2%, and California Media Shield Bill Signed

October 4th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

AN OAKLAND HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER’S CHEERING NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Had his life played out a little differently, Zachary Norris, the new executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, could have been one of the statistics he seeks to prevent.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Katy McCarthy has the story. Here’s a clip about what Norris says was his defining moment:

Handcuffed during an act of civil disobedience protesting a new mega detention center in the area, Norris was taken to the nearby Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. That night, sharing a cell with a crowd of other young black men, he recalled, “I had this sense it was all too normal, too normalized.”

Wearing a shirt that read, “Stop the Super Jail,” Norris’ fellow inmates constantly asked him what it meant. When he told them that they were trying to stop a juvenile hall from being built across the street, the response, Norris recalled, was that it was “messed up.” The young men he met that night said building the facility sent a message to a kid that once they got out of juvenile hall they would just end up across the street.

Before becoming executive officer, Norris was essential to the creation of Ella Baker’s Books Not Bars program, a campaign to reform the California juvenile justice system that pulled parents and families into the advocacy team:

While the broad mission of the Ella Baker Center has historically been to advance racial and economic justice for low-income people and people of color, Books Not Bars focused solely on reforming the California youth prison system, with families testifying and advocating every step of the way.

“His work was the first in really bringing family members into the equation,” Burrell said. “Before that, it was all advocates and agency people and it was really an important contribution to bring the parents of children who are affected by all of these policy decisions into the picture.”

Among many accomplishments, Books Not Bars lists closing five of the state’s youth prisons, facilitating the youth prison population’s decline from 4,800 to 922 children, and defeating the 2008 “tough on crime” Proposition 6.

Norris has three promising new core strategies in the works for the Center:

On a local level, the Center is working to create a justice hub for families in Alameda County to assist them in navigating juvenile and criminal justice systems. As Norris foresees it, it will be a peer support group focusing on community-based organizing strategies to impact individual court cases. It will be “families getting together around a table discussing what cases are in front of them or their family members and developing strategies to impact those cases,” Norris said. “I think that often times, policy objectives could come out of that as well.”

Statewide, the Center is continuing to push for legislation that will “move resources from locking people up toward more supportive programs.”

On the national level, Norris said the Center is working with Justice For Families, Strong Families and other coalitions to plan and develop a national, community-driven research project looking at the multi-generational impact of incarceration on families from an economic and public health standpoint. “In some ways, families unlocking futures was the tip of a larger iceberg and we want to look at the iceberg,” he said.

Norris also co-founded of Justice For Families with social justice advocate Grace Bauer, and put out an excellent report on failings of the juvenile justice system, which we pointed to this time last year. (We don’t know a lot about the Ella Baker Center, but what we hear makes us want to know more.)

In the above video, Zachary Norris gets emotional at a downtown Oakland gathering after the Mehserle/Oscar Grant verdict is announced (which we reported on here, in 2010).


LA COUNTY LEADS THE NATION IN DEATH ROW NUMBERS

A report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that just 2% of counties are accountable for more than half of the nation’s population of death row inmates and those who have been executed since 1974.

Los Angeles County is number one on the list of counties responsible for the death row populace with 228 inmates. The second highest, Harris County, Texas, has 127 fewer inmates than LA with a total of 101. Four other California counties (San Diego, Riverside, Alameda, and Orange County) also made it on the top ten list.

Here’s what the DPIC had to say about the report:

Contrary to the assumption that the death penalty is widely used in the U.S., only a few jurisdictions employ capital punishment extensively, according to a new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Only two percent of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. Likewise, only two percent of the counties are responsible for the majority of today’s death row population and recent death sentences.

“Eighty-five percent of the counties in the U.S. have not had a single case resulting in an execution in over 45 years,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and author of the report. “The relatively few prosecutors who drive the death penalty create enormous burdens for those outside their district. The rest of the country is paying a high tariff on behalf of the small percentage of the counties that are actually using the death penalty.”

The top ten counties among the two percent of counties responsible for more than half of the nation’s death row population are: Los Angeles County, CA; Harris County, TX; Philadelphia County, PA; Maricopa County, AZ; Riverside County, CA; Clark County, NV; Orange County, CA; Duval County, FL; Alameda County, CA; and San Diego County, CA.

The top ten counties among the two percent of counties responsible for over half of the executions since 1976 are: Harris County, TX; Dallas County, TX; Oklahoma County, OK; Tarrant County, TX; Bexar County, TX; Montgomery County, TX; Tulsa County, OK; Jefferson County, TX; St. Louis County, MO; and Brazos County, TX.

Just four counties in Texas (out of 254) account for almost half of all executions in the state.

Three counties in California produce more than half of the state’s death row – the largest in the country.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS LAW PROTECTING JOURNALISTS FROM SECRET SUBPOENAS

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an important media shield bill, SB 558, authored by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). The new law will ensure that any government agency or investigator gives journalists five days’ notice before going after a subpoena of phone records, internet records, or other third party information.

Reuters’ Sharon Bernstein has the story. Here’s a clip:

The California law, which was sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, mirrors the new regulations put in place at the federal level, said the association’s general counsel, Jim Ewert.

“If a reporter stores information in the cloud or on Google or on a server off-site, now the reporter is going to get notice and the publisher or the station manager is going to get notice of that subpoena,” Ewert said.

The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will require any government agency or individual to provide five days’ notice to reporters and their news organizations before seeking a subpoena of journalistic information from a third party, such as an internet service provider or cell phone company.

California’s existing shield law provides journalists with five days’ notice of subpoenas for information in their possession, but does not apply to information on cloud servers, telephone bills, etc.

The Associated Press says that’s how investigators got away with the secret subpoenas served to AP journalists (and Fox News’ James Rosen) earlier this year. Here’s a clip:

California has a strong shield law for reporters that already requires law enforcement agencies to give five days’ notice to news organizations for subpoenas served on them or their reporters. But Lieu has said the Justice Department probe shows that investigators can bypass that law by secretly subpoenaing telephone or Internet companies for journalists’ personal and work-related information.

(By the way, the remarkably sane and sound legal definition of a “journalist” per the California Constitution’s Article 1, Section 2(b) can be found here.)

Posted in Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), journalism, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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

June 7th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

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



HOUSE PASSES AMENDMENT AGAINST DEFERRED DEPORTATION OF YOUTH

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

[SNIP]

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

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


LAPD TAKES A DIVE INTO TAR PITS

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


RECOMMENDED READING: FRESH JOURNALISM IN SB

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

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

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

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

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

Executions in CA Still on Pause, Virginia Gives Vote to Some After Prison…and More on DOJ/Media Spying

June 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

APPELLATE COURT KEEPS CA EXECUTIONS ON HOLD

The CA stay on executions will remain in place after a three-judge panel of the lst District Court of Appeal in San Francisco upheld a lower court ruling that the CDCR has failed to comply with procedural law when establishing lethal injection regulations.

The Sacramento Bee’s Denny Walsh has the story. Here’s a clip explaining what might come next in the process:

Steve Mayer, lead appellate counsel for the condemned inmates challenging the regulations, estimated it will take “at least nine months to a year, and maybe longer,” if the state decides to craft revised regulations and jump through the rule-making hoops set out in the Administrative Procedure Act.

On the other hand, if the Brown administration petitions the California Supreme Court for review, Mayer said, “we are looking at anywhere from two to four years” before the court issues an opinion. It depends on how long it takes the seven-member court “to get four justices to sign off on something.”

Mayer said the case is unique in that “the CDCR did such a bad job. There wasn’t a single step in the process they did right, so it’s not surprising there is no case law right on point.”


VA RESTORES VOTING RIGHTS TO DISENFRANCHISED

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he would automatically restore the voting rights of disenfranchised non-violent offenders who meet certain criteria–a big step in the right direction for a state where over 7% of the adult population is disenfranchised.

In California, voting rights are restored automatically once a person is released from prison and discharged from parole (probationers can vote). You can look up the voting laws for ex-offenders in the rest of the states here.

Here’s a clip from an NY Times editorial on restoring the voting rights of the disenfranchised:

Governor McDonnell’s order, which could cover more than 100,000 people, reflects a growing awareness that disenfranchisement serves no rehabilitative purpose — and may, in fact, contribute to further criminal behavior by forcing former offenders to the margins of society.

In all, nearly six million Americans — about 2.5 percent of the voting-age population — are barred from voting by a confusing patchwork of state laws that strip convicted felons of the right to vote, often temporarily, but sometimes for life. Nearly two dozen states have softened their disenfranchisement policies since the late 1990s, with several states repealing or scaling back lifetime bans.


ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER PLEDGES CHANGES TO GUIDELINES ON INVESTIGATING JOURNALISTS

To address the controversy over recent outrageous cases of spying on journalists by the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder assured media editors in a private meeting that the administration would push for a federal “media shield ban” to protect journalists from unreasonable and invasive subpoenas. (Thanks, Eric. Nice to know that you plan to protect us from…um, you.)

Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett has the story. Here are some clips:

Mr. Holder and aides said they were open to changing the guidelines the department uses to broaden the circle of officials who have to agree that subpoenas are justified as a last resort. The officials also said they were open to annual reviews with news organizations, according to a Wall Street Journal editor who attended the meeting.

The department’s guidelines haven’t been revised in more than two decades, and the officials said they needed to be updated to deal with significant changes in news gathering that have occurred in that time.

[SNIP]

Mr. Holder and the other Justice officials told the editors they were committed to protecting the role journalists play in reporting on the government. Mr. Holder and his top aide, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, have been criticized by press organizations and First Amendment advocates for what have been called overly broad seizures of reporters’ phone records, as well as a search warrant to read one reporter’s personal emails.

Mr. Holder and his aides also said the administration would throw its weight behind an effort to pass a federal media shield law, though such legislation would likely have little impact on the two cases at the center of the current controversy, according to the editor.


EDITOR’S NOTE: THE NEW YORK TIMES & OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS BOYCOTTED THE HOLDER MEETING

And with good reason, we think.

Here’s a clip from the Huffington Post’s story about why NYT’s Executive Editor Jill Abramson decided the paper wasn’t going.

Jill Abramson spoke out on Sunday about the New York Times’ decision to boycott Eric Holder’s meeting with news organizations, saying that the newspaper is worried that “the process of news gathering is being criminalized.”

Attorney General Holder recently met with outlets to review the DOJ’s guidelines for investigating journalists. The meeting, however, provoked even more controversy when it was announced that it would be off-the-record, prompting the Times among others to abstain from attending.

“To have this private meeting with the attorney general and not be able to share anything about it with our readers didn’t seem to have a point to me,” Abramson told Bob Schieffer on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.” “The Times and our readers are quite concerned about the six active criticism leak cases that the Obama administration has pursued. That’s more than all the other administrations combined. And, you know, we are concerned that the process of news gathering is being criminalized.”

Later, she added that it was important to remember that the public is probably less invested in the case than journalists, and more preoccupied with other issues like the state of the economy and the cost of health care.

The AP and the Huffington Post were among the other outlets that declined to attend once it was announced that the meeting was off-the-record—an extraordinarily tone-deaf decision on the part of the the administration.

At the meeting Holder reportedly announced to those assembled that, regarding the whole spying-on-media thing: “I get it.”

And yet the meeting remained off-the-record— although finally Holder agreed that journalists could report “in general” on what was discussed.

This leads many of us to believe that, although Holder is trying mightily to diffuse the media’s anger toward him and the DOJ, he still doesn’t, in fact, “get it.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Government, journalism | No Comments »

Miranda and Dzhokhar Tsarnaeve….Apologies in Criminal Law….More on the Koch-Bros & the LAT

April 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


MIRANDA AND DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV: WHEN WE’RE SURE THAT SOMEONE HAS DONE SOMETHING TERRIBLE, WHEN MUST WE READ HIM HIS RIGHTS?

Of course we want the feds to have gotten everything possible our of Dzhokar Tsarnaev before he started clamming up. But is that merely an emotional position or a legally justifiable one? (Do remember, that the rights we give away in exceptionally moments often tend to stay given away.)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev talked for 16 hours before he was read his rights. Emily Bazelon of Slate thinks that’s too long. Here’s a clip from her discussion-provoking essay on the matter.

According to the AP, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev answered questions for 16 hours before he was read the Miranda warning that he could remain silent and could ask for a lawyer. Once Tsarnaev was told that, he stopped talking. (So much for the idea that everyone has heard Miranda warnings so many times on TV that they have become an empty ritual.) The AP also reports that the investigators questioning him were “surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room.” The investigators “had planned to keep questioning him.”

Wow. That’s bad no matter your point of view. If you think Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve the normal protections American law affords criminal suspects, then you’d want the FBI to keep at him as long as they chose. Or if, like me, you’re worried about how far the Obama administration’s Justice Department has stretched the limited “public safety” exception the Supreme Court has allowed for questioning suspects about ongoing danger without Miranda warnings, 16 hours sounds expansive.

It’s true that Miranda offers protection only after the fact. Technically, the rule is violated not when investigators fail to give the warnings, but when they try to introduce in court a confession or other facts a suspect revealed before he was read his rights. It’s also true that given the mountain of evidence against Tsarneav, he could be convicted without his own statements. But that may not be true with the next terrorist suspect—or the next hated man for whom the government decides to stretch the public safety exception. The Justice Department is setting a precedent here. And how does that precedent directly involve public safety, when all of law enforcement reassured the public that safety had been restored once Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, and that the authorities strongly believed he and his brother, Tamerlan, had acted alone?

Read on. There’s a lot more.


CAN I SAY I’M SORRY? IS THERE A PLACE FOR APOLOGIES IN CRIMINAL COURT?

This research paper on the value of—and legal difficulty with—apologies by defendants in criminal court, by Professor Michael Jones of the Phoenix School of Law, covers an interesting question.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper is written for the purpose of addressing the power and possibility of early apologies in the criminal justice system. As constructed, our criminal justice system rewards defendants that learn early in their case to remain silent, and punishes those that talk. Defendants that may want to offer an apology or allocution for the harm they’ve caused are often required to wait until a sentencing hearing, which may come months, or even years after the event in question. This paper proposes that the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure be modified to provide an exception for apology to criminal defendants. Apologies can play an invaluable role in the healing process for victims, defendants, family members and others tied together by the unfortunate events of a criminal prosecution. This paper seeks to further the comprehensive law movement approach that promotes a healing process for those involved in the criminal justice system.

An here’s the full paper if you’d like to take a look.

(A thank you, once again, to the excellent Doug Berman of Sentencing, Law & Policy, for flagging this paper.)


THE KOCH-BROS, THE LA TIMES, AND A NOT-SO-MODEST PROPOSALS

Now that the shock of the Koch duo’s possible purchase of the LA Times and other Tribune Corp papers is nearly a week old, a whole second wave of reactions has been surfacing, some of them….odd.

Take, for example, this somewhat untethered column by the Washington Post’s Steve Perlstein in which Perlstein breathlessly suggests that he knows a sure fire way that the LAT employees can save the paper from the marauding Koch-sters.

Ready?

Everyone should quit. (Right, Steve. That’d show ‘em.)

“If the Times journalists,” he writes…

….”….decide collectively to walk out the door one day, the readers and advertisers are almost certain to follow.

“A new owner, of course, could hire new journalists, and certainly there are plenty of them out there looking for a job. But it would take time to attract them, get them working as a team and weed out the inevitable clunkers…

“And in the meantime, competing news organizations would be quick to pick up Tribune’s stars and use them to lure away readers and advertisers at a time when circulation and revenue are already under pressure. Hell, in the age of the Internet, the rebellious journalists could easily start their own news organizations and grab a good chunk of their old readership within weeks.
This is a rare moment for Tribune’s beleaguered journalists. For the first time in a long time, they actually have leverage. They’d be crazy not to use it….”

This is, of course, quite nuts.

But read the rest anyway.


WA PO’S HEROLD MEYERSON SAYS MANY TIMES STAFFERS

Washington Post columnist Herold Meyerson spent years as a political journalist in LA, so it’s understandable that he would feel moved to weigh in on the possibility of the Koch brothers as buyers for the LA Times, and about the necessity of remembering that a newspaper isn’t just a business; it’s also a civic trust.

Here’s a couple of clips:

On May 21, Los Angeles voters will go to the polls to select a new mayor. Who will govern Los Angeles, however, is only the second-most important local question in the city today. The most important, by far, is who will buy the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is one of the eight daily newspapers now owned by the creditors who took control of the Tribune Co. after real estate wheeler-dealer Sam Zell drove it into bankruptcy. Others include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant. The Tribune board members whom the creditors selected want to unload the papers in favor of more money-making ventures.
Fans of newspapers are a jumpy lot these days. And in the past couple of weeks, their apprehension has gone through the roof with word that right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch are looking to buy all eight papers.

[BIG SNIP]

Being human beings, all newspaper owners have politics of their own. Since the 19th century, however, most haven’t gone into business primarily to advance a political perspective. Profit, professional and civic pride, and recognition have largely motivated them. It’s hard to see how any of these factored into the Koch brothers’ calculations.

In their very brief no-comment on the sale rumors, the Kochs took care to note, “We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions” owned by Tribune, but the staffs at those papers fear that, once Kochified, the papers would quickly turn into print versions of Fox News. A recent informal poll that one L.A. Times writer conducted of his colleagues showed that almost all planned to exit if the Kochs took control (and that included sports writers and arts writers). Those who stayed would have to grapple with how to cover politics and elections in which their paper’s owners played a leading role. It’s also unclear who in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most liberal cities, would actually want to read such a paper, but then the Kochs don’t appear to view this as a money-making venture.

Though slimmed down from its glory days, the L.A. Times remains a great newspaper, as its recent stories on increasing employer surveillance of blue-collar workers illustrate. But the paper that, under the reign of publisher-owner Otis Chandler in the 1960s and ’70s, moved to the apex of American journalism has suffered a string of indifferent-to-godawful owners, ranging from Mr. Chandler’s cousins to Mr. Zell — that rare journalism mogul who actively hated journalism and journalists….

MEANWHILE…Marcelle Pacatte writing for Crains Chicago Business urges his fellow Chicagoans not to be afraid of the “big, bad Koch Brothers.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, criminal justice, journalism, Los Angeles Times | 5 Comments »

Public Records Act at Risk, Anti-Bullying Program Slammed as Gay Plot, Juvie LWOP from 2 POVs

October 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



A CALIF JUDGE’S DECISION THREATENS THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

The LA Times’ Jim Newton has a column that is an absolutely essential read —unless you trust every single one of our government agencies and public officials to scrupulously and without fail behave in a right and good and true manner all of the time.

The column relates the experience of Tim Crews, the editor/publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County. Evidently Crews believed that the local school district had used public funds to improperly influence an election. So to look further into the matter, he attempted to obtain certain documents under the Public Records Act, which is what most reporters would do under the same circumstances. The district predictably dragged its feet. Eventually, the paper and the district wound up in court over some of the documentation, and the judge decided against Crews.

Now here’s where the whole thing gets worrisome. Here are some clips from Newton’s column that explain the heart of the matter:

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews’ case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews’ request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. “It would wipe us out,” Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews’ case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California’s public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.

[BIG SNIP]

All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

This issue has direct application to such things as the reporting that WitnessLA has been doing on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Take Matt Fleischer’s recent story about Pay-to-Play in the LASD: without the donations information and other documentation obtained through the Public Records Act, that story and others like it, could not have existed.

And because WLA and other smaller publications like it—and private individuals, for that matter—are operating without the benefit of big staffs and big budgets (and funds set aside for just such legal issues), the threat of having to pay tens of thousands in legal bills if a judge happens to whimsically decide that a government agency doesn’t have to fork over certain paperwork, cannot help to have a cooling effect. Plus, it gives public agencies who’d like to withhold documents for less than stellar reasons a nasty little tool to use against pesky reporters and members of the public who try to hold them accountable, but who don’t have deep pockets.

In any case, stay tuned. We’ll let you know when we know more.


ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM DEEMED GAY-PROMOTING PLOT”

First the good news: 77 LA County Schools are participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the most schools of any area of the nation. Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which will take place October 30, is a national pro-tolerance, anti-bullying school program that was started over a decade ago by the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s how their website explains it:

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

.

Around 2500 schools participate nationally

But then here’s the bad news: A conservative evangelical group called American Family Association, has whipped itself into a frenzy over Mix-It-Up-at Lunch Day, which it calls a “nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.”

Naturally AFA has told its followers to inform school administrators that they will be keeping their kids home on Oct. 30 in the hope of getting schools to cancel all this ghastly Mixing-it-up.

According to a New York Times story by Kim Severson, after the AFA began pressuring, 200 schools cancelled the program,. Here’s a clip from Severson’s story:

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”


WHEN KILLERs ARE KIDS, A CASE FROM THE POV OF A VICTIM’S FAMILY

Sunday’s NY Times features a story by Ethan Bronner that looks at a case in which a 15-year-old boy killed his 15-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. The article explores the point of view of the once-young killer and also looks at the tragedy from the perspective of the sister of the victim, each of whom could be affected by the SCOTUS decision handed down this past June that found the mandatory sentencing of juvenile murderers to term of Life without the possiblity of parole to be unconstitutional. To be clear, the Suprmes didn’t find Juvie LWOP to be cruel and unusual as a whole, only the mandatory handing down of the sentence without considering the individual killer and his or her circumstances, state of mind, et al.

The decision, which is being treated as retroactive by some states, could mean that a lot of LWOP cases will be reconsidered to see if there should have been an examination of the murderer’s actions, background and circumstances, rather than having a sentence simply applied automatically.

Here’s a clip from the story, which talks about how painful opening such cases could be for families of the victims.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I found it a bit distressing that the reporter wrote that the Supremes outlawed Juvenile LWOP altogether and no editor managed to catch the fairly large error, which would seem to be something one might fact check if one is writing about the affect of the freaking case. The story is still worth reading, but really, New York times.


Posted in Education, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, journalism, juvenile justice, LGBT, LWOP Kids, media | 7 Comments »

Sheriff Baca’s Racked Up Absences from LA During Jails Scandal, Flawed Civilian Oversight of LASD, Automatic Arrest-Tracking Software…and More

September 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF BACA’S WELL-TIMED AND FREQUENT TRIPS AWAY FROM LOS ANGELES

As we look toward the Jails Commission report Friday, LA Weekly calls our attention to data showing that Sheriff Lee Baca was absent from the county for over a month between January and July at the height of LASD’s expanding scandal. The information came to light as a result of a records request by eagle-eye county-watcher Eric Preven.

LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Instead of providing answers to dozens of black-and-blue L.A. County jail inmates and the ACLU, or addressing his deputies’ brutal, gang-like policing tactics…

… Baca apparently split town as much as his travel budget would allow, making himself into some kind of international ambassador for feel-good cop philosophies like “public trust policing” and “education-based incarceration.” (Although we’re really not sure how anyone takes him seriously on those issues, considering that the level of mistrust between his department and the Los Angeles public is at an all-time high.)

Baca’s travel record shows that he took a total of 18 trips between January and July, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on flights and hotel rooms so that he could sprinkle his L.A. Sheriff’s wisdoms all across the globe.

Here, his five strangest/silliest appearances in 2012 so far:

Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.: Meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey
April 13-14 in Seattle, Washington: The Pacific Institute Spirit Board Meeting
April 21-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada: Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay
May 18-22 in Doha, Qatar: Doha Forum
June 22 in Washington, D.C.: Keynote Speaker at American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Conference


SHORT-COMINGS OF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF LASD

The LA Times reports flaws in civilian oversight of the sheriff’s dept. Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Revelations of brutality by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and cover-ups inside the jails have exposed significant shortcomings in the department’s civilian watchdog system, which was created to prevent such misconduct.

The watchdogs have come under scrutiny from county supervisors and investigators for a commission examining jail abuse. The investigators found that neither of the two main civilian monitors regularly analyzed data that tracks violent encounters between deputies and inmates or examined how the department handled inmate complaints.


ALMOST INSTANT PHILADELPHIA ARREST DATA SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX

Pennsylvania reporter Andrew McGill developed an arrest-tracking tool called Philly Rap Sheet. “It’s a small entry in the growing tradition of data-journalism innovation on the cops-and-courts beat — from chicagocrime.org to EveryBlock to Crime L.A. and many more,” writes Adrienne LaFrance of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. This may be a good thing to consider for compiling statistics in other parts of the nation. While this technology is pulling data from public records that anyone can access, there seem to be some questions of ethics in regard to publishing—via mass email alerts—the names of those who later get their charges dropped or their records expunged.

LaFrance interviewed Andrew McGill on his arrest-tracking tool. Here’s a clip from the Q & A:

LaFrance: So what’s your vision for this thing?

McGill: I don’t know. It’s tough. I want to add historical data. So I spent a little bit of money to get data back to around 2005, which is not that far back, but at least it’s historical data. I want to backload that in. But in terms of the next step, it’s tough to say.

I want to get into a little bit more analytics. I think it’d be nice to add more realms of information to cross reference. I might look again at some things and see if I can pull some more data out of the existing sheets. Geography-wise, I do have what police district arrests are in, and I haven’t done a lot with that. So I want to try to start doing that, and maybe have a newsletter. Right now, I just have alerts.

LaFrance: And as a reporter, those are so helpful, I’m sure. You can be tracking all the murders.

McGill: That’s what I have set up for my alert. Unfortunately, it also pulls in attempted murder and stuff like that. I want to be able to get a summation newsletter out that you sign up for and say, “Okay, you’re in this neighborhood, and these crimes happened in your vicinity, and this is how it compared to last year,” and you would get this once a month or something. I don’t want to inundate people, but I think there’s room for a little more statistics pushing.


FREE MUSEUM DAY! (MUSEUMS ARE GOOD.)

By the way, this Saturday is Smithsonian’s “Museum Day Live!”, a day of free museum entry across the nation. Of course, there are lots of museums and art exhibits you can visit for free all year long (like the California Science Center’s permanent exhibits and the Getty), but for those participating museums you can’t visit any time, you can download two free tickets per person here. Beware: this weekend is Carmageddon Part 2, so take that into consideration and plan accordingly.

Posted in art and culture, journalism, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

Bill to Lift Media Ban on Interviewing Inmates, LAUSD Police Still Ticket Too Many Kids, and More…

May 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS MAY VOTE TO GIVE MEDIA MORE PRISON ACCESS (IT’S ABOUT TIME)

A controversial new California bill, if passed, would rescind the 1996 ban on in-person interviews of inmates by the media. The purported intent of the ban was to keep inmates from promoting themselves and attaining celebrity status, it has actually served to shield areas of the corrections system that need serious reform from public scrutiny.

This LA Times editorial has the details. Here’s a clip:

Under court order, the state is finally addressing the overcrowding problem by sending newly convicted nonviolent offenders to county detention facilities. But there are indicators that inhumane conditions persist; hunger strikes have arisen to protest the state’s use of Security Housing Units, where suspected gang members are isolated in tiny cells under solitary conditions that psychologists consider mentally destabilizing. Some inmates have been warehoused in these units for decades.

How bad is the situation? In truth, we don’t really know, because inmates in these units have no visitation, telephone or interview privileges. A much-needed bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would change that.

AB 1270 allows the media to request interviews with California inmates, including those in Security Housing Units. Officials at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could still turn down these requests for reasons such as excessive risk to the reporter or prison guards, but they would have to submit a written explanation for such denials.

KPCC Air Talk’s Larry Mantle interviews Julie Small, KPCC’s Sacramento Reporter, and  Jim Ewert, California Newspaper Publishers Association and General Counsel and Legislative Advocate on the issue.


SCHOOL POLICE STILL WRITE TOO MANY TICKETS FOR MINORITY KIDS, SAYS STUDY

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity has compiled data pointing to the fact that not only did LAUSD school police write an excessive number of tickets for African American and Latino students in 2011, but that 40% of those tickets were for kids under the age of 14. There were 438 citations given to middle-school-aged African Americans, 1394 citations given to Latinos, and 28 given to all other ethnicities for things like tardiness, vandalism, and disturbing the peace.

KPCC’s The Madeline Brand Show addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

The district recently reported that during the last three years school police issued more than 33,000 tickets for alleged violations like vandalism, tardiness, and disturbing the peace.

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity is one of several groups compiling data about school policing throughout the country. It reviewed L.A. Unified’s numbers and found that 40 percent of those tickets went to kids 14 and younger — mostly middle schoolers.

The Center also found that school police wrote an overwhelming number of tickets at schools with large numbers of Latino and African-American students.


ALTERNATIVE HIGH SCHOOL GIRL PROFILES PEERS WHO’VE BEEN LOCKED UP

Through the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. High School, Claudia Gomez interviews students who have been incarcerated to shed light on juvenile corrections and those youth that have come out on the other side.

The California Story’s Jake de Grazia interviews Claudia Gomez about her work at Free L.A. Here’s a clip from the introduction, but the entire interview is extremely worthwhile:

South Los Angeles has a long history of feeding California’s overflowing prisons. And for a school that accepts previously incarcerated youth, the goal is to prevent young people from flowing back in. This is the story of a young woman who wants to make change through intimate conversations widely broadcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. site:

FreeLA High School, a partnership between the John Muir Charter School, the Youth Justice Coalition and the Workforce Investment Act, is dedicated to helping young people earn a high school diploma and find work with a focus on careers in social justice movement building. We serve 16-24 year olds based on their probation requirements and difficulty enrolling in other schools. Most of our students have been pushed out of several other high schools before coming to FreeLA, including Probation School or Los Angeles County Education programs within juvenile facilities.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, Education, jail, journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, race | 3 Comments »

Saving “LA Youth”—The Nation’s Largest Youth Newspaper Needs Help ASAP

May 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

We want our kids to be informed, thinking, confident compassionate, educated people, such a goal is in everyone’s interest, for heaven’s sake, and yet increasingly, as the economy continues to wobble, the commitment to this obviously worthy goal on the part of those with resources seems to be faltering.

It doesn’t help that education has been slashed to a horrific degree. while, at the same time, nonprofits that serve kids and families at risk have watched their funding shrink down to nothing.

And now LA Youth, the Los Angeles based newspaper for and by kids— the largest of its kind in the nation, and an institution that always seemed safe—-is right at the edge of closing its doors at the end of this school year, one more possible casualty of the economic tsunami of 2008.

(Thanks again, Wall Street. Really. Your giant vampire squid-osity is a gift that keeps on giving.)

However, all is not lost. What LA Youth needs to rescue it from disaster is $500,000 in operating funds, and then it can make do with some of the other grants it will receive for specific programs.

They’ve already raised some of what they need, but it ain’t close to enough. They must hit that $500K mark by May 15.

I’ve been a friend and admirer of LA Youth for years now, and have spoken to kids and read essays by other kids, who explain in detail how their lives and sense of self would be far, far different had it not been for the mentoring they received as writers/editors/mentees for this stellar organization.

The video above is by a teacher at Locke High School, where LA Youth runs a weekly program. Just listen. She explains how writing for the newspaper allows kids—many of whom come out of risky personal circumstances—to discover that they count for something, that they have a voice, that what they think/feel/perceive/know can matter.

Put another way, a lot of kids who were struggling in school have now graduated from college, because of the intellectual/emotional lifeline this program tossed to them.

Okay, that’s the pitch. You can check out LA Youth here, and CLICK HERE to donate, if you are so moved. I am told that every little bit helps. (And if you happen to know a wildly wealthy philanthropist, feel free to drop a hint.)

Posted in academic freedom, American voices, journalism, media | No Comments »

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