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juvenile justice

California Prosecutors’ Rising Use of “Direct File” & How It Harms Kids of Color…Transparency in Child Abuse Near-Fatalities…and a Teen Transforms His Life

June 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

While the number of California kids arrested for felonies dropped 55% between 2003 and 2014, the number of kids transferred to adult court (directly filed by prosecutors) rose 23% during the same years, according to a collaborative report from the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and the National Center for Youth Law. The data suggests that there’s no discernible relationship between direct files and and youth felony crime rates. During the same decade, the number of judicial transfer hearings (where judges decide whether to send kids to adult court) dropped 69%. At the same time, more kids are being held in lock-ups during their trials, rather than being released, despite the drip in transfer hearings.

Today in California, there are three ways kids can be prosecuted in the adult justice system. In the first, a judicial transfer hearing, a judge considers the case particulars, including the kid’s background and other circumstances, and adheres to a set of criteria to decide whether the youth is “fit” for the juvenile system. Among these criteria are the severity of the offense, any prior involvement with the justice system and previous attempts at rehabilitation, and the juvenile’s level of “criminal sophistication.” A judge usually takes about six months to make a decision.

In a direct file decision, a prosecutor usually has 48 hours to decide whether to file charges against a kid in adult court, without all of the background information reviewed during a judicial transfer hearing. The direct file to adult court becomes mandatory if the prosecutor says the child committed a crime that, if committed by an adult, would carry a death penalty or life-without-parole sentence. And in discretionary direct file cases, if the prosecutor says the kid committed a “qualifying felony”—define—then the prosecutor is given discretion to either file charges against the youth in juvenile or adult court.

Proposition 21, a 2000 voter-approved law called the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act, gave prosecutors far more power to charge kids as adults. Thanks to Prop 21, prosecutors have been able to bypass judges’ hearings, and directly file charges against kids as young as 14. The law also greatly expanded the qualifying offenses that trigger direct files.

Direct files are harmful to kids for a number of reasons. Prosecutors overuse the tool, disproportionately directly file black and Latino kids, and send kids into an adult system not prepared to meet their unique needs (emotional needs, education needs, safety needs, and so on).

Last Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing Governor Jerry Brown to bring his proposed criminal justice reform ballot measure before voters in November. The measure would block direct files, giving judges, rather than prosecutors, the final say on whether juvenile offenders are charged as adults (in addition to other reforms, like increasing prisoners’ access to good time credits). The Supremes reversed a ruling by a superior court judge who sided with a California District Attorney’s Association members’ lawsuit alleging that amendments to the initiative did not go through the proper legal process.


The report compares data from California’s 58 counties and how they use (or don’t use) direct file.

Not counting two counties that had five or fewer transfers to adult court in 2014, Los Angeles had the lowest rate of direct files—24% (18 cases), compared with 76% (57) via a judge’s transfer hearing. Merced and Riverside Counties have the second and third lowest direct file rates at 29% and 42%, respectively. Overall, in the state of California 72% of transfers to adult court (474 cases) were via direct files; 28% (183) were via transfer hearings. In 14 counties—including Ventura, San Diego, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Tulare—every time a kid was charged as an adult, it was through a direct file. San Francisco and 24 other (far less populated) counties reported no direct file or transfer hearings during 2014.

And while the direct file rate has decreased for white kids, it has increased for youth of color. In 2003, Latino juveniles were 2.4 times more likely than their white peers to be directly filed. By 2014, that number increased to 3.3 times more likely. For black kids the direct file rate jumped from 4.5 times more likely than their white peers in 2003, to 11.3 times more likely.


Last month, state lawmakers shot down a “trailer bill” attached to the California May budget revision, which would have closed off public access to records regarding abuse-related near-deaths of children involved in the child welfare system. (Lawmakers dumped a similar trailer bill last year.) Current state law does not require reporting in these cases, but also does not ban it.

According to the California Department of Social Services, over the past eight years, there were 855 CA kids so severely beaten that they nearly died (980 did die).

By way of the trailer bill, the California Department of Social Services, was trying to keep $5 million in federal funding that requires the state to clearly define what kind of information is to be released in almost-deadly child welfare cases. Mitchell and fellow lawmakers believe the department’s solution—which includes providing shortened summaries of the cases, without original case notes—is not the answer.

California Senator Holly Mitchell, who chairs the committee that blocked the sneaky trailer bill, says she believes the case information should be publicly available. “We spend a lot of time talking about the value of transparency in government, and I think that applies to this scenario, too.” Mitchell said. The goal is that more attention on the nearly fatal cases might lead to “a different internal procedure that can have a positive outcome for the next child,” Mitchell added.

A new version of the bill is currently being negotiated.

CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenahll has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Disclosing a summary of findings would protect the privacy of a child recovering from abuse and adults or siblings in the home who were not responsible for it, state officials said, while meeting federal reporting requirements. Their plan had support from the Service Employees International Union, which represents social workers, and the County Welfare Directors Association, which represents local agencies that oversee child protective services.

“We appreciate the Administration’s thoughtful balancing of the public’s right to know certain relevant information about these types of incidents with the need to protect privacy for the affected children who are still alive and trying to recover from serious injuries and trauma,” the groups wrote in a joint letter of support for the bill.
But Ed Howard, a lobbyist for the Children’s Advocacy Institute, protested that the administration’s approach “elevated the needs of government over the needs of kids.”

Foster youth groups objected, too, arguing that original documents are more informative, and releasing them after near-fatalities would force counties to improve in how they look out for kids.

Children’s advocates and newspaper publishers lobbied for a bill that would require disclosure of reports on near-fatalities the same way it’s done when youngsters die.
The administration’s latest proposal surfaced last month as part of Brown’s revised state budget blueprint — a common way of passing laws that may be only tangentially related to the budget and one that avoids the lengthier vetting regular bills receive.

“They simply thrust it on everyone with this gun-to-the-head approach and attempted to get it jammed into the budget that way,” said Jim Ewert, lobbyist for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which promotes open government and access to public records.


At 12 years old, Junior Mendez led officers on a chase while under the influence. By the time he was 16 years old, the East LA teen was doing drugs, getting into trouble, and no longer going to school. LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ambriz tried to help Junior make it through an LASD youth intervention program, but Junior quit. Not long after, in a pivotal moment, the teen decided to turn his life around, and re-enrolled in the Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives program, taking advantage of Ambriz’s offer of mentorship and support. Now, at 17 years old, Junior is one of 200 teens about to graduate from a rigorous five-and-a-half month paramilitary program run by the Army National Guard, called Sunburst Academy.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez has the story. Here’s a clip:

At just 12 years old, Junior led police on a chase while under the influence.

“It went really bad,” Junior said. “I was not going to school, I was doing drugs.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ambriz said by age 16, Junior was both lost and hardened by struggles on the streets, at school and at home.

Ambriz tried to guide him through a sheriff’s program called Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives, or VIDA.

But Junior said he hated it and quit. Ambriz warned him about a life of crime.

“I promised we would meet up again,” Ambriz said.

Posted in juvenile justice | 3 Comments »

“They Call Us Monsters” Documentary

June 7th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

“They Call Us Monsters,” a documentary that premiered Monday night at the Los Angeles Film Festival, follows three teens—Jarad, Juan, and Antonio—tried as adults and locked up in the high-security Compound within Sylmar Juvenile Hall. The three face up to 200 years combined for violent crimes they committed between the ages of 14 and 16.

The three boys in the film are all taking a screenwriting class taught by the film’s producer, an award-winning filmmaker and musician, Gabriel Cowan.

Director Ben Lear, who gained unprecedented access to film life within the Compound, called the documentary “a coming of age story set behind bars.”

The film also follows the passage and effects of California’s SB 260, an important juvenile justice reform 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. SB 260, and several other laws passed since 2012, have put California at the forefront of the juvenile justice reform movement away from the the “superpredator” fear-mongering that emerged in the 90′s. Still, in California, kids as young as 14 can be tried and sentenced as adults.

The issue is especially relevant in Los Angeles. A 2015 report found that in the last decade, LA County was responsible for sentencing the most kids to juvenile life-without-parole, nationwide.

“They Call Us Monsters” delves into the issue of whether kids who have committed brutal crimes deserve a second chance, or whether they should continue to be defined by their worst act.

In addition to Lear and Cowan, the all-star team behind the documentary includes Executive Producer, Scott Budnick, best known for producing the Hangover movie franchise and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, along with Editor Eli Despres, who co-wrote and edited the powerful documentary “Blackfish,” and Producers Sasha Alpert, Jonathan Murray, and Gil Goldschein of BMP Films.

(In the above video interview there are clips of the documentary at the 7:55 mark and the 22:10 mark.)

In an interview with the LA Times’ Josh Rottenberg, the documentary’s director, Ben Lear, explains how the movie came about, and how the documentary faces viewers with the unfathomable task of “reconciling what they did with their humanity.” Here’s an excerpt:

As these three kids were going through this screenwriting class, what were you anticipating would come out of it?

I always knew that creative process was going to lead to interesting insights into their personalities and them as teenagers. But neither Gabe nor I had any idea they were going to want so passionately and immediately to tell their own story.

The way Gabe set up the class, he said, “You can write a movie about whatever. You can write an animated movie about, like, some sci-fi thing.” And from the beginning, they were like, “No, I want to tell my story.”

It quickly became clear that they all had experienced this loss of innocence around the age of 12 or 13. So their film became about them putting their stories into one 12-year-old boy and his loss of innocence.

On the one hand, these are young guys from tough backgrounds whose impulse control and sense of consequences haven’t fully developed yet. On the other, they’ve committed serious crimes, including attempted murder and first-degree murder. What are you hoping audiences will take away from their stories?

First of all, I want people to just be aware that we try juveniles as adults. In California, a juvenile can go to prison for the rest of his life. Until the bill that we followed in the film passed, SB 260, he could never have an opportunity to get out again. The film is trying to show these kids as people and present the idea of offering them a second chance.

But while I talk with so much affection for these guys and want so much for them to succeed, I never want to get too far away from the reality of the crimes they committed. That’s the whole other side of this issue. That’s why we’re talking about them in the first place. They made horrible, heinous mistakes with real victims.

Yeah, I believe they should have an opportunity to live their lives again one day. But I think, in coming to that conclusion, you have to face the impossible task of reconciling what they did with their humanity. That’s the challenge that provoked me into telling this story and that I want to pass on to everyone who sees the film. These are kids who committed crimes … but they’re kids … but they committed horrible crimes. Wrestle with that.

Posted in juvenile justice | 2 Comments »

Restorative Justice in Action…and Poetry Healing Trauma in Watts

April 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Part one of two-part series from Brave New Films explores Centinela Youth Services’ restorative justice program, which uses victim-offender mediation, therapy, and education services to reduce recidivism among Los Angeles’ juvenile offenders and to keep kids in their communities and out of lock-up.

Kids and teens who are locked up in juvenile halls and camps are 60% more likely to reoffend. Kids who participate in CYS’ program have a much lower recidivism rate—between 8%-11%—than their locked-up peers (around 30%).

Watch the mini documentary above.

In February, Jeremy Loudenback reported for WitnessLA about CYS and its unique juvenile diversion program.


At College Bridge Academy, a Watts charter school for kids who struggled in—or dropped out of—traditional schools, a spoken word poetry team is practicing for a competition between 50 schools called the Get Lit Classic Slam.

Over 10 years, 50,000 kids have gone through the Get Lit program. At College Bridge Academy, the program has been expanded into a full-fledged class, and uses poetry to boost literacy and help kids—many of whom have been involved in the foster care system, been abused, or witnessed violence in their community—process trauma.

KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

…in Watts, a neighborhood still struggling to recover from riots more than 50 years ago, Valles says kids have the chance to be modern-day griots, storytellers in their communities.

“A lot of our kids, they get sent the message that they’re not valuable or their voices don’t matter,” Valles said. “And a venue like this that tells you, ‘Hey what do you think? What’s your story?’

“Like for a while there’s almost this disbelief.”

Get Lit has 75 schools – mostly in Southern California – that use their curriculum. Most of the time English and drama teachers incorporate it into their classes with occasional lessons or units. Teams have practice after school.

But at College Bridge, Valles has expanded it into a semester-long class of its own – it’s all about analyzing poetry, hip hop and spoken word and writing new work.

She’s been teaching it for more than three years and said that for many students it’s been transformative.

“They realize that their story is something that needs to be shared, that needs to be said out loud, and that, once they say that story out loud, truly changes not only them but the audience,” Valles said.

Valles says she can usually put her poets in two categories: Students like Winston, who feel passionate about writing to uplift and inspire others, and those who use poetry as a way to process trauma.

Sophomore Elvira Rodriguez, 15, is in that latter category. The classic poem she’s reciting is “Royal Heart” by Andrea Gibson.

Her original response is a deeply personal poem. In it, she’s making a tragic confession to her boyfriend:

Afraid that you couldn’t understand it
Afraid that I couldn’t stand it
The memory of my own brother molesting me
You see, I can’t be in my body all the time
Feeling everyone’s eyes on me
Feeling the heaviness on my shoulders
Feeling the waves of sadness starting to destroy me

The abuse she writes about happened ten years ago. But she didn’t tell anyone until this school year.

“Instead of holding it in and being depressed all the time,” Rodriguez said. “I decided to just put it in my poem and finally said it out loud.”

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

Injustice in LA County’s Indigent Defense System for Kids

March 29th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In Los Angeles County, when public defenders are unable to represent juvenile defendants (because of a conflict of interest or other issue), the kids gets bounced to private “panel attorneys,” who are paid a shockingly low flat-fee stipend for each case.

Juvenile advocates have long contended that this panel attorney system means that, on average, some Los Angeles County children get much less service from their attorneys, than others, leading to far different outcomes in their cases—and arguably their lives.

With these concerns in mind, two years ago, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system—including how panel attorneys are compensated.

On Monday, County CEO Sachi Hamai returned with that analysis in the form of a 258-page report prepared by the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law. (Ridley-Thomas’ 2014 motion was in response to a study by Loyola Law School Professor Cyn Yamashiro illuminating serious problems within LA’s system of panel attorneys.)

Between 2010-2014, 67% of new juvenile petitions were assigned to public defenders, while 28% were assigned to panel attorneys.

According to the report, 71% of indigent youth at risk of transfer to adult court were assigned to panel attorneys, while 29% were assigned public defenders. And those kids with panel counsel were more likely to be sent to adult court than their peers represented by public defenders. In the last five years, 25% of young panel attorney clients were transferred to adult court, compared with only 15% of public defender clients.

On average, panel attorneys spent just over half as much time on a case, as public defenders spent on each juvenile case, consulted with fewer experts, filed fewer motions, and provided less documentation in support of their client.

The problem, in large part, is that LA’s panel attorneys’ are paid between $340-$360 for the duration of a case, no matter how long it takes. The set fee means that there is no financial incentive to provide young defendants with quality representation.

The disparities are not due to any lack of care on the part of panel attorneys, however. “It became clear while conducting interviews and outreach for this report that most of the attorneys representing indigent youth in the county do so because they care about their clients,” the report reads. “To allege otherwise does a disservice to many hardworking and committed professionals.”

But juvenile defense extends beyond the scope of adult defense. In addition to representing young clients during criminal proceedings, juvenile defense attorneys are also responsible for “the thorough mental health, substance abuse, educational and developmental evaluations and services and treatment necessary in the modern era of proper Juvenile Delinquency Court administration,” according to State Bar of California guidelines. And the extended representation has become a crucial component of juvenile defense. Research shows that the wraparound representation leads to better outcomes for kids in the form of improved emotional and behavioral health, education, and family health, as well as reduced contact with law enforcement.

The LA County Public Defender’s Office has in-house social workers, investigators, resource attorneys, appellate attorneys, and an immigration attorney. But if a panel attorney needs assistance from an investigator, they must pay out of their own stipend. (For social workers and other experts, the panel attorneys submit a form for the County to cover the cost.)

Panel attorneys used far fewer resources than public defenders, according to the report:

• Investigators: PD 26%; Panel Counsel 9%

• Social Workers: PD 32%; Panel Counsel 1 %

• Doctors and Experts: PD 20%; Panel Counsel 9%

• Education Attorneys: PD 2%; Panel Counsel less than 1 %

After surveying other counties, the report determined that Los Angeles is the only county that doesn’t pay for investigators for their panel lawyers, the only county without oversight for the panel attorney system, and the only county that pays panel attorneys flat-fee rate per petition. For the last decade the California State Bar has said such flat-fee contracts shouldn’t be used.

“The County should ensure that indigent juveniles are provided with competent and effective attorneys whether those attorneys are working within a public defender office or operating by contract; the quality of a defendant’s representation should not be a function of random attorney assignment,” the report reads.

Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl are expected to read in a co-authored motion for the board meeting today (Tuesday) in response to the report’s findings. The motion will call for a report back in 30 days on ways to remedy flaws in the county’s juvenile indigent defense system.

(We at WLA will be keeping an eye on this issue, and will let you know more as we learn more.)

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

LA County Board of Supes Tells Probation to Sign Over the Hoarded Juvie Justice $$—Now!

March 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Last Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, telling LA County Probation to stop dragging its feet and fork over the $5 million in juvenile justice money that has been approved since last summer, but still somehow hasn’t gotten to the designated youth programs in each supervisor’s district, each of which desperately need the funds in order to help justice involved kids heal past traumas and reboot their lives in healthy directions.

Interim Probation Chief Cal Remington is to report back to the board in 30 days that the deed has been done, contracts have been signed, and the money has been delivered.

Why this has taken so long is unclear—or that than to say that wei
Last July, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that LA County Probation was sitting on $21.7 million in state-allocated juvenile justice funds that were supposed to be spent toward programs and services that were aimed at keeping kids out of the county’s juvenile justice system—or from returning to the system, if they’d already been in.

When the Supes \ learned of the nearly $22 in hoarded cash that was supposed to be helping LA County’s youth, they voted last July 14 to instruct the Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Probation Officer to work out a spending plan that would trigger “the immediate allocation of $1.0 million” per Supervisorial District “to fund critical programs and services delivered by community-based organizations”—for a total of $5 million to be used for needed youth programs countywide.

On November 2, 2015, the county CEO reported to the board that all the necessary local and state groups had signed off on the $5 million, and on the “critical programs and services” and the community-based organizations slated to provide those services within each district.

And then….nothing.

Last month, Jeremy Loudenback reported in WitnessLA about Centinela Youth Services (CYS) and its unique juvenile diversion program, which is one of the programs slated to receive some of the log-jammed money.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes most of South L.A., pledged his $1 million to support the CYS’s programs in South Los Angeles. Supervisor Kuehl has committed half of her allotment—$500,0000—to CYS in order to expand the juvenile diversion programs in the San Fernando Valley.

Kuehl also designated some of her $$ to a program called the Girls Health Screen (GHS), “the first evidence-based and gender-responsive medical screen developed exclusively for girls 11-17 years old who enter detention and other juvenile justice residential programs. The Girls Health Screen, which was developed by the Girls Health and Justice Institute, is now part of the standard medical intake for all girls entering the Los Angeles county juvenile justice system. (WLA will have more on the GHS and its importance later this month.)


The source of probation’s nearly $22 million in unspent juvenile justice funds comes from a funding stream created by the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), which was itself created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 in order “to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at curbing crime and delinquency among at-risk youth.”

The funds, which are allocated on a per capita basis to the state’s 56 participating counties (Alpine and Sierra counties opt out), are mandated to be spent to fund a range of programs that help kids. The methods used are required to be evidence-based—aka programs “that have been demonstrated to be effective…”

Each year the various counties have to propose how they are going to spend the money received—which for LA has been in the neighborhood of $28 million annually. Then at years end, they are expected to document how the funds were, in fact, spent.

Only .5—or less than one percent—of the money is allowed to be used for administrative costs. The rest is supposed to go straight to programs that directly benefit each county’s at risk youth. There is no mention in the regulations about any of the dollars being encouraged to lie fallow in a savings account that, until recently, few people seemed to know existed.

Last summer, when WLA asked Supervisor Ridley-Thomas why so much money that was slated to be used for the benefit of LA County’s at-risk kids had not beeen put to work.

“I don’t think they have a good reason,” he said. “So, it’s our job to do something about it.”

“The anti recidivism work that we need to do is really very substantial,” Ridley-Thomas continued, “so it becomes a bit problematic to imagine that we are not using all the resources at our disposal to work on the problem. The need is great. And it’s our job to address the need.”

Hopefully, this time the board’s action will succeed in dislodging at least $5 million of the withheld funds to do so.

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 1 Comment »

While LA County Juvenile Probation Hoards Cash, A Unique Youth Diversion Program Struggles for $$ – by Jeremy Loudenback

February 22nd, 2016 by witnessla


If Only LA County Probation Will Fork Over the Promised Funding

by Jeremy Loudenback

When Karina Cabrera first sat down with Angelica,* a 15-year-old enrolled in Centinela Youth Services juvenile diversion program, the case manager remembers the youth’s icy stare and clipped answers. (* “Angelica’s” name has been changed to protect her privacy.)

Just weeks before, Angelica had been hauled in by members of the Los Angeles Police Department after she was caught trying to steal a shirt at Target.

This was Angelica’s first offense, but the teenager from South L.A. was quickly heading down a problematic path. She had recently flunked most of her classes and her school attendance was dwindling down to nearly nothing. According to Cabrera, Angelica’s father has been in and out of jail during much of her life. Angelica had a rocky relationship with her mother, who offered little encouragement or support to her daughter. As a consequence, the girl was spending most of her time on the streets where she found the support she was looking for, but with the wrong people.

“She was trying to fill the void that wasn’t getting from mom and dad,” Cabrera said.

“Members of a gang were the only ones who showed her love.” When the two met, Angelica “couldn’t envision a future for herself that didn’t involve being part of a gang.”

After the attempted Target theft, however, the police offered Angelica and her family a novel choice: If she completed a six-month program with Centinela Youth Services—a program based in Inglewood, Calif., that includes victim restitution and therapeutic services—she could walk away without any trace of the incident on her record.

In the past, low-income youth in communities like South L.A. have had few options after getting arrested. Being picked up by the cops for law-breaking usually meant a booking number, a day in court, fees, and mandatory weekly meetings for the next year or so with a probation officer. Or worse, it could mean weeks or months in a juvenile probation facility.

But thanks to a unique pilot project created in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department’s South Los Angeles bureau, Centinela Youth Services (CYS) has given more than 300 at-risk youth a year—and the law enforcement officers who arrest them— an alternative. Using a philosophy that incorporates the emerging science of adolescent brain development, the CYS diversion program is poised for expansion. But Los Angeles County’s failure to distribute state funds related to community-based juvenile justice programs has cast doubt on the future of the program.

The only pre-arrest juvenile diversion program in the state, CYS has earned acclaim from local officials for the low recidivism rate of its graduates. According to the organization’s numbers, between 8 and 11 percent of youth who come through CYS are arrested again in the year after the completion of services. This mark is much lower than the return rate for youth who are processed though the county’s probation system.

According to a 2015 study of juvenile probation outcomes conducted by a team of researchers headed by Cal State L.A.’s Denise Herz, youth who are part of L.A. County’s system of probation camps, juvenile halls and group homes have a recidivism rate of 33 percent a year after youth exit their placements. Other estimates have pegged juvenile recidivism rates in Los Angeles County as even higher, at up 40 percent.

After concluding a three-year pilot project last year with two LAPD stations in South Los Angeles—the Southeast and 77th stations—CYS is now poised to open a second program in the San Fernando Valley, in partnership with the LAPD’s Foothill and Van Nuys stations.

“The pilot showed us it’s a win-win situation for the youth and the county,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “If you can help a young person turn their life around, you’re going to save a lot of money down the line. You’re not going to have consistent juvenile offenses, you’re not going to have an adult offender.

“You’re going to have less recidivism. That’s what we’re aiming for.”


Ever since advocates convinced LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to give the program a shot in 2012, Deputy Chief Bob Green has been a staunch supporter.

Green started his more than 30-year LAPD career working as beat cop in South Los Angeles in 1980. His early years on the job coincided with the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic and the attendant spread of gang violence, which impacted the lives of thousands of L.A. youth of that era.

Before being transferred to the Valley Bureau last year, Green spent years policing South Los Angeles. Green transitioned from the streets to leading anti-gang efforts as commanding officer of the 77th station and then later he headed up the entire South Bureau.

During his years working in South L.A., Green said he noticed with dismay that kids arrested at a young age too often found it difficult to break free of the system after that first arrest.

“Once I give that at-risk kid a booking number, that’s very hard to recover from,” Green said. “Sometimes that means a death sentence in South L.A.”

Green said that the long-term consequences of a police record can discourage many youth from changing their less-than-healthy behaviors, further entrenching their relationship with the justice system. And once they’re in the system, he said, there’s often very little in place to steer youth back to a more hopeful life.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Kerry White might agree. When he started crunching numbers from the county’s juvenile court system soon after he started working in the DA’s juvenile division in 2010, White found a disturbing trend.

Now the head of the DA’s juvenile division White saw that at least 60 percent of kids at almost every one of the county courts had more than one case, and a large number had three cases or more.

“That told me that just appearing before a judge as a minor was not enough to turn a kid’s life around. We needed something more,” White said.

With the blessing of former DA Steve Cooley and current DA Jackie Lacey, White helped broker the terms of the CYS program in 2012. Now, all misdemeanor and felony charges for youth between ages of 9 and 17 are eligible for Centinela’s diversion program, with the exception of more serious offenses like rape, murder and the use of firearm (legally referred to as 707(b) offenses).

Since the program is aimed at youth who have recently entered the system, participation is limited to young people who have committed their first or second offense. (The program occasionally includes third-time offenders if the prior charges were minor.) Youths who are arrested for robbery, assault and drug sales are eligible, pending the discretion of the police.

The LAPD continues to refer juveniles with a more serious history of gang involvement to the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program, where youth can receive prevention and re-entry services. But options have been limited for lower-income youth arrested in Los Angeles for minor offenses like petty theft.

Even arrests that don’t go to court are still logged in to the juvenile automated index, a Los Angeles County Probation Department system that tracks a youth’s involvement with the court.

Once a youth is part of the system, the impact can be felt for years, according to Centinela Youth Services Executive Director Jessica Ellis. Joining the military is a popular way out of South L.A. for many youth, she said, but just one arrest can discourage those dreams. And much later, a youth’s record on the juvenile automated index can pop up in licensing applications and background checks for careers as nurses, contractors and pharmacists.

“It’s holding a lot of them back,” Ellis said.


The CYS program was adapted from a similar program in Miami that also involved partnerships with law enforcement agencies, the juvenile courts, community-based organizations, and others.

At CYS, after an arrest, eligible youth are screened to determine their needs, then linked to services such as tutoring, counseling, mentoring, substance abuse treatment and parenting classes. For instance, CYS refers many youth in South Los Angeles to the Brotherhood Crusade, where they can participate in mentoring and other youth development programs

Adapting the idea to L.A. proved difficult at first. Initially, referrals from law-enforcement agencies were slow to arrive. Part of the issue was that it was difficult to find many first- and second-time offenders who fit the bill. Even by the age of 15 or 16, staff at CYS found that many youth had already accumulated too many arrests to qualify for the program.

Centinela and their LAPD partners retuned their program. Now CYS accepts youth as young as young as 9 years old, part of an attempt to intervene earlier in the cycle of youth who at risk of entering the justice system—at a fraction of the cost of more expensive—and life-altering—incarceration options down the line.


Centinela Youth Services was able to launch its first restorative justice center in Inglewood with a $1 million grant from the Everychild Foundation.

Jacqueline Caster, president and founder of the Everychild Foundation and a Los Angeles County Probation Commissioner, said that she and her board members were attracted to the program that they believed provided an opportunity for kids in trouble that wasn’t being offered elsewhere in the county.

“When it was first pitched to us, it was compelling to hear that you can have these different results, save money and save lives,” Caster said. “And it makes a lot of sense to deal with issues on the front end rather than the back end.”

Later, CYS used money from state a grant for juvenile delinquency prevention to establish another center in South L.A., near the LAPD’s 77th station.

But long-term funding is a challenge, even for a program with a success rate like Centinela’s.

CYS supporters are hoping that a pot of state dollars earmarked for community-based juvenile justice programs will offer the long-term sustainability that has up until now eluded the program, but the needed money is far from assured.

Under the 2000 Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), California counties receive a total of more than a $100 million a year that each county is supposed to use for prevention and early intervention programs, and services aimed at keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system.

L.A. County Probation received approximately $26 million last year in JJCPA funding. But oddly the county has failed to spend a huge portion of its money. As a December 2015 audit showed, LA’s probation department has been sitting on nearly $22 million of JJCPA funds accumulated over the past four years.

(WitnessLA reported on the hidden cache of cash, which at first probation declined to admit existed, here and here.)

After news of the unused juvenile justice dollars came to light last July, the Board of Supervisors directed that $5 million of the hoarded cash be put in the hands of the Board, with $1 million allotted to each supervisorial district.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes most of South L.A., pledged his $1 million to support the CYS’s programs in South Los Angeles. Supervisor Kuehl has committed half of her allotment—$500,0000—to CYS in order to expand the juvenile diversion programs in the San Fernando Valley.

More than six months later, however, the funds have yet to be actually allocated, leaving CYS’s long-term prospects still up in the air.


CYS case manager Cabrera realized that she would have to build a relationship with Angelica before the troubled teenager could make further strides.

“She was trying to get a sense of what type of person I was and why I was there,” Cabrera recalled. “Early on, I really had to remind her about my role and why she was in the program.”

Case manager Cabrera realized that making a real difference with Angelica would require more than just a quick hand-off.

Cabrera and the rest of the staff at CYS hoped that they could help Angelica imagine a future that didn’t involve becoming gang affiliated. But first Cabrera would have to find a way to help Angelica deal with the issues that lay at the root of her risky behaviors —such as a sense of abandonment and a lack of positive role models.

“The underlying issues had been occurring for so long that they were just passing by [the adults in her life],” Cabrera said. “Nobody noticed or was providing the services to deal with the issues and the trauma she was experiencing.”

CYS Director Ellis said that roughly a third of the youth who come through the organization’s two centers are directed to services that address the significant personal trauma that has either directly or indirectly contributed to problematic behaviors, as was the case with Angelica. Another third, said Ellis, are managing an undiagnosed or unaddressed mental health issue, like a severe anxiety disorder, depression or PTSD.

She told of a youth who had been expelled from school for fighting just hours after learning that his much-loved grandfather had died. Other kids cope with trauma caused by repeated incidents of violence in their neighborhoods, or in their ruptured families. Still others have been removed from their families and placed for years in the county’s foster care system where they felt they belonged to no one.

When youth are referred to CYS, a case manager like Cabrera is charged with making a visit to the child’s home to perform a screening designed to locate areas in which youth are in need of counseling and other supports.

Conversation with a kid starts with questions like, “Have you experienced any loss or ]has someone close to you passed away in the past 90 days? Have you left school for no reason? Are you having difficulty paying attention at home or school?”

High-risk youth like Angelica who demonstrate a need for further services are connected to mental health programs and intensive clinical case management that can stretch across six months, and sometimes even longer.

Unwilling, at first, to talk about her past, it took three or four months before Angelica would agree to therapy. Cabrera met with her at least three times a month and checked in with her by phone in between, listening uncritically, building rapport, having conversations about healthy relationships and setting goals.

“One day, she said, ‘I want to have to have a healthy way of thinking,’” Cabrera remembered. “After gaining so much trust with her, she finally felt that someone cared, that someone was listening to her, and she agreed to the services we both knew she needed.”

Recently, Angelica enrolled in school again, and she’s striving for good grades for the first time. Cabrera has also connected Angelica with additional therapy and tutoring, and the teen is now participating in job training and mentoring programs.

After six months with CYS, progress is slow but, these days, when Angelica wraps up her meetings with Cabrera, the woman and the girl usually part from each other with a hug. “I like talking to you, Karina,” the youth now tells Cabrera.


“How many of you think the juvenile-justice system is broken?”

Deputy Chief Green always poses that question to officers whenever he introduces the CYS program at roll call or in the squad room.

Almost all hands in the room go up, he said.

“Very few cops think the current juvenile justice system is effective,” he said. “When you look at the current statistics, with a maybe 75 percent recidivism rate, the numbers really do speak for themselves.”

Still, Green understands that many cops have an initial resistance to programs that they feel might let kids off the hook for illegal behavior.

Green said that a powerful component in getting many law-enforcement officers on board is CYS’s mandated use of a restorative justice program that requires a youth to meet with the victim of his or her offenses and then to make some form of concrete restitution to that person or persons. This can include arranging financial compensation, community service or other forms of making amends.

“They have to meet face to face with their victim, and they have to find a way to make it right with that person. That’s hard,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot easier to have a judge tell you to do 20 hours of community service and you’re done. Going on informal probation–where you might get a letter from a judge telling you to bring your grades up. But hat’s not going to do anything to change behaviors or bring real accountability.”

The fact that, if a youth doesn’t complete the program with CYS, he or she will then be booked, is a factor that Green said eases the concerns of some officers.

He hailed the CYS program as an opportunity to way to exercise a “paradigm shift” at the agency, away from a “zero tolerance” approach, and toward a different type of policing.

“If we want to make sure that these kids don’t stay in the system for the next 30 years, we’ve got to try something different.”

Ellis agreed and explained that another powerful tool that she has used to get both law enforcement leadership and rank-and-file on board are scans of an adolescent brain.

“The statistics [about recidivism] help open the door for credibility, and then the brain science starts opening doors to a lot of conversations about how kids are not a fixed entity and how we can change their trajectory,” she said.

Ellis pointed out that, at 15, the adolescent brain lacks the decision-making ability of a fully developed adult brain. Yet when a youth robs a store at 14, she may be seen as a “bad kid” who is beyond help or change.

“That’s the big misconception that we’re fighting,” she said. “There are structural decision-making differences in the brains of kids. All of that executive thinking doesn’t finish growing in the frontal cortex until age 25.”


Since CYS’s juvenile diversion program began in 2012, it has continued to expand. Several additional law-enforcement agencies have come on board, including the Hawthorne Police Department, Compton School Police, Inglewood Police Department, El Segundo Police Department and Huntington Park Police Department. In December, Ellis said, CYS signed a memorandum of understanding to partner with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, specifically in the LASD’s South Los Angeles stations. And then there is the CYS program that is scheduled to open in the San Fernando Valley, with the help of Deputy Chief Green, who now heads the department’s Valley Bureau.

Yet looming over these optimistic plans for expansion is the still unresolved issue of the program’s sustainability. CYS will need $1.8 million to set up a restorative center in the Valley alone.

Moreover, the existing programs need additional case managers like Cabrera. Ellis says that the cost of a typical youth who goes through CYS’s program is $800. Kids who require the most intensive services with CYS may top out at $4000, which is still much cheaper than what it would cost to get similar services from the probation department, according to Ellis.

According to a review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices released last July, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was about $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s 14 camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. The average daily population of both the camps and halls is about 1,600 youth.

Even with the money already pledged by Supervisors Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas, CYS supporters say that continuing the nonprofit’s diversion efforts will require long-term support from the county.

“It’s absurd. This is money that is sitting there dormant and is supposed to be put to work keeping kids out of the system,” Caster said. “It would be a tragedy if they drag this out, and the program has to go on hiatus. There needs to be a permanent income stream.”

For Green, CYS offers a rare opportunity for the LAPD to build toward real systems change. But without greater county leadership, he fears the moment may pass, and it will be too easy for old policing habits to return.

“Centinela Youth Services has got huge potential to build on their work, but there needs to be a commitment,” Green said.

“If funding dries up, then you’re right back where you started: hook and book.”

Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change

Loudenback’s story was produced in collaboration with WitnessLA’s publishing partner, The Chronicle of Social Change.

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Gov. Brown’s Justice Reform Ballot Initiative, TEDxSanQuentin, and Which Way, LA? on LAPD

January 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a November ballot initiative that would give judges sole discretion over whether a child defendant is transferred to adult court.

The initiative could have huge implications for teens who come into contact with the justice system. California is one of just 15 states in which prosecutors hold the power to decide whether a kid (as young as 14) will be tried as an adult. Human Rights Watch points out that since 2003, nearly 7,200 of the 10,000 transfers to adult court happened without oversight from a judge.

“A decision to try a youth as an adult is a decision to give up on that young person and deny them the education, treatment, and services the juvenile system provides to help turn their lives around,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, in response to Gov. Brown’s announcement.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in November, kids transferred to adult court have a 3.5 times higher risk of early death than the general population.

The measure would also make it easier for the prison officials to award credits toward early release to low-level offenders who have fulfilled their primary sentences. Inmates would earn credits through educational and rehabilitative efforts and good behavior.

Gov. Brown was joined in his announcement by law enforcement and religious leaders including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, San Diego County DA Bonnie Dumanis, Amador County Chief Probation Officer Mark Bonini, Napa County Chief Probation Officer Mary Butler, and California Catholic Conference of Bishops Deacon Clyde Davis.

When asked if he would finance the measure himself, Brown (who has a stockpile of $24 million in left-over campaign funds) said he would “do whatever it takes.”

The Sacramento Bee’s David Siders has a helpful explanation of the ballot initiative and the systems it seeks to reform. Here’s a clip:

Brown, announcing the measure in a conference call with reporters, said the “determinate sentencing” law he signed when he was governor before “had unintended consequences.”

“And one of the key unintended consequences was the removal of incentives for inmates to improve themselves,” he said, “because they had a certain date and there was nothing in their control that would give them a reward for turning their lives around.”

Though his measure would not change sentencing standards, Brown said “it does recognize the virtue of having a certain measure of indeterminacy in the prison system.”

“The driver of individual incentive, recognizing that there are credits to be earned and there’s parole to be attained, is quite a driver,” he said.


Brown, who helped create the state’s “determinate sentencing” system when he was governor before, has said for years that it should be revisited. In a speech to judges in Sacramento in November, Brown said he didn’t foresee the dramatic impact determinate sentencing would have on the growth of California’s prison population. The policy scaled back judicial discretion in prison sentences.

“The more we can introduce some indeterminacy into the punishment, the more we can incentivize better behavior,” he said last year.

By 2003, when he was mayor of Oakland, prisons had become so crowded that Brown told the Little Hoover Commission the reform he signed turned into an “abysmal failure,” giving inmates facing long, fixed terms little incentive to reform themselves.

“The prisons started building up about the time I was leaving,” Brown said in an interview in 2010. “But they didn’t stop. They just kept on going. We see now that the determinate sentence, which I signed, needs substantial revision.”


Reporters from the Marshall Project, including founder Neil Barsky, visited San Quentin State Prison for two days last week for a TEDxSanQuentin event. (Barsky was one of the outside speakers featured at TEDxSanQuentin.) The Marshall Project team met with locked-up members of the San Quentin News staff, and inmates participating in the progressive prison’s many other educational and rehabilitative programs.

(TEDxSanQuentin took place January 22. The videos of the event have not been posted online. We’ll keep you updated.)

Neil Barsky and TMP’s editor Bill Keller offer a sneak peek at the trip to San Quentin and the TEDx talks. Here are some clips:

What if, instead of building prisons in remote locations, we put them near cities, accessible to family members and to the resources — educational, vocational, therapeutic, recreational, cultural — that are scarce in most prison towns?

What if, instead of walling out the world, we invited in volunteers by the hundreds to help prepare inmates for life outside – to put the correction in “corrections?” What if we offered public tours, during which visitors could chat with prisoners beyond the earshot of guards?

What if we allowed the inmates to publish a newspaper and produce a radio program?

What you’ve just imagined is San Quentin, California’s oldest prison, housing the state’s felonious since 1852.


Because San Quentin is embedded in affluent/liberal Marin Country, and because it has had some progressive wardens, it is rich in programs. The prison has 3,000 volunteers donating time to an incarcerated population of about 3,700. The men can sign up to do Shakespeare, therapy, yoga, meditation, music, newspaper and radio journalism, college courses — even a computer coding program aimed at generating contract work from nearby Silicon Valley and preparing the students for employment when they get out.

Most prisons, fearful of a political backlash if prison seems too comfortable, offer at most some high-school GED classes and manual-labor training. San Quentin, attentive to the reality that upwards of 90 percent of the incarcerated are eventually set free, makes an effort to prepare its residents for a civilized reentry to society. “Like I told my father,” one resident said, “this is like a men’s liberal arts college, except there’s less violence and less drinking.” Also bleaker food options; we shared the standard San Quentin lunch — plastic-wrapped slices of bread, squeeze sacks of peanut butter and jelly, cookies and a piece of fruit.

Research on the results is spotty, but studies of some programs in San Quentin indicate that participants have recidivism rates a fraction of the state average, which is around 60 percent.


Monday’s episode of Which Way, LA? takes a closer look at whether the Los Angeles Police Department’s shift toward community policing has been successful in winning the public’s trust back through efforts like community policing since the Rodney King era.

Producer David Weinberg starts the show with a visit to one of the LAPD’s community policing training sessions, where veteran officer Michael Carradine tells Weinberg that during his early days on the force, he patrolled the Nickerson Gardens housing project, and felt ostracized by fellow officers for treating the residents (including the gang members) like humans. The LAPD has come a long way since then, but there is still quite a bit of room for reform, experts say.

Warren Olney discusses the history and future of Los Angeles policing with author and UCLA professor of history and African American studies, Brenda Stevenson, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, and Joe Domanick, journalist and author of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.

Take a listen.


After 23 years, this Thursday, KCRW’s Which Way, LA? will air its final episode. In an op-ed for the LA Times, David Lehrer, president of the non-profit Community Advocates, Inc., thanks WWLA? host Warren Olney for serving as an “extraordinary catalyst for our civic self-examination” by teaching “multiple generations of Angelenos how to honestly, civilly and fairly debate contentions issues — and in the process learn about what makes democracy work.” Here’s a clip:

Olney and the program have been a unique keeper of L.A.’s historical record — our triumphs, our crises, our travails and our failures. From gang warfare to the 1992 riots, from water shortages to traffic, from government boondoggles to elections analyses — Olney was there, discussing the issues with his guests thoroughly, fairly and civilly.

But it isn’t simply the chronicling of events that has made “Which Way L.A.?” so special. Even more importantly, the show has been an instrument for people of opposing viewpoints coming together as guests of the show and engaging in a dialogue. By virtue of the show’s format and Olney’s firm, friendly and thoughtful demeanor, they were compelled to express their views without rancor or bile — a true rarity in our era of partisan bickering.

Posted in Justice Reform, juvenile justice, parole policy | No Comments »

Supporting SF Kids With Locked-Up Parents….SF Juvie Probation Looks at Changing Isolation Practices….Victim Services….and More

January 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Two San Francisco education officials want to create a comprehensive support system for young students with parents in jail or prison.

As many as one in ten California kids have a parent in jail or prison, or on probation or parole.

The resolution, proposed by SF Board of Education Vice President Matt Haney and Commissioner Shamann Walton, would help kids communicate with their locked-up parents, would create curriculum to teach the impact of incarceration, and would create a liaison between the schools and the parental education program in the San Francisco Jail.

ThinkProgress’ Carimah Townes has more on the resolution. Here’s a clip:

“Parental incarceration is one the most severe forms of trauma a child can go through, with major social, emotional and academic consequences,” Haney told the publication. “Our schools can better understand the experiences of students with incarcerated parents, and work harder, smarter and more compassionately to meet their needs.”

Having an incarcerated parent exacerbates childhood poverty, because those parents are no longer making a steady income to support their kids. A report from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action design found that, prior to incarceration, former inmates contributed half of their family’s income. When they were locked up, prisoners’ families were responsible for paying the costs of confinement. Altogether, these children are forced to deal with financial instability and are less likely to have their basic survival needs met.

Living with a parent behind bars takes an emotional toll as well. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, aggression, and disobedience are common side effects exhibited by children in that position. They feel ashamed and stigmatized in social settings, and performance in school declines.


On Wednesday, the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department discussed changing policies regarding how long kids can be placed in isolation. Juvenile Probation Chief Allen Nance asked staff members to figure out alternative ways to deal with youth who are acting out or who are posing a danger to themselves or others, rather than using “room confinement,” which many advocates say is just another way to describe solitary confinement. The probation department is also considering creating a rewards-based system for good behavior, and is in the middle of building a rec center in the juvenile hall for kids to play things like pool, ping-pong, and foosball.

SF Examiner’s Michael Barba has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Long gone are the days of 24- or 36-hour room confinement for a kid,” Nance said. “Even though” the department does use room confinement, “they are not isolated in some dank, dark, dungeon space.”

While some have criticized juvenile detention centers across the nation for using solitary confinement, while referring to it with euphemisms like “room confinement,” Nance said the department will always have a need to confine youths to rooms for the safety of the offender and others at juvenile hall.

Nance said the anticipated policy revisions will ensure the department can “do that in a way that is thoughtful and strategic,” as well as limited.

“It’s important for the public to know that San Francisco Juvenile Probation understands that we have to encourage and support our young people,” he said. “It’s not our job to punish kids for the things that they’ve done but it is our job to impact their behavior so that they don’t engage in it in the future.”

Fred Nelson, a counselor and probation officer at the Juvenile Justice Center, said the department does not use solitary confinement and has guidelines as to when, and for how long, a youth offender can be held in room confinement for.

“Some folks never receive room confinement because they never violate,” Nelson said. But when they are placed in isolation, “It can go anywhere from one hour to four hours.”

Any time spent in room confinement beyond that has to be approved by supervisors before a Disciplinary Review Board and written into an incident report explaining the incident, he said.


Not only are young black males locked up far more often than the rest of the population, they also comprise the majority of crime victims.

Part of the problem is that nearly all victim services developed over the last 30 years have been dependent on criminal prosecution and are funded by fees charged to offenders. And many young victims of color don’t even report violent or property crimes to the police.

A more recent victim services movement has focused in on the communities that are home to high levels of victimization and trauma.

Al Jazeera America’s Mark Obbie explains the history of victim services and tells the story of David Guizar, whose brother’s unsolved murder led David into the victims advocacy movement. Here’s a clip:

While traditional victims’ advocates have aligned themselves with law enforcement, maintaining that justice should come in the form of harsh punishment of offenders, this new movement has more in common with criminal justice reformers seeking alternatives to tough sentencing policies. Grounded in research that establishes clear links between early exposure to violence and self-destructive patterns, the new victims’ advocates want to spend less on prisons and more on crime prevention, trauma care and other forms of counseling. That shift, they say, can save today’s victim from becoming tomorrow’s criminal and prisoner — and can rescue communities of color from the twin ravages of high crime and rates of imprisonment.

At the movement’s core is the belief that criminals and their most frequent victims belong to the same community, one that has long been told what brand of criminal justice is good for it. Now members of this community are announcing that they want a say in those policies.

The modern victim advocacy movement started four decades ago as a demand for a voice in a criminal justice system perceived as too lenient toward criminals and too callous toward victims. Emboldened by a 1982 report commissioned by the Reagan administration, advocates in the 1980s and ’90s won constitutional amendments in more than 30 states that established bills of rights for victims, including the right to speak out at sentencing, in plea bargain negotiations and at parole hearings. The 1984 federal Victims of Crime Act and state laws enacted nationwide around that time established a system to provide victims with mental health counseling and compensate them for financial losses — all paid by local victim-aid agencies with money from fines and fees levied on offenders.

Important as those advances were, they still failed to help a majority of victims. An annual survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics consistently finds that barely one-tenth of violent crime victims receive the services designed to support them, in large part because fewer than half the victims of violence and property crime bother to report these offenses to police. In effect, tying victim services to crime prosecution has ended up excluding most of the people these services were meant to help.

As victims’ rights were gaining momentum, a parallel movement was taking place in the criminal justice system in response to high crime rates.

In his 2007 book, “Governing Through Crime,” University of California at Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon described his state as the cradle of the victim-focused severity revolution in criminal law, which rejected prisoner rehabilitation and judicial discretion in favor of lengthened mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws. Even after the crime wave began to recede in the 1990s, a number of legislative innovations were named for victims — usually white — whose experiences exposed perceived gaps in the justice system, among them, Megan’s Law establishing sex-offender registries, Amelia’s Law toughening parole systems and, most recently, the proposed Kate’s Law to strengthen deportation policy.

In contrast to the image put forth by the victims memorialized in those laws and bills, a more complete picture of crime victims in the U.S. looks less white and more socioeconomically marginalized. Young black men are much more likely to be victims of violence than other groups. They end up imprisoned far more compared with the general population. And research into the interactions between trauma and crime suggest that’s not a coincidence. A Justice Department–funded study concluded that the “toxic combination” of exposure to domestic abuse and street violence makes children up to 10 times as likely as other children to suffer from post-traumatic disorders into adulthood — including turning to drugs and crime “to counteract feelings of despair and powerlessness.” In a recent study of how poverty and exposure to violence play into the making of future criminals, researcher Bruce Western found that among a cohort of former prisoners in the Boston area, nearly half witnessed a homicide as children and about half were victims of violence at the hands of their parents.

This vicious feedback loop of victimization, untreated trauma, crime and punishment, along with racial disparities in incarceration rates, sparked the new victims’ movement — one made up of advocates who see, as Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies put it recently, that “the men and women living in the communities ostensibly served by saturation enforcement strategies are often the people who object to them most vehemently.” Criminal justice policy, he continued, “has been designed and imposed by those least affected by crime, by distant politicians and pundits who do not so much experience disorder as imagine it.”


A judge has sentenced former Tulare County sheriff’s deputy William Nulick to five years in prison for committing sexual crimes against four women. Two of the women said Nulick took them into a remote area to have them perform sexual favors in exchange for Nulick not writing them tickets. The other two women accused Nulick of touching them inappropriately during pat-downs.

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

In an investigation last year, The Associated Press uncovered about 1,000 officers nationwide in six years who lost their license to work in law enforcement because of rape, sexual crimes and misconduct.

The number is likely an undercount because states such as California and New York have no administrative process known as decertification, and not all states take such actions or provide records.

Prosecutors had initially charged Nulick with 18 criminal counts after the women said he assaulted them in 2013. He faced a possible life prison sentence and resigned shortly after being arrested.

Nulick accepted a negotiated settlement with prosecutors in November, pleading no contest to two felony counts of oral copulation under the color of authority and two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery.

Posted in juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Million$ for Violence Prevention in Oakland, “Black Lives Matter” Is Top 2015 Story…and More

December 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Teen pregnancy prevention services are missing from a recently released draft list of recommendations from a national commission created to develop strategies for reducing abuse and neglect-related deaths of children, according to Marie Cohen, a former social worker and policy researcher.

Cohen says the Commission for the Elimination of Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities should recommend Congress gather data on how many of these fatalities involve kids born to teen parents, or born to parents who started having children when they were teenagers. Cohen also calls on the commission to recommend all teens—especially kids involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice system and at high risk for pregnancy—have full access to all contraception options, as well as counseling and education.

Girls in foster care in Los Angeles are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system, according to statistics gathered by Alliance for Children’s Rights.

And in LA County, kids with teen mothers involved with the child welfare system experienced a rate of abuse and neglect, themselves, two to three times higher than kids born to teen moms with no DCFS-involvement, according to a 2013 report funded by the Hilton Foundation.

Second or subsequent infants born to mothers younger than 17 years old, were 11 times more likely to be murdered than firstborns from mothers who were over the age of 25, according to a national study on infant deaths between 1983-1991.

Here’s a clip from Cohen’s op-ed for the Chronicle of Social Change:

As National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy co-founder Sarah Brown recently pointed out, groups that focus on child and family well-being rarely propose interventions that begin before conception of a child. CECANF could begin to rectify this omission by including teen pregnancy prevention in its recommendations for reducing child abuse and neglect fatalities.

In her testimony before CECANF, Angela Diaz, director of New York’s Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, discussed the connection between teenage parenthood and child maltreatment fatalities. In serving for many years on a child fatality review panel, she noticed that in many of these cases, the mother began childbearing in adolescence, and had more closely spaced children thereafter.

Dr. Diaz cited a national study of deaths of infants born between 1983 and 1991, which showed that “childbearing at an early age was strongly associated with infant homicide, particularly if the mother had given birth previously.”

A second or subsequent infant born to a mother younger than 17 years old was 11 times more likely to be a homicide victim than the first child of a mother 25 or older. A second or subsequent infant born to a mother age 17 to 19 was over nine times more likely to be a homicide victim.


Even without knowing the proportion of child maltreatment deaths occurring to children of teen mothers, we already know that teen motherhood is a risk factor for child abuse and neglect. CECANF should recommend increased emphasis on teen pregnancy prevention, especially for young women in high poverty areas and those in foster care.

The Commission should recommend that all teens, especially those at higher risk of pregnancy, have access to contraceptive methods and education. Clinics in low income areas and those serving youth in foster care and juvenile justice should provide the full array of contraceptive options including the long-lasting methods that are most effective, along with education and counseling.

Special attention should be devoted to preventing a second birth to a teenage mother by ensuring that she is provided with a contraceptive method at the time of the first birth. The federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which has been under attack in Congress, should be fully funded or expanded.


Two dozen Oakland non-profits and public organizations will split $6.37 million in funding to reduce violence at the community level, thanks to Oakland’s Measure Z, a parcel tax and parking surcharge meant to boost public safety efforts.

Among the non-profits and organizations the city’s Human Services Department chose to fund were Youth Alive!, which connects with hospitalized kids and teens who have been shot or stabbed, or who have just been released from lock-up, to prevent retaliation and reoffending.

Youth Alive! was awarded $1 million, which was the largest grant, for a collaborative effort with Oakland California Youth Outreach to provide conflict mediation in neighborhoods prone to violence.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Rachel Swan has the story. Here’s a clip:

Staff from the city’s Human Services Department — which has an arm called Oakland Unite that manages public safety funds — recommended awarding 30 grants in all, allocating the money to 24 nonprofit and public agencies, out of 44 that applied. The City Council approved those awards Tuesday.

Clients from several of the organizations that received funding gave emotional speeches at the council meeting, highlighting the urgency of Measure Z.

“I just got out of prison two weeks ago,” said Tommy Robinson, who had come to advocate for Oakland California Youth Outreach.

Robinson said he’d spent more than a decade behind bars, and the last six years in solitary confinement.

“It was tough going from being isolated to being around people again,” Robinson said, adding that the group had helped him put together a resume and readjust to the outside world.

“Welcome home,” said council President Lynette McElhaney, her voice quavering.


According to a survey conducted by the Crime Report, the “Black Lives Matter” movement was the most significant criminal justice-related news story of 2015. Among the other topics and developments that made the top 10 list were viral cell phone and body cam videos of police confrontations, sentencing reform, and a focus on jails.

Here’s how it opens (head over to the Crime Report to read the full list):

Judging by news reports, Americans were experiencing more fear and insecurity in the closing months of 2015 than at any time since the 9/11 attacks. Last week’s massacre in San Bernardino and the earlier shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs reignited long-festering debates on gun control and domestic terrorism.

Nevertheless, in our fifth annual survey of the most significant criminal justice news stories and developments, TCR readers looked beyond those tragedies to focus on the injustices experienced daily by our most marginalized citizens at the hands of the U.S. justice system—and the network of civic activist groups that has emerged in response.

In choosing the growing political profile of Black Lives Matter and related organizations as the major development of 2015, readers also appeared to signal their faith and optimism in the ability of American civil society to drive change.

“(Black Lives Matter) brought national attention to issues of police brutality in the U.S.,” said one TCR reader who requested anonymity. “And they have continued to fight to keep this subject in the spotlight.”

Although the San Bernardino event occurred after we posted our nominations last week, that didn’t mean the incidents of mass killings which have plagued America during a violent year—such as the June 17 massacre of nine people in an African-American church in Charleston, SC and the shooting spree in Colorado Springs that left four dead (including the shooter) and nine injured on November 27—were ignored.

The troubling phenomenon of domestic terrorism—targeted attacks that have been tied at least in part to ideological hatreds or racial bias—came in at fifth place on TCR’s “Top Ten” List.

Nevertheless, by an overwhelming consensus, the most important developments were those that represented seedbeds for change.

And we think that’s significant. TCR readers, of course, are among the country’s most informed audience when it comes to criminal justice. Many of you are deeply involved in the nuts and bolts of the system, as academics, practitioners, advocates and journalists (just to name a few categories).


A US District Judge has overturned the death sentence of Rudolph Roybal, finding “egregious misconduct” from the prosecutor, who told the jury during the penalty phase of Roybal’s trial that the Bible calls for murderers to be put to death.

While there is little doubt that Roybal did murder a 65-year-old Oceanside woman after she and her husband fired him for doing yard work too slowly, Judge Jeffrey Miller said the prosecutor’s invalid argument encouraged a conflicted jury to choose a death sentence “because it was God’s will, and not that the imposition of the death penalty complied with California and federal law.”

The San Diego Union Tribune’s Kristina Davis has the story. Here are some clips:

“The prosecutor’s improper argument presented an intolerable danger that the jury minimized its role as fact finder and encouraged jurors to vote for death because it was God’s will, and not that the imposition of the death penalty complied with California and federal law,” Miller wrote in a 226-page opinion granting Roybal’s appeal. The opinion was filed last week.

The judge also chastised Roybal’s defense attorneys, ruling they provided ineffective counsel by not objecting to the prosecutor’s inappropriate closing remarks.

“The failure of defense counsel to object to such egregious misconduct and secure an admonition deprived defendant of the fundamental fairness of a death penalty proceeding free from foul prosecutorial blows,” Miller said.


Alex Simpson, a professor at California Western School of Law, said the issue is less about the Bible than the prosecutor asking the jury to make a decision based on something other than the evidence presented in the case.

“It’s an appeal to an authority or other evidence that shouldn’t be considered by the jury,” Simpson said in an interview. “In reality, the only thing a jury should do is consider what are the facts and how do the facts inform my decision to vote one way or the other.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Two Important Juvie Justice Bills, Bail in San Diego, and Kern County Has Deadliest Police in US

December 3rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


California Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) plans to revive a bill to limit solitary confinement for juveniles. The “Stop the Torture of Children Act” defines solitary confinement and would limit isolation for children in juvenile detention to a maximum of four hours, and only if there is a safety risk. The bill is similar to last year’s SB 124, which was shot down in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“While incarcerated young people are in the state’s care, we have a responsibility to help them overcome their challenges,” said Senator Leno. “However, when we isolate kids for long periods of time and deliberately deprive them of human contact we’re not helping them turn their lives around, we’re hurting them. We must end this type of cruel punishment, which can amount to torture.”

The new bill, which will be introduced when the California Legislature reconvenes in January, is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Children’s Defense Fund-California and Youth Justice Coalition.


And while we’re on the subject of important juvenile justice bills: California Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has decided to sponsor a bill to make sure kids have access to attorneys during police interrogations. Lara’s announcement was in response to the LA Times’ reporting on the case of a 10-year-old named Joseph who waived his miranda rights and confessed to killing his neo-Nazi father. Joseph’s case has put a point on the debate about whether children, whose brains are still developing, can waive their rights with a true understanding of the consequences of that action. (Read the backstory here.)

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan, who has been following Joseph’s story, has more on Lara’s bill. Here’s a clip:

“This is legislation that recognizes what science and the courts have made clear: Youth are different from adults, and our laws need to reflect this difference,” Lara said.

Judges in three recent California cases raised questions about whether more safeguards were needed to protect juveniles during police investigations. The cases involved youths 10, 13 and 15 who confessed to crimes after waiving their rights.

People have a legal right to refuse to speak to police without a lawyer, but many experts say some juveniles are too young to understand that or to appreciate the risks of talking without an attorney present.

Juveniles are also more likely than adults to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, studies show. Experts said young people tend to think in the short term and may confess just to end an unpleasant interrogation.


Since October 1, arraignment judges in San Diego County have had to make bail decisions without risk-assessment reports on defendants. These pre-trial risk assessment tools help judges determine how likely a person is to not show up to court or reoffend. Through the reports, judges considered factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, gender, education, employment, and sometimes where the defendant lives.

San Diego Judge David Szumowski says without the reports, which have fallen victim to budgetary woes, it has been far more difficult to make fair decisions about whether to raise or lower bail, or whether to allow a no-bail release.

The controversial cash bail system disproportionately affects the poor, who often cannot afford to post bail, and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.

More than three decades ago San Diego County launched its pretrial risk assessment system to counteract severe overcrowding in its jails. But the program has run out of money, and San Diego must now figure out what “pretrial release 2.0″ might look like.

Voice of San Diego’s Kelly Davis has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Over the last two months, Szumowski has been more cautious in making bail decisions. As of Oct. 1, arraignment judges in San Diego County no longer receive risk-assessment reports on each defendant. The reports — which looked at things like a defendant’s criminal history, past failures to appear in court and community ties, like employment — were compiled by the court’s pretrial services program, which ended Sept. 30 due to lack of funding. Judges used the reports to decide whether to raise or lower bail; allow a no-bail release or release a defendant under certain conditions, like attending AA meetings or showing up for drug tests.

“It gave me a better foundation for setting bail at what I thought was reasonable,” said Szumowski, who’s presided over felony arraignment since 1998. Now, he said, he’s “trying to make judgment calls on very limited information.”

The end of San Diego’s program comes amid a national debate on bail reform, spurred by the fact that many pretrial defendants remain locked up not because they pose a public-safety risk, but because they can’t afford bail. Meanwhile, a more dangerous defendant with access to money could get released.


When San Diego’s pretrial services program started more than three decades ago, it was an arm of the Sheriff’s Department, created to help alleviate jail overcrowding by determining who could safely be released pending trial. At the time, San Diego’s central jail was under a strict population cap. But over the years, the program was whittled down and funding responsibility shifted to the court until 2007, when a new state law banned courts from paying for local programs like pretrial services.

Superior Court CEO Michael Roddy said that since then, he’d been using savings and reserves to cover pretrial services’ roughly $1 million annual budget. Roddy said he told county officials last year that the program was running out of money.

“We spent a year working with the county to have someone pick up that program,” he said. “Finally in August 2015, with no progress in sight on the county front, we needed to move forward on the closure.”

Roddy wonders if Prop. 47, the November 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain nonviolent drug and property crimes — resulting in an almost immediate reduction in the local jail population — lessened pressure to have a replacement program up and running on Oct. 1. Or, perhaps, no one believed the court was really going to cut the program.

“I’m not sure people thought we were serious,” he said. “Maybe people thought we were bluffing.”


Just north of Los Angeles, in California’s Kern County, law enforcement officers have killed more people per capita than any other county in the United States in 2015, according to an investigation by the Guardian. Kern officers have killed 13 people so far this year. With a population of just under 875,000, cops kill 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.

It’s worth noting that five other California counties (San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego) were also among the 14 deadliest counties, all with 10 or more deaths this year. Law enforcement officers in LA County were responsible for 45 deaths—far more than Kern—but with a population of more than 10 million, LA cops killed at a rate of .4 people per 100,000.

The first part of the Guardian’s five-part series on officer-involved shootings takes a close look at the circumstances behind the confrontations that led Kern cops to use lethal force so frequently:

Six of the people killed this year in Kern County died from shots fired by officers of Bakersfield police department, who have been behind a string of controversial homicides over the past several years, including that of De La Rosa.

A couple who witnessed the 22-year-old’s death last November told police investigators a similar story: they watched officers shoot De La Rosa after he exited his car and “threw up his hands”, keeping them outstretched. It appeared he was saying “What’s up?” or even “I’m here, come arrest me,” one of the witnesses said.

The officers claimed otherwise, citing a justification whose improbability has made it a figure of ridicule in protests over police use of force since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. “They said they shot him because was he was reaching for his waistband,” said De La Rosa’s brother Joe. “Why would an individual reach for his waistband if there is no weapon there?” said their sister, Serena. “That makes no sense.”

The officers were quickly cleared of wrongdoing by an inquiry carried out by their own commanders, as has long been standard for fatal shootings by the Bakersfield police department and the Kern County sheriff’s office, the two biggest law enforcement agencies in the county.

A review by the Guardian identified 54 fatal shootings over the past decade by Bakersfield police and Kern County sheriff’s deputies. At least 49 of the 54 were publicly ruled justified by panels of senior officers from the same department as the officers who fired. Four others appear to have been ruled the same, but no records could be obtained. An inquiry into the fatal shooting on Sunday is under way.


A recent history of deadly police shootings by Bakersfield police can be told through the experiences of a single officer.

Rick Wimbish, a Bakersfield native described by one person who worked with him as “a cop to his marrow”, is a department veteran of almost a quarter of a century. For several of those years, his father Mack, a retired state highway patrolman, was the sheriff of all Kern County. Both declined to be interviewed.

Wimbish, who receives a total pay and benefits package of almost $200,000 a year, instructs other officers and leads educational classes with young children in the county on the role of a police officer in the community.

Studies have found that most American police officers make it through entire careers without firing their service weapons. But Wimbish, 54, has been involved in at least four fatal shootings in two years, including that of De La Rosa, during which Wimbish deployed his Taser. None of the four men killed in these confrontations were armed with a deadly firearm themselves. One, a violent criminal, had a BB gun; another was holding a tire iron.

First, Wimbish was the most experienced officer to open fire during an operation to capture a fugitive one night in September 2013, which was bungled to deadly consequence in the parking lot of Bakersfield’s Four Points Sheraton hotel.

As they hunted for Justin Harger, a shooting suspect, Bakersfield police turned to Jorge Ramirez, who knew him. Ramirez, a 34-year-old former amateur boxing champion, had some criminal convictions but had begun to find a better path, according to his family. He had children now.

“For the first time in more than a few years, I saw him change,” said his father, Jorge Sr. “He was trying to be an example for his kids – to learn from his mistakes and be a working man.”

When authorities suggested Ramirez would receive favourable terms on a pending drugs charge in return for working as a confidential informant (CI), he agreed. He was directed by his police handlers to set up a dinner with Harger, the fugitive, who was nicknamed “Joker”.

Internal police files show Ramirez and a Bakersfield officer exchanged 34 calls and missed calls on the day of the meeting, along with multiple texts. As the hour approached, the messages became more furtive. “Yes no more texts,” Ramirez said at one stage, apparently concerned Harger would grow suspicious. Later still he said: “Were headed there now on frwy getting off California exit”. About 15 minutes later, they showed up as promised.

Then things fell to pieces.

Ramirez and Harger got out of their car. Taken aback by officers pouring on to the scene, Harger drew a pistol. In an intense gun battle that ensued, Harger struck one officer and was blown away by police fire. But the storm of bullets also swept up Ramirez. The officers he was assisting shot him 10 times – three times in the chest, three times in his left leg, and once each in the face, buttocks, hip area and shoulder. Then he was handcuffed and left face-down on the pavement.

Subsequent interviews conducted by Bakersfield police investigators suggest there was a lack of preparation and coordination among the police, who apparently had no plan for a confrontation. Three officers refused to answer questions about what happened.

Wimbish told investigators “he had heard that somebody had a CI that was passing on information but he did not know who that was.” He conceded that “he did not actually know why but he was assuming that Harger was going to be the passenger in the vehicle” rather than the driver.

Posted in juvenile justice | 2 Comments »

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