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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.

Posted in juvenile justice | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

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.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

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 »

Juvie LWOP, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on ICE Compliance, and VICE and HBO Look at the Prison System

September 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Five counties, including Los Angeles, are responsible for 22% of all juvenile life-without-parole sentences in the United States, according to a new report by the Phillips Black Project.

The other four counties are Philadelphia, PA, Orleans, LA, Cook, IL, and St. Louis, MO.

Los Angeles leads the pack on the highest number of juvie LWOP sentences in the last decade at 6.6%, but Philadelphia has the highest count over the last 60 years. The Phillips Black Project researchers put Philadelphia’s tally at 214, 10% of all juvenile LWOP sentences, although one of the county’s public defenders told the Marshall Project the number is actually much higher.

The Phillips Black report shows a growing trend away from locking kids up for life, a practice which rose in popularity during the “superpredator” fear-mongering of the 90′s.

Fifteen states have eliminated juvie LWOP altogether, nine of which made the shift after the 2012 Miller v. Alabama US Supreme Court ruling that mandatory sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without parole was cruel and unusual.

California has made heartening progress toward scaling back use of LWOP sentences for kids, starting in 2012, when California passed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which gave kids sentenced to life-without-parole, allowing courts to review cases of minors sentenced to life without parole after 15 years, and possibly resentence them to 25-to-life.

And in 2013, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole. (A new bill awaiting the governor’s signature, SB 261, would go even further by expanding the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23.)


On Tuesday, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that he would hand over undocumented jail inmates to federal immigration officials seeking deportation only if the inmates qualify for deportation under the California Trust Act. The state law passed in 2013 stipulates that local law enforcement agencies can only transfer people to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who have been charged with or convicted of serious offenses.

LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell said he will allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to have access to county inmates for potential transfer to ICE under the Priority Enforcement Program once the inmates are preparing to be released as long as the inmates qualify under the California Trust Act. If ICE wants custody of an inmate, but the inmate has not committed a serious or violent felony, the inmate will not be transferred to ICE, McDonnell said.

The California Trust Act, passed by the state Legislature in 2013, limits the criteria under which people can be transferred to ICE custody for potential deportation to serious or violent felony convictions.

“While I have made clear my desire to abide by and implement PEP [the Priority Enforcement Program] as it applies to the county’s jails, the department will not do so when and if that program conflicts with the California Trust Act or applicable case law,” McDonnell wrote. “Our federal and state leaders have developed approaches in regard to this important issue that are at times in tension with each other. It is the department’s aim to balance and reconcile these provisions.”

The L.A. county supervisors voted in May to participate in the program and directed the sheriff to come up with policies and procedures to carry out the program within the county jail system. At the supervisors’ request, the sheriff held community meetings throughout the county before the policies were developed.

McDonnell said his objectives in developing the policies were to work with federal authorities to identify “undocumented persons who pose a danger to our community,” “partner with some of the most diverse and immigrant-rich” communities and promote public safety.

PEP was unveiled by federal Homeland Security officials this year as a successor to the controversial Secure Communities Program. PEP uses fingerprint data to identify potentially deportable noncitizens when the FBI performs criminal background checks for local police.


This Sunday, we recommend tuning into a VICE special on the inner workings and effects of incarceration in America on HBO. The documentary features President Obama’s historic visit in July of Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno in Oklahoma, and his meetings with inmates and prison staff.

The show, VICE Special Report: Fixing The System, will air Sept. 27, at 9:00p.m. (Pacific and Eastern).

Posted in immigration, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, LWOP Kids, prison | No Comments »

YouthBuild, the “Holloway Doctrine,” and ICE Modifies How It Issues Detainer Requests in CA

September 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In California’s San Joaquin County and across the nation, the YouthBuild program teaches construction skills to struggling teens while helping them obtain their high school diplomas or GEDs.

The alternative education program lasts for six months to two years and serves 16 to 24-year-olds who are aging out of foster care, have had contact with the juvenile justice system, or are otherwise at risk of dropping out. YouthBuild also connects teens and young adults with contractors and apprentice programs upon their graduation from the program.

Last month, six YouthBuilds in California received a portion of $76 million in funding from the US Labor Department. The $1.1 million allocated to San Joaquin’s YouthBuild will cover the cost of 80 students for two years, plus a year of assistance after graduation.

The Stockton Record’s Reed Fujii has more on YouthBuild and how it shifts struggling kids’ trajectories. Here’s a clip:

Roosevelt Webb lost his way after his father died.

He had dropped out of school as a senior at Edison High in Stockton to help take care of his dad and, at age 21 and with no diploma, he said, “I didn’t know what to do.”

Another Stocktonian, James Vong, said as a teenager he had no guidance, no father figure, and growing up on the city’s gritty streets, found himself falling into drugs and the gang life.

But both have found a new direction through San Joaquin County’s YouthBuild program, an alternative educational program that emphasizes building-trades skills as well as academic school standards.

Webb, now 24, works for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, helping supervise YouthBuild teams on construction sites.

And Vong, 20, is enrolled in the program and was working on an affordable housing project in south Stockton as part of Webb’s team.

“Ever since attending YouthBuild, I made a 360 degree flip,” he said of his life. “Now I’m working at Habitat (for Humanity’s Dream Creek project), doing what I love.”


Despite increased federal efforts to lower prison populations by releasing non-violent drug offenders, President Barack Obama ranks among the ten least merciful presidents of the United States, having granted only 153 pardons, commutations, remissions, and respites, thus far.

Recent releases of two men serving excessively high and outdated sentences (often for drugs) have brought attention to another less-used method of leniency. The two men, Francois Holloway and Luis Anthony Rivera have successfully petitioned judges to reduce their old, disproportionately harsh sentences. The original prosecutors had to consent to the judges’ decisions.

Advocates and legal experts believe that if federal prosecutors will agree not to oppose judges’ leniency, the appropriately named “Holloway Doctrine” has the potential to lead to the release of many more inmates serving sentences that would not be handed down today.

The LA Times’ Richard Serrano has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Rivera and Holloway asked federal judges for leniency, something that happens frequently, and federal prosecutors agreed not to fight, which is rare.

The original sentencing judges agreed to take a fresh look at the punishments of the two men. Assured that both had turned their lives around, the judges and prosecutors agreed to vacate parts of their original convictions and reduce their sentences to “time already served.”

Legal experts predict the cases could open the door to similar requests by many more prisoners if federal prosecutors are willing to take the same approach elsewhere.

“That’s a pretty novel way to do things,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. “I’ve not run across a lot of people who ever get out that way, and we get letters every day from people wanting help.”

Mauer predicted that the Rivera and Holloway examples will prompt defense lawyers around the country to seek similar relief for clients and will give judges “a level of comfort” in agreeing.

“It’s always the courageous ones that go first,” he said.

Holloway’s case went to court last year in Brooklyn, where the top federal prosecutor at the time was U.S. Atty. Loretta Lynch, who is now attorney general. Lynch at first resisted his release, suggesting he seek a presidential commutation. But she ultimately agreed not to oppose his appeal.

The original sentencing judge, John Gleeson, a former prosecutor who had put Mafia boss John Gotti in prison, noted that Holloway had served more time for robbing three cars than “if he had committed first-degree murder.”

“Black men like Holloway have long been disproportionally subjected to the stacking of counts,” Gleeson said, referring to sentencing rules that he said forced him to sentence Holloway to 57 years in prison in 1996.

The judge applauded Lynch for consenting to the release.

“This is a significant case, and not just for Francois Holloway,” he said. “It demonstrates the difference between a Department of Prosecutions and a Department of Justice.”


In the face of law enforcement agencies’ widespread refusal to comply with federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants in jails for up to 48 hours, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives say the department is trying to be more flexible and meet law enforcement groups in the middle.

Under the new system, ICE analysts in a SoCal office run data on arrests to determine who is high priority for deportation before issuing detainer requests. ICE still asks law enforcement to let them know when they are releasing someone facing deportation, but issues fewer detainer requests for low-level offenders.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department changed its stance from no compliance with ICE detainer requests to allowing ICE to interview incarcerated immigrants, but still refuses to keep immigrants locked up past their release dates.

The Associated Press has more ICE’s new methods and how law enforcement agencies are responding. Here’s a clip:

…immigration authorities have also narrowed their focus to people convicted of more serious crimes, and the number of so-called detainer requests — which aim to have jails hold inmates up to 48 hours for deportation officers to pick them up — dropped by 24 percent in the 2014 fiscal year from a year earlier.

At the same time, the number of people deported from the United States, not counting those apprehended on the border, fell 24 percent, federal statistics show.

Immigration authorities had begun issuing detainers based on electronic data after getting access to fingerprints from jail bookings under enhanced law enforcement information-sharing after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

ICE initially started the hub in suburban Southern California to streamline the process for the region, one of the key spots where detainers were used. Now, the Pacific Enforcement Response Center issues about 40 percent of all immigration detainers and requests for notification when inmates are being released, handling the task for much of the country on nights and weekends.

The office, which issued 6,800 detainers and notification requests between June and August, contains half a dozen computers that collect leads for potential deportees and spit out the results on a large printer. Analysts and agents then search for matches in databases for visa holders, naturalized citizens and border arrests to determine the immigration status of those booked into local jails.

In the last three months, detainers or notification requests were sent in 11 percent of the center’s cases. Others are typically sent to field agents for investigation and about half are set aside because the person is here legally or doesn’t have a serious criminal conviction to make them a priority for deportation under the program, which was revamped last year, ICE officials said.

Under the new approach, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department lets immigration agents interview inmates who have detainers but won’t hold them beyond their release date. In Santa Clara County, officials still won’t honor detainers but are weighing whether to notify ICE about serious offenders, while authorities in San Francisco won’t do either despite public outcry after the shooting.

Posted in Education, Foster Care, immigration, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Bills to Pay Attention to as CA Closes in on the End of the Legislative Session

September 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A bill to block police agencies from abusing civil asset forfeiture has come up against major opposition from law enforcement. 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. SB 443, introduced by and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would have only allowed law enforcement agencies to seize assets post-conviction, even after legislators weakened the bill to give it a better chance of passing.

But law enforcement groups went to battle against the bill this week, storming the capitol and urging legislators to pull their support or further amend the legislation, which they say will result in an annual budgetary loss in upwards of $80 million for CA law enforcement. And the US Department of Justice has stepped in to say that if the bill passes into law, CA may lose out on federal funding from an asset forfeiture program.

Today, legislators will take a final vote on SB 443 before it either heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, or more likely, the garbage bin.

In his column, San Diego Union Tribune’s Steven Greenhut preemptively laments the bill’s demise. Greenhut says that if the bill dies, “California police agencies and district attorneys don’t care about justice. They’re just about the money.” Here’s how it opens:

…When police agencies use “civil asset forfeiture” to take private property, they are not allowed to build their budgets around such takings. The funds are supposed to support extra programs – not supplant current dollars. That’s so agencies don’t replace the pursuit of justice with the pursuit of cash.

Unfortunately, forfeiture has become a widely abused practice. Instead of targeting drug kingpins as intended, police sometimes target average citizens who haven’t been convicted or even accused of a crime. For instance, officials tried to take a $1.5 million Anaheim office building because one of the owners’ tenants was accused of illegally selling a $37 in marijuana.

There are many cases of police pulling over a driver and finding a large sum of cash – and they often keep the cash even if there’s no evidence it was tied to a crime. It’s clear why this happens. A recent report shows a number of Southern California cities rely on forfeiture cases to fund their budgets. If they can take it, they will. And to avoid California’s tougher restrictions on these takings, police partner with the feds and split the loot.

SB 443 is a bipartisan effort to rein in the abuses. Mainly, it required a conviction before police can take property. It also was designed to stop police from bringing in the feds to circumvent state law and make it easier for people to contest a taking. It forces police to use this fearsome tool as intended – to target criminal enterprises – rather than to grab the cars of people caught in a minor offense.

The bill is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday, but law-enforcement lobbies are swarming the Capitol. Police chiefs are calling legislators. Some legislators from both parties are reportedly getting wobbly.


Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill to protect juvenile justice system-involved immigrant children from being deported by banning the unauthorized disclosure of kids’ records to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a court order.

The Voice of OC’s YVette Cabrera (whose recent series explored the hardships of undocumented boys navigating the juvenile justice system) has more on the bill and its implications. Here’s a clip:

In short, the new law makes it clear that the long-standing practice by some probation agencies in California of referring juveniles suspected of being undocumented to immigration authorities is illegal.

The controversial practice was contested for years by legal scholars, attorneys and immigrant youth advocates who said the referrals violated the state’s existing law protecting juvenile confidentiality as well as the constitutional rights of vulnerable youth in the juvenile justice system, including those with mental health and developmental issues.

Probation officials across the state — from Orange County to Santa Barbara to San Mateo — have disputed these assertions. They’ve claimed the referrals are legally sound, citing a federal law that not only protects their right to communicate and cooperate with immigration authorities, but which they said also supersedes state law.

San Francisco attorney Angie Junck with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which helped draft AB 899, said she was relieved with the outcome.

“We are extremely happy and grateful for the leadership in Sacramento that understood that we need to uphold the law for everybody in the state regardless of immigration status,” Junck said. “We understand that there’s a lot of work ahead, but this is an important milestone in upholding due process and equal protection for all minors in our state.”

Junck said she plans to share the legislation with national legal and immigration networks and hopes that California’s efforts will be replicated in other states.


When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.

AB 1299, introduced by Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), which would have ensured foster kids transferred outside of their home counties received continued mental health services in their new counties, was tabled until next year.

Writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, Patrick Gardner, director of the Young Minds Advocacy Project, has more on why AB 1299 failed to make it into the governor’s hands. Here’s a clip:

What is clear is that lobbyists for three county-centered entities — the California State Association of Counties, the California Behavioral Health Directors Association and the California Welfare Directors Association — opposed two critical parts of the solution. They opposed having funding follow the child to the child’s county of residence. Instead, the counties proposed giving half of the cost of services (the federal reimbursement half) to the county that provides treatment.

They also opposed having the foster parent, or the person who is responsible for making mental health decisions for the child, decide whether to transfer mental health care responsibility. Instead, the counties wanted social workers and probation officers to be gatekeepers.

It’s absurd to think that a system fix that covers only half the cost of care would work. It is also unreasonable to put responsibility for making system-wide mental health policy on individual social workers or probation officers, something that is clearly outside of their wheelhouse.

In short, it appears that the county lobbyists opposed the bill because it would have changed business as usual to ensure that foster youth who are sent to live in another county are no longer discriminated against when seeking mental health care. It’s a classic case of taking care of the system instead of taking care of the kids.

When one talks to individual social workers and probation officers, or even directors of children’s services or mental health care programs, they universally favor shifting responsibility for care to the county that can best deliver treatment and making sure full funding is there to pay for the services provided.

A package of three weakened, but still important, bills to curb doctors over-prescribing of dangerous psychotropic medications to vulnerable foster kids, has passed through the Assembly and is headed to the Senate for a final vote. (If you haven’t, read Karen De Sá’s powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked over-drugging of California’s foster children.)

California Healthline has more on the individual bills.

Another noteworthy foster care bill, SB 731, would give guidance to social workers placing transgender foster kids to ensure they are placed in safe, welcoming homes. The bill, by Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), has been passed by both houses and awaits the governor’s signature.

The bill “provides critical guidance to child welfare professionals by making clear that all children in foster care have the right to placements that are consistent with their gender identity,” said Shannan Wilber, the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Youth Policy Director.

A bill by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), SB 445, which is also on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, would ensure children who become homeless can continue to attend their schools of origin.

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

The Lost Boys, the Roanoke Shooting, Lawsuits Against LASD Members, San Bernardino DA’s Office Swears in Two K-9s

August 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A CA bill would protect juvenile justice system-involved immigrant children from being deported by banning the unauthorized disclosure of kids’ records to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a court order.

The bill, AB-899, authored by CA Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

While county probation departments have been cutting back on how many undocumented kids they refer to ICE, advocates and immigration attorneys say this practice of reporting minors violates children’s civil rights, and contradicts the state juvenile justice system’s rehabilitative objectives of keeping kids in their communities, connected with their families, and acting in the best interest of children.

In Orange County, kids in juvenile hall who are suspected of being undocumented, can be interrogated by ICE agents without their parents of legal representation. The kids are not told of their right to a lawyer, phone call, or trial by judge before they are subjected to the interrogation.
Then, the children’s statements are often used against them during deportation hearings.

During deportation proceedings, kids are taken from their families and communities and sent to group homes and federal detention facilities across the nation.

Part one of four-part series by the Voice of the OC’s Yvette Cabrera about undocumented boys’ contact with the criminal justice system, tells the story of a 14-year-old referred to ICE and taken from the OC all the way to Texas, without informing his mother of his location. Here’s a clip:

One young man who is part of this generation of boys agreed to share his story, and with his mother’s consent and participation allowed a Voice of OC reporter to follow his case over nearly a three-year-period as it proceeded in immigration court. Since he is a minor in the juvenile justice system, the Voice of OC is using the pseudonym of Alex, for the minor, and Marisa for his mother to protect the minor’s privacy.

In the summer of 2012, immigration authorities entered Orange County’s juvenile hall and took Alex, then a 14-year-old, into federal custody and allowed him to make one phone call to his mother, Marisa.

The ICE agents told him he might be sent to a Texas facility, but Alex told Marisa over the phone that he knew little else about where he was headed.

She was in disbelief.

Her son had landed in juvenile hall after bringing a pocket knife to school, but she couldn’t understand how Alex ended up in the hands of immigration authorities.

She feared the worst — that Alex would be immediately deported to Mexico, where he was born.

A native of Mexico, Marisa, who is now 36, was 17 when she became pregnant with Alex. But at the time her relationship with her boyfriend had turned so violent, she almost miscarried. When Alex was nearly three-years-old, she took him and fled her physically abusive partner and crossed illegally into the United States.

She was determined to create a new life in California, but ended up falling into two other abusive relationships.

Alex witnessed his mother being abused, and experienced physical abuse at the hands of his mother’s partners as well. The consequences of his turbulent childhood would emerge early on, but Marisa never imagined when Alex began acting out in school that it would one day lead to his possible deportation.

When ICE agents placed Alex in custody in August 2012, Marisa was still undocumented, without a driver’s license and fearful that any contact with federal immigration authorities would lead to her own deportation.

“I felt awful,” she said in Spanish, pausing to catch her breath as the upsetting memory of that day washed over her. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to go see him in Texas.”

Immediately after the call from Alex, Marisa began to scour the Internet, searching for group homes that house refugee immigrant children and those in deportation proceedings. But she could not find him. She called an ICE facility in Los Angeles – only to learn that Alex was no longer there.

“Nobody would tell me where my son was,” said Marisa, wiping away tears. “It was horrible. I stayed up all night asking myself, ‘Where can he be?’”

Marisa’s struggle to find her son was the beginning of a much more difficult ordeal: Trying to keep federal immigration authorities from deporting him so that he could return home to Orange County, where he had spent the majority of his childhood.

Read on.

In part two of the series, Cabrera zeros in on the debate about whether federal immigration law and policy trumps state and local law meant to protect kids and their juvenile records, and the groups that are wading into the battle. Here’s a clip:

The law, California’s Welfare and Institution Code section 827, states that unless special permission from a juvenile court is granted, only a limited and specified group of individuals from the state’s juvenile justice system is given authority to inspect a minor’s case files. Among those authorized are the district attorney, child protective agencies, or law enforcement officers who are “actively participating in criminal or juvenile proceedings involving the minor.”

Section 827 does not include ICE or any other federal immigration authorities.

The Orange County Probation Department cites the federal law, Section 1373 of Title 8 in the U.S. Code, as its legal authority to communicate with immigration authorities.

According to the law, state and local entities can’t prohibit or restrict communication with ICE, nor prohibit or restrict any government entity or official from sending information to ICE or receiving information from ICE regarding the citizenship or immigration status of an individual.

Catherine E. Stiver, Orange County Probation Department’s division director for juvenile court services, oversaw the most recent revisions to the department’s ICE referrals, including changes in 2012 that cited the federal law for the first time.

Under the authority of Section 1373, Stiver said there is no need for immigration authorities to request a special juvenile court order to grant ICE access to a juvenile’s court files or personal information.

“The [juvenile] court cannot dictate what we release and receive from ICE,” said Stiver.

Probation spokesman Edward Harrison added that the federal law supersedes state laws, including the provisions in the Welfare and Institutions Code regarding juvenile confidentiality.

“The U.S. code, like the Constitution, supersedes state code and local ordinances. That’s the law over the land,” said Harrison, who also serves as the agency’s director of communications and research.

But some legal scholars and immigration attorneys throughout California disagree that federal immigration law preempts California’s juvenile confidentiality laws. On the contrary, they say, federal law recognizes the importance of protecting the privacy of juvenile court records, including from other federal agencies.

“Neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has ever recognized any broad exception that would allow state and local agencies to breach confidentiality to share information with federal immigration authorities, particularly when such information sharing would pose a detriment to the child,” stated a 2013 report published by UC Irvine School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic on this issue.


Los Angeles immigration attorney Kristen Jackson of the Public Counsel pro bono law firm said she discovered in some of her Orange County cases that her clients’ immigration court files were “chock full” of confidential juvenile court documents.

In those cases, Jackson sent ICE letters warning the agency that the documents were released in violation of California law, and as result the government did not submit the documents in immigration court. The issue, she pointed out, is that the documents will remain a part of the individual’s immigration file for the rest of his or her life.

“So it may start with this, but it doesn’t end with this,” said Jackson.


On Wednesday Vester Lee Flanagan II, a one-time WDBJ-TV reporter in Roanoke, VA, shot and killed former journalist colleague Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, during an interview on live television. The woman Parker was interviewing, Vicki Gardner, was also shot, but underwent emergency surgery and is expected to survive.

Flanagan led police on a chase, at the end of which, he shot himself.

Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams, recorded the horrific shooting from several different angles and reportedly posted the footage on Facebook. Many others, including the media, started circulating the graphic videos. But should TV stations, news sites, and other media members continue to show the disturbing footage?

NPR’s David Folkenflik has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Viewers of the morning show for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., actually watched the deadly shootings of reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward. And they watched it live, unexpectedly, without warning. So did the program’s anchors, who were themselves shocked, initially uncomprehending, appalled.

Others quickly grabbed that footage from WDBJ-TV and posted it online and on the air. CNN, for example, rebroadcast a portion of the station’s video, including the shootings and a fleeting glimpse of the shooter. Anchors told viewers the network would only show it once an hour. MSNBC and Fox News do not appear to have aired the actual shots. By the middle of the day, CNN said it would hold off on showing the footage again.

The decision to air or share such material has to be a conscious choice. Often it is not. So do we, as viewers, have to think hard about what we choose to consume.

The Roanoke station where Parker and Ward worked has decided not to rebroadcast it.

“We are choosing not to run the video of that right now because, frankly, we don’t need to see it again,” Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ’s station manager, said on the air Wednesday morning. Marks’ rending observations, and those of his colleagues processing the deaths in public view, admirably sought to present well-rounded pictures of the two journalists. The station and its staffers tweeted out tributes, even as they continued to report the story.

And, the NY Times’ has a thorough report on the incident. Here’s a clip:

The shooting and the horrifying images it produced marked a new chapter in the intersection of video, violence and social media.

The day began with the most mundane of early-morning interviews. Ms. Parker and Mr. Ward were working on a story for WDBJ about the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake, a reservoir tucked among farms and rolling mountains that is popular with anglers, kayakers and sunbathers. They stood on a balcony of Bridgewater Plaza, a shopping and office complex on the lakeshore, talking with Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Around 6:45 a.m., the shooting began.

The station’s own disturbing video shows Ms. Parker screaming and stumbling backward as the shots ring out and a set of jumbled images as the camera falls to the floor. Eight shots can be heard before the broadcast cut back to the stunned anchor at the station, Kimberly McBroom.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Flanagan wrote on Twitter, “I filmed the shooting see Facebook,” and a shocking 56-second video recording, which appeared to be taken by a body camera worn by the gunman, was posted to his Facebook page. It showed him waiting until the journalists were on air before raising a handgun and firing at point-blank range, ensuring that it would be seen, live or recorded, by thousands.

Both social media accounts used the name he was known by on television, Bryce Williams, and both were shut down within hours of the shooting.

Ms. Parker, 24, a reporter, and Mr. Ward, 27, a cameraman, both white, were pronounced dead at the scene. Ms. Gardner was wounded and underwent emergency surgery, but was expected to survive. Mr. Flanagan shot and killed himself hours later after being cornered by the police on a highway about 200 miles away.


On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that three LA County Sheriff’s Department members can be held liable in two separate lawsuits brought by Francisco Carillo and Frank O’Connell whose wrongful murder convictions cost them 20 and 27 years behind bars, respectively.

Carillo is suing former deputy Craig Ditsch, for pressuring a witness to falsely identify Carillo, who was 16 at the time, as the drive-by shooter who killed Donald Sarpy.

O’Connell, who was convicted of killing Jay French in 1984, is suing former homicide detectives J.D. Smith and Gilbert Parra for allegedly withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense.

Carillo’s attorney, Ron Kaye told the LA Times that he didn’t believe any of the three LASD employees were ever disciplined.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has the story. Here’s a clip:

Frank O’Connell, convicted of killing Jay French in 1984, won his release in 2012 after spending 27 years behind bars. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Suzette Clover found that sheriff’s detectives had failed to disclose exonerating information to either the prosecution or the defense.

O’Connell later sued former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives J.D. Smith and Gilbert Parra, alleging that they had refused to reveal evidence impeaching the statements of three eyewitnesses as well as information about a previous attempt on the victim’s life.

Francisco Carrillo Jr., in a separate lawsuit, also said the department failed to disclose information about the reliability of an eyewitness in his case. Eyewitness testimony is a leading cause of wrongful convictions.

Carrillo was convicted of killing Donald Sarpy in a 1991 drive-by shooting. Carrillo was 16 at the time and served 20 years in prison.

In his lawsuit, Carrillo charged that former Deputy Craig Ditsch knew that an eyewitness had trouble identifying Carrillo and tried to pressure the witness when he decided to recant.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo ordered Carrillo’s release in 2011 after concluding the eyewitness testimony against him was false, tainted or both.

Attorneys for the sheriff’s employees argued that the lawsuits should be dismissed because the law was unclear in 1984 and 1991 as to whether police had to disclose evidence exonerating innocence.

Members of law enforcement have immunity from lawsuits when their actions did not violate an established law.

The 9th Circuit, citing Brady vs. Maryland, the 1963 Supreme Court decision that required disclosure of exculpatory evidence, said the authorities should have known of the requirement.


The San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office has sworn in its first two K-9s as part of the Special Victims Unit. The two black Labradors, Lupe and Dozer, are specifically trained to comfort kids who have witnessed or been victims of violence while they give testimony or take the witness stand.

The San Bernardino Press-Enterprise’s Gail Wesson has the story. Here’s a clip:

With a paw atop a state Penal Code book and a black, hairy chin on another copy, the first two K-9s were sworn in and received their star badges as members of San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos’ Special Victims Unit in a Friday ceremony.

The four-legged so-called facility dogs will enhance his office’s ability to “see justice for the most vulnerable victims, our children,” Ramos said during the event where K-9s, Dozer and Lupe, mostly sprawled out comfortably on the floor, while keeping an eye on the cameras and their victim advocate handlers.

More than two years in development, the district attorney’s office is partnering with nonprofit New Mexico-based Assistance Dogs of the West, which supplied K-9s and handler training, and Washington state-based Courthouse Dogs Foundation for educating the legal community.


They will be called upon to help in interview and courtroom testimony situations, primarily with children but are available for adults too. Ramos said of child victims, “Some of them have suffered tremendous physical abuse, some of them tremendous sexual abuse and some have lost their lives.” The aim is to help witnesses be comfortable as they testify in order to get cases prosecuted in court.

“Our main goal is to greatly reduce the understandable fears that a child has about entering the courtroom,” Ramos said in a written statement.

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