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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 »

Criminal Justice System Involvement Means Higher Chance of Early Death for Youth

November 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


As the seriousness of a kid’s contact with the justice system increases, so does their risk of an early death, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Researchers split criminal justice system involvement into four categories, looking specifically at kids who were arrested, detained (for a short period), incarcerated, or transferred to adult court.

Youth who were only arrested had a mortality rate 1.5 times that of their peers who had never been arrested.

Kids who were transferred to adult court had the highest risk of dying young: 3.5 times higher than the general population.

About half of all recorded deaths were homicides.

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers followed 49,479 children and teens who were between the ages of 10 and 18 at the time of their first arrest in Marion County, Indiana. The study spans a period of 13 years, from 1999 to 2011, and is reportedly the largest study to look at the connection between kids’ justice system involvement and risk of early death.

The study did show, not surprisingly, that black males accounted for the majority of the deaths that were recorded. But researchers also found that more serious and prolonged justice system involvement was directly linked to higher mortality rates, regardless of race.

“It is well established that black youth, compared with white youth, are over-represented in the justice system and bear a disproportionate burden of death by homicide,” said head researcher Dr. Matthew Aalsma, who is a pediatrics professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. “However, the interaction between justice system involvement and race/ethnicity was not statistically significant. This suggests that the severity of criminal justice involvement, rather than race/ethnicity, is a strong driver of early mortality among youth offenders.”

The study points to the importance of reducing kids’ contact with the criminal justice system through evidence-based violence prevention programs and other diversion methods that target high-risk juvenile offenders.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture, the Grizzly Youth Academy, Unraveling the “Superpredator” Myth…and More

November 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Asset forfeiture laws allow government entities to keep money, cars, real estate, and other property that may be associated with a crime (usually a drug crime). Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool, using it as a cash cow, by taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.

In its latest “Policing for Profit” report, the Institute for Justice gave California a C+ grade for its civil asset forfeiture laws, which require “beyond reasonable doubt” for law enforcement officers to seize most property.

In CA, police cannot keep assets under $25,000 unless the owner is convicted, and for amounts above $25,000, officers have to be able to give “clear and convincing evidence” beyond a reasonable doubt, that the cash or property was connected to a crime.

But California and other states circumvent their own forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes law enforcement agencies to use seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, by bringing the feds into an investigation.

(This year, a California bill to reform civil asset forfeiture, which would have required a conviction for assets to be forfeited, could not survive lobbying from law enforcement groups.)

California ranks second-worst—50th out of 51 states (and DC)—for its heavy participation in the Equitable Sharing Program.

This second Policing for Profit report “highlights the continued need for forfeiture reform” and increased transparency, says Institute for Justice senior attorney, Scott Bullock. “Updated grades for state and federal civil forfeiture laws find that protections against unjust forfeitures still range from bad to worse, and too many laws incentivize revenue generation over the impartial administration of justice.”


While schools across the nation replace problematic “zero-tolerance” discipline practices with more gentle and healing “restorative justice” methods, there may still be a place for military-inspired schools that protect and nurture—rather than punish—kids.

Over a period of a year, the Atlantic’s Michael Godsey visited one such school, the National Guard-run Grizzly Youth Academy at Camp San Luis in San Luis Obispo, California. At Grizzly, leaders act as father figures, giving teens who have dropped out (or are at risk of dropping out) boundaries and teaching them discipline.

Kids voluntarily enroll at the charter boarding school (in fact, there is a waiting list), and at the end of the 22-week program, many students don’t want to leave.

While the model doesn’t work for most struggling students, it reportedly works for some kids who are suffering from a lack of structure in their lives. Those teens come away from Grizzly feeling empowered, rather than defeated, according to Godsey. Here’s a clip:

When I visited Grizzly Youth Academy on Orientation Day, I observed as the new students waited in long lines, wearing identical gray sweats and black baseball caps, carrying their minimal belongings in clear garbage bags. Near the entrance, military personnel silently inspected their bags, while a sergeant in the distance yelled out instructions to a large group of boys, demanding that they answer him with a loud “Yes, sir!” I also heard a sergeant firmly promising an anxious new student: “Do not think for a second that I will let you fail here.”

Grizzly is a charter boarding school run by the National Guard that’s designed for high-school dropouts (or would-be dropouts) and operates using “quasi-military” style of governance. Its authoritarian structure is aimed at fostering the kind of protective and caring environment many of these kids—who often have track records of disciplinary issues and substance abuse—are seeking.

And it seems to work. A three-year study conducted by the nonpartisan think tank MDRC showed significant statistical success in the program; participants are more likely than their control group counterparts to have obtained a high-school diploma, to have earned college credits, and to be working.


…the waiting list for enrollment indicates that this school is fulfilling a need in a unique and valuable way. In contrast with the high suspension rates often found at schools with a strict discipline policies, Grizzly makes a point to keep its students within its vision and reach. “We make it very hard for your son or daughter to quit,” one sergeant explained to the parents on Orientation Day. The school even takes custody of the students in cases of emergency. “For the five months they’re here at Grizzly, it’s like they’re our kids,” I heard a sergeant promise a group of parents, “and we take full responsibility for them.”

On the first day of classes, I stood with a Grizzly teacher as the kids jogged to their respective classrooms along designated clockwise paths, forming lines in front of classrooms and each staring at the head of the person in front of them as they waited for permission to enter the room. “If you saw this without any context, you might think it’s oppressive and question the purpose of it,” the teacher told me. “But many of these kids come from an absence of structure, and they really respond to this. A lot of them lack stability—family stability, home stability, economic stability—and the environment here is safe and predictable. They come to appreciate all the routines and rules.”


In the early 90′s a wave of teen violence prompted a small cluster of academics led by political scientist John Dilulio to forecast the emergence of a new breed of children—”superpredators”—impulsive kids without compassion who would commit innumerable violent crimes.

The superpredators never arrived, and the myth was eventually debunked, but not before the theory did a great deal of damage, producing harsh sentencing laws for juveniles.

Pacific Standard Magazine’s Ben DeJarnette has compiled five studies that have shifted the conversation about youthful offenders and their brains, their conditional culpability, and whether they should face the same criminal consequences as adults. Here’s how it opens:

Princeton political scientist John Dilulio dubbed them superpredators—murderous teenagers who could commit heinous acts of violence without feeling a trace of guilt. “They fear neither the stigma of arrest nor the pain of imprisonment,” Dilulio wrote in 1995. “They live by the meanest code of the meanest streets.” According to Dilulio, the country was on track toward a scourge of youth superpredator violence, precipitated by troubling demographic shifts (read: more black kids) and a perceived morality deficit. The crisis, it seemed, was inevitable. Harrowing true-crime headlines splashed across the covers of Time and Newsweek. State and federal lawmakers scrambled to toughen sentencing laws for juvenile offenders. And Americans everywhere braced for the insurgence of some 30,000 new teen superpredators that Dilulio predicted would roam the streets by the end of the decade.

But for all the fear and frenzy, America’s teen violence apocalypse never arrived. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Juvenile violent crime rates that were forecast to double instead dropped by more than 50 percent, and advances in modern neuroscience began to complicate the prevailing superpredator caricature. Soon even Dilulio was walking back his claims. “Thank God we were wrong,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “I’m sorry for any unintended consequences.”

Yet those unintended consequences now litter the country’s federal and state justice systems. Today, kids as young as 11 years old are still being tried as adults, and many mandatory-minimum sentencing laws passed in the 1980s and ’90s remain on the books—even in progressive states like Oregon.

The mythical superpredator continues to cast a long shadow over American politics, but a promising reform movement—helped along by the Supreme Court—has recently made some major strides…

Read on.


Last week, we pointed to the launch of the College Track program in Watts, which helps kids in underserved communities attend and finish college.

Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple founder Steve Jobs’ widow, co-founded the College Track program, which has 55 Watts participants this year, but hopes to expand to 300 students by 2019. The College Track program has also served Roosevelt High students in Boyle Heights since 2012, where it is expected to hit the 300-student mark by 2016. The program has a college graduation rate 2.5 times higher than non-participating low-income college students.

“It’s our privilege to work with College Track students as they chart their course toward a college degree,” Powell Jobs, said. “They bring persistence, creativity, and extraordinary discipline throughout their academic journey.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has more information on Powell Jobs’ college success program and involvement in education reform. Here’s a clip:

In the first year, 55 Jordan students, who were selected after a brief interview process, will participate. The program accepts students in the summer before ninth grade and works with them through college graduation, providing academic support, leadership training, college and financial aid advising and scholarships totaling up to $5,600 per student.

“I am thrilled to see College Track bring its incredible program to Watts, which will help us ensure this great community is a platform for educational, social and economic mobility,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a statement. Garcetti joined Powell Jobs in last week’s ceremony at Jordan High. “This complements broader efforts across Los Angeles, as we tell our young people that we don’t just want them to go to college — we expect them to go to college, and we’ll give them the tools to get there.”

The program hopes to serve 300 students per year at Jordan by 2019. The Boyle Heights location, which opened in 2012, expects to reach 300 students per year by 2016.

Powell Jobs is one of the wealthiest individuals in the United States, with a net worth of $19.1 billion, according to Forbes. Although known for keeping a low public profile, Powell Jobs attracted attention recently with her announcement of a $50-million project to reshape the American high school.

Posted in Education, juvenile justice | No Comments »

A New Bill to Stop Locking Kids Up for Dumb, Non-Criminal Stuff

October 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


More than half of U.S. States allow kids to be locked up for so-called “status offenses,” actions like running away from home, skipping school, or staying out after curfew, all things that wouldn’t be crimes if the kid was an adult.

Last year, more than 8,000 American children were sent to jail for these non-crime “crimes.”

Never mind that, 40 years ago, the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) stipulated that if states elected to receive federal juvenile justice grants, they couldn’t criminalize kids for these petty acts.

But then in 1980, an exception to the no-lock-ups-for-status-offenses rule was added as an amendment, allowing judges to sweep kids into locked facilities if the judge issued a valid court order (VCO) telling the kid not to commit the act, and the kid did it—or committed another status offense—anyway.

California is one of the states that makes liberal use of the so-called VCO exception.

This week, however, California Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D. San Fernando Valley) has introduced a bill—H.R. 3782, the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act—that could completely do away with the VCO exception.

“The irony is so immense, that we are making the worst possible choice we can, by putting kids in jail for making bad choices,” said Cárdenas. “Kids make mistakes as kids. They do things that are stupid, or misguided, but which should not be considered crimes for which they can go to jail. An American child should not have their life ruined by getting a criminal record and serving jail time for skipping school, or running away from an abusive household. We have to fix this, and we have to do it now.”

Cárdenas, a former Los Angeles city council member, has been a long time advocate of juvenile justice reform who also introduced another important kid-oriented reform bill this past June, namely the Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act, which, if enacted, would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for youth in federal juvenile facilities.

“These are commonsense, straight-forward pieces of legislation that should not be controversial,” said Cárdenas. “We should not be putting kids in jail for skipping school and we should not be putting kids in solitary confinement, potentially ruining any chance they have at a normal life. Our children are the future of this nation. Juvenile justice reform means protecting and growing their potential, not condemning them to a life destroyed by their own government.”

Youth advocacy organizations such as the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, agree.

“While judges in many states are effectively and proactively addressing the needs of these youth without resorting to detention,” wrote the NJJDPC, “too many young kids are still finding their way into the juvenile justice system unnecessarily.”


Last year a conservative think tank out of Texas, The Texas Public Policy Foundation, put out an excellent report showing that shoving status offenders into the justice system was not effective and often did long-lasting damage.

So, yeah. Go, Congressman Tony!

H.R. 3782 was cosponsored by Reps. Cohen, Cummings, Ellison, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Jackson Lee, Moore, Rangel, Richmond, Scott (VA) and Vargas.

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Once-Locked Up Kids Hope a New Culver City Reentry Center Can Help Them Become “UnStoppable”

October 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

“When a friend first told me about this place, I thought it was too good to be true,” said David Moreno, 19,
who is one of around 50 young people, ranging in age from 16-25, who are looking to a Los Angeles-based organization called New Earth to help them make up school credits, acquire new skills (like learning to write code), get leads on jobs, find a mentor, and in general, and to get the help they need in order to turn their lives in a new direction.

“Here you feel like they actually care about what happens to you,” David said. “When I first came, they sat me down and helped me make a plan. They asked me about my goals.”

Then the New Earth staff helped him map out the steps it would take to reach those goals.

David has been incarcerated and, in the past, got himself mixed up with a neighborhood gang. Now he’s hoping to go to college to become a marine biologist.

At the moment, however, he’s enjoying the job he has—courtesy of New Earth— running a webcam for, a branch of the Annenberg Foundation, which has a network of high-def web cameras streaming live images of wildlife from all over the planet.

This past Friday afternoon, David, along with most of the New Earth students and staff, were present for the opening of the organization’s brand new facility, the New Earth Reentry Center, located in a business park in Culver City.

To celebrate the occasion, most of them wear black t-shirts emblazoned with what seems to have become the center’s motto and rallying cry: UNSTOPPABLE.

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was there too, wielding a pair of oversized scissors for the official ribbon cutting. “This organization is transformative,” Ridley-Thomas said to the crowd. “It’s going to help heal our community.” New Earth is “not about a whole bunch of talk, it’s about doing what needs to be done.”

According to New Earth’s literature, the new center will act as “an alternative to incarceration for youth aged 13-25, who have been in and out of the system.” (New Earth’s academic program is accredited through a partnership with the John Muir Charter School of California and YouthBuild, which is a national program providing alternatives to incarceration.

Harry Grammer, who founded New Earth in 2003, put it this way. “We are committed to significantly reducing the youth recidivism rate in Los Angeles,” he said.

Grammer is, by his own description, a one-time troubled kid who grew up in Chicago, and got involved with gangs. But Grammer got lucky and encountered some mentors who helped him shift his life’s trajectory. After finishing school, he passed briefly through the corporate world. Then, for the past decade, he has tried to help kids like himself through the use of a cluster of rehabilitative programs that New Earth runs in seven of LA County Probation’s juvenile facilities. But while Grammer has been heartened by the transformations he’s seen kids make when they engage with the New Earth programs inside the camps, too often when those same kids leave juvenile lock-up, they have little or no support and, as a consequence, do poorly and often return.

After going to the funeral of a particularly talented boy who had learned to write moving poetry in a program called F.L.O.W., only to be shot to death after he got home, Grammer decided that great programs in lock-up weren’t enough.

So, in 2013 New Earth began offering post-release programs.

The new center will house an expanded version those programs.


“When we worked in the camps,” Grammer told me, “There didn’t seem to be an urgency to rehabilitate,” he said. “It was more about sedation”—keeping the kids in line and out of trouble. And while some of the staff at the camps seemed to genuinely care about the kids in their care, he said, too many seemed to view themselves primarily as law enforcement, not mentors. “They’d say, ‘I’m a case worker, not a social worker.’

“But case workers aren’t what kids need.”

To make matters worse, when the youth come out of camp, Grammer said follow-up is often minimal. “This week alone,” he said, “I know of three young men who are being dropped off at shelters when they leave camp.” It should not be a surprise, he said, that—seeing few alternatives—such kids often reach for the solutions that are familiar to them. Too often that means selling drugs.

“You know what kids call drugs now?” Grammer asked? “’Work.’ They’ll say, ‘Do you have work?’ meaning, ‘Do you have drugs for me to sell?’”

Grammer intends to take those same kids and teach them tech skills “because we have Silicon Beach right up the street from us.” And in addition to its educational and jobs program, he believes the center can act as “a safe haven where kids can stir their creative imagination and develop a perspective for their lives.”

So far the plan seems to be working. In addition to the classes New Earth offers, Daveon Davis, 20—who wants to be an engineer– got help in getting his juvenile record cleared so it wouldn’t stand in his way of finding a job. As a consequence, like David, he’s now working as webcam operator for Explore, a position that he says has given him a new sense of stability.

“When I first came here my mom and sister and I were losing our house,” he said. But after New Earth helped him get the job, he was able to rent an affordable apartment for himself and his family. “I’ve been paying the rent for a year and four months now. Still to this day, I’m able to pay,” Daveon said, his voice filled with pride, his smile suddenly dazzling.

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Criminal Justice Bills, Stopping Mass Shootings Before They Start, and Tasers

October 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Over the weekend, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed (and vetoed) a number of notable criminal justice-related bills we have been following at WLA.

Also among the ranks of passed bills was SB 261, a bill to expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23. (In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life-without-parole. SB 261 extends the reach of that 2013 bill.)

The bill was sponsored by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), and Youth Justice Coalition (YJC).

“If a young person demonstrates personal growth and rehabilitation, and shows remorse for their crime, they deserve a second chance,” says ARC Founder and President Scott Budnick. “This new law holds young people accountable for the mistakes they have made, but also offers them compassion and the opportunity to begin contributing positively to their communities.”

“California’s new law acknowledges that young adults who have done wrong are still developing in ways that makes a real turnaround possible,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at HRW. “This law gives imprisoned young offenders hope and the motivation to work hard toward parole.”

A bill to ban strip searches of kids in juvenile detention by (or in front of) members of the opposite gender was also signed into law on Saturday. The bill, AB 303, was introduced in response to reports of San Diego juvie detention officers pepper spraying young inmates who refused to be searched by staff of the opposite gender.

Another new law, AB 256, will protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), will make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Other notable signings include a bill that will require law enforcement agencies to provide the DOJ with detailed use of force reports and data, a bill to curb prosecutorial misconduct, two bills to boost mental health training for law enforcement, and a mental health diversion bill.


A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), SB 333, would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.

Brown also vetoed SB 722, a bill by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), that would have made it a felony for sex offenders on parole to remove or tamper with their GPS tracking devices.

Expressing her disappointment at the veto, Sen. Bates said, “If anyone deserves to serve longer prison terms, then it should be violent sex offenders who tamper with their GPS devices.”

And SB 347 would have added two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

The governor vetoed a several other bills that would have created new crimes, saying, “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.”

“Before we keep going down this road,” continued Brown, “I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.”


Mother Jones’ Mark Follman has an excellent longread on threat assessment teams and how they root out and prevent school shootings.

Threat assessment teams comprised of cops, psychologists, and counselors, successfully divert and treat young people at risk of harming others via a strategy that includes identifying and quickly and carefully evaluating a person’s risk of harming others, followed by intervention efforts like counseling, mentoring, and other services.

It’s rare that a team has to go so far as to hospitalize or arrest a person.

The risk assessment is an interesting and complicated process for law enforcement officers, especially because their subject has committed no crime.

Mass shootings are nearly always carefully planned—usually by a young white male in the midst of a mental health crisis. These massacres are not impulsive crimes.

The concept of multidisciplinary efforts to prevent mass killings began as an LAPD response to public outrage after 21-year-old actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was fatally shot by an obsessive fan.

The specialized teams seem to be working, for the most part. According to the FBI, of the hundreds of subjects its team has tracked, only one has gone on to harm someone else. But cases still slip through the cracks, and it’s hard to tell when a person no longer needs the intervention services. Some of the monitored young people who appear well and out of crisis mode still go on to commit those mass murders, just years later.

Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona, were both evaluated by threat assessment teams before their rampages.

One troubled Oregon teen, Erik Ayala, whom law enforcement found to be contemplating shooting fellow classmates, received years of help and mentorship from an assessment team. The team believed they had successfully navigated Ayala through his crisis and diverted him from a path of violence, but years after his intervention, Ayala went out and killed teens very similar to those he targeted in high school.

Here’s the opening from Mark Follman’s story on the assessment teams, the copycat killer trend known as the “Columbine effect,” and gun control (but do go read the rest):

Soon after the school year started in September 2000, a police officer working at McNary High in Keizer, Oregon, got a tip about a junior named Erik Ayala. The 16-year-old had told another student that “he was mad at ‘preps’ and was going to bring a gun in.” Ayala struck the officer as quiet, depressed. He confided that “he was not happy with school or with himself” but insisted he had no intention of hurting others. Two months later, Ayala tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of Aleve tablets. He was admitted to a private mental health facility in Portland, where he was diagnosed with “numerous mental disorders,” according to the police officer’s report.

To most people, Ayala’s suicide attempt would have looked like a private tragedy. But for a specialized team of psychologists, counselors, and cops, it set off alarm bells. They were part of a pioneering local program, launched after the Columbine school massacre the prior year, to identify and deter kids who might turn violent. Before Ayala was released from the hospital, the Salem-Keizer school district’s threat assessment team interviewed his friends, family, and teachers. They uncovered additional warning signs: In his school notebooks, Ayala had raged about feeling like an outsider and being rejected by a girl he liked. He had repeatedly told his friends that he despised “preps” and wished he could “just go out and kill a few of them.” He went online to try to buy a gun. And he’d drawn up a hit list. The names on it included his close friend Kyle, and the girl he longed for.

The threat assessment team had to decide just how dangerous Ayala might be and whether they could help turn his life around. As soon as they determined he didn’t have any weapons, they launched a “wraparound intervention”—in his case, counseling, in-home tutoring, and help pursuing his interests in music and computers.

“He was a very gifted, bright young man,” recalls John Van Dreal, a psychologist and threat assessment expert involved in the case. “A lot of what was done for him was to move him away from thinking about terrible acts.”

As the year went on, the team kept close tabs on Ayala. The school cops would strike up casual conversations with him and his buddies Kyle and Mike so they could gauge his progress and stability. A teacher Ayala admired would also do “check and connects” with him and pass on information to the team. Over the next year and a half, the high schooler’s outlook improved and the warning signs dissipated.

When Ayala graduated in 2002, the school-based team handed off his case to the local adult threat assessment team, which included members of the Salem Police Department and the county health agency. Ayala lived with his parents and got an IT job at a Fry’s Electronics. He grew frustrated that his computer skills were being underutilized and occasionally still vented to his buddies, but with continued counseling and a network of support, he seemed back on track.

The two teams “successfully interrupted Ayala’s process of planning to harm people,” Van Dreal says. “We moved in front of him and nudged him onto a path of success and safety.”

But then that path took him to another city 60 miles away, where he barely knew anyone.


In the coming months, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to equip every officer with a taser, in an effort to lower the number of officer-involved shootings. Currently the LAPD only has 3,500 tasers, and will need to buy 4,000 more to equip every police officer. Critics worry that because there are not concrete standards in place for taser-use, the tools may be misused. And while considered a “less-than-lethal” weapon, people do sometimes die after being shocked by a law enforcement officer taser. For example, Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless Fullerton man died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by police officers.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank and file officers.

“There might be a situation where a Taser would be effective in stopping the threat, and then you don’t have to go to your firearm,” he said.

It stands to reason that the availability of less than lethal weapons like Tasers and beanbag shotguns prevent police shootings. But its impossible to say for sure, said Lally. And many shootings will still happen.

“You’re not going to shoot a guy with a Taser when he’s got a gun.”

One use of force expert said there is no doubt police will shoot fewer people.

“I think there’s quite a number of incidents over the years that clearly could have been prevented had a Taser been immediately available,” said Greg Meyer, a former LAPD captain who now testifies on police use of force in court cases around the country.

This is “long overdue,” Meyer said of the LAPD’s new policy.

He noted Tasers don’t always work. Two electronic probes must make contact with the suspect. The LAPD’s Murphy said internal studies found Tasers work about 67 percent of the time.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LAPD | No Comments »

Are Abused and Traumatized Girls Disproportionately Pushed Into the Justice System? A Startling New Study Says: YES

September 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

There are approximately twice as many boys than girls in the juvenile justice system in America.
As a consequence, we hear more about young men in public policy discussions and in the press, when the topic turns to youth justice reform.

But according to an important new study just released by the Women’s Law Center, what we are missing when we look at the gross numbers, is the fact that when it comes lawbreaking that poses little or no threat to public safety, and offenses that are a direct result of violence or abuse and trauma in the home, girls are disproportionately more likely to be detained and arrested than their brothers.

For example:

In 2012, girls represented 29 percent of youth arrested nationwide, but they represented 76 percent of arrests for “prostitution,” (AKA “crimes” in which they are the victim), 42 percent of arrests for larceny, 40 percent of arrests for liquor law violations, 35 percent of arrests for disorderly conduct, and 29 percent of arrests for curfew violations.

In 2011, girls were 28 percent of delinquency cases, but they made up 41 percent of status offense cases. (Status offenses are actions that would not be considered crimes if committed by an adult, things like truancy or running away.)

In 2013, 37 percent of detained girls were locked up for status offenses or technical violations of their probation, compared with 25 percent of boys.

Furthermore, for certain status offenses, rates for girls are even higher. For example, 53 percent of runaway cases in 2011 involved girls.

In addition, girls are unusually likely to be arrested for fights in their homes stemming from family dysfunction. For example, girls may become involved in a domestic fight when defending themselves against victimization or as part of a pattern of violence and turmoil among family members. Yet, when the incident leads to contact with law enforcement, write the study’s authors, girls “are treated as aggressors rather than victims.”

In 2013, 21 percent of girls were detained for simple assault and public order offenses (excluding weapons), compared with 12 percent of boys.

Sadly and predictably, girls of color are more likely to be detained than their white sisters. In 2013, Black girls were 20 percent more likely to be detained than white girls. And American Indian/Alaska Native girls were 50 percent more likely to be detained, according to the study.


When it comes to girls who don’t identify as straight or what is known as “gender conforming,” the situation gets far worse:

A study of youth in California’s juvenile justice system found that 38 percent of the state’s LBQ/GNCT girls (lesbian, bisexual, questioning/gender-non-conforming, transgender) had been removed from their homes because someone was hurting them, compared with 25 percent of their straight and gender-conforming peers. The same study found that 49 percent of LBQ/GNCT girls in the juvenile justice systems had been homeless, compared with 30 percent of their straight and gender-conforming sisters.

California’s LBQ/GNCT girls who are justice-involved face additional challenges in their educational lives: 90 percent of LBQ/GNCT girls in the California juvenile justice system have been suspended or expelled prior to juvenile incarceration. In their homes, they experience high rates of family discord that may lead to adolescent domestic violence.

According to a 2015 survey of seven sites across the country, 40 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system identify as LBQ/GNCT. And a recent California study found higher rates of detention and incarceration of LBQ/GNCT girls for certain offenses: 41 percent of LBQ/GNCT girls were detained or incarcerated for status offenses and 8 percent were detained or incarcerated for sexual exploitation, compared with 35 percent and 3.5 percent of their straight or gender-conforming peers. Then once in the system, LBQ/GNCT girls report higher levels of self-harming behavior and are more likely to become targets of violence and sexual victimization, and be placed in isolation.


We know from multiple studies that kids involved in the justice system, are far more likely to have a higher degree of childhood trauma than are non-system involved kids.

Yet, as studies have been done that measure system-involved kids’ trauma in more detail, we see that girls trauma scores are consistently higher.

For example, in 2014, a Florida ACE study evaluated 64,300 youth involved in the Florida juvenile justice system, 14,000 of whom were girls. (ACEs—if you’ve some how missed this particular piece of useful jargon—stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences)

The study shows that the prevalence of ACE indicators was higher for girls than boys in all 10 categories. Sexual abuse, for example, was reported 4.4 times more frequently for girls than for boys. Forty-five percent of the girls scored 5 or more out of a possible score of ten when it came to adverse childhood experiences, versus 28 percent of the boys who scored 5 or more.

Another ACE study, conducted by National Crittenton Foundation in 2012, similarly found higher concentrations of adverse childhood experiences among girls in trouble with the law, with 62 percent scoring 4 or more on the ACEs scale, 44 percent scoring 5 or more, and 4 percent scoring 10, the highest score possible.

Among young mothers in the juvenile justice system, the scores shot still higher with 74 percent scoring 4 or more, 69 percent scoring 5 or more, and 7 percent scoring 10.


The study’s authors offer a list of suggestions about what kind of policy changes would help, but their nine primary recommendations are the following:

*Stop Criminalizing Behavior Caused by Damaging Environments that Are Out of Girls’ Control

*Engage Girls’ Families throughout the Juvenile Justice Process

*Use Pre-Petition Diversion to Provide “Off-Ramps” from the Formal Justice System for Girls Living in Traumatic Social Contexts

*Don’t Securely Detain Girls for Offenses and Technical Violations that Pose No Public Safety Threat and Are Environmentally-Driven

*Attorneys, Judges, and Probation Should Use Trauma- Informed Approaches to Improve Court Culture for Girls

*Adopt a Strengths-Based, Objective Approach to Girls Probation Services

*Use Health Dollars to Fund Evidence-Based Practices and Programs for Girls and Address Health Needs Related to Their Trauma

*Limit Secure Confinement of Girls, Which Is Costly, Leads to Poor Outcomes, and Re- Traumatizes Vulnerable Girls

*Support Emerging Adulthood for Young Women with Justice System Histories

The study has lots more in the way of solutions and examples of municipalities that have made promising changes. But the first step, say the authors, is understanding that, “in the midst of the current ‘developmental era’ of reform, juvenile justice systems are routinely failing to modify promising system reforms for girls or even to collect data on how girls are affected by the problems systems seek to remedy.”

Bottom line: Our girls need our help.


“Crossover kids” are the California youth who start out in the foster care system, but then land in the juvenile justice system, for one reason or another. Or conversely, they begin in the juvie justice system, then cannot safely return to their families, so they become involved in the foster care system. Yet, as we’ve reported in the past (here and here), because of their dual designation too often neither system adequately takes responsibility for their well-being and crossover kids become nobody’s kids.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has a must-read story about one such boy named Jesse Opela, whose life has been overseen by LA County’s foster care system from the age of 2, and LA County’s juvenile probation system since the age of 12. Sewell and the Times received a hard-to-acquire court permission to able to follow the now-17-year-old’s “rocky trajectory” through both systems.

This excellent longread story is the result.

Don’t miss it.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

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