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LA County Supes Take on Hate Crimes

November 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

COUNTY TO ADDRESS INCREASE IN HATE-DRIVEN INCIDENTS

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ramp up efforts to prevent hate crimes.

Supervisor Hilda Solis introduced the motion in response to a wave of reports of hate crimes in the county following Donald Trump’s election victory.

The motion directs the sheriff’s department to “swiftly” contact communities likely to be targeted in order to reaffirm the county’s continued support and to open up communication with those communities so that victims feel they can safely report hate crimes and related incidents, particularly those concerned about their immigration status.

County departments, including the LASD will report back in 60 days with a plan on how to better track and quickly respond to hate crimes.

“It seems that standing up for our people’s constitutional rights is going to fall on the hands of state and local governments,” Solis said. “Many families in our county are fearful and we have to assure them that we are here to protect their rights.”

The motion also directs the county’s Office of Education to report back in 60 days with a plan detailing preventative steps to curb “bullying, targeting, demeaning, and harassing behavior” in schools.

“People in the county are being targeted because of their ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and we need to act now. This motion calls our communities to stand in unison and speak out against these acts of bullying, discrimination and hate violence,” Supe Solis said. “We are calling on our Sheriff’s department, law enforcement agencies and County Education Office to help us maintain a safe environment for everyone to work, learn and live in.”

The Supes created a task force to address anti-Muslim acts committed in the months following the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting. The task force—a group of law enforcement leaders, city and county officials, community groups, and others—spent 2016 developing recommendations for combatting crimes motivated by hate and bias. The recommendations were included in a recently released 2015 Hate Crime Report.
The report found that hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose 24% from 390 in 2014 to 483 in 2015, compared with a 10% rise statewide. Half of the hate crimes were motivated by race.

Last week the FBI released the national hate crime report for 2015, which revealed a startling 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims.
In the video above, US Attorney General called the report’s results “deeply sobering,” and urged victims to continue to report incidents to local law enforcement and the Department of Justice.


SOLIS PREVIEWS ANOTHER MOTION IN THE WORKS

“Every single one of us has a friend, family member, or a neighbor who is an immigrant, and it is that degree of connectedness that should drive us to do everything possible to protect our immigrant population,” Solis said, previewing a separate motion Tuesday. Among the tasks the second motion will call for, is an analysis of the feasibility of creating a county Department of Immigrant Affairs to protect the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell will also have to report back to the board in 45 days on whether the LASD plans to change any immigration-related policies or practices in the event that Trump follows through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

WitnessLA will have more on the motion after Solis submits it to the board in December.

Posted in immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, Los Angeles County, race | 4 Comments »

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 »

Next Fifth District Supervisor Will Face Highest Reported Rates of Child Abuse, Death in L.A. County – by Jeremy Loudenback

November 4th, 2016 by witnessla


BAD NUMBERS FOR CHILD SAFETY IN THE ANTELOPE VALLEY WILL GREET THE NEXT SUPE FOR LA COUNTY’S 5TH DISTRICT

by Jeremy Loudenback


Next week, Los Angeles County will elect a new supervisor to oversee an area that has the highest rates of reported child abuse and neglect and the highest infant mortality rate in the county.

The fifth district covers about 2,800 square miles, from the tony hills of Pasadena and Glendale to sprawling exurbs of the San Gabriel and Santa Clarita Valleys.

But it is the more distant, high-desert communities of the Antelope Valley that are cause for concern.

Located about 70 miles from the seat of county-government power in downtown Los Angeles, the sleepy bedroom communities of the Antelope Valley present worrying conditions for the health and well-being of young children.

The pair of candidates vying for termed-out Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are aware of the issues facing the Antelope Valley.

“It’s like one of these Hunger Games movies where the capital gets all the benefit,” said candidate Darrell Park, a clean-energy entrepreneur. “The farther north you go, the less benefit you get.”

Kathryn Barger, a chief deputy to longtime Supervisor Antonovich, said the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is “bursting at the seams” dealing with an uptick in child-welfare cases in the Antelope Valley as it prepares to hire more social workers.

“But it’s not just about bodies on the ground,” Barger said. “We’ve got to provide services and access to those services. Mental health is underfunded up there.”

According to Barger, the situation has long been challenging because of high rates of domestic violence and substance abuse and the difficulty of many in getting to services. She sees a role for public health nurses in child-maltreatment prevention by visiting first-time parents.

A 2015 analysis from the University of Southern California School of Social Work’s Children’s Data Network looked at the number of families with children ages 0 to 5 referred for child abuse or neglect to L.A. County’s child-protective service hotline operated by DCFS.

Across the county, the rate for the county as a whole is 14.6 percent, or about 1 in 7 young children.

But in the area representing the Antelope Valley, the rate is 20.6, the highest in the county.

In its most recent report on child abuse in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect identified Antelope Valley as having the highest rates of infant mortality and child death in 2013.

According to DCFS, more children are entering the system in recent years, causing the agency to hire 150 new staff and caseworkers to handle the increased caseloads at its Lancaster and Palmdale offices. DCFS is now seeking a bigger office there to accommodate its larger presence.

According to advocates and policymakers, the elevated numbers and child-maltreatment risk are a result of the area’s unique relationship to the rest of the county.


THE ISOLATION PROBLEM

Part of the reason is that the area remains geographically isolated. To get to the Antelope Valley, you have to travel up the 14 freeway, north of the San Gabriel Mountains, through the Angeles National Forest and into the edge of the Mojave Desert.

Sparsely populated, Antelope Valley is culturally and geographically distinct from other, more urban areas of the county. Cities like Palmdale and Lancaster have grown rapidly in recent years as many Angelenos have sought more affordable housing in the area or a slower pace of life.

But to get downtown or to other parts of the county often takes at least a couple hours, presenting challenges for the child-welfare system and others. Ferrying children to court either in Monterey Park or at the two L.A. County courts in Lancaster can take the better part of the day. Visitations with family members located in other parts of the county for children living in out-of-home placement in Antelope Valley stretches DCFS resources.

In recent years, many families have flocked to the Antelope Valley for cheaper housing after getting priced out of other areas in the county. But most still work in Los Angeles or nearby.

The availability of cheaper housing has also played a role in the area’s high maltreatment rate, according to Charles Avila, head of the Antelope Valley Child Abuse Prevention Council.

“In a normal household, a mom and dad leave for work when the kids go off to school, but here we have families leaving before the children are even up,” Avila said. “Because of that commute time, children are at home two or three hours before parents are even home.”

Jacquelyn McCroskey, a professor of social work at USC and a researcher with the Children’s Data Network, says that the huge land mass and long distances of the Antelope Valley present unique complications.

“Because of the commutes, there are fewer adults around in neighborhoods,” McCroskey said. “That means fewer community interactions and less time to get to know each other. Then you have the complications of a public transportation system that doesn’t get people to all the places they need to go.”

The population of Antelope Valley is relatively small, at about 390,000 — a fraction of the 10 million people who live in Los Angeles County as a whole. But services are not always available or easily accessed here.

“If you are looking for resources, whether that’s help finding a job, counseling or pre-natal care, you have to look harder for it,” McCroskey said. “You have to go further to get them, but it’s also hard to find the time to get to them even when you find them.”

For Avila, the key to preventing child maltreatment is a matter of education. The Antelope Valley Child Abuse Prevention Council hosts parent cafés, informal gatherings that allow parents to learn parenting skills and develop support networks that can decrease the risk of child abuse.

Despite the area’s struggles to prevent child abuse and neglect, Avila says it nurtures a sense of community.

“The Antelope Valley is very welcoming to new families coming in,” he said. “It’s still a quiet bedroom community. Neighbors know each other and neighbors take care of one another.”


For lots more on the race for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, see the excellent earlier coverage by the Chronicle of Social Change.


Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change, where this story first appeared.

Posted in DCFS, LA County Board of Supervisors | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Move Forward with Two Jail Projects Amid Protests

October 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, despite a raucous interruption from protesters chanting “No more jails!” the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed new women’s jail in Lancaster—the Mira Loma Women’s Detention Center. The board also voted in favor of a $106 million fund for planning the 3,885-bed mental health-focused replacement for the crumbling and dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail. In short, the supes’ vote means the county will move forward with designing the new facilities with an estimated construction cost of over $2 billion.

During the meeting, protesters shouted their vehement opposition to building new jails, calling for diversion and other community-based alternatives. At one point, frustrated board members went into a recess while deputies cleared the protesters out of the room.

Community representatives and advocates from the Los Angeles No More Jails Coalition and the Youth Justice Coalition were among those vocally opposing the new jails.

Before the protest reached full force, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell spoke to the board, and stressed that the new facilities will not increase the number of jail beds in LA. “This plan to build a new treatment facility and a new facility for our female inmates is about taking better care of our inmate patient population that we already serve,” he said.

The county’s current population of mentally ill inmates is about 4,200, McDonnell pointed out. And many of these inmates are living in “unacceptable” conditions in Men’s Central Jail. The outdated jail must be replaced with a “modern treatment center that can meet the critical mental heath and medical needs” of the county’s incarcerated, McDonnell said.


DIVERSION

LA County officials have been moving toward diversion to reduce the jail population and better serve the county’s mentally ill. Last summer, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a massive report and comprehensive plan for diverting LA’s mentally ill offenders from jails and redirecting them to community programs and support.

Increasing efforts to reduce the jail population and increase community-based treatment, have led to quite a bit of back and forth and disagreements over how many beds the treatment-focused jail should have. Sheriff McDonnell has argued in favor of an additional 1,000 beds, due to a population of mentally ill inmates that is growing “exponentially.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked the sheriff and county representatives who will decide which offenders “cannot be diverted for treatment” in the community, and should instead be housed in the Men’s Central Jail replacement. “I don’t quite understand. Where’s the triage? Who does that?” Kuehl asked.

Dr. Mark Ghaly of the Department of Health Services pointed out that LA is still in the early phases of implementing diversion programs through partnerships between county departments, but progress is being made. “We have a long way to go, but we’re learning that we can figure out who is appropriate for diversion programs and who maybe needs a little bit more time,” Ghaly said. One key element of diversion success will be “a number of new placements in the community” moving forward.


REFORMING THE CASH BAIL SYSTEM

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl also brought up the issue of bail reform and the potential in the future for risk assessment tools to clear out a sizable portion of the jail population. Sheriff McDonnell countered that while people in pre-trial detention account for 40% of the jail population, the rest of the inmates are only serving 30% of their sentences due to overcrowding. So, according to McDonnell, reducing the number of people held pre-trial would be counteracted by people staying in jail longer.

Kuehl argued that the average percentage of time served in the jails fluctuates and is sometimes recorded at 80% or 90%. Pointing out that cash bail as it is used today creates a n unfair system that keeps indigent defendants behind bars, while rich defendants walk free, Kuehl said she’d like to find “a fairer, somewhat more American” approach to pre-trial detention.


WHAT ABOUT VALLEY FEVER?

The increased risk of valley fever in Lancaster is another issue that has been raised by those concerned about the Mira Loma facility. While not often serious, valley fever—also called desert fever—is a fungal infection caused by spores that live in soil in specific regions. While the symptoms of valley fever usually manifest as flu-like, the infection can become far more serious, and even deadly, if it spreads to other organs. Moreover, people of color—who are overrepresented in the justice system—as well as pregnant women, are at higher risk of contracting valley fever.

According to the CDC, there are about 10,000 cases of valley fever reported each year. Most of those cases occur in California and Arizona.

“The Sheriff and county supervisors plan to build a women’s jail in one of the highest risk Valley Fever areas in California, and will be imprisoning Black women there, the most at-risk population impacted by the disease,” said Kim McGill of Youth Justice Coalition. “This is a clearly destructive move, as this jail will impact the community already most disproportionately targeted by imprisonment. I have been locked up numerous times in county jail and have seen firsthand the inhumane conditions and lack of medical care that contribute to more serious impacts of infectious disease.”

Cynthia Harding, the interim Director of Public Health, reported the prevalence of valley fever in the Antelope Valley region as 26 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 2 cases per 100,000 people in the greater LA area.

A 2008 story by John Dannenberg of Prison Legal News gives some perspective on prisoners’ risk of contracting the disease. In the three years prior to 2008, 900 of the 5,300 prisoners housed at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County, along with 80 prison staff, were infected with valley fever. More than a dozen of those prisoners and one guard died from the disease. Here’s a small clip:

Although valley fever has occasionally infected archaeologists digging in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument and drug-sniffing dogs along the Mexican border, its statistical prevalence in California prisons is troubling. California reported 3,000 cases of valley fever in the general population in 2006, of which 514 were diagnosed at PVSP alone. This 17% morbidity rate among prisoners is astounding. Further, from a mortality standpoint, 12 deaths in 900 prison cases equals a 1.3% fatality rate – double the community rate of 0.6% (based on 33 deaths in 5,500 infections reported in Arizona in 2006). Put another way, if the general population had the same mortality rate as prisoners, there would have been another 38 valley fever-related deaths in the community.


WILL MIRA LOMA’S REMOTENESS PLACE TOO MUCH OF A BURDEN ON FAMILIES?

Another problem with the Mira Loma plan that’s troubling advocates is its location, which is in the northernmost part of the sprawling county.

Back in September, when the supervisors voted in favor of building the two jails, the board also unanimously approved an amendment by Supes Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl to create a gender-responsive committee to look into how to best reduce the negative impact of housing women in the very remote Mira Loma jail, far from their families and communities. Solis pointed out that it would take a Lynwood family four hours of driving one-way to visit a loved one locked up in the proposed women’s jail. “It is hard to see how these women will have sufficient access to visitors, programs and medical care,” Solis said in 2015.

When Kuehl again brought up the issue of the facility’s remoteness at Tuesday’s meeting, a representative from the health department suggested a portion of the jail funding might be used to provide transportation to the Mira Loma facility. “I think we have an opportunity to make this a model,” the speaker said.


SUPERVISOR CANDIDATES DISCUSS JAIL PLANS

On Tuesday, KPCC’s Larry Mantle moderated a debate between the candidates competing for outgoing Supervisor Don Knabe’s seat, Janice Hahn and Steve Napolitano. The two candidates briefly discussed their thoughts on the issue of replacing Men’s Central Jail.

Hahn says she toured the jail and “was pretty horrified at the conditions” inmates were living under. “It’s really unsafe for the inmates, and it’s really unsafe for the deputy sheriffs,” said Hahn. “So I would first support modernizing our jail to make it a safer and a much more appealing facility both for the inmates and also the county deputies.”

Hahn also said she wants to ensure that the mentally ill who come into contact with the justice system in LA County get the services and treatment that they need. “I feel very very strongly about really spending more money on mental health workers, more money on those who can go with the sheriffs out when they come in contact with someone and feel like arrest is the only thing to do,” said Hahn. “I want to give an option to these people and divert them from our jails to a place where we can really help them.”

Napolitano also argued in favor of replacing the jail. “Tear down Men’s Central Jail,” Napolitano said. “It’s a terrible facility…it was built at a time where they were building dungeons, it seems, because it certainly isn’t a jail.” Napolitano said he was in favor of building a new facility to serve people in need of mental health services. “There is a plan right now to do that,” said Napolitano. “It’s at a very high cost, though.”


NEXT STEPS

The supervisors are slated to approve a design building contract for the Mira Loma renovations during the third quarter of next year. Construction is expected to start in 2018 and finish at the end of 2019. The next step for the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility replacing Men’s Central Jail is an Environmental Impact Report due back to the board around June 2017.



The above video was taken by Esther Lim, director of jails and deputy director of advocacy at the ACLU of Southern California.


Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we erroneously said the jails would cost over $2 million rather than $2 billion.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | 3 Comments »

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 Supes to Vote on Creating a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform — UPDATED

October 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

UPDATE: On Tuesday, after hearing from advocates and others concerned about certain aspects of a motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform, the LA County Supervisors decided to postpone the scheduled vote for two more weeks in order to clarify and improve on the proposed plan. WLA will have more on this story tomorrow.


Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is slated to consider a motion to form a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform (similar to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence) to assess problems within the troubled department and to coordinate and bring about reforms to better protect and rehabilitate kids in camps and the youth and adults under supervision.

Here’s a clip from the motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis explaining the need for a blue ribbon panel:

Significant work is underway with the potential to produce meaningful outcomes; however, there is a deficiency in the synchronization of all the current moving elements. A commitment to existing efforts is critical, but integration is required to ensure that true culture change in the Department can be sustained.

Furthermore, new evidence continues to emerge that the Department is still troubled and that additional strategies are needed. As an example, the Department presented data to the Probation Commission showing that use of force incidents in the juvenile halls had nearly doubled from January to July 2016. Other allegations of misconduct in the camps and halls have also surfaced, indicating systemic issues. Despite years of attempted reform, and a growing price tag of operating the camps and halls (with an estimate from a Department audit of a rate of $552 per youth per day), there is widespread concern amongst the Board, Department leadership, and community stakeholders that sustainable reform has yet to be realized. Moreover, the current efforts, while bold and important, are not exhaustive. Gaps still remain in what the Board is currently assessing regarding Department reform. These gaps include: the implementation of state mandates aimed at the adult population, including SB 678 and AB 109; communication and coordination with other agencies serving the same youth and families; racial and ethnic disparities in youth detention and incarceration; inadequate high-quality alternatives to incarceration; and a process for calculating the allocation of Department resources, including opportunities for community input.

The Department’s continued struggle to fulfill its mission of keeping its clients safe, let alone provide for their rehabilitation, underscores that more is still needed and that new approaches should be explored. The time has come for the Board to confirm its commitment to transparency, accountability and sustained transformation. The Board would be best informed by an independent review from an external panel of recognized experts on how, in coordinating the many existing efforts aimed at structural reform and adopting other necessary policy and practice changes, the Department can finally fulfill its mission of protecting, rehabilitating and supervising youth and adults. This type of independent review has been essential in moving forward change in other areas. For example, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence was the impetus for creating the Office of Inspector General, which is positioned to play a prominent role moving forward in providing meaningful oversight of and pushing forward improvements in the jails.

The ACLU of Southern California supports the motion. (So does WitnessLA.) “The Commission is needed because of both the significant and longstanding problems within the Department over the past decade or more and the need for a comprehensive, and unified set of recommendations to chart a path for change for the Department,” said SoCal ACLU’s Chief Counsel, Peter Eliasberg in a letter to the board.

In addition, the ACLU expressed concerns about three of the five candidates identified as finalists by WitnessLA, stating that it “does not believe they have the necessary background and experience to move the department beyond its troubled past.”

We’ll let you know what happens at the Supes’ meeting.

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

LA County Supes Vote to Investigate Abuse Allegations Within Juvenile Lock-Ups

August 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps.

The Supervisors were alerted to allegations of probation staff abuse against kids within the county’s juvenile facilities after WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at a juvenile hall in Sylmar involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

Last week, WLA reported on a second alarming incident—this one at Central Juvenile Hall in May. A county employee witnessed a senior Detention Services Officer roughly handling a physically small 14-year-old who had already been restrained on the ground. When the boy said that the DSO was hurting him, the officer yanked the boy up by the back of his sweatshirt, reportedly causing the boy to choke. The teen retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things spiraled from there.

With three juvenile halls and thirteen probation camps, Los Angeles County is home to the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. Ridley-Thomas says the reported staff abuses “underscore that more reforms are needed to protect young people and promote institutional accountability. The County’s response to these occurrences can be just as significant over time as the events themselves.”

Tuesday’s motion—which Supe. Ridley-Thomas read in during last week’s board meeting—directs the County CEO to coordinate with the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Mental Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services, and return to the board in 45 days with a report that includes Probation’s policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the ones that occurred at the two juvenile halls, an exact definition of what constitutes a “critical incident” versus a “non-critical” incident (and how probation staff make that determination), whether the department’s policies and protocols address the underlying causes of the conflicts between kids and probation staff, and what kind of medical attention and trauma-informed care is provided to youth—both before and in response to an incident.

“Trauma-informed, timely responses that emphasize healing, coordination, and accountability should be the norm and the protocol, not the exception,” Ridley-Thomas said in the motion.

The motion also requests information on how internal investigations are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

Then, within 90 days, the county’s Auditor-Controller, in coordination with the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Attorney of the Office of the Independent Monitor, the Director of the Office of Child Protection, and County Counsel will report back to the board with an analysis of three years of critical incidents that have occurred within the juvenile camps and halls.

“It is a priority of the Board of Supervisors that we do all that we can to make sure those who are in our custody and care are treated as they should be, consistent with the law, and with the basic principles and practices of decency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

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

Supes Meeting: Addressing Juvenile Hall Beating, Transforming a Girls’ Probation Camp, and Placing a Animal Shelter in a Jail

July 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES TO LOOK INTO ABUSE ALLEGATIONS AT SYLMAR JUVENILE HALL, AND THE COUNTY’S OTHER JUVENILE LOCK-UPS

Last month, WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

At Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas read in a motion—which will be officially submitted to the board next week—that directs the County CEO, the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Public Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services to review policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the juvenile hall beating. “I think we need to get this ball rolling again and again until we get this right,” Supe Ridley-Thomas said.

The motion will allow the board to “frankly tell the Probation Department to get its act together,” said Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas and his fellow supervisors were reportedly disturbed by the Sylmar story, as well as other allegations of staff abuse against kids in camps, halls, and other county probation-run facilities. “The county is responsible for their safety and well-being at all times,” said Ridley-Thomas.

NOTE: WLA has some additional reports on other alleged incidents coming soon.


SUPES CONSIDER POSSIBLE REFORM-FOCUSED REMODEL OF AN LA COUNTY PROBATION-RUN CAMP FOR GIRLS

The Supervisors also voted Tuesday to have county officials look into remodeling Camp Joseph Scott—one of the county’s two probation camp for girls—following the therapeutic dormitory-style remodel that will be completed at Camp Vernon Kilpatrick (soon to be Campus Vernon Kilpatrick) next year.

“Girls and young women who are under Probation Department oversight should have equal access to the same small-group therapeutic model and other benefits available to boys and young men at Campus Kilpatrick that emphasizes: (1) reduced recidivism; (2) positive behavioral change; and (3) improved well-being through education, health and mental health,” says the motion introduced by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Michael Antonovich.

While the cost of a dormitory-style remodel at Scott is yet to be calculated, it likely would be far less than the $52.5 million price tag for Kilpatrick’s upgrades, as Scott would not need a complete tear-down like Kilpatrick.

The approved motion directs the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, and the Department of Public Works to report back to the board with an analysis of how feasible renovating Scott would be, along with proposed changes to the county budget for fiscal year 2016-2017, as well as any other possible grant funds to offset the cost to the county.


SUPE ANTONOVICH WANTS TO LOOK INTO PLACING AN ANIMAL RESCUE INTO AN LA COUNTY JAIL

In addition, on Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion by Supe. Michael Antonovich to look into placing a new animal shelter for small animals at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

The jail animal shelter would both ease current levels of overcrowding at the county’s animal shelters, and provide inmates with another avenue for rehabilitation: caring for abandoned animals “who may otherwise languish and be euthanized.” This is an issue that appears to be close to Antonovich’s heart: the supervisor has facilitated more than 1,000 pet adoptions by holding one sweet critter per week at the board meetings, and urging residents to adopt rescues.

(We’ve written about other LA County jails that have participated in rescue dog training programs with great success, including Men’s Central Jail.)

County CEO Sachi Hamai will now work with the Department of Animal Care and Control and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and report back to the board in 30 days on the feasibility of installing an shelter at Pitchess.

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

Reducing Exorbitant Phone Fees for LA County Inmates…and Gov. Brown Says He Won’t Declare Homelessness Emergency

June 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY MOVES TO COMPLY WITH FCC RULES THAT CUT EXCESSIVE PHONE FEES FOR INMATES

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to significantly reduce exorbitant telephone rates for LA County jail inmates and kids in county probation camps to comply with a 2015 order from the Federal Communications Commission.

Research has consistently shown that contact with family is extremely important for a former offender’s successful reentry into their community, yet contractors gouge inmates’ families with outsized fees that can add up to hundreds of dollars a month—far beyond the means of many low-income families.

The fee changes are listed in a joint recommendation letter from LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LA County Interim Chief Probation Officer Cal Remington.

Fees ranging from around $1.00 to nearly $6.00 will be eliminated under the contract amendment. The actual per-minute call rate will go up, however, from $.15 to $.21-$.25 per minute.

The money the county receives from the phone contract with PCS—PCS a subsidiary of Global Tel*Link—is either $15 million per year or 67.5% of revenue (whichever is greater). The county then puts that money into Probation’s Detentions Budget and the LASD Inmate Welfare Fund, which pays for inmate education, substance abuse treatment, the jail libraries, and other programs.

The supervisors also requested that the Probation Office of Diversion and Reentry to report back to the board by September 30, with an analysis on the effects of the fee changes on inmates phone use. The supes directed County Counsel to “clarify the parameters of the FCC ruling” and connect with advocacy groups, experts, and other jurisdictions on how best to implement the rules in a way that boosts contact between families and their incarcerated loved ones and reduces recidivism.

Late last year, attorneys Ron Kaye, Barry Litt, Scott Rapkin, and Michael Rapkin filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of families of inmates in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, challenging the “grossly unfair and excessive phone charges” passed on to inmates’ families. (Riverside County is slated to switch over to the lower fees next week.)


SUPES VOTE TO URGE STATE LAWMAKERS TO DECLARE HOMELESSNESS A HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY, GOV. BROWN SAYS NO

Also on Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to call on lawmakers to declare a state of emergency over the homelessness crisis in California, in order to drum up $500 million in state funds for cities and counties grappling with serious homelessness.

Homelessness is still on the rise in Los Angeles County, according to the latest homeless count—up 5.7% over the previous year (to 47,000). In introducing his motion, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cited several alarming statistics. “The number of homeless persons [in LA County] on any given night is 47,000 approximately,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I’m prepared to say we have 47,000 reasons to act with urgency, including 6,000 parents and their children,” and 4,000 veterans. The California numbers are increasing, too.

“I therefore move that the Board of Supervisors send a five-signature letter to the California Assembly and California Senate asking them to pass a resolution urging the governor to declare a state of emergency in California,” Ridley-Thomas said.

On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown announced that he would not declare a state of emergency. Gov. Brown’s press secretary, Debra Hoffman, told KPCC that it would be inappropriate for Brown to declare a state of emergency, and that local governments “remain best positioned to tackle challenges like this and tailor solutions to the needs of their communities.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | 1 Comment »

Supervisor Candidates on Foster Care and Juvie Justice…the OC Jailhouse Snitch Blog…High Court Hearing on Brown’s Justice Measure…and Homelessness

May 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FIND OUT WHAT THE 5TH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR HOPEFULS THINK ABOUT CHILD WELFARE, JUVENILE JUSTICE, YOUTH HOMELESSNESS, AND MORE

This week, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has a series of interviews with the top contenders for LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s fifth district seat. Loudenback asks the candidates’ thoughts on improving the juvenile justice and foster care systems in LA County—both the largest in the nation.

We’ve pulled some relevant clips from each (but do go over and read the interviews):

Bob Huff, is a California state Senator representing the 29th District, covering parts of LA, Orange County, and San Bernardino County. Huff has co-authored a bill with Sen. Holly Mitchell, now signed into law, that allows social workers to know about criminal exemptions given to potential foster parents and care providers. Now, Huff is co-authoring another bill with Mitchell that increases the potential foster parent pool and cuts down on delays when kids are being placed with their relatives.

Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?

If we adequately address the issues raised in the other questions, we will have addressed the biggest challenges related to this question. Talking with a skid-row expert, he said that half our foster youth are on the streets within two years of being released from the system. This underscores a systemic breakdown in our care of foster youth. It speaks to poor self-esteem from being bounced around a broken system with not enough quality foster parents, not being trained for the workforce, which speaks to the failures of our educational system. Many have substance abuse issues, which speaks to the lack of intervention and behavioral treatment at an early age. This is exacerbated by our state (and county’s) policies that drive up costs of housing, drive away many businesses that create good-paying jobs. The recent increase in the minimum wage is an excellent example of raising a higher obstacle for kids trying to get their first job to gain experience and build a resume.

There are various community-based programs and organizations that do great work in seeking to support homeless families and children and we should do all we can to work with and help grow these NGO efforts.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

Some progress has been made relative to the over-all administration of the county’s Probation Department as indicated by the conclusion of the federal monitoring of the county’s juvenile camps. Unfortunately, while the population of youths detained under the county’s probation department has dropped from 17,000 in 2011 to just 9,000 last year, the costs have increased dramatically. Much of the increase in cost has been attributed to the cost drivers associated with complying with federally mandated higher staff-to-youth ratios at the halls and camps. According to the department, the mental health, health and educational services required under the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice are more intensive and costlier than those for other California counties.

However, as the recent review by the L.A. County Auditor-Controller’s office found, there is clearly more to be done to ensure that the department remains in compliance with federal requirements and to ensure that operations of the camps provide for the safe rehabilitation and education of youth offenders. The audit found, among other issues, that probation camp staff was not ensuring that youth offenders participated in required substance-abuse treatment programs and therapy for anger management and behavior issues.

There have been allegations of wasteful spending and mismanagement. As supervisor, I would be interested in an independent audit looking at the questions of waste and mismanagement, but also as to whether cost containments and efficiencies can also be identified. Also a comparative analysis could be undertaken of other counties with programs that achieve effective outcomes with a lower cost basis. I believe that improved outcomes can be achieved through ensuring that staff is fully trained and oversight is in place to ensure that youth offenders are able to participate in required substance-abuse treatment, mental health counseling and other education services proven to reduce recidivism.

Elan Carr is a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney—a criminal gang prosecutor—who spent a year prosecuting kids in juvenile court.

Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?

While youth homelessness is a very troubling problem, homelessness in Los Angeles County is not new. We have the largest homeless population in the country – more than 44,000 – and we need leadership. As a criminal prosecutor, I personally experience the results of homelessness on both the homeless population and on the community. That’s why I volunteered to be a part of the new Community Collaborative Court program, where I worked together with judges, probation officers, and county Department of Mental Health personnel to find treatment programs, as an alternative to incarceration, for homeless defendants who are mentally ill or abusing drugs. The problem of homelessness requires both short-term and long-term solutions.

While the county had well-founded reasons for closing the Youth Welcome Centers – including a lawsuit by the state – the closure merely exacerbated the problem and created even more homeless children. We need a safe and expeditious process to remove, hold and transfer children to their new placements. I will ensure that we devote enough revenue every year to housing as well as to programs. And I will expedite development of affordable rental residences so that we can bring the cost of housing down. I look forward to working with the governor, county department heads, the sheriff, district attorney, leaders in the community and adoption agencies to create a robust plan to fix the homeless issue in our county.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

I spent a full year prosecuting minors in juvenile court, and I myself have sent kids to juvenile hall, camp, and on occasion to the Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly CYA). Now, as a criminal gang prosecutor, I prosecute very young adults and regularly secure sentences longer than the than the years they have been alive. It is agonizing to me to see so many of our kids deprived of a nurturing and empowering education and the chance at a good job after high school. Public safety is the main focus of my campaign, and it is vital to remember that we can’t handcuff our way out of the current crime problem.

LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, has served the 12th District communities of Granada Hills, Northridge, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, North Hills, Reseda, Sherwood Forest, and West Hills, since 2011.

Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?

The county’s child protective services agency has been plagued with issues for many years and continues to struggle to fulfill it’s mission. Over the last few years, there have been a number of positive steps towards addressing the issues at the agency, namely creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection and the subsequent creation of the Office of Child Protection (OCP). The work of the commission, as well as the creation of OCP, have helped identify and address critical issues such as mismanagement, case load issues and overall delivery of services. However, in my view, there is a great deal of work to be done. As we work to implement many of the recommendations made by the commission, I strongly believe that regular reassessment and accountability measures are paramount to ensuring that the office is making real progress. I would like to implement an A-P3 – Assess, Provide, Promote, Protect – approach to implementing meaningful changes to address it’s short comings.

Assess: The Blue Ribbon Commission has made great strides in identifying the shortcomings of the child protective services agency. We need to prioritize on-going assessments of the agency as well as measuring the impact that new policies and initiatives have towards reaching identified goals.

Provide: Caseloads have been an issue. While it’s good to hire a thousand new social workers, as the county has done, doing that without giving them the technology and other support resources they need to manage large caseloads is useless. Many have quit, and caseload numbers have increased. While the most tragic stories have been in the front pages, everyday kids are abused, neglected or allowed to be preyed upon. We need to make a commitment to providing modern technologies and tracking mechanisms in order to track work, enhance coordination and improve the exchange of information between relevant agencies. Implementation of the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS) is one example of how technology can improve the agency.

Promote: A “see something, say something” approach to child maltreatment needs to be promoted countywide, to all residents, not just care providers and teachers. This is particularly true within the agency. I believe that the Office of Child Protection can play a central role in reshaping the culture within relevant county agencies.

Protect: There needs to be the same ability to anonymously report suspected abuse as there is for other crimes and even a similar reward-type incentive for information leading to convictions. We also need to place a greater emphasis on utilizing background checks as well as regular in-depth welfare checks to ensure that children are placed in safe and healthy environments.

Kathryn Barger, chief of staff to current Supervisor Michael Antonovich, has spent more than 25 years working for the supervisor.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

I will review the completed fiscal analysis that is underway by the CEO now, which will help us better understand the cost per youth in our institutions. Based on the data, I would propose a four-pronged approach:

Ensure that the only the youth who should be confined in our institutions are those in our institutions (i.e., high risk and not for minor infractions, such as curfew violations).

Expand and enhance community-based programs for the youth who can be safely and effectively treated and supervised in the community. We have recently expanded our partnerships with community-based organizations like UCAN, Boys and Girls Clubs in San Gabriel and Santa Clarita Valleys, Asian Youth Center, and Mentoring and Partnership Program in Pasadena. I will also work with the Probation Department to establish a juvenile day reporting center in the Fifth District, which is in preliminary stages.

We need to do a better job of preventing the crossover of our foster youth into the juvenile-justice system. We know that there is a substantial link between children who are abused and neglected and subsequently enter the juvenile-justice system. We must continue to improve service coordination and integration between the Departments of Children and Family Services, Probation, Mental Health and Public Health to provide needed services to foster youth. And we need to effectively and efficiently link youth with substance abuse services which are available through Medi-Cal.

Given that the population of youth in our camps and halls has decreased by more than 60 percent in the last seven years and the on-going challenges in filling staffing vacancies, I will ensure that the human resources are deployed where there is the greatest need.

Darrell Park is an entrepreneur focusing on start-ups and clean energy, who has worked at the federal White House Office of Management and Budget.

Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?

Every child must be treated as our most valuable resource. That must be our goal. As a child, my parents hosted 19 foster children over the years. Some stayed for a weekend, others stayed for years. Los Angeles County’s system is not workable, as it currently functions. But there are simple solutions to fix what is wrong with this system, and make L.A. County the model for the rest of the country.

For instance, we need many more caseworkers, but we can also increase the effectiveness of every case worker by 30 percent immediately. We have underutilized the use of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s motor pool. We can get workers to their meetings as fast as lights and sirens can allow, and that can be changed instantly. We also need to use our county support staff that can take dictation from case workers as they drive between appointments, so workers don’t have to waste time sitting at a desk.

Other successful programs across the country also involve outreach efforts to secure many volunteers to provide support for families, facilities and kids, so that every child is supported and surrounded by love. Studies have shown that for a teen to become a successful adult, they need at least seven positive relationships with other adults as they grow up. Unfortunately, that resource of human capital is deeply lacking for foster youth.

(Note: CSC is also holding an LA County Board of Supervisors Fifth District Forum on Children’s issues, which you can RSVP for: here.)


SNEAKY JAILHOUSE SNITCH INFORMATION BLOG USED BY ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES FOUND

In the newest twist in the ongoing Orange County jailhouse snitch scandal, OC Sheriff’s Department members kept a secret blog on jail informants that was kept away from defense lawyers. Information about the “unauthorized” blog, which was hidden on the county jail’s computer system, surfaced during testimony in the murder trial of Daniel Patrick Wozniak. (Here’s the backstory on the OCDA and the OC Sheriff’s Department’s misuse of jailhouse informants to extract confessions, as well as the withholding of evidence from defendants.)

One of the deputies involved in the blog, was accused of giving false testimony during the murder trial of Scott Evans Dekraai, which was one of the reasons the OC DA’s Office was banned from prosecuting the death penalty portion of Dekraai’s trial. A different informant information system was found during the Dekraai trial that helped deputies hide possibly helpful evidence away from defendants.

Voice of OC’s Rex Dalton has the story. Here’s a clip:

These details were revealed during a remarkable all-day hearing Tuesday before Judge John D. Conley, with testimony by sheriff’s officials, including Commander Adam Powell, who oversees all of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ investigative services.

This is now the second time Sanders has uncovered a computer system through which sheriff’s deputies kept secret potentially helpful evidence from murder defendants. The Dekraai case revealed a system maintained by deputies with so-called TRED records on informants and inmates in county jails.

It was not disclosed until late 2014 when prosecutors responded to an 11th hour subpoena by Sanders. The TRED records were instrumental in Goethals’ decision that some deputies provided false testimony in the Dekraai case.

Ultimately last year, Goethals ruled the state Attorney General’s Office should prosecute the penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial. The judge’s order is under appeal, with Rackauckas’ plan to seek the death penalty on hold.

Then in February, Goethals overturned the 2006 murder conviction of Henry Rodriguez of Anaheim for a 1998 double murder, citing constitutional rights violations involving informant evidence again “washing ashore.”

During the Rodriguez proceedings for a retrial, a sheriff’s deputy from the special handling unit that works with jail informants produced the heretofore unknown cache of computer notes — which started multi-pronged hunts for more similar records.

Last month, Sanders subpoenaed any similar notes from the sheriff’s department for his defense of Wozniak — who in December was convicted by a jury who recommended the death penalty.

Wozniak faces sentencing on May 20. But a sentencing on that date looks increasingly unlikely given the ongoing hearing that continues Thursday.

Unless he can win a dismissal of the death penalty, Sanders has said in court that he will seek a new penalty phase trial for Wozniak, with the evolving mishandling of evidentiary notes likely to play a significant role. Sanders was scheduled to file a major motion in the case May 6, but that too is likely to be delayed.


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES DON’T SEEM LIKELY TO UPHOLD BLOCK ON GOV. BROWN’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the legality of a last-minute amendment to Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative that would remove the power to transfer kids to adult court from prosecutors, and give the control back to judges, as well as increase inmates’ access to early release credits.

Earlier this year, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, siding with California District Attorney’s Association members, whose lawsuit alleged that amendments to the initiative did not go through the proper legal process. The state Supremes put a hold on Chang’s ruling, allowing Brown to continue collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot in the meantime. (Read the backstory: here.)

During Thursday’s hearing, the justices reportedly seemed skeptical of the attempt by the DA’s union to block Brown’s measure, saying that the law gives a considerable amount of leeway for making changes to a measure before it goes out for signature-collecting.

The high court is expected to rule on the issue within 90 days.

The Sacramento Bee’s David Siders has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

While a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the measure substantially changed the content of the original initiative, several justices on Thursday suggested state law grants the proponents of a measure broad authority to make changes before circulating it for signatures.

“It seems pretty clear to me that the Legislature wanted to give a great deal of latitude to the proponents of any initiative,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan said.

At issue before the court is a sweeping effort by Brown to reduce prison crowding and to ease the effect of fixed-term sentencing standards that Brown signed into law – and later regretted – when he was governor before. Filing his initiative as an amendment to an existing proposal allowed him to move more quickly through the state’s initiative review process.

A ruling by the Supreme Court is due within 90 days.

In an hour-long oral argument, justices pressed the Brown administration on how dramatically it changed the original proposal. Brown’s opponents, including the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, had argued Brown’s measure should have gone through its own review process, including public comment.


EDITORIAL: HOMELESSNESS STILL ON THE RISE IN LOS ANGELES, AND THERE’S NO QUICK FIX

Homelessness is still on the rise in Los Angeles County, according to the latest homeless count—up 5.7% over the previous year, which is less than half of the 12% increase experienced in 2014, but still disappointing.

LA County and LA City have a collaborated on comprehensive plan to help and house thousands of homeless residents through interagency coordination, non-profits, philanthropy groups, and businesses. But the housing (and required dollars) won’t appear overnight. Much of the funding has not yet been gathered, and there’s not much in the way of affordable housing real estate options, the LA Times editorial board points out. And the focus should be on addressing the issues that lead people to become—and stay—homeless. Here’s a clip:

City and county officials need to maintain the will and the commitment to fight this devastating social problem, even though they can be sure there will be political pitfalls ahead. They will have to work hard to explain the situation to voters and to persuade them that the best, most effective solutions have been identified. It is possible to make headway against homelessness; indeed, the best news in yesterday’s report was that veteran homelessness was significantly down — 30% — from 2015. That’s a testament to the increase in financial resources and personnel focused on veterans by the federal, county, and city governments over the last few years.

On Wednesday, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion directing the county’s Executive Officer to pursue a change in state law to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval of a tax on personal income above $1 million a year to combat homelessness.

Creating more housing must be a high priority in an area with such an extremely low vacancy rate and stratospherically high rents. That’s the most costly part of solving homelessness.

Of course, the city and county are already housing thousands of people each year. The problem is that as more are housed, more become homeless. So part of the challenge is to prevent homelessness in the first place, which in turn requires an understanding of who these people are and how they lost their homes in the first place. Were they evicted? Do they suffer from mental illness or drug addiction? Are they newly homeless or have they been on the streets for years? Are they in treatment? What do they need to rebuild their lives?



This post has been updated to include The Chronicle of Social Change’s interview with Mitch Englander.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

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