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Prop 47 Report, Laptops in Lock-up, Prison Rape, and Training Teachers to Identify Abuse

February 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

EARLY ASSESSMENT OF PROP 47 IN LA, AND WHERE COUNTY AGENCIES THINK THE $$ SHOULD GO

At a county public safety meeting on Wednesday, LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented a draft report assessing the county’s implementation of Proposition 47. (Prop 47 reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.)

At the behest of the Board of Supervisors, the CEO’s office worked with other county agencies—District Attorney, Sheriff’s Dept., Courts, Public Defender, and Alternate Public Defender—to pinpoint the programs and efforts that could qualify for and benefit from Prop 47 funding, and to gauge the effects of the legislation, thus far.

Of the state money saved by Prop 47, 65% is to go to mental health and drug programs for criminal justice system-involved people, 25% will be spent on reducing truancy and helping at-risk students, and 10% will go to trauma recovery centers for crime victims. But it is still not clear how that money will get portioned out to counties, or if there will be restrictions on what the counties want to do with their money.

Some of the efforts county agencies flagged as deserving of grant dollars included victim services and restitution, community-based mental health programs for Prop-47ers, urgent care centers, the New Direction diversion pilot program to keep kids in school, and a reentry program for kids in probation camps.

The report says that it is still too early to tell what long-term effects Prop 47 will have in Los Angeles. However, county agencies shared some short-term effects, including courts clogged with people seeking downgrade their felonies, and a fewer number of offenders signing up for mental health and drug rehab programs.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Cindy Chang have more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By the end of January, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the decrease in narcotics arrests was even greater, 48% from a year ago.

Local criminal courts will process between 4,000 and 14,000 applications from pre-trial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now petition to have their charges changed to misdemeanors, the report said. Another 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.

Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felony on their criminal records to a misdemeanor. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.

The report quantifies an expected impact on court-ordered drug and mental health treatment programs: a decrease in enrollment because defendants are no longer threatened with jail time. Sign-ups for the programs decreased from 110 defendants a year ago to 53 in the first three months after Proposition 47 passed.


TECH IN JUVENILE LOCK-UP PART 2: SAN DIEGO INVESTS IN COMPUTERS, TECH EDUCATION FOR KIDS BEHIND BARS

On Tuesday, we shared the first of Adriene Hill’s two stories for NPR’s Marketplace about correctional facilities that have taken meaningful steps toward bringing education up to par for kids behind bars by incorporating educational technology into the curriculum.

Hill’s second story takes place in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, where every kid has a laptop to use in class.

In San Diego County, the Office of Education has spent $900,000 on computers and accessories for kids in juvenile corrections facilities. Teachers are being trained on how to use the computers to help teach lessons, and tech instruction is now on the docket. And with the added technology, lessons can be tailored to kids’ individual needs.

Here are some clips from Hill’s second story:

Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities. Soon every one of the 200 kids here will have access to a Chromebook in class. All the teachers are being trained to run a digital classroom and add tech to the curriculum.

But getting to this point took more than a big investment. It took a significant culture shift.

“At first, we were a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” says Mindy McCartney, supervising probation officer, who is charged with keeping the youth here under control.

“Everybody thinks they are going to use [the laptop] as a Frisbee, or attack somebody, or they are going to tag it and break it,” she says. “And it simply hasn’t happened.”

There was also anxiety about turning on the internet, even though there were firewalls and monitoring systems in place.

“We hear ‘internet’ and ‘access’ and we automatically get very paranoid and think the worst-case scenarios,” McCartney says.

But, so far, McCartney says there have not been significant problems. Kids aren’t using laptops as weapons. They’re not sneaking messages to gang members on the outside. In fact, teachers say the technology has made their students here more engaged in what they’re learning. That’s exactly the type of progress experts say the juvenile justice system desperately needs to make.

[SNIP]

In many ways, educational technology is perfectly suited to kids in custody. Students who have committed crimes are constantly being yanked in and out of class. They have court hearings and meetings with probation officers.

“We do have a population that moves around a lot,” says teacher Yolanda Collier. She says when students have their own computers and some lessons are online, they don’t have to fall behind.

Say there are some supplementary stories, an interview…videos…and such, if I want.


TEENAGERS HOUSED WITH ADULTS, PRISON RAPE, AND WHAT MUST HAPPEN BEFORE INMATES ARE SAFE

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has an excellent longread chronicling the failures of the justice system to protect inmates from rape, and the gaps in the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Chammah focuses, in particular, on the sexual violence inflicted on vulnerable teenage boys who are placed in adult detention facilities.

Chammah tells the harrowing story of “John Doe 1,” a 17-year-old repeatedly brutalized by adult men in multiple prisons. John’s experiences are all-too-common, especially in states where 16 and 17-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. Here are some clips:

The second time David raped him, John says David held a homemade weapon to his throat. It was a toothbrush, wired up with four or five shaving razors.

The third and fourth times, David just left the weapon on his desk, in clear view, and relied on John’s fear to keep him passive.

Then, one morning around 6 a.m., while out on the yard for recreation, John says he saw David receive a mesh laundry bag from a prisoner he didn’t know. He could see that it contained meat sticks and bags of chips. These kinds of exchanges were common; he figured the other prisoner might be trading the food for the use of his cell as a quiet place for tattooing or some other illicit activity. (Official policy forbade prisoners from visiting other cells, but officers frequently looked the other way.)

That afternoon, John returned to his “house,” as prisoners call their cells, and saw his cellmate’s key—in this prison, every inmate had a key to his own cell—sitting on the desk. His cellmate was in bed. Feeling greasy after his kitchen shift, John started to undress so he could take a shower. As he took off his pants, he saw the mesh bag of food. He looked over and realized the man in the bed was not David. It was the prisoner who had handed over the bag of food. The man rose from the bed, grabbed David’s toothbrush weapon, held it to John’s cheek, and forced him down. This prisoner had a jar of Vaseline, but it did not do much; after he left, John found blood on his clothes.

John says he was raped several more times by both his cellmate and strangers. He was forced to perform oral sex, and he still remembers brushing his teeth twice to get the taste out of his mouth. He never told medical staff about his anal bleeding because he felt embarrassed, though because of a foot injury he was able to get painkillers.

John would later be asked why he did not tell correctional staff, since in theory they could have taken steps to protect him. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. He assumed the staff knew what was happening. From their station at the end of the hall, the officers would see men going in and out of his cell and they would not intervene. The rapists would put a towel over the cell door’s window, which was not allowed but must have been noticed by officers making their rounds. John says some of the officers would even make jokes, calling him a “fag,” a “girl,” and a “bust-down.”

Two months after his arrival, John finally reached a breaking point. Around 2 p.m. one day, David tried to touch the middle of his back. John pushed his hands away. David forced him up against a locker and wrapped his hands around John’s neck. John wrestled his way out, and emerged from the cell barefoot. Hanging a left, he ran to the guard station, and begged them to assign him to a different cell. He didn’t mention the rapes, only his cellmate’s attempt to choke him. The officers allowed John to grab his few possessions and move down the hall, closer to their station.

His new cellmate was not a predator, but by then John had been tagged as easy prey. Two days after he was moved, another prisoner cornered him in his cell and raped him. It seemed like other prisoners had figured out his schedule—when he would be alone in his cell, or in the shower. He was called a “fuckboy,” a term for the men who are “gay for pay,” trading sex for food or other favors, even though John said he never did.

[SNIP]

It is impossible to know how many of the teenagers sent to adult prisons in recent years have been sexually assaulted, in part because so many of them have been afraid to report. (Rape outside of prison is known to be under-reported, and the same is true within prison walls, especially because prisoners face the possibility of retaliation by both correctional staff and other prisoners.)

Some corrections officials have pointed out that sexual assaults regularly occur in juvenile facilities as well as in adult ones. But many non-violent crimes lead to probation, rather than incarceration, when they’re handled by the juvenile system, and a 1989 study found that prisoners under 18 in adult prisons reported being “sexually attacked” five times more often than their peers in juvenile institutions.


CALIFORNIA TEACHERS WILL NOW BE TRAINED TO IDENTIFY CHILD ABUSE

Thanks to a new state law, California teachers and other school employees are now required to take an online training course on how to identify child abuse and neglect, and how to report it.

KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Torlakson said in a written statement. “The new online training lessons will help school employees carry out their responsibilities to protect children and take action if they suspect abuse or neglect.”

[SNIP]

[Stephanie] Papas, who helped create the new two-hour online training, said the course will help employees tell if a child has been hurt from abuse or from an accident, for example.

“We have photos that are examples of, say, a welt that is in the shape of a belt buckle or a slap on a child’s cheek that’s left a hand imprint,” she said.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, prison, Public Defender, Rape | No Comments »

Santa Clara’s Unique Efforts to Keep Kids Out of Adult Court…LASD Civilian Oversight Subpoena Power….School Discipline….and NY’s New Anti-Prison Rape Videos

February 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SANTA CLARA PROSECUTORS LOOK TO ADVOCATES TO ANALYZE HOW KIDS ARE TRIED

In 2013, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office invited a team of advocates and public defenders to evaluate how and why county prosecutors charged teenagers as adults.

Prosecutors sat down with the team and discussed each case in which a kid was sent to adult court. The advocates, all against charging kids as adults for any reason, showed prosecutors where they felt different outcomes could have been achieved.

The goal of the DA’s office is to simultaneously keep kids out of the adult system while still maintaining public safety. This particular effort to increase oversight of how teens are prosecuted is unlike anything else we have seen in the state (and is certainly worth emulating).

The San Jose Mercury’s Mark Gomez has more on Santa Clara’s important program and its significance. Here are some clips:

“It’s very easy to close the books and not account for what you did and why,” said Frankie Guzman, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law who was one of the advocates invited to review the cases. “I respect the fact this interaction and conversation happened, because it’s not happening anywhere else.”

In the majority of cases in Santa Clara County, prosecutors choose to keep the youth in the juvenile system, where the focus is on rehabilitation.

But in about 18 percent of such cases in Santa Clara County since 2010, prosecutors charged juveniles as adults, often resulting in prison sentences. The decision to bring in youth advocates was made following an internal review in 2013, which revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. So the District Attorney’s Office pulled together a team of people from the county public defender’s office and Bay Area youth advocacy groups to scour every single case filed that year. Prosecutors explained each decision, and the team discussed what they might have done differently.

“If we can keep a kid in the juvenile system and still protect public safety, we’re going to make that decision,” said Chris Arriola, supervising deputy district attorney of the juvenile unit. “But sometimes we have to make that decision to take them out. We do not take it lightly.

[SNIP]

In many California counties, the decision to charge a youth as an adult is made by one prosecutor, according to Bay Area youth advocates. District attorneys are not obligated to detail their reasoning for charging a juvenile as an adult — known as “direct file” cases.

In Santa Clara County, a team of four senior prosecutors considers several factors, including the youth’s criminal history, the sophistication and gravity of the offense, the outcome in previous attempts to rehabilitate the youth, and the ability now to rehabilitate the minor in the juvenile justice system. All four prosecutors must agree the youth should be criminally prosecuted as an adult.

Read the rest.


SHOULD THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL HAVE AUTHORITY TO SUBPOENA DEPARTMENT DOCS?

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze takes a look at the hotly-debated issue of whether to equip civilian oversight commission with the power to subpoena documents as part of its oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Members of the group planning the new civilian panel have differing opinions, and Sheriff Jim McDonnell is still not too keen on the idea, according to Undersheriff Neal Tyler.

The planning group is slated to present their recommendations to the LA County Board of Supervisors in May.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

“Its certainly a club should you ever need it,” said Dean Hansell, who chairs the working group which is designing the new oversight panel.

Subpoena power would give the panel the ability to force reluctant Sheriff’s officials to testify before it and to obtain certain documents. It would not give the panel access to personnel records – that would require a change in state law.

[SNIP]

Sheriff Jim McDonnell remains reluctant to support subpoena power, according to interim Undersheriff Neal Tyler. He said change already is underway at the department, which is under federal investigation for civil rights abuses and corruption. There’s no need for “the hammer” of subpoena power after the election of McDonnell, said Tyler, who also sits on the working group.

“We have a hammer right now and its Sheriff Jim McDonnell,” the undersheriff said. He also noted McDonnell is providing Inspector General Max Huntsman broad access to the department.

“We are working so cooperatively with him now that it’s not necessary to codify it,” Tyler said. Huntsman has said he needs still more access to adequately oversee the department, and that subpoena power would help.


WHERE WE ARE WITH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN CA

News 10′s Michael Bott and Ty Chandler have good overview of the state of school discipline in California, both the racially disparate use of “willful defiance” suspensions, and the restorative justice alternatives that are starting to reverse some of the damages done to kids of color across the state.

Bott and Chandler’s story includes some interesting videos and an interactive map of willful defiance suspensions at schools in the Bay Area (only one SoCal school is featured). Here’s how it opens:

Teenager Dwayne Powe Jr. got a suspension in eighth grade. He didn’t get into a fight. He wasn’t caught with drugs. He committed no crime.

“I actually was asking for a pencil,” Powe said.

Powe said his class began an exercise and he asked to borrow a pencil from another student. That’s when his teacher told Powe he was being disruptive and made him leave class. Powe tried explaining he had only asked for a pencil, but that only dug his hole deeper, he said.

He was technically suspended for “willful defiance”.

Nearly 200,000 California students who were suspended for willful defiance last year can relate to Powe’s story.

What constitutes willful defiance is somewhat vague, but it generally allows teachers to remove students from the classroom if their behavior is thought to be disruptive or defiant. It’s the most common reason California students were suspended—and students of color are overwhelmingly targeted.

But there is a growing consensus that keeping kids out of the classroom for non-violent behavioral issues has done more harm than good, and students of color are paying the heaviest cost for this policy.


EDSOURCE LAUNCHES NETWORK TO CONTINUE COMBATTING EFFECTS OF HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

In the 2013-2014 school year in California, expulsions plunged 20%, and suspensions fell 15%.

In an effort to keep those numbers dropping, and to divert kids from the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” Ed Source has assembled the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, backed by the California Endowment.

The group intends to connect school officials, educators, and others to share and discuss programs and practices (like restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) that are successfully keeping kids in class, creating better relationships between kids and teachers, and promoting school safety.

Current chairman of the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, Carl Cohn (who is also a former school superintendent and former State Board of Education member), has more on the new network and why this issue is so important. Here’s a clip:

Leaders of California public schools are seriously re-examining discipline practices and questioning the value of practices that are ineffective and counterproductive – measures that may put youngsters at greater risk for dropping out and for involvement with the juvenile justice system.

These leaders are listening carefully and responding appropriately to the long-standing accusation in the civil rights and advocacy community that some of our schools are, in fact, “pipelines to prison.” Nothing better represents this point of view than the thousands of students suspended each year for willful defiance, which could include behaviors such as eye rolling, talking loudly or standing in a menacing way….

As a first step toward ending this practice, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 420, which bans suspending students in the K-3 grades for willful defiance.

In order to sustain this momentum, EdSource has convened the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, with support from The California Endowment. The idea is to bring together principals, teachers, superintendents and others to look at ways to keep youngsters in school and to share best practices and model programs that are especially effective at accomplishing that goal while also making sure that schools are safer as a result of the effort. It’s not just about bringing the numbers of suspensions and expulsions down; it’s also about creating a school climate that contributes to positive relationships among students and staff.

In our discussions with educators, both Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (evidence-based interventions that work) and “restorative justice” (where students are called on to repair the harm caused by bad behavior) have emerged as just two effective routes toward creating a school climate that helps keep kids in school and maintaining a safer school environment overall. Like most ambitious school reforms, issuing directives from district headquarters will probably not yield the best results. These are changes that must be owned by principals, teachers, assistant principals and school counselors – those closest to meting out school discipline.


NEW YORK’S SURPRISING NEW EFFORT TO COMBAT PRISON RAPE

Funded through the Prison Rape Elimination Act, New York state prisons will start showing two new inmate orientation safety videos to educate men and women about how to avoid rape behind bars. The twenty-minute-long videos are directed by T.J. Parsell, who was raped on his first day in prison.

The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager has more on the safety videos. Here’s a clip:

Prisons will show inmates — both male and female — an orientation video offering advice on how to identify, and avoid, sexual predators behind bars….

They will be premiered for the inmates who participated in the filming — at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, Fishkill Correctional Facility, and Downstate Correctional Facility — then rolled out in prisons across the state.

New York has had an uneven record on prison rape. In 2010, according to PREA surveys, three of the eleven prisons in the U.S. with the most staff-on-inmate sexual violence were in New York…

The orientation videos are an attempt to confront that legacy and to change a prison culture in which sexual assault, and the code of silence surrounding it, remain all too common.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, racial justice, Rape, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Are American Jails Being Misused? A New Report Says YES…(And How Do LA Jails Rate?)

February 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Every year there are nearly 12 million admissions to local jails in the U.S.
—almost 20 times the number of admissions to the nation’s state and federal prisons.

Yet while Americans seem finally to be having a sober conversation about the collateral damage done by our disastrously outsized prison systems, comparitively little attention has been paid to the rapid growth of the nation’s jails.

Now a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice looks at the key policies that have contributed to the rise in the use of jails, and the impact of jail incarceration on individuals, families, and communities.

The report, called Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of MacArthur’s just announced $75 million Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, through which the Foundation will fund up to 20 jurisdictions throughout the country to rigorously examine how well or poorly their local jails are being used. Then out of the 20, 10 entries will be selected and given up to $2 million a year to design and implement plans for using “innovative, collaborative, and evidence-based solutions” to reduce the use of jail incarceration without compromising public safety.

The Safety and Justice challenge is competitive and, on Wednesday, MacArthur released its request for proposals [RFP], for the first round of the competition, entries for which are due March 31.

“We’ve had expressions of interest from a number of counties in California,” Laurie Garduque, the director of Justice Reform for MacArthur told me. “I expect we’ll get applications from some of those jurisdictions—especially in light of the impact of realignment and other legislation, that has focused more attention on what is happening at a county level with the local jails”

As to whether anyone had expressed interest from Los Angeles County, the MacArthur and the Vera people I spoke with said they hadn’t yet talked directly to any of the main players about the challenge, but that they hoped LA would apply.


FACTORS AFFECTING OVER USE OF JAILS

The Vera report points out that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

According to Vera, however, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report points out, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

Vera also points to success stories, like that of Portland, Oregon, where every police officer receives training in how to respond to a suspect who appears to suffer from mental illness or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “For those people whose mental illness or substance use disorder is driving their repeated encounters with law enforcement—-typically as suspects in drug or property crimes—-the department participates in a Service Coordination Team that offers treatment in lieu of detention.” The strategy worked, both in terms of public safety, and fiscally. Between 2008 and 2010, the team saved the county nearly $16 million in jail costs alone.


WHAT ABOUT LA?

Interestingly, in 2011 the Vera Institute delivered a 289-page jails study commissioned by Los Angeles county’s board of supervisors. The report was titled the Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project and, as its name suggests, it was focused on the LA county jail system specifically. The two-year Vera analysis (which was first completed in 2008, then revised in Sept. 2011) was exhaustively thorough, and yielded 39 detailed recommendations for LA, many focusing on things like pre-trial release programs and more effective responses to the mentally ill. Few of those recommendations, however, seemed to be included when, last spring, the board ordered up its $2 billion jail replacement and building plan.

More recently, spurred by the leadership of district attorney Jackie Lacey and by escalating threats from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, LA has finally taken some heartening steps in the direction of a comprehensive community diversion program for the non-dangerous mentally ill who, at present, cycle in an out of LA county jail with grinding regularity.

Yet pre-trial release has been pretty much a non-starter.

So now that we have a new reform-minded sheriff, two new supervisors who are unhappy at the size of the county’s jail population, and a district attorney who continues to demonstrate her engagement with reform, will LA County fill out an application for the MacArthur Safety and Justice challenge?

“I think it’s a real opportunity,” said Nancy Fishman, one of the authors of the new 54-page report. “We’re all just at the beginning of what will be a massive outreach to counties, Los Angeles included. And we hope LA applies.”

More on that as we know it.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, pretrial detention/release | 4 Comments »

Formerly Locked-Up LA Youth Tell How to Build a Better Juvenile Justice System

February 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


LOOKING FOR THE LA MODEL

Los Angeles County is at a critical stage in reforming its juvenile justice system, which is the largest in the nation. Juvenile crime is down, and more kids than in the past are being given probation for non-serious infractions, rather than being sent to locked facilities.

Yet, still nearly 1000 young people are spending their time daily in LA County’s 3 juvenile halls or in one of its 9 probation camps that are still in operation. (It has 14 total.)

Locking kids up is a costly matter. The average daily tab to house a youth in one of LA County’s camps is $329.61. If he or she stays in camp for six months, that’s over $60,000 to keep one teenager for one-half year—far in excess of what it would cost to send that same kid to a high priced private university.

Yet, the recidivism rate of kids coming out of the camps, according to probation’s own numbers, is 40 percent. Not an encouraging success rate. Moreover, some researchers claim that the return-customer percentage is really much higher.

Five years ago, things were spectacularly worse in the campswith conditions that were, frankly, unconscionable. But, due to nearly eight years of oversight by the Department of Justice, plus several big, bad lawsuits, there have been heartening improvements.

There is still a long way to go. Even Probation Chief Jerry Powers described the design of the probation camps, in a report to the LA County Board of Supervisors, as “creat[ing] an image of a jail-like environment.”

The good news is that there’s a scheme in the works, which many believe could usher in truly profound changes in the way LA treats its law-breaking young. Officials at LA County Probation, along with participants from a gaggle of other agencies, plus university researchers, policy makers and advocates— are in the midst of hammering out the finer details of a plan to build a new kind of probation camp, a $48 million pilot project that everyone hopes will become a model that can be replicated throughout LA County’s juvenile system—and, with luck, beyond that to the rest of the state, or maybe even the nation.

As we’ve reported in the past, the new pilot facility is to be built on the site of the now-closed Camp David Kilpatrick, the system’s oldest such facility, located in the rural hills above Malibu. The idea is to transform the run-down Kilpatrick—which, prior to teardown, resembled a group of dilapidated prison barracks——into a cluster of homelike cottages that sleep a maximum of 12. Thus both the structure and the programmatic strategy of the new facility will theoretically be designed to promote rehabilitation and healing, rather than simply behavior control, as has been too often the emphasis in the past.

But the details of this brand new programming strategy—which is slated to be called The LA Model—are, in many ways, still very fluid.

Part of the issue is the fact that the project is an unusually collaborative one, with planning committees that include juvenile justice advocates from various nonprofits, along with representatives from the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), the Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Arts Commission, the Juvenile Court Health Services, the Department of Public Works, researchers from UCLA and Cal State LA, and so on.

And in the end, it is LA County Probation’s project, and probation is, of course, overseen by the LA County Board of Supervisors, which holds the purse strings on the enterprise. Additionally, on anything regarding staffing, probation has to answer to its unions, which—naturally—want a say in the matter.

Getting this diverse array of people, agencies, and interests to agree has reportedly been challenging. As a consequence, although progress is being made, there have been repeated delays. As it stands now, the LA Model camp is set to be completed in late 2016 and open in January 2017.


A TEAM OF UNCONVENTIONAL EXPERTS

With all of the aforementioned in mind, some of the researchers and policy advocates involved—namely a UCLA-affiliated research team working under Dr. Jorja leap (whose CV you can find here), along with policy analysts Michelle Newell and Angela Chung from the California branch of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF-CA), decided everyone might benefit from the opinions of a very different group of advisors—specifically kids who have been locked up in the probation camps, thus have personal experience with the system.

And so it was that last spring Leap’s team, together with the CDF-CA policy analysts, coordinated a series of five focus groups with 48 teenagers and young adults, each of whom had spent time in LA County’s long-troubled camps. At every meeting, the participants were asked various versions of the same question: “How can Los Angeles County’s probation camps provide a more positive experience for youth?”

The focus groups were turned out to be quite productive. So the researchers and analysts decided to go a step further. They selected five young men and women from the groups and made them “policy fellows.” The idea was that the five would help take the material gained thus far from the focus groups, and distill it, and turn the youth-generated information into a policy brief.

The fellows—three males and two females—ranged in age from 18 to 27, and collectively had spent a total of 102 months—8.5 years—in LA County’s juvenile camps. Their names are Karla Fuentes-Quiroz, Raul Barreto, Ralphica Garnett, Daniel Bisuano and James Anderson.

“Too often we have policy briefs authored by people who don’t have any real world connection with the subject,” said Dr. Jorja Leap. Everyone was pleased that this time it was different.

After their selection, the five spent several months going to workshops to learn the nuts and bolts of research, analysis and policy writing. Then they were mentored by CDF-CA’s juvenile justice policy team through the process of conceiving and writing a brief that outlined a five priorities that the youth fellows and their mentors concluded must be at the top of the list for the LA Model planners.

The completed 34-page brief—titled Rising up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System—was presented to the various Kilpatrick planning entities early this year, and reportedly was warmly received.

“The response has been overwhelming and positive,” said Leap. “There is tremendous support for the youth voices and how important these are in the process.”

Before we get to the details of the youth brief, however, it might be helpful to meet one of the fellows, Raul Barreto, whose backstory represents the kind of life experience that the five brought to the table.


EXPERTISE GAINED THE HARD WAY

When Raul Barreto was a pre-teen, a lot of the kids around him were joining street gangs, yet he did not. Like the other boys, he was curious about the gang world. But his over-stressed and distracted mother moved her eight children around far too often for him settle comfortably into any group—gangs included.

“My mom did her best. I love and admire her so much for that,” he said. “She always fed us. She washed our clothes. But she could never afford to stay in one place.” The frequent moving was compounded by the fact that there were no rules in the household. No boundaries, Raul said. No emphasis on school. No protective parental focus that helped her children feel secure and emotionally tethered.

It didn’t help that Raul had no dad around for most of his upbringing. When he was seven-years-old, his father vanished into prison.

In the father’s absence, Raul’s oldest brother became his role model, imparting to the younger boy the only gifts he had to give, which were primarily the ability to be tough, even when you didn’t feel tough, and instructions about how to get by on the street.

When Raul was in 8th grade, he put those lessons to work by attempting to form a clique of his own. When a boy from another clique “disrespected” Raul’s newly formed group, Raul did what he thought he had to do. He whacked the kid with a heavy chain, and was quickly arrested and charged with assault. And so it was that, at age 13, he was sentenced for nine months to an LA County probation camp.

“Basically, it was gladiator school,” said Raul of his first camp stay. The staff offered little help. “They didn’t do much more than herd people. They were essentially guards.”

Raul’s brother, who’d been to camp before him, told him how to navigate the place without being bullied. It was not honorable to back down, his older brother said, even if you got beat up, even if you got hurt badly. “There was a certain pride that I held in having never backed down,” Raul said.

Raul was sent to LA County camps a total of four times, although the last three stays were for probation violations, not for additional charges. Between camp stays, Barreto’s adored older brother, who was nineteen at the time, was arrested and sentenced to prison for more than 100 years.

The brother’s sentence slammed Barreto far more than his father’s exit had but, as with the camp fights, he took the blow with as much stoicism as he could muster.

His last stay in camp was at Camp David Gonzalez, then the system’s most progressive, volunteer-heavy facility, located in the hills off Malibu Canyon. There Barreto met a mentor who would change his life, a volunteer named Dan Seaver who ran the camp’s unique, kid-produced newspaper.

Seaver repeatedly told Raul that he was smart, and had potential, and urged him to take advantage of the camp’s various activities. “He talked to me about college. He talked to me about work. He talked to me about those and other things in a way that made them real for me,” he said.

During his stay at Gonzalez, Raul learned he had a knack for writing, and soon became the newspaper’s editor. While in camp, he also read like crazy. Fantasy was his favorite genre. “I read all the Harry Potter books, and a whole lot of others,” Raul said. “I wanted read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they didn’t have it in the camp library.” Reading was a way he could escape from being locked up” Raul said. “It also helped me become a better writer.”

Seaver’s mentorship at Gonzales didn’t magically solve all of Barreto’s problems. It took a couple additional incarcerations, this time as an adult. It also took knowing someone who, over time, refused to give up on him.

Fast forward to the present. Raul, now has a good job working for Martin Outdoor Media, the company that sells advertising on those green bus benches that bloom around the city. He has also done some crew work in the film industry and has plans to do more.

In his off time, he does advocacy work for an organization called Anti-recidivism Coalition—or ARC—through which he makes visits to the county’s probation camps to talk to kids who remind him of his younger self, telling them not to give up, that they can do it, that it’ll be okay.

And, now of course, there is his involvement with the policy fellowship.


FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR TRANSFORMATION

In all, the youth fellows came up with five primary areas of change that they believed were most essential.

“These are very realistic recommendations,” said Michelle Newell of the Children’s Defense Fund who, like Leap, feels that the youth-informed policy brief has been well received.

“Things have gotten a lot a lot better in the camps,” continued Newell, But, in a lot of ways, she said, they were “still operating on a punitive incarceration model.”

Probation had worked to hit all the marks that the various big lawsuits, and the years of oversight by the DOJ have required, and that has helped, Newell said. “But compliance-based reactive change isn’t going to get us where we want to go.”

Hence the brief, the five primary points of which are the following:

1. Increase the availability and diversity of programs.

• Implement programs at all camps that are youth-centered and tailored individually for a youth’s strengths, skills and interests. Programs should be scheduled in ways that encourage youth participation, making efforts to address gaps in scheduling and ensure equal access across the camps.

• Provide camp programs that prepare young people to successfully transition back into their communities, such as higher education workshops, work and technical skill-building, and job search and interviewing workshops.

• Provide high quality education in probation camps, including utilizing the 300 minutes of instructional time for supportive and advanced curriculum, better textbooks and more avenues to establish stronger credit recovery. Continue to expand successful educational models such as Road to Success Academy, a project-based learning model that was piloted in the two girls’ camps and is currently being expanded.

• Expand partnerships with community-based organizations at all camps to provide a diverse array of programs for young people to develop pro-social skills and connections with mentors (e.g., Camp Gonzales, arguably the most resourced camp,12 has many such partnerships and can serve as a model).

2. Foster mentorship and supportive relationships with probation officers.

*Hire, invest in and retain probation staff who are not trained only as guards but rather who also want to work with youth and rehabilitate them. These efforts have already begun but need to be deepened; probation should reevaluate job descriptions and hiring practices to ensure the best staff is recruited and retained.

* Train and provide technical assistance for probation staff on all levels in trauma-informed approaches, positive youth development and other therapeutic approaches to communicating, managing and working with youth. Los Angeles County should invest in trainings such as those run by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network or other violence intervention programs that prevent re-victimization and train staff in the role trauma plays in brain development, adolescent development and behavior.

*Build a mission, culture and operations centered on positive approaches to safety and building relationships, moving away from correctional approaches that emphasize control and supervision.

• Foster activities, routines and spaces for probation staff and youth to engage in positive ways (e.g., in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, at the maximum security facility for youth who have committed serious and violent crimes run by the nonprofit Alternative Rehabilitation Communities (ARC), staff sit and eat with the young people at the dining table for all meals, creating a family feel).

• Establish a working schedule for probation staff that supports a small group treatment model and is consistent with relationship building20 (e.g., reevaluate the 56-hour staffing shift and determine whether a different schedule would allow for closer relationship building with youth).

3. Cultivate the dignity of youth at camp through increased privacy, cleanliness and nutrition.

• Provide access to healthier food, more food and better quality food. This includes providing more snacks, removing expired food and having equal access to seconds (i.e., not providing reward systems for youth to have seconds).

• Increase hygiene by providing youth with individual towels and soaps, better quality hygiene products, including feminine products, cleaner and nicer clothing, and better quality and cleaner bedding (e.g., Santa Clara County’s William F. James Enhanced Ranch provides each youth his or her own regular commercial hygiene products).

• Create physical layouts of camps that provide more privacy in bathrooms (for toilets and showers), as well as dorm rooms with less crowding, homelike furniture and better quality beds (e.g., The Missouri Model created homelike pods that fit 12 youth in one setting rather than 100 beds in one dorm with a single control center.

4. Increase connections with family and community.

• Provide regular visits (i.e., more than one a week) for families and include flexible times to accommodate families’ schedules (e.g., North Carolina state facilities provide visitation seven days a week, which helps youth build closer relationships with their families.)

• Provide access to transportation, given that most probation camps are in
remote locations where public transportation does not exist. This could be through transportation stipends, rides to camps or alternative meeting places where youth are transported closer to home for supervised visits (e.g., in Virginia, the Transportation Program provides low-cost transportation for family members who need it29). Sending youth to facilities in remote areas that are not accessible to families or community services also needs to be re-evaluated.

• Create alterative mediums for families to communicate with youth, such as Skype and video chat. Camps should consider home passes or “furloughs,” which are used in many model juvenile justice programs, including Santa Clara County, California, Missouri and ARC in Pennsylvania.

• Eliminate any practices that limit or remove visitation, phone calls or mail from family as punishment.

• Create physical spaces and procedures in camp that make families feel welcomed, valued, less intimidated and open to staff interaction.

• Expand the definition of family and allow visits from non-relatives; mentors, siblings under 18 years old and other loved ones play an important role in youth’s lives and should be allowed to visit.

5. Improve camp discipline and management procedures.

End regimented, boot camp-like camp procedures (e.g., marching with hands behind the back, sitting on bunks to be counted, and running to and from buildings) that demean youth and convey control and coercion.

• End punitive practices, including solitary confinement, use of force and pepper spray, and replace them with positive behavior support systems. Nationally recognized models demonstrate successful methodologies for crisis and safety management that are not deficit-based, such as Positive Youth Development, Trauma-Informed Care, New York State’s Sanctuary Model37 and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

• Adopt practices that let youth feel normal and valued, including recognizing normal adolescent developmental milestones — celebrating birthdays, acknowledging losses such as deaths, and recognizing accomplishments, such as graduations.

• Allow for personal space and freedom by developing camp routines and structures that allow for youth to experience a sense of calmness, privacy and reflection, which is critical to their development and the progress they make with their treatment.


LIVES SAVED—AND NOT

Each of the five fellows wrote a personal introduction for one of the five categories. It is likely not a surprise that Raul was the person in charge of the chapter on relationships and mentoring.

As a part of the introduction to his section, Raul wrote the following:

“I was 13 my first time in camp and was sentenced to nine months. During those nine months I didn’t get counseling, I didn’t learn a trade or any new skills and, probably most importantly, I never made a connection with a positive adult or anyone I trusted who could give me life advice. I had myself and my peers. When I wasn’t worried about my peers doing something, I was worried about staff and vice versa. I learned to survive in so many unnecessary ways that are only useful in institutions.

“Every time I was released, I remained unguided and misinformed and, usually, I ended up recidivating. Luckily, I eventually broke that pattern. Many of the kids I met, fought with, laughed with and lived with throughout my many stays in juvenile detention are now dead, heavily drug addicted or serving life in prison.

“The difference between me and them is that during my last camp program, I met a volunteer who became my mentor, a person who until this very day will answer my call, listen to my problems and give me the best possible advice he can offer. I firmly believe it was this simple, consistent act that saved my life….

“And while my camp experience happened a lot longer ago than many other youth in the focus groups, the need for connection and mentorship continues to remain a problem for youth at camps today. My experience simply shows just how important it is when just one person makes a connection with a young person….”

Hard to argue with that.


Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | 1 Comment »

Reforms Trump Talking About Race, Solitary and Kids’ Brains, Next Steps for NYC Solitary Ban, and LA Foster Care Reform Efforts

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

In an op-ed for the LA Times, California Endowment President Robert Ross says that instead of pushing for a national discussion about race issues, we should take advantage of this “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to take action. Ross urges Californians to push forward with meaningful reforms to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for young people of color.

He points to four specific areas, which the state has already made some measure of progress on, where we should focus our efforts—public education, criminal justice, immigration, and healthcare. Here are the details on the first two:

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.

Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47′s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.


WHY WE LOCK KIDS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND WHAT IT DOES TO THEIR BRAINS

Dana Liebelson has an excellent longread for the January/February issue of Mother Jones Magazine, chronicling the history of solitary confinement in the US, and detailing the alarming effects isolation has on young developing brains, exacerbating existing mental illnesses, and even producing new ones. Here’s a clip, but we highly recommend reading the whole thing:

We now know…that new brain cells continue to develop in the hippocampus—a portion of the brain central to cognition and memory processing—throughout adulthood. When scientists began looking at animals kept in isolation, they discovered that they grew fewer new neurons than their nonisolated counterparts. That’s because isolation creates stress, and stress hormones inhibit neuron formation, which can result in harm to memory and learning. The effect is often more pronounced in juvenile animals, whose brains are undergoing rapid development. There “isn’t any question,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, that isolation is harmful to the brain and to overall health.

Last March, researchers from Brazil published a study in which they isolated adolescent marmosets, a kind of adorable South American monkey, in cages as small as two and a half feet across, and kept them from seeing or touching other monkeys. The animals soon grew anxious and spent less time on their usual grooming habits. Compared with controls, they exhibited “significantly” higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a steady drop in neuron production in the hippocampus—just one week in isolation decreased the observed number of new cells by more than one-third.

Ceylan Isgor, an associate biomedical science professor at Florida Atlantic University, has found that the effects of isolation on juvenile animals are “long-lasting.” As she explained it to me, the pruning of synapses—the connections between nerve cells—that occurs during adolescence and helps teenagers grow out of behaviors such as impulsiveness does not occur normally under conditions of extended isolation. Extrapolating from animal studies, she said, the results would suggest that kids already prone to breaking rules will become even more likely to act out: “You’re getting a whole different network.” And while the consequences may not be seen right away, they can pop up later as mental-illness symptoms or vulnerability to drug addiction. In other words, the way we often deal with messed-up kids in juvenile detention may increase the likelihood that they’ll reoffend down the road.

David Chura, whose 2010 book, I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine, chronicles the decade he spent teaching English to juveniles at the Westchester County Jail (an adult lockup in New York), has seen the effects of isolation firsthand. In 2004, the prison opened a new security housing unit, a.k.a. solitary wing. At first, it seemed like an improvement: The rooms, Chura recalled, were clean and quiet and “you could read or whatever.” But then his students began to deteriorate, rapidly and dramatically, and his teaching attempts fell apart: “The motivation for doing anything was lost.” Young men who used to fastidiously iron their orange uniforms stopped bathing. They became angrier and started acting out more. When they were allowed out of their cells into an adjacent recreation area—an empty room with a screen for fresh air—the kids would “plaster their faces against these screens and be yelling back and forth,” Chura told me, as though trying to prove, “I’m alive. I’m really still here.”

The class action suit in Ohio described a boy, “IJ,” who was 14 when he entered state custody in 2006. Grassian, by then retired from Harvard, was asked to review his records. When IJ first came into the system, Grassian testified, he was described as a “cooperative youth” who, despite his intellectual disabilities, didn’t require psychiatric drugs or mental-health services. But after a few years, and a lot of time spent in solitary, the teen was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder and PTSD. Six years into his sentence, he was “seen as simply incorrigible…and a misogynist,” Grassian noted. He assaulted a staff member that year too. “I hated being in my room,” IJ testified. “It made me mad. It made my anger issues way worse.”


NYC CORRECTIONS SAYS NO MORE SOLITARY FOR RIKERS INMATES UNDER 21, BUT THERE ARE…PROBLEMS

Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Corrections unanimously voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger. The decision is particularly important for the young people housed in the notorious Rikers Island Jail.

But while the move is a huge step in the right direction, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Taylor Pendergrass, says formidable obstacles must be overcome in order for the ban to be successful. The first is obtaining sufficient funding.

The Marshall Project’s Clare Sestanovich has the story. Here’s a clip:

Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, who has worked on their federal lawsuit challenging New York state solitary practices, foresees two problems with implementation. The first is one that the Board of Corrections itself has identified: funding. In fact, the board literally underlined this contingency in their new regulations. The ban on solitary will only take effect, they wrote, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.”

Even if funding is secured, a bigger challenge awaits: how to manage such a drastic policy overhaul in a place where, as one former corrections official told The New Yorker, staff has become “severely addicted to solitary confinement.” If this addiction is as deeply rooted as many claim (and Commissioner Joseph Ponte has himself identified a “culture of excessive solitary confinement”) the new policy could face stiff resistance. “The piece that’s complicated and harder to get a sense of,” Kysel says, “is how much buy-in there will be from officers who are putting them in practice.”

But more than getting corrections officers on board, the key, according to Pendergrass, will be “making sure that [guards] have tools other than sending [inmates] to solitary as a knee-jerk response. I think it’s certainly true that if you just take away solitary confinement and replace it with something else, there’s a high risk that the policy will never be properly implemented, or even if it is implemented, you will have a regression back to punitive responses.”

Solitary confinement, he says, has been used as a blunt instrument to respond to a wide array of problems, ranging from mental illness to substance abuse to adolescent defiance, and poses real dangers to those assigned to maintain order. Pendergrass says a long-term solution will require “fragmenting the approach”; tailoring responses to inmates who act out based on their underlying problems. That, of course, requires complicated – not to mention expensive – training. The BOC’s new rule seems to anticipate this approach. It specifies that all staff who monitor punitive segregation units will be provided with training that “shall include, but shall not be limited to, recognition and understanding of mental illness and distress, effective communication skills, and conflict de-escalation techniques.”


WHERE LA STANDS ON THE ROAD TO REFORMING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

After months of delaying the implementation of foster care reform recommendations made by a blue ribbon commission, including the hiring of a child welfare czar, the LA County Board of Supervisors appear to be gaining momentum.

On Tuesday, the Supes voted to move forward with two important child welfare reform recommendations.

Like most of us, the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection attributes the new energy, in part, to the arrival of two new board members determined to implement the commission’s reforms.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick reports that until now, the transition team has come up against resistance from members of the board, particularly Supervisor Don Knabe, who has opposed both the blue ribbon commission and the transition team as unnecessary bureaucracy. In addition, the transition team, once authorized to lend a hand in the hiring of the new czar, were subsequently excluded from the process.

Bolstered by the new activity from the Board of Supervisors, the transition team has set a list of priorities they intend to push in the coming months.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of Renick’s detailed report on the issue:

The transition team appointed to initiate sweeping child protection reform in Los Angeles met for the first time in 2015 this week, and seemed to embrace an optimistic attitude.

“A lot of times you wonder if this is going to be shelved, these recommendations, and what I’m seeing is that it’s alive and well, and we’re moving forward,” said Richard Martinez during the January 12 meeting. Martinez, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is a member of the transition team and Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.

“It’s so exciting that we’re moving forward with this,” said transition team member Janet Teague at the January meeting.

The positive tone belies the team’s frustration over spending the past six months grinding out small wins while being sidelined from the highest priority of the reform process: hiring the person who will oversee it.

The transition team’s meetings – held in the cavernous and almost entirely empty Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in downtown L.A. – have produced some results, such as the expansion of the medical hubs where children and youth receive health screenings.

But fitful relations between the team and some of the county’s five supervisors have left team members and outside observers wondering what could have been if the board had given the deliberative body a stronger mandate.

“We have not yet had an easy communication with respect to the people we’re serving, the Board of Supervisors,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during a December meeting. “A transition team really is only useful if there is a desire to use us in terms of our expertise and our opinions.”

Hope for better relations comes in the form of two new board members, both of whom have voiced support for the reform process.

“We need reports back [from the transition team] more often,” said newly sworn in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, during a recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “I think the public’s confidence in what we’re doing is very low. They haven’t seen us doing much and they don’t know that we will do much.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, health care, immigration, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Sheriff McDonnell’s Thoughts One Month In….Jail Beating Victims Win $5M in Legal Fees….Ferguson Grand Juror Sues….and Foster Kids

January 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL MAKES MEDIA ROUNDS, DISCUSSES DUAL-TRACK SYSTEM, OVERSIGHT, REPLACING JAIL

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he has his sights set on a plan that would keep new deputies from having to spend years working in jails before heading out on patrol. The aim would be to fill all jail positions within the next three years, so that patrol-seeking deputies would be able to skip or reduce the customary time spent learning the custody division (which can last up to seven years).

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell said the original intent of the system was to have deputies spend a year or two in the jails to allow them to learn about the custodial division.

But, over the years, that assignment grew to as long as seven years and has hurt recruitment, McDonnell said.

“Young people today are very sophisticated and they look at what the different departments offer,” McDonnell said. “They joined to be in patrol cars and help people. I don’t think you are helping recruitment when you send them to the jails for so long.”

The proposal to reduce use of new deputies in the jails was contained in a 2012 report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which McDonnell was a member. The panel also recommended the use of custody assistants to help staff the jails and relieve the need for deputies.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, which has been critical of the jail system, said he supports McDonnell’s proposal.

“I always thought the claim that jails are the appropriate place to learn about bad people is not right,” Eliasberg said. “Patrol requires a different response and temperament than is needed in the jails.

Sheriff McDonnell, who was sworn in a little over a month ago, as part of a media circuit, spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk about the dual track recruiting system, as well as the fate of Men’s Central Jail, and civilian oversight.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick has a good round up of McDonnell’s other appearances.


OVER $5 MILLION IN LEGAL FEES AWARDED TO MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL IMNATES

A federal judge has awarded nearly $5.4 million in legal fees to five Men’s Central Jail inmates who say they were brutally beaten and tasered by deputies in 2008. (Read about the trial here.) This number is in addition to $950,000 in damages won by the inmates last year.

Legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, Peter Eliasberg, points out that the county could have avoided paying over $5 million in legal fees (more than $6 million of tax payers’ money) by settling for less $1 million.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here are some clips:

The amount, approved by a federal judge last week, is unusually large for such cases and may encourage more attorneys to represent indigent plaintiffs who claim abuse by their jailers. It comes on top of $950,000 in damages that a federal jury awarded to the inmates after a trial last February.

Heriberto Rodriguez and the other inmates say that they suffered broken bones in beatings by sheriff’s deputies when they refused to leave their cells at Men’s Central Jail on Aug. 25, 2008. The county argued that deputies took the steps they felt were necessary after a riot broke out, with inmates setting fires and throwing porcelain shards from broken sinks.

In a Dec. 26 order, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall accepted the winning attorneys’ assessment that they spent nearly 6,000 hours on the case at rates of up to $975 an hour. The attorneys said they had been willing to settle the case, including legal fees, for about $900,000, but the county refused.

Of the $950,000 jury award, $210,000 was for punitive damages and $9,500 will go to the inmates’ attorneys, in addition to the nearly $5.4 million in attorneys fees granted by the judge’s order.


GRAND JUROR, WANTING TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT DARREN WILSON CASE PROCEEDINGS, SUES COUNTY PROSECUTOR

An unnamed member of the grand jury that chose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, is now suing the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, seeking to negate a gag order prohibiting grand jurors from speaking about the case. Normally, grand jurors who discuss cases face misdemeanor charges, but the lawsuit filed Monday by the ACLU of Missouri, says the unusual proceedings (which included sharing all evidence with the grand jury instead of recommending a charge), warrants permitting the juror to speak. The lawsuit says that the presumption that the grand jury’s decision was unanimous is inaccurate, as is other information shared with the public about the proceedings.

On Monday, in a letter to St. Louis Circuit Judge Maura McShane, the NAACP requested that a new grand jury be convened to reconsider charges against Darren Wilson. The group also asked for an investigation into the grand jury proceedings and McCulloch’s actions.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel has the story. Here’s a clip:

“In [the grand juror]’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate — especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges,” the lawsuit says. (A grand jury’s decision does not have to be unanimous.)

“Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [Doe]’s own,” the lawsuit continued. “From [the grand juror]’s perspective, the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim than in other cases presented to the grand jury.” Doe also believes the legal standards were conveyed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner to the grand jury.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri argues that this case is unique and that the usual reasons for requiring the jurors to maintain secrecy should not apply.

In this specific case, “any interests furthered by maintaining grand jury secrecy are outweighed by the interests secured by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit says, adding that allowing the juror to speak would contribute to a discussion on race in America.

As the grand juror points out in the lawsuit, the Wilson case was handled in a very different manner than other grand juries. Instead of recommending a charge, McCulloch’s office presented thousands of pages worth of evidence and testimony before the grand jury. At one point, McCulloch’s spokesman characterized the grand jury as co-investigators.

CBS News has more on the NAACP requests.


A LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF DRUGGED FOSTER KIDS

In the fifth installment of Karen de Sá’s important investigative series for the San Jose Mercury, a video documentary gives us a more intimate look at the young lives affected by the unchecked overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Watch it here, especially if you missed any of the previous installments (which can all be accessed via the same link).


IMPROVING FOSTER KIDS’ HIGHER EDUCATION OUTCOMES

When foster kids age out of the system, the odds are invariably stacked against them. They often leave their foster homes with little or no money, support, or tools to prepare them for college or adult life. (A 2011 study by the Hilton Foundation found that only 2% of the 2,388 LA County former foster youth tracked by researchers received an associate’s degree.)

A growing number of states are working to help level the playing field for former foster kids by offering college tuition waivers and educational support programs. While California does have cross-agency collaborative support systems in place, the state does not offer tuition waivers to aged-out foster kids.

NPR’s Jennifer Guerra discusses this issue on All Things Considered. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

By the time she aged out of foster care, Jasmine Uqdah had spent nearly half her life in the system. On a summer day in 2008, Uqdah grabbed her duffel bag and two small garbage bags, and she stuffed everything she owned inside.

It wasn’t much — just some clothes and a few stuffed animals. She said her goodbyes to her foster family in Detroit and moved out. She was 18 years old.

“It was pretty scary, to be honest,” she says. “Every 18- and 19-year-old thinks they’re ready, but you’re not. You’re not ready for shutoff notices. You’re not ready for eviction notices. You’re not ready for car repossessions.”

Uqdah was one of the more than 20,000 young people who age out of foster care in the U.S. every year. For most, the outcomes aren’t great. They’re heading out into the world with next to nothing — no family, no money, no support.

Roughly half drop out of high school, and few of those who do make it to college graduate. One study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, found that only 2.5 percent of former foster children in the Midwest had graduated from college by age 26.

Some states like Michigan are trying to bring that success rate way up, finding the money and other support needed to give young people like Jasmine Uqdah a fair shot at success.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

An LA Times editorial urges the LA County Board of Supervisors to regain lost momentum toward implementing foster care reform recommendations (approved last April) and appointing a child welfare czar. (Find the backstory here.) Here’s a clip:

In response to a social worker strike, rather than the blue-ribbon commission report or the urging of the CEO, the board last year allocated funding for additional social workers, which should translate into more manageable caseloads. DCFS adopted a stronger training program. These are positive steps. But the county also needs someone to focus the attention of numerous government agencies on child protection without running afoul of the board.

In the end, if the supervisors are to protect children from abuse and neglect, they must also grapple with the more prosaic issue of how to successfully run a bureaucracy.

Attempts at plea bargains with Gabriel Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend have so far failed, and the two defendants could very well go to trial this year. The supervisors would be wise to remember the young victim’s plight now, and ensure that the reform efforts are well underway when the news stories once again focus on the horrors that the young boy endured and the county’s failure to protect him.

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 26 Comments »

Jumpstarting Foster Care Reform, Kamala Harris’ New Initiative, the NYPD Protest, Indigent Defense, and Homeboy

January 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY RESUSCITATE DCFS REFORM PUSH

The two recently-elected LA County Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, help form a new majority focused on implementing foster care reforms recommended by a blue ribbon panel last April. Two critical reforms in particular have hit a wall after the approval of all 42 recommendations last year: the creation of a child welfare czar, and boosting the use of county “Medical Hub” clinics that provide medical and mental health screenings for foster kids as a means of detecting abuse and neglect.

Kuehl and Solis, joined by Supervisor Don Knabe, are also in favor of hiring more social workers to offset current DCFS workers’ unmanageable caseloads.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he hopes the arrival of the two new supervisors will rebuild the board’s lost momentum.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The board majority said they want to look again at recommendations made by a blue-ribbon commission that includes proposals to expand the use of county clinics for medical assessments of abused and neglected children and to appoint a child-welfare “czar” to coordinate services across departmental lines.

They are even considering going beyond the commission’s recommendations to significantly increase the number of social workers and finally erase long-standing disparities in the quality of service provided in different regions of the county. Although the supervisors say they won’t commit to a specific hiring target, their deliberations will occur at the same time the social workers union is pushing to hire 450 more staffers in 2015 — a proposal that would cost $60 million.

Recently elected Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis are among those saying the additional hiring must be reconsidered. Their predecessors, reluctant to add new costs, had argued that the Department of Children and Family Services needed only to better use the roughly 7,500 employees and $1.5-billion budget it already has.

“I’ve said all along that the caseloads are so high that it is virtually impossible for social workers to say that they’ve investigated nearly every possibility in a child’s case,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl and Solis, who campaigned with financial support from the social workers union, have joined hold-over Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to call for a fresh review of dozens of recommendations introduced a year ago by a blue-ribbon commission appointed in the aftermath of the beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez…

In recent interviews, Supervisor Don Knabe joined Kuehl and Solis to say the county should consider adding more social workers. Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich declined to state their positions on new hiring, but aides to Antonovich said he would be willing to examine the proposal.

“Los Angeles County social workers have caseloads that are among the highest in the nation; they need our support,” Solis said. “We need to look at how they’re deployed, trained, supervised and equipped. Hiring more social workers is one of the options that needs to be in the mix for consideration.”

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING KIDS…

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is expected to announce the creation of a new state Department of Justice bureau to combat crimes against kids. The new bureau will target the exploitation of foster kids, child sex trafficking, child labor, as well as truancy.

AP’s Don Thompson has more on Harris’ initiative. Here’s a clip:

She plans to announce during her swearing-in Monday that she is creating a bureau within the state Department of Justice that will focus on crimes against children.

Some of its work will expand on priorities during Harris’ first four years, including deterring school truancy and the trafficking of young women for sex, domestic labor or sweat shops.

The bureau also will tackle what Harris says are “tragically flawed” foster care and adoption systems and fight discrimination in schools, such as bullying.

“In the coming term, we’re going to double down. We’re going to use the power of this office to lift up the next generation of Californians,” Harris said in remarks prepared for her inauguration speech. She added later that, “We can’t keep letting down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and expect a different outcome next week.”


A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE NYPD PROTEST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

Protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alleged disloyalty to law enforcement, the New York Police Department slowed down work considerably, ticketing and arresting people “only when they have to.” Because of cops’ refusal to make arrests or hand out tickets for minor infractions, parking and traffic violations dropped 92% and 94% respectively, summonses went down 94% and overall arrests dropped a whopping 66%.

The Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has an interesting alternate take on the NYPD’s “work stoppage.” Taibbi says that while not the aim of the NYPD officers, the protest has put a spotlight on the police-citizen interactions—costly tickets, summonses, and arrests for quality-of-life offenses—that inflame communities and pad the city’s pockets. Here are some clips:

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”

It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.

[SNIP]

I’ve met more than a few police in the last few years who’ve complained vigorously about things like the “empty the pad” policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people “when they have to.”

Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.


FOUR CRITICAL THINGS THE INCOMING US ATTORNEY GENERAL MUST KNOW ABOUT THE STATE OF INDIGENT DEFENSE

Across the country, poor defendants guaranteed public legal counsel, receive a less than adequate defense—sometimes, no defense at all.

Current US Attorney General Eric Holder has made considerable efforts to reform the indigent defense system, increasing funding and grants for public counsel, holding a 50-state symposium, and creating the Access to Justice initiative.

The Marshall Project’s David Carroll applauds Holder’s efforts, but says that more must be done by the next Attorney General.

Carroll shares four specific things the next AG must know to accomplish lasting change. Here are the first two:

#1. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … judges do.

Though the speeches of Attorney General Holder and the other high-level DOJ officials define the problems perfectly in speech after speech, the DOJ most often talks about the crisis before the public defense community or at indigent defense summits hosted by groups like the American Bar Association. Those organizations and communities already know that the right to counsel is eroding in America. Judges do not.

The most prevalent manner for delivering indigent defense services in the United States is for a private attorney to handle an unlimited number of cases for a single flat fee, under contract to the judge presiding over the lawyer’s cases. (We estimate flat fee contracts are used in 64 percent of all counties). Generally, all trial expenses (experts, investigators, etc.) must be paid out of the same flat fee, meaning the lawyer’s take-home pay is depleted for seeking outside assistance. When judges are allowed to hand-select defense counsel in this manner, the judiciary is interfering with a lawyer’s ability to make independent decisions.

Judges need to hear that the independence of the defense function is not just a good idea – it is the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “independence of counsel” is “constitutionally protected,” and that “[g]overnment violates the right to effective assistance when it interferes in certain ways with the ability of counsel to make independent decisions about how to conduct the defense.” A lawyer operating under a flat fee contract to a judge necessarily takes into his consideration what must be done to please the court in order to get his next contract, instead of operating solely in the interests of his client. Judges must stop flat-fee contracting and hand-selecting attorneys, and the next Attorney General needs to be the one leading the call.

#2. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … prosecutors do.

Most people may be shocked to know that tens of thousands of poor people are convicted, and serve jail time, every year without ever having spoken to a criminal defense attorney. Every single one of those defendants had a right to a public lawyer, but in many of those courts, there may not even have been a defense lawyer in the courtroom. The Sixth Amendment Center calls them “no counsel courts”…

Read the rest.


THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ VISITS HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez introduces us to Rudy Martinez, a security guard for Homeboy Industries, who, after spending the majority of his adult years in lock-up, found his way to Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Ind., and a new perspective on life.

Lopez also tells of how it came about that Father Greg agreed to meet Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, in hope of engaging the Pope in mutual projects to change the world.

Here’s a clip from Rudy’s story:

“When I first went to county jail, it was like an accomplishment. Yeah, a badge of honor. And then I made it to the Big House,” said Martinez, who figures he’s spent more than half his adult life behind bars. And at a certain point, he began to wise up a little.

“It was 2012, I was sitting in my cell in Susanville, looking out the window, thinking about my future,” Martinez said.

And what did you see, I asked him.

“Emptiness. I had this moment of clarity, and I said, ‘Rudy, is this what you want to do with your life?’”

His answer was no. But he wasn’t out long before he got nabbed for driving without a license. There he was again, caged up and down on himself. And he decided the first thing he was going to do when he got out was go see this Father Greg guy he’d heard about. He’ll hook you up with a job, Martinez was told. That was the word.

“I came here not knowing what it was about,” said Martinez, who soon found that jobs are not handed out like candy canes. They’d give you an opportunity, yes. But you had to decide you were ready to make big changes and stay committed for 18 months.

Martinez is 14 months into it, determined to make it the rest of the way, stay out of trouble after that and go to work somewhere, preferably at Homeboy.

“I started going to classes,” he said. “Anger management, substance abuse, parenting, therapy. At first I was going to them because I had to go to them. But as time when on, I started going because I wanted to go and because it was making me feel better inside.

“There was a moment when I realized this was life. It’s spending time with family, being a productive member of society, paying taxes, pushing your kid on a swing.”

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Prosecutors, Public Defender | No Comments »

In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 6 Comments »

Summer Jobs Curb Teen Violence, Survey of Foster Kids Nearing Adulthood, a New Jail, and How Cops React to Scandal

December 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHICAGO TEENS’ VIOLENT CRIME RATE GETS CUT NEARLY IN HALF AFTER SUMMER JOB PROGRAM

For the last few years, the City of Chicago has provided thousands of disadvantaged kids with summer jobs in the hopes of reducing crime.

The One Summer Plus program provides kids with part-time work for eight weeks and pairs them with an adult mentor to help break down barriers to future jobs.

This year, the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania ran the numbers to see if (and how well) the program was working to divert kids from violent crime.

The study took 1,634 teens from 13 high-violence neighborhoods in Chicago and split them into three groups: kids that were to receive part-time summer employment (25 hours a week), kids that were to receive part-time summer employment (15 hours a week) as well as a cognitive behavioral therapy component, and kids who were to receive neither.

The study found that One Summer Plus reduced teens’ violent crime arrests by a whopping 43% over 16 months. And that reduction happened, for the most part, in the months after the program had ended. The positive effect was equal in both groups—those who were given part-time work only, and those who were given the combination of work and the emotional learning element.

Here’s a clip from the University of Chicago’s website:

This research comes as youth employment in the summer months, when teenagers are most likely to work, is near a 60-year low. The challenges facing minority and low-income youth are particularly stark; the 2010 employment rate for low-income black teens in Illinois was less than one-fourth the rate for higher-income white teens: 9 percent vs. 39 percent.

Study author Sara Heller, PhD‘13, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that acts of violence kill almost 150 people daily in the United States, and injure more than 6,000—a level the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a public health crisis. Individuals ages 10 to 24 are twice as likely as adults to be victims or perpetrators of violence, and the problem is concentrated among disadvantaged minority youth. Joblessness has been identified by experts as one of the major causes of these racial violence disparities.

[SNIP]

“The city of Chicago was courageous enough to put its One Summer Plus program to the test, and turns out that just eight weeks of summer programming decreases violent crime arrests by a huge amount for over a year after the job ends,” said Heller. “This is an incredibly encouraging finding.”

Heller noted that the decline occurred largely after the eight-week summer job program ended, indicating that the program did not just keep youth busier over the summer: It changed their behavior after the job had ended as well.

Previous youth employment programs have targeted young adults who have dropped out of school and are struggling to find jobs. But intervening before the students drop out of school and helping them develop skills needed to be successful on the job, like impulse control and decision-making, might do more with less by focusing on prevention rather than remediation.

The results of this study show that when such an intervention is offered to students while they’re still in school, it does not have to be lengthy or costly to change behavior.

And this isn’t the first study to find that summer jobs significantly lower teen violence. A 2013 Northeastern University study found that after employment, fewer kids reported getting into fights or threatening or attacking someone with a gun.

An Education Week story about the Northeastern study also pointed out that last year, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti boosted funding for Hire L.A. Youth Summer Employment Program to provide jobs to 5,000 more teens.

Elsewhere in the state, San Jose has been doing an excellent job of keeping teens busy during the summer, and thus lowering gang violence, through its Safe Summer Initiative.

In LA, Homeboy Industries helps formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated young people with job training and placement, in addition to many other crucial programs and services.

“Clearly, if you ask any inner city kid what would help them, not a single one would say anything other than…job, says Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder. “It gives them a reason to get up in the morning and honest money in their pocket, and if they are even remotely ‘gang involved,’ a reason not to engage in gang activity. There are always too few summer jobs and too many hoops and too many requirements for kids to secure them.”


CHECKING IN WITH CALIFORNIA FOSTER KIDS TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD

A five-year survey (half-way through its 2012-2015 span) assessed the conditions of California foster kids nearing adulthood, specifically 16 and 17-year-olds.

Ninety percent of the 727 transition-aged kids surveyed said they feel at least “fairly optimistic” about the future, 92% have at least one person they can turn to for support, and 70% said their caregivers had been helpful overall, according to the survey conducted by University of Chicago’ Chapin Hall.

These numbers are heartening considering the fact that foster kids aging out of the system face daunting statistics.

One-third of respondents said they had dropped out of middle school or high school because of a change in foster care placement. Twenty-seven percent said they had been expelled from school. Nearly half said the highest level of education they had completed was 11th grade. Only 11% reported finishing high school. A fifth of one percent finished a year of college.

Twenty-four reported having attempted suicide. Nearly 40% reported having been arrested, and 25% said they had been locked up in a detention facility.

Twenty-six percent of the foster teen girls said they had been pregnant at least once, compared with 10% of the general population.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the study and statistics. Here’s a clip:

The study is the first part of the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study, a collaborative effort among the California Department of Social Services, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, and five private foundations.

In 2010, the state passed Assembly Bill 12, which offers foster youths the option to remain in care until age 21. The bill guarantees transition-oriented options for older youths, including supervised independent living and more intensive transitional housing programs…

Researchers will re-interview the participants when they are between the ages of 19 and 21, years in which California now offers foster youths the chance to remain in care. Two-thirds of the survey participants indicated that they wanted to remain in care after age 18.

“In the next three years, the study will take a deeper look into the needs of subgroups of youth and will also compare young people’s and caseworker’s perspectives,” said Dr. Mark Courtney, who is leading this research for Chapin Hall, in a statement issued with the release of the survey. “This work will offer important guidance to California as well as other states that are extending foster care.”


SAN BERNARDINO CITY TO BUILD NEW JAIL…FOR LA COUNTY

On Wednesday, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 to move forward with building a new 3,264-bed jail, in the hopes that LA County will lease the facility and fork over some much-needed cash.

LA County has not signed a contract with the city, but private developer Doctor R. Crants says he expects to pitch the idea to the Board of Supervisors soon.

We at WLA sincerely hope that before the board signs on the dotted line for this new jail (while rebuilding and expanding Men’s Central Jail to the tune of $2 billion), they will run the numbers and figure out how much jail space LA really needs if: the county pushes for large-scale mental health diversion, increases its use of split-sentencing, and replaces a portion of economic-based bail practices with a risk-based pre-trial release.

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has the story. Here’s a clip:

…critics say the vote was premature because the city has not yet signed a contract with the county. They also question whether the county will have a need for an overflow jail facility after the passage of Proposition 47, a voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

“There will possibly be no need for the county to send innmates elsewhere,” said Christina Fialho, who heads a campaign against jail expansion in Adelanto.

County officials are still assessing how the new regulations will affect the size of its inmate population.

Several county supervisors have said they would consider leasing space in Adelanto, with Supervisor Don Knabe expressing support for the proposal.

But this week, newly elected Supervisor Hilda Solis suggested she may oppose it. Solis, who warned at her inauguration earlier this month against an “incarceration-industrial complex,” said in a statement that her priority was investing in mental health and substance abuse treatment, not new jail beds. “It is fiscally reckless to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year housing and feeding people who could be out working,” Solis said.

We agree.


FORMER POLICE UNION SPOKESMAN EXPLAINS LAW ENFORCEMENT’S SIDE OF A DEPARTMENT CRISIS

In a smart commentary for the Crime Report, Eric Rose, longtime spokesman of the Los Angeles Police Protective League who recently parted ways with the union, shares the law enforcement side of a crisis or scandal. Rose stresses the necessity of being transparent and honest with the public and media from the beginning.

Rose also explains what goes through the minds of officers and department leaders when their organization gets “lit up,” and what those leaders must do to confidently lead their rank and file through the trouble. Here’s a clip:

The reputation of every police or sheriff’s department depends on the confidence of its key stakeholders: the public, employees, the union, the media and sometimes outside government regulators. Sooner or later, virtually every law enforcement organization faces a crisis that has the potential to destroy its public reputation.

While that day is almost inevitable, it always comes as a huge shock.

No one is ever really prepared, no matter what contingency planning the organization has done. More often than not, the issue arises from an unexpected source without any prior notice.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of being responsive, credible and accurate early in the crisis. Every law enforcement organization struggles at this point with multiple anxieties that often paralyze management and labor and lead to indecision and non-communication. Hesitation, vagueness and unwillingness to factually communicate destroy credibility and plant the seeds of future disaster.

[SNIP]

The recent high-profile law enforcement events in Ferguson and New York demonstrate the contrasts in responses. In Ferguson, there was little factual response by the Police Department to the narrative being created around the shooting, ensuring that anything released when the investigation was concluded had little effect in either informing or changing minds of the public.

Without a coherent and organized response for a long period of time, subsequent events and agendas simply overwhelmed the police, and made virtually irrelevant any subsequent statement by the Police Department.

In New York, following the grand jury decision not to indict an officer in connection with the chokehold death of Eric Garner, what happened in the original incident was captured entirely on videotape. So the response did not need to concern itself with “what” happened—but how the New York Police Department (NYPD) would respond.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton was brilliant. He made himself available for national and local media, took the hard questions, and repeated calmly the procedures the department would follow after the grand Jury decision. Although the essence of what he said was not new to the media, nor to anybody who is aware of police procedure, the availability and measured response to questions has kept Bratton and his department relevant players in the fallout from the grand jury decision.

Commissioner Bratton has two terms every executive should use when getting out information quickly: “the information is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation proceeds” and “the first story (version) is never the last story (version).”

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPPL, law enforcement, Violence Prevention | 1 Comment »

Child Welfare Czar Further Delayed, LASD Oversight, Long-Term Price of Locking Kids Up…and More

December 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS RESTART THE SEARCH FOR A CHILD WELFARE CZAR

In a closed session last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors broke off their contract with the firm chosen to identify candidates for the new child welfare czar. (If you are unfamiliar: this czar will be appointed to oversee much-needed reforms to the Department of Children and Family Services.)

The board, unsatisfied with the people recommended by the headhunting firm, will now restart the search for viable contenders for the position. Other reasons for the change of course included uncertainty about how much power the czar will have, and the arrival of two new Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis.

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

One key question is how much authority to give the new position. Antonovich cited this as another reason the board decided to change headhunters.

“The position was being sold as having more authority than it was really going to have,” he said. Oppenheim said county officials decided on the job description, not him.

Solis suggested any new job description should provide the child welfare director more authority, not less. McCroskey said the current description was unclear because of conflicting views on the board.

“It wasn’t clear what it is that the primary responsibility would be,” she said. “Are you there to coordinate different agencies ? Or are you there to direct other agencies?”

Solis said the board’s decision to hire a new headhunter and re-write the job description reflects a new day at the county Hall of Administration – especially as it relates to her and fellow newcomer Kuehl.

“We’re not just going to sit by and keep with the status quo or listen to the naysayers who say ‘oh, you don’t know enough about this,’ ” Solis told KPCC. “We are taking a new refreshing look at it, a new bite at the apple.”


FORMING THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of creating a citizen’s oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But what will that commission look like?

An LA Times editorial says the commission should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five Supes. That configuration would not have enough independence from the board. The editorial (as well as Sheriff Jim McDonnell), calls for a larger commission, one with non-board-appointed members who can only be ousted with good cause. Here’s a clip:

Will this new body remain a creature of the Board of Supervisors, or will it be granted some independence? Will it oversee the work of the department’s inspector general, or instead will it work in cooperation — or competition — with that office? Will it have power to subpoena documents? What sway will it hold over the actions of the sheriff, who will continue to report directly to voters and will, at least on paper, be accountable only to them? Can oversight be accomplished by a body that is merely advisory?

The answers to these and other questions are fundamental to the proper operation of the commission, which could become a useful tool for good sheriff-community relations and for transparency and accountability. Or, if the panel is put together with too little care, it could become another sedimentary layer of bureaucracy that consumes resources but offers little in return.

[SNIP]

The new oversight commission should be seen differently, not as a instrument of the board but rather as something more independent, with a focus more on disclosure and accountability than on limiting financial liability.

A five-member panel would almost certainly consist of one appointee from each of the supervisors, serving as extensions of their offices, removable by them.

That’s one reason that Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in Los Angeles Jails and The Times editorial board support a larger panel with members other than board appointees, each with staggered terms and removable only for cause.

The editorial also suggests county officials look to other municipalities with civilian oversight to see what’s working.


INCARCERATING KIDS COSTS BILLIONS DOWN THE LINE

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute examines the long-term costs, including the collateral consequences, of locking kids up.

Examining data from 46 states, the study found states spent an average of $148,767 a year locking up just one kid in the most expensive kind of confinement. California was among the 10 states spending the most on incarceration ($570.79 a day, $208,338 a year). Beyond that, the report estimates the US loses between $8-$21 billion in long-term secondary costs of needlessly incarcerating kids, including lost education time, lost future earnings, and lost future taxes.

Among other recommendations, the report suggests community-based treatment and supervision, investing dollars in diversion programs, better tracking of recidivism and outcomes.

Here are some clips from the accompanying story:

“Every year, the majority of states spend $100,000 or more to lock up youth who are mostly imprisoned for troubled behavior or nonviolent offenses,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of Justice Policy Institute. “And compared to the huge long-term costs to young people, their families, victims, and taxpayers, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a poor investment and we must do better.”

The billions of dollars in hidden costs result from formerly incarcerated young people earning lower wages, paying less in taxes, as well as having a greater dependence upon government assistance and higher rates of recidivism. Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future…

Beyond these costs, the report also notes that the system does not affect all young people equally. African American youth are incarcerated at a rate nearly five times that of white youth, and Hispanic/Latino youth at a rate twice as high as whites. Even though young people engage in similar behavior, there are differences in the way young people of color and white youth are treated.

“The significant and multi-faceted costs of incarceration paint a troubling picture for young people, their families and communities, as well as taxpayers,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Fortunately, proven alternatives to incarceration for holding youths accountable are not only cheaper, but most importantly are almost always the best answer for protecting the public and putting kids on the right track to being productive, law-abiding citizens.”


CONSIDERING THE INQUEST: A POSSIBILITY ALTERNATIVE FOR HANDLING POLICE KILLINGS

The non-indictments of both Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo—the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner—have prompted conversations about ways to eliminate bias in police killing cases generally handled by local District Attorneys. Appointing special prosecutors or handing cases to the state DA’s office have emerged as potential work-arounds.

Slate’s Josh Voorhees has the story on another idea that is entering the discussion: an inquest. Here’s a clip:

How do we resolve this disjoint between a binary system that sees things only in black and white and the public’s need for an honest investigation of the shades of gray in between? One little-discussed option comes from Paul MacMahon, a law professor at the London School of Economics. He argues in a forthcoming Yale Law & Policy Review article that the solution may be an inquest, a quasi-judicial proceeding with medieval roots that has largely fallen by the wayside in the United States. Inquests—which are still common in England and Ireland—are called in the aftermath of an unexpected or unusual death. Typically, a jury, with the help of a judge or coroner, seeks to establish the facts of the case but, importantly, has no legal authority to indict or convict. Think of this as akin to a civilian review board, but with more power, a clearer task, and an actual platform to make sure its conclusions are heard.

How would such an inquest work? MacMahon proposes launching one automatically anytime a police officer kills someone in the line of duty. Having either a judge or coroner lead the jury would remove the apparent conflict of interest of a district attorney investigating an officer who he relies on to do his job. The inquest would have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath, but unlike a grand jury, the proceedings would play out in public. The bigger wrinkle, though, is that the jury would have no power to decide the question of criminal or civil liability. The findings wouldn’t necessarily even be admissible as evidence in a court of law. Prosecutors would still be the ones to decide whether to take the case to the grand jury; the grand jury would still decide whether to indict the officer. But an inquest would bring a heavy dose of public accountability. In England, for instance, when an inquest concludes a homicide was an “unlawful killing,” the state doesn’t have to prosecute the case. If it chooses not to, however, it has to formally explain that decision.

The inability of an inquest to bring charges itself may sound like a weakness, but it’s what makes the process so valuable. Because the panel wouldn’t be preoccupied with the guilty/not guilty or indictment/no indictment binary, it would have more leeway to pursue the facts wherever they lead. “The inquest, more than any other institution, is charged with pursuing the truth—sometimes including the moral truth,” MacMahon writes. Inquests don’t just ask whether someone’s actions were justified in a legal sense, he says; they ask “whether or not a person’s conduct was justified in distinct and important ways from the question of whether or not the person should be held criminally responsible or liable to pay damages.”

In the case of Wilson or Pantaleo, then, an inquest could try to answer not just whether the officer was legally justified in his use of force, but whether the officer was right in a larger sense to do so. There’s no guarantee the inquest’s jurors would be able to settle that question once and for all, of course, but simply publicly attempting to would be a big step forward for a government that is struggling to convince communities of color that their lives matter in our criminal justice system…

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | 22 Comments »

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