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Supes Say “Yes” to Probation Camp Upgrade

November 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation to renovate Camp Joseph Scott, one of the county’s two probation camp for girls.

The $4.5 million project will involve a therapeutic dormitory-style remodel of the Santa Clarita facility similar to the renovations currently underway at Camp Vernon Kilpatrick.

After the remodel, the Camp Scott dormitory building will be able to house 48 girls and young women in a “youth centered and home-like” environment. (Currently Camp Scott has a daily population range between 25-35 girls.)

Within the dormitory, there will be four housing modules, each containing two 6-bed rooms, as well as a living room, bathroom, and laundry room. The dormitory will also have spaces for group counseling, a mental health office, and a medical exam room.

City News Service has more on the probation camp remodel. Here’s a clip:

“The hope of the new design is to … promote a small group, family- type treatment facility, utilizing cottages instead of the current large dormitory design,” said David Mitchell, acting deputy chief of the Juvenile Institutions/Residential Treatment Services Bureau. “This design allows the Department to more effectively provide evidence-based, small group cognitive interventions and pro-social supportive services in a more therapeutic environment.”

The living arrangement is expected to build closer relationships and potentially reduce recidivism.

“Separating the young ladies into small living cottages endorses more personalized interaction with the youth and the staff that provide services to them,” Mitchell said. “The new design will enhance privacy, personal relationships and communication skills between the youth and creates a family- type living environment.”

The camp will also include group counseling rooms, a mental health office and a medical exam room and Mitchell said the design will allow targeted treatment, better integration of services and more family engagement.

During construction, juvenile offenders will be moved to Camp Kenyon Scudder in Santa Clarita. Scudder has capacity for 85 minors and a daily population that ranges between 26 and 32 minors.

Construction is expected to begin in six to nine months and take roughly two years to complete.

Posted in juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

A To Do List for LA County Probation’s Two New Chiefs – by Madeline Ottilie

November 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A new chief and a deputy chief were selected this week by the Los Angeles County board of supervisors and we have some items for their To Do list

By Madeline Ottilie

Los Angeles County’s newly-chosen chief probation officer and her new second in command, who will both take over in January, are entering LA’s troubled probation department at a pivotal moment.
For the very top position, LA’s Board of Supervisors selected former Assistant LA County Sheriff Terri McDonald who, up until recently, was in charge of LA’s massive jail system, after being brought in to implement reform recommendations following a series of very public scandals.

Then to head the juvenile side of the department, the supervisors hired Sheila Mitchell, who is the former chief of the Santa Clara Probation Department, where she earned a national reputation for instituting innovative youth programs in the agency she ran for nearly 10 years.

Child advocates and community activists hope the new leadership duo will change what has been described as a punishment-centered culture into one that focuses on rehabilitation, treatment and the effective transition of probationers back to their communities, particularly for the kids under the county’s supervision. Thus, many were cautiously optimistic when the board of supervisors hired Mitchell with her extensive background in juvenile probation reform.

The decision to hire two people, in and of itself, has produced hope.
“Probation has two important and quite different functions in the populations it supervises,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. “We think it’s important that the department move away from a law enforcement type of supervision on both of those sides. But juveniles are quite different than adults,” Eliasberg continued, “and it appears that the problems of youth probation are as significant if not more significant than on the adult side. Therefore we are pleased the board did not take a one-size-fits-all approach, and made sure that there was going to be somebody at the top with a substantial level of experience with youth.”


LA County Probation, the largest of its kind in the nation, has been hit by a stream of problems in the past decade, many of them having to do with how the department deals with the youth in its care. Things got bad enough to bring Department of Justice monitors into the county’s juvenile halls and camps from 2004 to 2015. Then there was a large class-action suit filed in 2010, “due to the failure” of probation “to provide adequate education to youth in the camps,” even “locking students in solitary confinement for weeks or months without attending school.” In the past few years, however, probation executives claimed that the bad old days were all but over when the DOJ signed off in April 2015.

But more recently, a string of new red flags suggested that, despite some improvements, there is much work to be done.

Among the issues that critics say demonstrated all was not well are recent allegations of kids being assaulted by staff inside two juvenile halls, evidence of fiscal mismanagement both on the adult and the juvenile side of probation and an April 2015 report by the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office that showed the youth detention programs weren’t doing anywhere near as swimmingly as everyone was claiming. It came a month after a 155-page Los Angeles County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study that showed that a discouraging percentage of the youth who were in the department’s facilities or on home probation were not getting the help they needed, and recidivated in alarming numbers.

But none of these events pushed LA County’s juvenile probation into the national spotlight. Instead, it was the release of a detailed in-house report that detailed what the author described as “deplorable” conditions in the main juvenile hall. LA County Probation Commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez compiled it in February 2015, mainly for his fellow commissioners, members of the LA County Board of Supervisors and probation department higher-ups. But in March the report leaked to a couple of members of the press — namely WitnessLA and the Los Angeles Times, both of which wrote stories.

Martinez’s report was unusually frank, comparing Central Juvenile Hall to a “Third World country prison” and describing units lacking in running water and inmates kept in isolation without an apparent cause. Walls and other surfaces were reported to be covered in gang graffiti, and some urinals were said to be overflowing. Martinez noted an appalling stench due to an unrepaired sewage system. Doors to probationers’ rooms were allegedly propped open to air out the smell, not with doorstops, but their personal items.

He wrote the report after making an unscheduled visit to the facility early last year and being appalled by what he saw. After the initial two news articles, other media outlets wrote about it. People spoke out online and on social media. One LA Times online commenter wrote that he was housed in the facility 32 years ago and recalled similar awful conditions and mistreatment. Others argued that conditions were fair punishment for those who had committed crimes. Most merely expressed disgust.

The 15 probation commissioners are required to check the Probation Department’s juvenile facilities periodically and report back on their findings. When a commissioner reports a problem, the department is required to respond within 30 days.

The Probation Department was quick to investigate Martinez’s observations and allegations — and act to correct the issues he listed. Some of the problems had reportedly already been hurriedly fixed by the time Probation’s inspector arrived. Other alleged violations were not found during investigations, such as the stench from toilets, according to probation officials. Due to Martinez’s high-profile report, a significant amount of graffiti was reportedly washed away, walls repainted, bathrooms scrubbed and restored, and real doorstops bought.

The story raised significant concern. But while officials expressed their disappointment with the conditions and acknowledged the importance of fixing the issues Martinez reported, some viewed the report as a symptom of larger problems in a system that desperately needs significant reform.

“In the scheme of all the other stuff that’s going on with the department,” said Cyn Yamashiro, a member of the Probation Commission along with Martinez, “the fact that there’s some graffiti on the wall and the urinals stink … Yeah that’s bad, but there’s a lot of other stuff that’s going on.” (Yamashiro said he spoke on his own behalf and not on behalf of the commission.)


The physical condition of the facilities do have symbolic importance in the rehabilitative process, especially for minors, he said. He is concerned that, even though these specific instances were reportedly resolved, they were allowed to occur in the first place. He also worries about similar conditions that might be occurring unreported elsewhere in the juvenile system, he said.

“I’m not a psychologist, but I would assume that there’s a relationship between the conditions of confinement and how youth see themselves,” Yamashiro said, “and [how they] see the institution that is trying to rehabilitate them.” The physical state of the department’s three juvenile halls and 12 juvenile camps can easily be viewed “as an expression of the institution’s desire to kind of create environments that are healthy for kids,” he explained. “If kids see that the institution doesn’t care enough to fix the plumbing and fix urinals and things like that, it doesn’t say a lot about the institution’s desire to help them.”

Probation’s Kerri Webb and Scott Sanders, consultant for the department’s juvenile detention services, both had a more upbeat take on the problems. Central Juvenile Hall, the largest of the county’s three juvenile halls, currently houses somewhere around 200 youth, said Sanders, who noted that the facility has a swimming pool, recreation stations, a school, and two medical units.

“A lot of time these kids are receiving services and educational opportunities that they didn’t take advantage of when they were on the outside committing the crime,” said Webb. “Now they are in a facility and in a program and environment where they have to go to school, and there are educational programs where they will receive the credit towards graduation. There are health professionals who will evaluate them to see what their psychiatric needs are, what their mental health needs are. We’re really proud of the fact that a lot of the times these kids, once they complete their stay here, are armed with better opportunities and better services, and more prepared to be a better juvenile in society.”

Educational services and a swimming pool may play a positive role in rehabilitation, according to Yamashiro and others, but that doesn’t prevent the negative factors in the juvenile halls and camps from playing a harmful one.

“At some point, the conditions themselves become the punishment,” Yamashiro said. “The farther away the environment is that they’re confined in, the farther away that is from their own home life, is I think the extent to which it is a punishment.”

And according to Yamashiro and department officials punishment is not supposed to be the point, at least in theory.

“The goal at this point when you’re working with youth,” Yamashiro said — “particularly when such a high percentage of youth come into the system with mental health disorders, diagnoses of learning disabilities” and more — is that this is “not [supposed to be] an exercise in punishment. It’s really about rehabilitating kids.”

That is why it is so essential to understand how the physical conditions of the county’s various juvenile facilities can have a great deal to do with a kid’s experience when he or she is in the county’s care, he said.

“If [the facility is] an environment that allows people to be comfortable and be in a position where they can learn, they can reflect on their own behavior and how they’re going to get better,” Yamashiro said. “[If] it’s so gross they can’t do that, then it kind of defeats the purpose of them being there.”

The Probation Department agreed, but said their quick response to the Martinez report’s allegations was less publicized than the high-profile news that resulted from the report itself.

“It doesn’t get out there, but we are proud of what we do,” Sanders said. “I stand on this, that our staff cares about these kids, that the department cares about these kids. And we are trying to do everything we can to provide the services that these kids need.

“I think the public misses the piece that a lot of these kids come in broken,” Sanders said. “They come in and our job is to try to stabilize them in the length of time we have. In Juvenile Hall, the average stay is 17 days. You might have some that are there longer. You have a lot that are there shorter. So our job is to try to help them leave as fast as possible, which is not a small task.”

Webb agreed.

“That’s our goal, that’s our mission,” she said, “to rehabilitate and get them back into their community and [to] be functional members of society. We’re really proud of that. [But] that doesn’t seem to really get across to the public. We’re not about just locking these kids up. They leave many times better than they were when they came in.”
Yet critics say these worthy intentions still beg the question as to how these practices were allowed to occur in the first place, particularly those with such a simple fix as rinsing the graffiti off the wall. What prevented this disrepair from being fixed the moment it was observed, not by a commissioner, but by a Detention Service Officer or other employee who works in the facilities every day?


In the past, the department has been criticized for various kinds of financial negligence. The audit released in January said the department did not adequately track its expenditures. Money was spent on employee phones that no one was using and on phones for former employees, for example. The report also found $161 million in state funds designated for much-needed adult and juvenile programs that had never been spent. Why? This was unclear. And though this sum was comprised of funding designated for programming and not facility upkeep, it suggested a level of financial dysfunction that had the potential to bleed into all areas of the department.

The cost of keeping a young person locked up in the county is unusually high, for example, compared with other California counties with large juvenile systems, according to an audit completed in April 2015.

The Average Daily Cost Per Youth or (ADCPY) for the county’s juvenile halls is $640 per kid per day in the halls and $552 in the camps. San Diego County spent $351 and $206 for camps and halls, respectively. Orange County spent $497 and $284. Harris County, Texas, $232 and $272.

In 2005, the county reported 17,648 felony arrests of juveniles, that was 6,906 by 2015, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.

Fewer arrests means fewer kids in residential facilities. In early 2016, 535 youths were held in facilities designed for 1,469. Despite this low number, the department continued to pay for services for a capacity of nearly 1,000, even though the camps and halls were reportedly seriously understaffed at the time of the audit.

Yamashiro said that, like the graffiti, the fiscal issues pointed beyond themselves to larger management troubles and attitudes. “You have a department whose budget hasn’t really shrunken, but you’ve got a population of kids that’s far lower than it has been in any memory,” he said. “So there’s a lot fewer kids and the same [departmental issues] persist. And I think that’s a problem.”

So why is the cost per kid so high in LA County’s juvenile halls and camps? And what are the county’s kids getting for the money? The county auditors noted that they were not 100 percent sure about the details of how the money was being spent because, they wrote, “Probation does not adequately track expenditures for juvenile halls and camps.”


One more issue addressed in Martinez’ original report is juvenile solitary. He wrote about a boy who was reportedly sent into isolation for 16 hours after trading his beverage carton for another inmate’s. While trading food is not allowed, Martinez noted that the punishment was a misuse of solitary confinement, which can only be used as a disciplinary action for no more than a few hours at a time. Exceptions are made for serious and rare situations.

The use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary action for juveniles has been a source of national controversy for some time, with many calling the strategy unproductive, cruel and capable of triggering permanent psychological consequences, especially with youth.

Last May, the county’s board of supervisors banned the use of solitary confinement, except in exceptional circumstances, in all the county’s juvenile detention facilities. While youth might still occasionally be separated for a cool-down period when all other options fail, the conditions of this separation were radically redefined and are supposed to now provide a more therapeutic and calming experience.

The day before these changes were approved in Los Angeles County, President Obama announced a solitary confinement ban for juveniles in federal prisons.

“Everyone agrees [solitary is] just not an appropriate way to handle crisis for youth for any lengthy period of time,” Yamashiro said.

Six months after the board of supervisors ordered the replacement of trips to solitary with far briefer time outs in a therapeutic environment, what are the results? Are staffers making use of the therapy-oriented procedures, like the newly created Hope Centers, in the halls and camps? Some probation sources say that many staff feel a vital tool has been taken away from them, and are unsure what to use in its place, so often use extended periods of room confinement as a replacement, which isn’t at all what the board of supervisors had in mind.

Even more pressing than the need for a progress report on the isolation issue is the matter of the growing number of reports of alleged assaults of youth by staff in the department’s halls and camps. Video surveillance caught a beating of an unresisting boy by staff members earlier this year. The instance does not appear to be isolated.

Another alleged incident surfaced the next month. And a third in October, with more rumored still to come. A report officials compiled this summer at the request of the probation commission found that monthly use of force incidents in the county’s three juvenile halls had increased 85 percent from January to July of this past year.


The two new chiefs will be faced with a long list of key decisions and daunting challenges when they arrive in January, especially given the agency’s need for many major and vital reforms.

“In working with the last two chiefs,” Sal Martinez said, “there’s one thing that I learned: No matter who’s in charge, there’s still a big disconnect between the executive offices in Downey and the line offices. And that disconnect needs to be fixed if we want to reform this department.”

This story is part of a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, which is the product of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Posted in juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, Probation | 3 Comments »

Contra Costa Stops Charging Families a Per Diem for Juvie Lock-up and Ankle Monitors

October 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of placing a moratorium on the county’s collection of fees from families for kids’ juvenile justice system involvement.

Contra Costa currently charges $17 a day for electronic monitoring, and a “cost of care” fee of as much as $30 a day when kids are locked up in juvenile hall. While some counties levy even more charges against families, Contra Costa only collects these two fines. The fee amounts are, however, some of the highest in the state, and often push poor families into serious financial strain and debt, while pushing their kids further into the justice system.

A team of law students from UC Berkeley’s Policy Advocacy Clinic has been instrumental in stopping the fees in several California counties, including Contra Costa.

The Berkeley research shows that the collection of administrative fees from families has no rehabilitative, restorative, or retributive value. The practice only acts to recover costs to the county. Except in Contra Costa’s case, the the county doesn’t even make enough money from the fees to cover the cost of collecting them.

“The infrastructure that the county has to collect this fee is more expensive than the net amount that the county gets from this fee,” said Supervisor John Gioia.

In neighboring Alameda County, families used to be charged for GPS monitoring, community supervision, nights in juvenile hall, and more. Then in March, after UC Berkeley researchers revealed the significant burden these costs place on low-income families, Alameda abolished the fees for its residents. The Berkeley report found that the costs were adding up to more than $2,000 per case, with many totals much higher.

(In case you were wondering, Los Angeles and San Francisco do not charge these administration fees to kids’ families. LA County approved a moratorium on the fees in 2009. SF never charged fees.)

At the state level, California Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill introduced a bill this year that, had it survived, would have eliminated administrative fees for kids locked up or placed on probation statewide.

KQED’s Sukey Lewis talked with one Contra Costa County mother who was slapped with a bill for the 313 days her son spent in juvenile lock-up. Here’s a clip:

Contra Costa has some of the highest fees in the state — up to $30 per day for juvenile hall detention and $17 per day for ankle monitoring. That means M.C. could have been billed more than $9,000 for the cost of holding her son.

She works as a house cleaner and was already struggling to make ends meet. M.C. told the probation department she couldn’t pay the full amount, and they reduced her bill to $939.

M.C. started paying it off when she could, about $50 a month, but she says the fees felt like an injustice. It made her “angry to see these letters arrive charging me money, and my son was locked up, and still they wanted to blame him for something he never did.”

After more than two years, all charges against her son were dropped, and he came home.

But M.C. still had to pay the probation department.

Under state law, the county had every right to do this. The California Welfare and Institutions Code holds parents financially responsible for their kids even while in custody. The logic goes that if M.C.’s son were at home she would have to pay for the cost of clothing him and feeding him, so she should have to reimburse the county for those same costs.

Youth Radio’s Myles Bess recorded the above video following Alameda County’s decision to suspend juvenile justice fees.

Posted in juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

“Chessman,” and the Death of Venida Browder

October 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A new play about an incredibly controversial death penalty case in California in the 1960s—”Chessman”—opened last week at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre.

For more than 12 years, California death row inmate Caryl Chessman fought desperately to save himself from the gas chamber. Chessman’s case was extremely controversial because he had not been convicted of murder. Instead, at 27-years-old, Chessman, also called the “Red Light Bandit” was convicted of a a number of robberies and rapes in Los Angeles. Many important voices, including Eleanor Roosevelt and the Vatican newspaper, called for Chessman to be spared.

On Feb 18, 1960, 21-year-old UC Berkeley student Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. dialed his father, then-Governor Pat Brown, and asked for a 60-day stay of execution for Chessman, the night before the man’s scheduled execution. The younger Brown also urged his father to propose a bill to end the death penalty in California. Even though both men knew the measure had an extremely low chance of success, Pat Brown introduced a bill to abolish capital punishment.

The elder Brown’s bill was rejected by state legislators, and Chessman was put to death two-and-a-half months later.

Although playwright says the timing of the play was not purposeful, it is serendipitous, in that next month, California voters will choose between two competing death penalty-related ballot initiatives. The first, Proposition 62, would abolish capital punishment in the state. The second, Prop. 66, would speed up the death penalty appeals process executions.

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has more on the play, which tells the Chessman story from the perspectives of the condemned man, and four members of the Brown family—Pat, his wife Bernice, Jerry, and Pat’s daughter, Kathleen. Here’s a clip:

The controversy also came at a relative highwater mark for opposition to the death penalty, when Americans were about evenly split on the issue. This allowed Pat Brown to openly grapple over Chessman’s fate without committing “automatic political suicide,” the biographer Rarick noted at a recent panel on the case.

“He always looked for the best with everybody. He was inclined toward mercy, but inclined toward upholding the law,” Rarick said.

Because Chessman had prior felonies, Pat Brown could not commute his sentence without the approval of the California Supreme Court, which voted 4-3 to uphold the conviction. Chessman was going to die.

But the night before the execution was scheduled to proceed, Jerry Brown called his father urging him to grant a 60-day reprieve and pursue a moratorium on the death penalty in the Legislature. As Pat recounted in “Public Justice, Private Mercy,” he believed there was not “one chance in a thousand” that lawmakers would act.

“Then Jerry said, “But Dad, if you were a doctor and there was one chance in a thousand of saving a patient’s life, wouldn’t you take it?’

“I thought about that for a moment. You’re right, I finally said. I’ll do it.”

For his decision, Pat Brown received a slew of negative responses – and a 16-page letter from a “surprised and grateful” Chessman.

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, “Chessman” playwright Joseph Rodota discusses the case’s backstory and context, as well as his inspiration for the play, and the impact of the case on the Browns “and how it shapes the relationship of family members to each other.” Here are some clips:

The play looks at the death penalty controversy through the eyes of each member of the family. I think that’s what I found very fascinating as I was reading through Bernice Brown’s recollections at the time. Jerry in 1960, at this moment where it looks like all options for Chessman have been closed off, and Pat Brown has finally decided that he’d done all that he can do, and he was going to let the execution take place. Pat Brown was alone in the house and he writes later that he took a phone call from Jerry. Jerry was a student at that point, he’s out of the seminary and he’s now at Berkeley. He calls him and they discuss the case, and nobody knows of course what they said to each other.

But that evening, after that call concluded, Brown reversed course and decided he would go to the Legislature and seek a change in California’s death penalty law, and he gave Chessman a reprieve so that he could pursue that option.

[Morrison:] Ultimately of course that reprieve couldn’t last, and the commutation wasn’t possible.

Right. It was a temporary reprieve, and Gov. Brown was unsuccessful in persuading the Legislature to change the law, and he lost in committee. It’s important in the context — this might have been one of the first defeats Brown had suffered in the Legislature. He was riding high, he’d been elected in 1958, and he had had a breathtaking year in 1959, one success in the Legislature after another. And this was the first roadblock.


He made it very clear what his personal views were on the death penalty, and he also made very clear the matter of his Catholic faith. But he had also expressed a deep love for the law. Pat Brown had grown up as a prosecutor, a D.A., attorney general and now the governor. And he really felt that the legal system was the glue that held California together, and he was very conscious of his legal limitations and his duty to the people to follow the law. If he couldn’t change it, he had to follow it.

The play actually attempts to answer the question, how does the experience of the Chessman case change the relationship between Gov. Brown and his son? Of course, I did a large amount of research. For example, back in the ’70s, Jerry talked a bit about his early life, and I have a lot of early Jerry Brown interviews. I also found a letter Jerry Brown wrote to one of his uncles while he was in the seminary. It was handwritten, beautiful letter that you can just feel; here’s a 19-year-old talking to somebody in the family, just pouring his heart out. I felt I could really hear the voice of these family members.


On Friday night, at 63 years old, Venida Browder, the mother of Kalief Browder, died of complications from a heart attack. The Browders’ attorney, Paul Prestia, says he believes Venida “died of a broken heart.”

In 2010, Kalief was arrested after being accused of stealing a backpack. The Browders’ inability to post $3,000 bail led to a harrowing three-year stint at Rikers Island for Kalief.

Kalief was never tried during those three years—two of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges against Browder in 2013. For the next two years following his release, Kalief struggled with mental illness stemming from the adverse effects of prolonged isolation and other trauma he experienced behind bars. For periods, it appeared that Browder was restarting his life, but on several occasions he tried to kill himself. Last June, at 22 years old, Browder finally succeeded.

The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman, who has been following and reporting on Browder’s devastating story since October 2014, also wrote about Venida and the work she did to honor Kalief’s life and legacy through activism, before her own untimely death. Here’s a small clip:

In the following months, Venida, who was fairly shy, became much more outspoken. Although she had serious health problems, she travelled to Washington, D.C., in July of 2015 to attend a press conference for “Kalief’s Law,” a bill intended to improve the treatment of young people in prison. She joined the advisory board of an organization called Stop Solitary for Kids. She spoke to reporters. In January of 2016, she participated in the American Justice Summit at John Jay College. Paul Prestia, who represented her in a wrongful-death claim against New York City, remembers going with her to a speaking event at the New School last April. Before she stepped onstage, he said that she seemed very nervous. But then she spoke for forty-five minutes about what she and Kalief had endured. “She got up there, and I was like, Wow!” he said. “She blew me away.”


“She could have stayed back, but the fact she was so involved helped that movement,” Prestia said. Kalief’s story—and his mother’s voice—became an important part of the public debates over solitary confinement, youth incarceration, court delays, speedy-trial laws, and conditions on Rikers.

As part of an upcoming video series for The Marshall Project, Venida tells her son’s story—from his arrest to his release and, later, his death. Venida found Kalief after he had hanged himself from a second floor window of their family home. “I miss my son,” Venida said. “I miss him so much.”

Kalief’s story has garnered a ton of media attention and set in motion efforts to reform the notorious NY jail. Earlier this month, Rapper Jay-Z announced that he is producing a six-part docu-series called, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” scheduled for release this upcoming January on Spike TV.

Posted in Death Penalty, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Two Prop 57 Stories and the Wording Switch That Saved CA’s Juvie Isolation Bill

October 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


KQED has two worthwhile stories about California’s ballot initiative Proposition 57—which would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. (It would also as increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense and boost access to early release credits, but the focus of the two KQED stories is on the juvenile justice portion of the initiative.)

In the first, KQED’s Laura Klivans tells the story of Daniel Mendoza, a 21-year-old junior at UC Davis, who, at 14, faced 50 years behind bars for his part in a fatal fight with an older man. The Santa Cruz County District Attorney sent Mendoza’s case to adult court.

Four-and-a-half years later, after the teen had finished high school, taken college classes, and made positive life changes while in juvenile hall, Mendoza’s lawyer succeeded in getting his case sent back to juvenile court. Instead of 50 years, Mendoza spent less than less than five years behind bars. And the rehabilitative and academic supports Mendoza received in juvenile lock-up “changed the whole picture,” he says.

Here’s a clip from Klivans’ story:

Youth advocates argue that direct file hinders due process. The decision to send a young person’s case to adult court is made privately by the county district attorney’s office. Those supporting reform say it would be more just to have a hearing in front of a judge where both the prosecution and defense can present their sides, and the judge would make the decision.

This type of hearing is used in some circumstances, and if Proposition 57 passes, it would be required for all juvenile cases transferred to adult court.

Supporters of Proposition 57 also say the impacts of sending a young person to adult court, rather than remaining in juvenile court, are huge: The youth will likely get a longer sentence, be more likely to commit another crime when released, and more likely to experience violence while incarcerated.

District attorneys say direct file is reserved for only the most serious cases, which they believe would end up in adult court regardless. It can be a helpful tool that can save time and resources in an already bogged-down legal system. And in counties with limited rehabilitative options, district attorneys may feel direct file is the best way to keep the larger community safe.

Mendoza was a 14-year-old when his case was sent to adult court. There, the prosecutor proposed a sentence of 50 years to life in prison. But Mendoza’s lawyer fought it.

In the meantime, Mendoza was in Santa Cruz’s juvenile hall. There, slowly, he changed.

“Slowly, I was investing in my education,” he says. “I started not only to show up but do the work. One of the lead teachers got me to take college courses. Where I come from we don’t think about graduating high school, let alone going to college.”

He graduated from high school while in juvenile hall, and took more college courses. He built positive relationships with mentors and staff.

Four and a half years in, while Mendoza’s trial was still going on, the teenager got a surprise: His case was bumped back to juvenile court, where he was convicted of first-degree murder as a juvenile. This meant his sentence would be a lot shorter than the 50 years he could have gotten in adult court.


In the second story, Klivans takes a look at why prosecutors in San Francisco direct-file kids at much lower rates than prosecutors in other California jurisdictions.

According to prosecutor Jean Roland, the difference between counties that have high direct-file numbers and San Francisco, is the “mentality” of SF District Attorney’s Office led by reform-minded DA George Gascón. Here’s a clip:

Some counties write off San Francisco as too different. It’s a place with tech money, and unlike most counties, which include many cities, San Francisco has just one. That means it has one school district and one police department.

But prosecutor Jean Roland says the real magic starts with the mentality of the district attorney’s office. They report using direct file three times a year on the high end, and some years they haven’t used it at all.

“I think we all share a common thought process of trying to cut off that prison pipeline,” Roland says. “If we don’t do it when they’re younger, when they have a chance, it becomes harder and harder to do that as they reach adulthood.”

Roland points to studies that say a young person’s brain is still developing until their mid-20s. That research is not something all counties value, but in San Francisco the staff repeat it again and again.

Patricia Lee, managing attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Juvenile Division, started working at her office over 30 years ago, a time when she says San Francisco didn’t have many good options to rehabilitate youth. She says she gets how people from other counties may feel.

“Twenty-five years ago we were in that position, too,” Lee says. But she and her colleagues have gotten creative, she says, and other counties, no matter how different, can do the same. She recommends applying for federal grants, collaborating with other departments across the cities, and even partnering with nearby counties.

Lee says these approaches contribute to the declining number of youth involved in San Francisco’s juvenile justice system — 1,500 kids in 2005 and around 600 today.


Writing for The Crime Report, journalist Kelly Davis tells the story of the simple change of language that turned CA Senator Mark Leno’s many-times-failed bill to restrict juvenile solitary confinement into a bill that sailed through the state’s legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown late last month. Here’s a clip:

At a press conference in San Francisco in early December, state Sen. Mark Leno, the Bay Area lawmaker who authored the failed bill, announced plans to re-introduce it in 2016.

To signal his frustration, he proposed calling it the “Stop Torture of Children Act.”

“We’re calling it what it is,” Leno told The Crime Report in an interview shortly after the press conference. “It’s an outrage that we’re still having this debate.”

Leno’s bill was the fourth attempt since 2012 to address the use of isolation in the state’s juvenile lock-ups. Like previous bills, it had faced strong opposition from California’s prison guards union, whose members work in state-run juvenile detention centers, and from the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), whose members run county juvenile facilities. Both groups took issue with the bill’s use of the term “solitary confinement,” arguing that while there were times when youth needed to be separated from the general population, calling it “solitary confinement” sent the wrong message.

“It immediately evokes images of a person locked away in a dark, dank, brick cell deprived of light and fresh air like a prisoner of war in a foreign country,” CPOC argued in a 2014 publication.

But despite his public stance, behind the scenes, Leno continued a dialog with opponents, who, as CalMatters reported last February, were working on their own bill that would prohibit the use of solitary confinement while also making it clear that that’s not what their facilities practiced.

“It doesn’t matter to us what it’s called. It’s the practice that we’re trying to change.”
When Leno re-introduced the bill in March 2016, there was no adversarial title, just a bill number: SB 1124. Gone, too, was any reference to solitary confinement. Instead, SB 1124 used the term “room confinement.”

Aside from that, it wasn’t much different than its predecessor, which Leno had amended several times to address issues raised by opponents. Both bills sought to limit to four hours the amount of time a juvenile who poses a safety threat could be confined to a room and established guidelines for instances when a youth might need to be isolated for a longer period of time.

By replacing “solitary confinement” with “room confinement,” Leno turned opponents into allies. CPOC signed on as co-sponsors and the prison guards union changed its position to neutral. The bill faced no opposition and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 27.

Posted in juvenile justice | 1 Comment »

Alt. Public Defenders Before Panel Attorneys for Juvenile Defendants

October 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes. Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl to have attorneys from the Alternate Public Defender’s Office represent juvenile defendants when the Public Defender’s Office is unable to provide counsel. Currently in LA County, when public defenders cannot represent juvenile defendants—due to a conflict of interest or other problem—the kids gets handed to private “panel attorneys,” who get paid an alarmingly low flat-fee stipend for the entirety of each case.

“Today is truly a historic moment,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Our youth have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel and we, as a County, have an obligation to ensure that this right is met. These reforms accomplish that, while also protecting our youth and promoting their rehabilitation.”

In addition to assigning juvenile cases to the county’s Alternative Public Defender’s Office, Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion would also create a unit within the LA County Bar Association, which will provide oversight for the panel attorneys representing any kids whom neither the PD or APD offices can represent.

“Every child in LA County is entitled to quality, competent and effective legal representation,” said Kuehl. “This motion will ensure that happens.”

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. (Ridley-Thomas introduced his 2014 motion following the release of a study by Loyola Law School Professor Cyn Yamashiro illuminating serious problems within LA’s system of panel attorneys.)

This week’s motion was introduced in response to a 258-page report by the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law.

According to the report, between 2010-2014, 25% of juvenile petitions were assigned to panel attorneys. The report also found that kids with court-appointed panel lawyers were more likely to be sent to adult court than their peers represented by public defenders.

But the panel attorneys—who are paid between $340-$360 for the life of a case—say they are not the issue, rather, it is the system and the flat fee structure they work under. Supervisor Kuehl noted that the county’s contracts with all panel attorneys are set to expire at the end of the month, and that the attorneys weren’t going to agree to the flat rate any longer.

Supe. Antonovich inquired about the cost of alternatively using only panel attorneys—overseen by the Bar—when PD representation is off the table. County CEO Sachi Hamai informed the board that that option would be more costly than using the APD. In the end, Antonovich abstained from the vote.

Jacqueline Caster, president of the Everychild Foundation, pointed out that the panel attorneys serving indigent adult defendants in LA County are paid by the hour, which gives the attorneys an “incentive to provide better attention to their cases and clients.” Caster, who also serves on the LA County Probation Commission, said that when kids in probation camps need to “access their counsel, to no one’s surprise, it’s very difficult to track their panel attorneys down, let alone receive the services they need in a timely fashion—if at all.” Caster advocated hourly pay for the panel attorneys serving kids at or above the rate received by panel attorneys representing adults because of the extra “training and expertise” juvenile defense attorneys require.

According to the report, panel lawyers consulted with fewer experts, filed fewer motions, provided less documentation in support of their client, and spent an average of just over half as much time as public defenders spent on each juvenile case.

“For too long, the existing system has incentivized a speedy process over one that is just and balanced,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.

The Alternate Public Defender’s Office says it can take on the juvenile cases immediately, while the LA County Bar Association says it can adopt the changes—intended to create a fairer system for kids charged with crimes—as quickly as November 1.

“Those who have been denied and those who have been neglected…are now going to be able to feel like they are being properly represented,” said Ridley-Thomas.

“Juvenile defense attorneys play a critically important role,” said Kuehl. “They determine whether juveniles will be prosecuted as adults, and they not only defend their young clients, they advocate for mental health, substance abuse and other services that may benefit these young people. We know that juveniles who receive a quality defense and the services they need are much more likely to be set on a path toward successful adulthood.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

LA County Board of Supervisors to Vote on Plan to Provide Quality Legal Representation for Juvenile Defendants

October 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

For years, juvenile justice advocates and others have been fighting for reform
of Los Angeles County’s ghastly juvenile panel attorney system that has meant inadequate legal defense for many of the county’s kids facing criminal court cases.

Finally it appears that reform may be nearly at hand with a motion up for a vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The motion, introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, calls for the establishment of a new juvenile indigent defense structure that would entitle LA kids to be represented by the Alternate Public Defender in cases in which the Public Defender is unable to represent them. (In cases in which neither the Public Defender nor the Alternate Public Defender are able to provide indigent defense services, The LA County Bar Association would administer and oversee court-appointed attorneys.)

As it stands now, when public defenders are unable to represent juvenile defendants (because of a conflict of interest or other issue), the kids get bounced to private “panel attorneys,” who are paid the staggeringly low flat-fee stipend of between $340-$360 for the duration of a case, no matter how complicated or lengthy the case might be.

Furthermore, while most public defenders are provided with such legal nicities as investigators or subject matter experts when needed, except in the rarest of instances, panel attorneys are not, no matter how important those resources might be for a young person’s case. As a consequence, too many panel attorneys simply cannot or do not put on an adequate defense for their young clients, leading to legal outcomes that are arguably decided by money (or lack thereof) rather than justice.

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.

In March of this year, County CEO Sachi Hamai returned with the required 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.

Tuesday’s motion is in response to the Warren Institute/Berkeley Law School report and its alarming findings.

(And, for the record, Ridley-Thomas’ 2014 motion was in response to a study by Loyola Law School Professor–and Probation Commissioner–Cyn Yamashiro, that illuminated serious problems within LA’s system of panel attorneys.)

(For more back story on Tuesday’s motion see WitnessLA’s previous story on the matter by Taylor Walker.)

“Every child in LA County is entitled to quality, competent and effective legal counsel,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “This motion will ensure that happens. Juvenile defense attorneys play a critically important role. They determine whether juveniles will be prosecuted as adults, and they not only defend their young clients, they advocate for mental health, substance abuse and other services that may benefit these young people. We know that juveniles who receive a quality defense and the services they need are much more likely to be set on a path toward successful adulthood.”

We’ll let you know what happens with the vote. So stay tuned.


The LA County Board of Supes is also expected to vote to approve the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Mira Loma Women’s Detention Center—AKA the new women’s jail. A sizable line-up of community representatives and advocates are expected to show up at the board meeting to make clear their opposition to the new jail construction. There will be a multi-group press conference at 11 a.m. and hearing at 1 p.m. at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, at 500 West Temple in downtown Los Angeles.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

From Juvie to Juvenile Law: Frankie Guzman’s Unlikely Journey — By Lisa Weinzimer

October 5th, 2016 by witnessla


As we move closer to the November election, the debate about California Governor Jerry Brown’s ballot initiative—Proposition 57—is heating up.

Prop. 57 would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. It would also as increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense and boost access to early release credits.

In the story below, which originally appeared on The Chronicle of Social Change, Lisa Weinzimer introduces Frankie Guzman, who spent a big chunk of his teenage years behind bars before redirecting his life. Now Guzman is an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law (and a Soros Justice Fellow). This year, Guzman was among the attorneys, advocates, and others who penned Prop. 57, which he believes voters will approve come November.

While the portion of the ballot measure that affects adult sentencing is important (and the most controversial section of the proposed law), Weinzimer’s story focuses on the juvenile justice side of Prop. 57.


By Lisa Weinzimer

In 1995, when Frankie Guzman was 15, living in the impoverished community of La Colonia in the city of Oxnard, California, his older friend came to his house to ask for a favor.

The friend needed cash. His request: Help me to rob a liquor store.

“It was a terrible idea – something I wasn’t at all interested in doing,” Guzman said in a recent interview.

Frankie Guzman, a former juvenile offender, is now an advocate and attorney with National Center for Youth Law.

But as his friend was walking away, Guzman started feeling guilty. He worried about what would happen if his friend robbed the store alone. So they bought guns, stole ski masks and gloves from a store, and drove to the liquor store at noon on a Saturday, Guzman said.

Shortly after they got away with $300 from the store’s register, the teens were caught and arrested.

Because of their one-year age difference, Guzman and his friend were sent into different justice systems. Guzman’s friend, age 16, was charged as an adult. To this day, Guzman has no idea where life has taken him.

Guzman was charged as a juvenile. A judge handed him a 15-year sentence—the maximum allowed at the time—at the California Youth Authority (CYA), the state’s prison system for youth (which has since been renamed the Division of Juvenile Justice and drastically reduced in size). Guzman was released early, and returned to his community at 19, but the time behind bars had troubled him deeply.

“I’m out for three months with a whole lot more issues and baggage and trauma than I went in with, and really wasn’t able to function on the outside,” Guzman said.

Guzman did two more stints in juvenile lock-up until, at age 21, he started thinking differently.

“I was hopeless and desperate, and afraid of failure,” he said. “And in my mind, at that time, failure was prison or a grave, or leading a meaningless worker’s life. And so I went to community college and I tried to do something different.”

It was at Oxnard Community College, not in the juvenile justice system, where Guzman was rehabilitated, he said.

“At community college–not only was it not a prison state—it was a place of nurturing and education and rehabilitation,” he said.

Guzman went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley and then to law school at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A recipient of a Soros Justice Fellowship, Guzman now works with the National Center for Youth Law, helping youth who, like him, have become enmeshed in the state’s juvenile justice system.

By any measure, Guzman has overcome long odds on his way to becoming an attorney and juvenile justice advocate. But his story is especially important as Guzman works to keep today’s youth out of the criminal justice system with a California ballot measure that intends to stem the flow of juveniles into the adult court system.

Set to go before California voters in November, Prop. 57 would abolish district attorneys’ discretion to prosecute youth as adults, and also enact sentencing reforms for adults.

Prop. 57 would reverse the worst elements of Prop. 21, an initiative passed in 2000 that allowed prosecutors to file charges against youth as young as 14 in adult court, and expanded the list of offenses for which youth could be charged as adults.

The new ballot measure would grant judges sole power to decide whether to move a minor’s case into the adult court system.

Guzman worked with other juvenile attorneys, advocates and community leaders to write the proposition, and Gov. Jerry Brown later agreed to sponsor it and provide funding to promote it, Guzman said.

Guzman also helped write a June report that analyzed data on youth in California who were prosecuted as adults. In “The Prosecution of Youth as Adults,” he and two co-authors found that while serious felony arrests have dropped 55 percent across the state since 2003, county district attorneys in the state charged youth as adults at a 23 percent higher rate per capita in 2014 than in 2003.

“Direct file”—a process that allows prosecutors to originate a juvenile’s case in adult court for certain offenses—was originally meant to be used only in extraordinary circumstances, but Guzman and his team found that in 2014, 80 percent of youth transferred to the state’s adult criminal justice system were placed there by prosecutors.

“Prosecutors don’t understand, in large measure, how much these kids have the cards stacked against them,” Guzman said. “By virtue of their role as prosecutors, they are extremely biased against defendants and their role is one of convicting. It is not increasing public safety through rehabilitation. It is incapacitation through a conviction.”

With the November vote drawing close, Guzman said he is optimistic that voters will approve Prop. 57, despite noting that some district attorneys are painting the ballot measure as being soft on crime.

“Currently the only thing that would in any way suggest that we might have a problem is the untruths that DAs are putting out there, which to me are not a problem,” Guzman said. “I don’t believe they are going to carry much weight or water.”

Guzman is now 36. His life has taken him from robbing that liquor store at age 15 to, earlier this year, getting summoned by Gov. Brown to discuss and finalize Prop. 57.

It has been an unlikely journey, and it has led him to what he is doing right now – in this unusual election season – fighting for the passage of a ballot measure that he hopes will keep young people out of the adult criminal justice system.

It is one of 17 propositions on the ballot. As November approaches, Guzman’s work is far from over.

“I’m very excited about it,” Guzman said. “But the big fight is still to get people to vote for it.”

Lisa Weinzimer wrote this story as part of the Journalism for Social Change massive online open course.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery contributed to this story, which CSC has kindly allowed us to reprint.

Photo: Frankie Guzman

Posted in Justice Reform, juvenile justice | 4 Comments »

Gov. Brown’s Bill-Signing (and Vetoing): The Final Roundup

October 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Friday was the final day for California Governor Jerry Brown to sign or veto bills passed by state lawmakers this year. This is WLA’s third and final roundup of the fates of justice-related bills we’ve followed in 2016. (Here are parts one and two, in case you missed them.)


On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1052, a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) that would have restricted the way law enforcement officers can interrogate kids during a criminal investigation, and would have required juveniles suspected of crimes to consult with an attorney before they can waive their constitutional right to remain silent.

Three days later, on Monday, the US Supreme Court chose not to intervene in the case of Joseph H, a 10-year-old from Riverside who was sentenced to more than a decade behind bars for the murder of his abusive neo-Nazi father. Joseph waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the murder. When a police officer asked Joseph, who has developmental issues, if he understood his Miranda rights, the boy said, “Yes, that means I have the right to remain calm.”

In refusing to step in, the high court has effectively said that children as young as Joseph are competent enough to validly waive their right to remain silent. (Back in August WLA ran a story by the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback about SB 1052 and Joseph H’s plight.)

Back in California, Brown penned a particularly long veto message explaining his difficult decision to reject SB 1052 based on an incomplete understanding of the possible “ramifications” of the bill. Here’s a clip:

“In more cases than not, both adult and juvenile suspects waive these rights and go on to answer an investigator’s questions. Courts uphold these “waivers” of rights as long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary. It is rare for a court to invalidate such a waiver.

Recent studies, however, argue that juveniles are more vulnerable than adults and easily succumb to police pressure to talk instead of remaining silent. Other studies show a much higher percentage of false confessions in the case of juveniles.

On the other hand, in countless cases, police investigators solve very serious crimes through questioning and the resulting admissions or statements that follow.

These competing realities raise difficult and troubling issues and that is why I have consulted widely to gain a better understanding of what is at stake. I have spoken to juvenile judges, police investigators, public defenders, prosecutors and the proponents of this bill. I have also read several research studies cited by the proponents and the most recent cases dealing with juvenile confessions.


Brown signed AB 1909, a bill to rein in prosecutorial misconduct in California by raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for prosecutors who intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense.

“Those individuals who are willing to win a case at all costs, who abuse their power as officers of the court, must answer for their actions,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Patty Lopez (D-San Francisco).


A bill that aims to standardize the way California’s local probation departments gather and report data on the kids in the juvenile justice system, AB 1998, also made it past Brown’s desk on Friday.

Currently, there’s “no state-level capacity to track recidivism or other important outcomes” like education, mental health, and child welfare status. Nor does the current system capture data on outcomes based on types of probation violations, or by types of facilities in which kids are placed (juvenile hall vs. a camp, for example) and length of stay.

The bill, introduced by Assm. Nora Campos (D-San Jose), will create guidelines for how probation departments collect data and share it with the state. Unfortunately, the guidelines cannot be enforced.

“Racial disparity is perhaps the most important issue facing our juvenile justice system, and we need good data to guide our restorative efforts,” Campos said. “AB 1998 will help state and local governments develop better information on how state funds and local programs are contributing to community safety.”


Brown also signed SB 1004, which will launch pilot programs in five counties allowing 18 to 21-year-olds convicted of low-level youthful offenses to be placed in juvenile facilities, rather than adult facilities.

The bill, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), will make it easier for young offenders to have access to the education and support systems unique to juvenile detention centers. SB 1004′s pilot programs will be held in Alameda, Napa, Santa Clara, Nevada, and Butte Counties.

In his signing message, Brown calls the bill a “promising start” but calls on lawmakers to also “explore options such as non-custody based diversion.”


Also in Brown’s signed pile are AB 2888 and AB 701, bill inspired by the very unpopular six-month jail sentence given to Stanford rapist Brock Turner.

Under current law, many felony sex crimes—rape by force, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and others—disqualify those convicted from receiving a sentence of probation. Prison time must be served.

However, some forms of sexual assault—digital penetration of someone who is unconscious or too intoxicated to consent (a la Brock Turner), for example—does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. AB 2888 and AB 701 intend to bring these other nonconsensual sexual assaults onto the same level as what is currently legally considered rape.

Opponents of AB 2888 argued that the bill creates new mandatory minimum sentences, as justice reformers and lawmakers work to reduce the prevalence of mandatory minimums, which disproportionately affect people of color.

Also signed into law were AB 1744, which requires all counties to use the same standardized rape kit, and AB 2499, which forces the state Department of Justice to improve its database, so that victims of sexual assault can track the status of their kits.

Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice, Rape, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Supreme Court | No Comments »

It’s Bill-Signing Season in Sacramento

September 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Over the last few days (and certainly for the next several days) California Governor Jerry Brown has been a bill-signing powerhouse. While our list is by no means exhaustive, we’ve gathered many of the most consequential bills either signed or vetoed that relate to juvenile and criminal justice, foster care, and sex trafficking.


On Wednesday, Governor Brown signed an important bill that will drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

SB 1143 will block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids. “Room confinement,” which will now be limited to four hours at a time, will only become an option after other, less restrictive options have been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), received support from both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union. A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year.

“This bill has been years in the making, and is a huge victory for all of the young people locked up in California and their families,” said Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have required jails to provide in-person visits for inmates and their families. Brown said the bill, SB 1157 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), didn’t allow for enough flexibility for corrections facilities.

“Without this, it means we will have incarcerated people in our jails who are not able to bond with children or family members for years,” said Senator Mitchell. According to Mitchell, as many as 11 counties have either already eliminated in-person visits, or are in the process of getting rid of visits, replacing them with often expensive video calls.

In his veto message, Brown said that he was concerned about the increased use of video visitation in place of in-person visits. “This practice could have an adverse impact on achieving rehabilitative goals and might affect in a negative way the families and loved ones of those incarcerated,” Brown said. The governor said he will direct the Board of State and Community Corrections to look for solutions to the problem.

Another bill that received the governor’s stamp of approval, AB 1843, will block employers from asking job candidates about any juvenile arrests or detention or participation in a diversion program that did not result in a conviction.


Another newly signed bill, SB 1060, aims to reduce the number of siblings separated during adoptions. Far too often, siblings are split up in foster care and during adoptions and lose contact with each other, despite research showing that placing siblings together during their time in foster care improved academic and adoption outcomes. The bill authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) will require pre-adoption meetings between children being adopted, the prospective parents, the sibling(s) and facilitators to try to increase the number of voluntary visitation agreements to keep separated siblings connected after adoption.

AB 1299, also signed by Brown this week, will ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties. Under current law, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county, leaving kids to face months-long interruptions in treatment.


The newly signed SB 1322 by Sen. Mitchell–the “No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute” bill—aims to shield trafficked children from prosecution and criminalization.

“The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet ‘P’ and leave them subject to shame and prosecution,” Mitchell said.

Last year in LA County, Sheriff Jim McDonnell instructed department members to treat the “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, not as lawbreakers and “prostitutes,” and that the department would be going after traffickers and johns who victimize kids.

SB 1129 by Senator William W. Monning (D-Carmel) will get rid of some mandatory minimum sentences for prostitution-related crimes, giving judges discretion in sentencing people taking part in or soliciting prostitution. Existing law requires mandatory minimum sentences of 45 or 90 days in jail for repeat offenders.

Brown also signed SB 420, a bill that will create a legal distinction between adult buyers and sellers of commercial sexual acts, as well as solicitors of sex from minors. The bill will improve data collection on sex trafficking with the intent of helping legislators and policymakers make data-informed decisions, and aiding law enforcement in better directing their resources.

“By US State Department estimates, sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry in this country and 50 percent of trafficking victims are minors,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas). “Yet according to the 2007 Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, California lacks comprehensive statistics on human trafficking. SB 420 will help collect the statistics that law enforcement needs.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s AB 1276, will make it possible for kids under 15 to testify against exploiters in a separate location via closed circuit tv, away from the defendant(s), jury, attorneys, or judge.

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

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