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Report Criticizes FBI Delay in Revealing Flawed Forensics…US Magistrate Calls for Drug Case Dismissal Citing Misconduct….DA’s Office Charges LAPD Officer with Assault….and More

July 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

OIG REPORT SLAMS FBI OVER FAILURE TO DISCLOSE FAULTY LAB WORK IN 60 DEATH ROW CASES (AND MORE)

On Wednesay, the FBI’s Office of Inspector General issued a report exposing the FBI’s failure to expeditiously review potentially flawed forensic work affecting thousands of cases, including the cases of more than 60 death row defendants, and at least three people who have since been exonerated.

Back in 1997, an OIG investigation uncovered flawed forensic work done by 13 crime lab examiners. According to the new report, it took the FBI more than 5 years to identify the death row inmates whose cases needed reexamination. One of the three defendants put to death would have been ineligible for the death penalty if not for the flawed lab work.

The report said the FBI’s foot-dragging caused “irreversible harm” and urged the department to notify the approximately 2,900 people whose cases were re-examined.

Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu has more on the report. Here are some clips:

The report said the FBI took more than five years to identify more than 60 death-row defendants whose cases had been handled by 13 lab examiners whose work had been criticized in a 1997 inspector-general investigation.

As a result, state authorities could not consider whether to stay sentences, and three men were put to death. One of those defendants, who was executed in Texas in 1997, would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, the report said.

“Failures of this nature undermine the integrity of the United States’ system of justice and the public’s confidence in our system,” the 146-page report stated. The failure to admit errors at the time “also injured the reputation of the FBI and the Department.”

[SNIP]

As of October, the 26 surviving death-row inmates whose cases were included in the review had all been notified that their convictions had been re-examined, Steele said. The inspector general had recommended the notifications and retesting of evidence in 24 death-row cases in which the defendant was deceased.

The inspector general’s office said the department should notify all 2,900 defendants whose cases were reviewed by the task force, starting with 402 defendants whose cases were so problematic that the task force obtained a fresh scientific review. Their names were made public Wednesday for the first time.

The report said that even more defendants’ cases should have been reviewed but were omitted for inappropriate reasons, and the scope of errors never would be known. For many defendants, it said, “delays were very prejudicial and, for some, they caused irreversible harm.”


US MAGISTRATE URGES DISMISSAL OF DRUG CHARGES AFTER AGENT ALLEGEDLY FALSIFIES REPORT AND MANUFACTURES CRIME

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach called for the dismissal of drug trafficking charges against Jeremy Halgat, a former member of the Vagos motorcycle gang, citing alleged misconduct by the lead undercover agent in the investigation.

Ferenbach says that during “Operation Pure Luck” (a joint-investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Las Vegas Police, and the LASD), Agostino Brancato, an LASD officer deputized by ATF, falsified a drug transaction report and “manufactured crime” by coercing an unwilling Halgat to traffic drugs—all allegedly with Brancato’s ATF supervisor’s knowledge.

The Las Vegas Review Journal’s Jeff German has the story. Here are some clips:

In a rare decision late Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach criticized Agostino Brancato, a deputized agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for manufacturing the cocaine case against Jeremy Halgat, though Halgat had no criminal record and repeatedly told the agent in secretly recorded conversations that he did not want to traffic in drugs.

“The problem is that the government’s investigation deployed techniques that generated a wholly new crime for the sake of pressing criminal charges against Halgat,” Ferenbach wrote in his 34-page decision.

Ferenbach also said that despite Brancato’s denial, “there is no doubt” he “falsified” a report of one of the alleged drug transactions and that supervisors of his ATF-led task force “did not dissuade him” from doing it.

“This is distressing,” Ferenbach said. “Can the court rely on the chain of custody of evidence that the government will proffer against Halgat at trial? Did Brancato’s supervisors permit other falsifications?”

[SNIP]

Brancato was the lead undercover agent in “Operation Pure Luck,” a three-year joint investigation led by the ATF into drug and illegal weapons dealing by members of motorcycle gangs, including the Vagos. Las Vegas police, North Las Vegas police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were part of the task force.

The investigation launched in April 2010 with the secret help of a Vagos gang member, and two years later Brancato, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy deputized by the ATF, became a full-fledged member of the Vagos club while working undercover.

[SNIP]

In his decision, Ferenbach said Halgat “was not eager to participate in Brancato’s scheme in any capacity.” Halgat, he explained, had used cocaine and dealt drugs in the past but had “repudiated” those activities.

“His willingness to traffic in drugs only re-emerged after ATF injected itself into Halgat’s life and repeatedly solicited his services,” Ferenbach wrote.

Brancato also was unable to get Halgat to sell him illegal firearms, according to the magistrate.

Ferenbach said he was troubled that the “ATF had investigated Halgat for three years, found no contraband after executing two search warrants and indicted him for a crime designed and initiated by the ATF.”


LAPD OFFICER BEAT MAN ON HIS KNEES, ALLEGES DA’S OFFICE

On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney’s Office charged LAPD officer Jonathan Lai with “assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon” for using his baton to beat a man who was kneeling with his hands on his head. A video of the incident was captured by a restaurant’s security camera. If convicted, Lai faces four years behind bars.

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story. Here’s a clip:

The cop, identified as 30-year-old Jonathan Lai, pleaded not guilty today to “one count each of assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon,” the D.A.’s office stated.

The case is unusual in that it’s rare for the District Attorney’s office, which has to work closely with police to prosecute suspects, to charge a cop for an incident involving on-duty use of force:

This prosecution signals the continued willingness on the part of elected D.A. Jackie Lacey to go after LAPD officers despite their collective political power in the city.

However, the D.A.’s office says the department actually investigated the case, apparently before bringing it to prosecutors.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE SHEILA KUEHL ON CHILD WELFARE AND JUVENILE JUSTICE

Among the major challenges that will face the two new LA County Supervisors to be elected this November, is how best to implement recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, in order to reform LA’s broken Department of Children and Family Services.

With this in mind, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback interviewed one of the candidates for Supe Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, Sheila Kuehl (who is running against Bobby Shriver), to probe her vision for a better child welfare system.

Kuehl’s sister is a juvenile dependency court judge in Sacramento. Because of this, Kuehl says has a deep understanding of the child welfare system. She says that the additional 450 social workers hired this year are a step in the right direction, but that more must be hired. She wants caseloads to be reduced to a maximum of 20 per social worker.

Here are some clips from Loudenback’s interview with Kuehl:

“You will see paper files stacked up five feet on the floor, on the desks, on the chairs,” Kuehl said in an interview. “We have a huge caseload in the courts in family law and juvenile courts, which very seriously reduces judges’ ability to make timely decisions, especially about very young children and to be able to assess if the placement found by the social worker is adequate.”

Kuehl is hoping that she will be tapped to help find lasting solutions for the courts and other persistent challenges to the child welfare system like the sky-high caseloads faced by social workers, the large number of juvenile justice-involved foster youth and locating sufficient funding.

[SNIP]

One hurdle the new Board of Supervisors will have to contend with are the elevated caseloads faced by county social workers. Kuehl says that providing resources to social workers and other employees in the child welfare system are among the most pressing issues identified in the Blue Ribbon Commission Report. The 450 new social workers hired this year are not nearly enough to deal with a critical need.

“In my opinion that’s still inadequate to keep track of all these children and really assess whether or not they’re safe from month to month,” Kuehl said. “ I would like to see the caseload be decreased to no more than 20 cases per social worker. In terms of how social workers we would need to add, I’m not sure I have the answer to that.”

A former family law attorney, Kuehl would also like to implement provisions to improve outcomes for two vulnerable populations: the many youth who are represented in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems and older foster who are aging out of the system.

She hopes the county will experiment more with a Missouri model of juvenile justice that stresses lower caseloads for prison workers while providing greater therapeutic and educational opportunities for youth. And an expansion of transition planning for youth for aging out of the system could offer more to many foster youth who struggle with homelessness after leaving foster care.

Posted in FBI, Foster Care, Inspector General, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD | 19 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Mark Ridley-Thomas Asks for $20 Million for Mental Health Diversion & Jackie Lacey Lays Out the Issue

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome
and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.

“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”

(Um. Ya think?)

Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.

Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.

For example, there was this:

“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

And then later:

“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”

And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”

Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.

In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.

“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”

Indeed.

Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Vote on Laura’s Law… as Sheriff Candidate McDonnell Commits Strong Support for Mental Health Diversion

July 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EXPANDING LAURA’S LAW IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider the issue of how best to help LA County’s mentally ill from two different perspectives.

First of all the supervisors are expected to vote to expand and fund something called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Demonstration Project Act of 2002—more commonly known as Laura’s Law.

Although Laura’s Law was passed by the California legislature in 2002, the statute was controversial, thus the state gave counties the option of adopting it or not.

In brief, Laura’s Law allows a family member, roommate, mental health provider, police officer or probation officer to ask the court to order a seriously mentally ill person into outpatient treatment. The law only applies to a narrow subset of people—namely the mentally ill who have landed in jail or in hospitals, or who appear to be a danger to themselves or others, but who don’t qualify for a “5150,” which mandates a psych hold. Moreover, the court can issue such an order for treatment only after an extensive and multi-layered review process.

Los Angeles and Yolo Counties already have pilot programs. Orange County has adopted the whole thing, as has Nevada County, which was where the law originated.

San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.

If the LA supervisors approve the expansion of the Laura’s Law pilot,—as they are expected to do—the county is expected to do approximately 500 evaluations for the program per year (up from around 50 evaluations per year during the pilot period). The expanded program would allow for around 300 people to be enrolled in outpatient treatment any given time (up from 20), plus 60 crisis residential beds.

Some mental health advocates have been adamantly opposed to Laura’s Law maintaining that it not only violates the rights of the mentally ill, it also compromises any therapeutic relationship by forcing people into treatment.

However, a similar law enacted in New York in 1999, called Kendra’s law, featured few of the feared problems and showed a range of improved outcomes for the mentally ill involved.

Some of the main supporters of Laura’s Law have been family members who say they need better tools to keep their loved ones out of jail, and off the street when they are too ill to realize they need treatment.

Supervisor Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the board’s lead supporter for Laura’s Law.


NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?

The second important discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding mental health will be centered on a board-requested status report from District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in which she is expected to present recommendations for “the next interim steps to be taken for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.”

Although most of the board members seem to be, at least in general theory, for the notion of diverting some of LA County’s non-violent mentally ill away from the jails and into community treatment, the supes have been short on action on the matter. A couple of months ago, however, after voting to go ahead with a giant jail expansion plan, the board did pass a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to ask DA Lacey to produce a 60-day progress report about what might be done with this whole diversion matter—hence Tuesday’s presentation. Yet, since the board has since showed no interest in factoring diversion into their calculations when ordering up a new jail, it was hard to view their commitment to the matter as full-throated.

Thus it was heartening when, on Monday, Long Beach Chief of Police and candidate for LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, put out a strong policy statement supporting Lacey’s work and calling in no-nonsense terms for LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

In other words, it’s time for a firm commitment by the county.

“Our Sheriff’s Department currently runs what amounts to the largest mental health institution in the nation,” wrote McDonnell, “yet our jails are not a place for those who are suffering from mental illness and who would be better served by community-based treatment options that can address the underlying problems, while still maintaining community safety. I applaud District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her leadership and her vision in developing a comprehensive plan for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.

McDonnell also praised the recent report released by the ACLU and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health,—which provided research showing why diversion works far better for non-violent inmates, and outlined the success of diversion programs in Miami-Dade and San Francisco. (Note: The ACLU report has already drawn support from organizations and individuals such as Chairman of the LA Police Commission, Steve Soboroff.)

As for the nuts and bolts of how he would aid in getting a comprehensive diversion program funded if he is elected to head the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said that the position of sheriff offers the “influence and the ability” to help “create priorities in the county.” He also stressed that all funding need not come from the county alone, that he’d seek out other sources—noting that once those sources saw that formerly siloed groups like the sheriff’s department, the DA’s office and the board of supervisors were able to “talk to each other” and work “collaboratively and strategically” on the issue, funds were far more likely to be forthcoming.

“I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country,” said McDonnell.

We think so too.

All the more reason to get going sooner rather than later.


PS: IF WE NEED ONE MORE REASON TO PUSH HARD AND SOON for a robust mental health diversion program, let us not forget that, in June, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies in its jails. The DOJ also encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: BRUTAL ATTACKS BY STAFF ON MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN NY’S RIKER’S ISLAND “COMMON OCCURRENCES”

As the LA County Board of Supervisors considers the above issues pertaining to LA County’s mentally ill, the results of a 4-month investigation into violence by staff against the mentally ill of Riker’s Island (the nation’s second largest jail) seemed perfectly—and painfully—timed to demonstrate the problem with using jails as default mental health facilities.

Here’s a clip from the opening of the alarming NY Times report, written by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz:

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis….

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 19 Comments »

CA Supreme Court Eases Three Strikes Law….Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Kids….the Case for Creating an LASD Citizens Commission Immediately…and More

July 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

IMPORTANT CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT RULING LOOSENS INTERPRETATION OF THREE-STRIKES LAW

Late last week, the California Supreme Court eased the interpretation of the Three Strikes law, ruling that two strikes cannot come from a single offense carrying two felony convictions. In this particular case, a woman received her first and second (of three) strikes for stealing a car, for which she was convicted of carjacking and robbery.

Reuters has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The judges made their ruling in the case of a woman who had been charged with two felonies – carjacking and robbery – for the same offense of stealing a car, saying that the legislature and the voters clearly intended for defendants to have three chances to redeem themselves before they are put away for life.

“The voting public would reasonably have understood the ‘Three Strikes’ baseball metaphor to mean that a person would have three chances – three swings of the bat if you will – before the harshest penalty could be imposed,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the court’s opinion, released late on Thursday. “The public also would have understood that no one can be called for two strikes on just one swing.”

The ruling is a significant one, as it has the potential to change the fate of other third-striker inmates who are locked up for life after having picked up multiple strikes for the same offense.

Melanie Dorian, the criminal defense lawyer who represented defendant Darlene A. Vargas in the case, said the ruling could lead to the release of numerous inmates convicted of more than one felony for the same act.

“This is a great case because it clarifies what the ‘Three Strikes’ law means,” Dorian said. “A single criminal act that can technically violate two statutes of the penal code cannot later be used as two strikes.”


CALIFORNIA TO TRACK FOSTER STUDENTS ATTENDANCE AND PROGRESS FOR DISTRICT FUNDING FORMULA

Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, California school districts will count and track foster and low-income students (as well as those learning English as a second language), as part of a new budget formula to give school districts funds to provide better learning experiences to disadvantaged kids. Schools will begin reporting foster kids’ attendance, test scores, and graduation progress—a crucial step toward improving outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable population.

The Associated Press’ Lisa Leff has the story. Here’s a clip:

Until now, no state has attempted to identify every foster child in its public schools or to systematically track their progress, much less funnel funds toward those students or require school districts to show they are spending the money effectively.

That changed in California this month as part of a new school funding formula that will direct billions of extra dollars to districts based on how many students they have with low family incomes, learning to speak English or in foster care.

The state’s 1,043 school systems had to submit plans by July 1 for how they intend to use the funds, a pot projected to reach at least $9.3 billion by 2021, to increase or improve services for those specific student groups.

During the next school year, districts also will have to report on their foster children’s absences, progress toward graduation, standardized test scores and other measures they already maintain for the other two target groups.

The moves are significant for an estimated 42,000 school-age foster children, less than 1 percent of the state’s 6.2 million public school students, said Molly Dunn, a lawyer with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

It means educators and elected officials have recognized the group is facing unique educational hardships from abuse or neglect, frequent moves and experiences in foster or group homes, Dunn said.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a heartening story about Jamilah Sims and her sisters, three resilient foster children who are all heading to college in the fall, and United Friends of the Children, the nonprofit that is helping the Sims sisters and other foster kids go to (and finish) college. Here’s how it opens:

Jamilah Sims became a mother at 14 — just as she was entering foster care for the third time, because of her own mother’s instability.

She and two sisters — the girls are triplets — have grown accustomed to packing up, moving in with strangers, leaving friends, changing schools. They lived in five different foster homes over the years.

But they’re also growing accustomed to a measure of success that’s absent in the typical narrative of foster system teens.

All three graduated from high school last month and are headed for college, with advice, support and financial help from United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that’s been helping foster children complete college for more than 25 years.

One sister will attend New Mexico State University to study communications. Another will begin working toward a business degree at Santa Monica City College. And Jamilah will be toting her 3-year-old son Carter to Cal State Bakersfield, where she will study to become an anesthesiologist.

The girls were among 187 high school grads from the foster care system whose hard work and good grades were celebrated last month at a ceremony at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dozens received college scholarships from a pot that totaled more than $1 million.

The graduates’ personal stories reflect parental stumbles, teenage resilience and the collective efforts of families, friends and foster parents, who helped them battle their demons, nurture their talents and endure whatever hardships they could not outrun.

One young woman spent part of her adolescence squatting in abandoned houses; she’s attending Yale this fall. Another was abused by her stepfather and wound up addicted to drugs; she’ll be majoring in psychology at UC Santa Cruz. A young man who never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother will be moving to Spain to study dance at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona.

Their scholarships will pay for the sorts of things most freshmen take for granted: a suitcase for a student who has never traveled, clothes warm enough for a winter at a Snow Belt college, and, for Jamilah, college textbooks and her very first computer.

No more rushing through homework on the library computer, so she could race to day care in time to pick up her son…


WHY A CITIZENS COMMISSION SHOULD BE CREATED RIGHT AWAY, AND WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE

In November, the LA County Board of Supervisors chose Max Huntsman to fill the new role of Inspector General for the sheriff’s department. The Supes haven’t yet figured out what kind of access to confidential department documents Hunstman will have. (More about that here.)

At the same time, the Supervisors are considering forming a separate citizens commission to watch over the department. Both IG Huntsman and interim Sheriff John Scott have advised the board against forming the commission before a new sheriff takes control of the sheriff’s dept. in November. (We at WLA are glad that sheriff-frontrunner Jim McDonnell is in favor of establishing a citizen’s commission.)

An LA Times editorial says the commission should be created immediately, in combination with the Office of Inspector General—not as an “afterthought,” so that the two work together to oversee the department. Here are some clips:

…in creating the IG position, the supervisors withheld two vital features: a set term of office and protection from being fired without good cause.

It is now clear that the board should set up the commission right away, even as it completes the build-out of the inspector general’s office. To do otherwise — to determine the inspector general’s scope of access to internal sheriff’s department documents and to decide whether the IG will have something tantamount to an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, the board or the county — would be senseless without first knowing whether the IG will report to an oversight body. A commission would become an afterthought to an inspector general who already would have established protocols and privileges. Those properly should be hammered out in cooperation with the commission.

The board should make it clear now that it will establish a citizens oversight commission to work in tandem with the inspector general, with both parts and the Board of Supervisors being interlinked gears in an integrated oversight mechanism.

[SNIP]

The citizens oversight commission should instead have nine members, with five board appointees supplemented by four either picked by the first five from a pool of names assembled, perhaps, by Superior Court judges or mayors from the county’s contract cities in consultation with community advocates, or directly appointed by authorities outside the ambit of either the sheriff or the Board of Supervisors.

Members should serve staggered, non-renewable terms, much like the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. They should be exempt from removal — and therefore from political pressure — by the appointing authority or anyone else absent a showing of good cause. The number of appointees, the diversity of the appointing authorities and restrictions on tenure and removal would allow the commission to operate with necessary independence without becoming a runaway jury. It would keep commissioners from being either puppets or persecutors.

Read the rest.


HAWAII PASSES JUVENILE ANTI-RECIDIVISM BILL, IS ALREADY REINVESTING EXPECTED SAVINGS ON REHABILITATION

Earlier this month, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed two meaningful juvenile justice bills into law. One bill ended life without parole sentences for kids. The other is an anti-recidivism bill that will require corrections officers to write “reentry plans” before releasing incarcerated kids, and also changes juvenile probation requirements.

The state is so optimistic that the legislation will successfully lower recidivism, that it has already begun spending a portion of estimated savings on rehabilitative programs.

The Washington Post’s Hunter Schwarz has the story. Here’s a clip:

Hawaii, where 75 percent of youths released from the state’s juvenile correctional facility are sentenced or convicted again within three years, is trying to crack down on recidivism.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing the state’s juvenile facility population by over half in five years. HB2490 calls for justice system officials to write “reentry plans” before juveniles are released from correctional facilities and revises probation requirements.

Should the plan successfully lower recidivism rates, Hawaii could save an estimated $11 million, the governor’s office said. The state is already betting on it, investing $1.26 million from its anticipated savings in “proven programs” like mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Posted in Education, Foster Care, Inspector General, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LWOP Kids, Reentry | No Comments »

LA Foster Care Documentary, Los Angeles DA Calls for Split-Sentencing, Solitary Confinement and Kids’ Brains, and LASD Oversight

July 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WATCH THIS TONIGHT: LOS ANGELES FOSTER CARE DOCUMENTARY ON OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

Tonight (Thursday) at 7:00, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air an episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling,” exploring foster care in Los Angeles County and the children, families, and foster parents involved in the system.

In his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel tells us more about the documentary episode, which he co-produced, and why media access, when used to child dependency court proceedings is so important. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday July 3, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air an episode of its acclaimed docu-series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which focuses on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. It is important to me, because as a co-producer I worked very hard to make sure that we were granted access to a world often cloaked in confidentiality.

[SNIP]

[In March,] a California appeals court struck down a court order issued by Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, which had substantially eased media access to the largest juvenile dependency system in the nation. And despite spirited editorials by John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle calling for legislation that would, like Nash’s order, ease media access, no politician has stepped forward to take up the issue.

Of course, there is reason for caution. Children who have already been traumatized can be forever scarred by irresponsible media coverage. The potential costs to individual children supersedes the potential social good that exposing these systems to public scrutiny would bring, or so the argument goes.

And when journalists continue to chase the most salacious child welfare stories, it is understandable that attorneys and other child advocates are loathe to let the notebooks and cameras in. The media is hard to trust.

So into that absence of trust, I, alongside the incredible production team from Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, stepped lightly and came away with incredible access and an under-told story.

When you watch this episode on Thursday night, you will see what that access has won, and what we have chosen to do with it. You will see a simple, honest depiction of what the largest child welfare system in this country is up against; what every child welfare system in the country is up against. You will see, I hope, a picture not painted in black and white or even a scale of grays, but rather a story filled with color, vibrancy and the promise that the best in people can be forced to the surface by the hardest of moments.


LOS ANGELES TO (FINALLY) BOOST USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING—THANKS, DA JACKIE LACEY!

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has instructed attorneys in her office to begin seeking split-sentences—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation—for certain low-level felons convicted under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment.

This is certainly welcome news, as the jail system is hazardously overcrowded and Los Angeles is far behind other counties successfully implementing split-sentencing and reducing their jail populations.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lacey said part of her reasoning for the policy shift is due to changes under prison realignment, the state’s policy that shifts responsibility for lower-level would-be state prison inmates to California’s counties.

Previously, nearly everyone leaving prison went on parole for one to three years. Now, that same population upon leaving jail gets released to the community without any supervision.

That is, unless they’re sentenced to split time.

“It makes sense that we utilize this tool in order to make sure they successfully reintegrate into society and don’t commit any new crimes,” Lacey said.

While some counties (including many with limited jail space) have embraced split sentencing — such as Riverside County and Contra Costa County, which sentence 74 percent and 92 percent respectively of their lower-level felons to half time in jail and half time on supervised release — L.A. County’s rate has hovered between 4 to 5 percent.

[SNIP]

Probation Chief Jerry Powers said he’s not sure how many new offenders will be coming his way, but his department can handle it.

“Having the district attorney say that she’s going to look at this and she’s not opposed to it is important,” Powers, who has pushed for more split sentencing in L.A. County said. “But you still have to get the judge to impose it. It’s progress.”


MORE ON THE DAMAGING (AND STILL WIDESPREAD) USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS

The Atlantic’s Laura Dimon has an excellent story on the use of solitary confinement on kids in the US—the disastrous effects on young brains, and the continued use of isolation in spite of increasing research and opposition. Here are some clips:

Solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in cells that are barely larger than a king-sized bed for 22 to 24 hours per day. It wreaks profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger. Boston psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote that “even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the EEG pattern towards an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium.”

If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, though, it can shatter a juvenile.

One of the reasons that solitary is particularly harmful to youth is that during adolescence, the brain undergoes major structural growth. Particularly important is the still-developing frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for cognitive processing such as planning, strategizing, and organizing thoughts or actions. One section of the frontal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, continues to develop into a person’s mid-20s. It is linked to the inhibition of impulses and the consideration of consequences.

Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, has been studying the psychological effects of solitary confinement for about 30 years. He explained that juveniles are vulnerable because they are still in crucial stages of development—socially, psychologically, and neurologically.

“The experience of isolation is especially frightening, traumatizing, and stressful for juveniles,” he said. “These traumatic experiences can interfere with and damage these essential developmental processes, and the damage may be irreparable.”

[SNIP]

The ACLU said that just hours of isolation “can be extremely damaging to young people.” In December 2012, the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence issued a report that read, “Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”

They noted that among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the victims were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent had a history of solitary confinement.

The task force requested that the practice be used only as a last resort and only on youths who pose a serious safety threat. The UN expert on torture went further and called for an “absolute prohibition [of solitary confinement] in the case of juveniles,” arguing that it qualified as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

In April 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a statement saying they concurred with the UN position. “In addition, any youth that is confined for more than 24 hours must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist when one is available,” they wrote.

Despite these declarations, there are about 70,000 detained juveniles in the U.S., 63 percent of whom are nonviolent. And in 2003—the most recent survey data available—35 percent had been held in isolation. More than half of them were isolated for more than 24 hours at a time.


WHAT THE SHERIFF DEPARTMENT NEEDS, MOVING FORWARD

On Tuesday, jurors found six LASD officers guilty of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system. After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about the “toxic culture” within the Sheriff’s Department.

An LA Times editorial says that the issue here is not the criminal actions of deputies, but instead, the structure of a department with an elected sheriff who has no accountability to the citizens who put him in office. The editorial calls, once again, for a civilian oversight commission to “create an incentive to act wisely.” Here are some clips:

…whose idea was this whole scheme in the first place? Was top management at the department so lax or vague that deputies felt entitled to come up with such a plan on their own? Or, as the defense argued, were they instead following direct orders from their superiors, including, perhaps, then-Sheriff Lee Baca? And if they were following orders, did they believe that their only possible courses of action were to commit crimes or give up their careers?

Any of those possibilities, and a dozen more besides, underscore the central problem at the Sheriff’s Department: not deputies committing crimes, although that is one especially troubling manifestation of the problem, nor deputies beating inmates, although that’s one result of it, but rather that unaccountable management of a paramilitary organization embodied in an elected sheriff with no effective civilian oversight and few limits on his powers is an invitation to abuse.

[SNIP]

…any sheriff, no matter the degree of his or her integrity or ability, must operate within a structure that creates an incentive to act wisely. And legally. Criminal prosecution of officials should not be considered one of the basic checks or balances on power, but rather an indication that those safeguards have failed and need repair.

The six convicted sheriff’s personnel might not have brought their misgivings, if they had any, to an oversight commission, if one had existed, so it’s impossible to demonstrate that such a panel would have prevented the crimes. But they might have. And either way, its presence would have reminded the sheriff that he and his command staff would be held accountable, in a public forum, for their actions.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, solitary | 5 Comments »

WLA’s Editor Wins “Online Journalist of the Year” at SoCal Journalism Awards(!)…LASD Civilian Oversight…Costly Prison Phone Calls…and More

June 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WLA’S EDITOR TAKES HOME SOCAL JOURNALISM AWARD

I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, has won 1st place at the SoCal Journalism Award for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The judges called Celeste’s work for 2013: “a compelling look into problems in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Celeste did a great job decoding complex issues into a fascinating narrative.”

The rest of the winners can be found here.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL CALLS FOR CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF SHERIFF’S DEPT.

Citing the Inspector General’s undefined power and tenure, an excellent LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to create a nine-person citizen’s oversight commission to watch over the Sheriff’s Department. The editorial says the commission should hold public meetings, and be free of micromanagement by the Supes, and that members should serve for set terms.

Here’s a clip:

The board started out on the right foot last year when it created the Office of Inspector General. It was designed to replace both a special counsel, who presented regular reports and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors but didn’t get enough public attention to spark any follow-up, and the Office of Independent Review, which relied too much on the sheriff’s voluntary cooperation to be a credible monitor.

But the supervisors rejected the strong recommendation of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to appoint the inspector general to a set term and make him removable only for good cause. And the board still hasn’t brokered an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department over the scope of the inspector general’s powers. So no matter how strong the work ethic and integrity of Inspector General Max Huntsman, he is an at-will employee of the Board of Supervisors with no law establishing his power or authority to investigate the sheriff.

Meanwhile, the county’s contracts with its previous monitors expire Monday, so for the first time in two decades there will be no independent sheriff oversight. Despite the opportunity and necessity for improvement, the county is in danger of falling backward.

Forward momentum will depend on more than new promises by the supervisors to do a better job of keeping an eye on the sheriff. It will require the board to create a citizens oversight commission that conducts its meetings in public and has the kind of insulation from micromanaging that so far the board has denied the inspector general. There should be nine members on the commission, enough for each county supervisor to appoint one while still allowing sufficient appointments by other authorities to prevent the commission from becoming the board’s proxy. Members should serve for set, nonrenewable terms, and be removable only on a showing of good cause.


LAST YEAR THE FCC LIMITED WHAT PRISONERS PAY FOR INTERSTATE CALLS, BUT COMPANIES STILL GOUGE PRISONERS FOR OTHER SERVICES

In prisons all over the country, private companies—Global Tel-Link and JPay, in particular—are charging inmates preposterously high fees for phone, internet, and money services. Unfortunately, the brunt of the costs fall on the families of the incarcerated. And there’s no real competition from other companies who might charge lower fees. Global Tel-Link and JPay both pay cash-strapped cities, counties, and states incentives to secure their contracts within prisons. (In New York State, where these commissions are forbidden, inmates pay a fraction in comparison—72 cents for a 15-minute call.)

Global Tel-Link and JPay both have contracts in California through which they overcharge California prison and jail inmates’ loved ones.

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. That was a significant victory, but Global Tel-Link and JPay can (and do) continue to charge prisoners and their families shocking fees for in-state calls, money transfers, and other services. (For previous WLA reporting on this issue, go here.)

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg have the story. Here are some clips:

It is a lucrative proposition, in part because these companies often operate beyond the reach of regulations that protect ordinary consumers. Inmates say they are being gouged by high costs and hidden fees. Friends and families say they have little choice but to shoulder the financial burden.

But private enterprises are not the only ones profiting. Eager to reduce costs and bolster dwindling budgets, states, counties and cities are seeking a substantial cut in return for letting the businesses into prisons, a review of dozens of contracts by The New York Times found. In Baldwin County, Ala., for instance, the sheriff’s department collects 84 percent of the gross revenue from calls at the county jail. A Texas company has guaranteed the county at least $55 a month per inmate, according to a copy of the contract…

Some corrections departments use the commissions to provide services, said Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Corrections. In Washington State, all commissions go toward compensating victims and improving services like libraries.

But even some industry executives see problems with the current setup, saying the commission system encourages providers to charge inmates more, not less, for services. Companies often win contracts based on how much they will offer states via commissions, rather than the rates they charge inmates.

Global Tel-Link, of Reston, Va., has contracts with 2,200 correctional operations serving at least 1.1 million inmates. It argued in recent comments to the Federal Communications Commission that the more states and cities demand in commissions, the more it will charge inmates. “There is no free lunch,” the company said.

[SNIP]

While the F.C.C. capped interstate telephone rates at 25 cents a minute earlier this year, after agitation from prisoners’ rights advocates, local phone rates can still be steep and other fees vary widely from state to state. For instance, using a phone to transfer $10 into an inmate’s account via JPay to the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., costs $3.95, while a similar transfer to the Illinois Youth Center in Chicago runs $5.95.

Placing a 15-minute in-state call from a Union County, N.J., jail costs $8.50, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently filed a petition asking for lower in-state rates. In New York State, which does not accept commissions from providers, a 15-minute phone call costs just 72 cents.


CDC: WAYS TO PREVENT YOUTH VIOLENCE

Every day in the US, an average of 13 kids, teens, and young adults (between the ages of 10-24) are victims of homicide, and more than 1600 are treated in hospitals for assault-related injuries. In fact, homicide is the third leading cause of death in young people nationwide. And 10-to-24-year-olds comprised 40% of arrests for violent crimes in 2012.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that youth violence and its devastating effects on kids (especially minorities), families, and their neighborhoods can be prevented, and lists evidence-based solutions communities can implement to counteract this violence.

The report suggests a number of tools and programs, from parenting and family training, to bolstering early childhood education, to data gathering, and policy-reform. Here are some examples:

The Strengthening Families program teaches parents to use discipline, manage their emotions, and communicate with their child and teaches youth strategies to deal with peer pressure, manage stress, and solve problems. Evaluations of this program have shown significant reductions in aggression, hostility, and conduct problems and improvements in parent’s limit-setting, parent-child communication, and youth’s prosocial behavior.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care is for youth who need out-of-home placements and includes extensive training of foster parents, family therapy for biological parents, skills training and support for youth, and school-based academic and behavioral supports. This program has been shown to significantly reduce delinquency, violence, and violent crime and sustain improvements over time.

Cure Violence (formally known as CeaseFire) works to interrupt violence, particularly shootings, and change norms about the acceptability and inevitability of violence. An evaluation found reduced shootings and killings and fewer retaliatory killings in most communities where the program was implemented.

These smart, evidenced-based recommendations are a hearteningly long way from the Superpredator theory of the mid-1980s.


TWO DIE IN LASD CUSTODY

Two people died in LA County Sheriff’s Dept. custody on Saturday. A man suspected of being under the influence of drugs was arrested in Lancaster after struggling with deputies. The man became unresponsive in the back of the patrol car, and officers were unable to revive him.

And later that afternoon, a woman was found dead in her bunk at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station jail. The woman had been booked on possession of a controlled substance two days prior, on Thursday.

LASD homicide detectives, Internal Affairs, and the LA Coroner’s Office are investigating both deaths.

KPCC has the story.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Violence Prevention, women's issues | 27 Comments »

Impact of Criminal Justice System on Latinos….New Anti-Sex Trafficking Foster Program….Juvie Mandatory Minimum Bill Amended….and McDonnell and Tanaka Will Face Off in November

June 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LATINOS DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND CRIME

Latinos are heavily over-represented in the criminal justice system and as victims of crime, according to a new report from Californians for Safety and Justice and director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC, Roberto Suro. (The report compiles existing data and research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and elsewhere.)

The report found that Latinos are murdered at a rate more than twice that of whites in California, and are significantly more likely to be killed by a stranger. Latinos are 44% more likely to be locked up than whites for the same crimes. And Latinos awaiting trial in California also have a higher chance of being denied bail than whites, and average bail amounts are about $25,000 higher than both whites and African Americans. Latinos are also given mandatory minimum sentences more than any other race.

Here are some of the other statistics:

Latinos are more likely to be shot and burglarized than whites.

Hate crimes against Latinos rise as immigration increases.

California Latinos experienced more repeat crimes than survivors overall.

Half of Latino survivors are unaware of recovery services.

And here are some of the notable recommendations from the report:

• Arrest rates vs. convictions: California provides data on arrest rates by type of crime and racial or ethnic group, but data are lacking on conviction rates by types of crime and different populations. There is a need for comparative data on the first time someone is arrested or convicted.

• Community reintegration: Although research exists on how effectively Latino youth reintegrate into the community, there is a lack of documentation on how well Latino adults are reentering society.

• Racial Impact Assessments: Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon have laws requiring racial impact
statements before changing or adding criminal laws, as a way to guard against unintended consequences for people of a certain race or ethnicity. A racial impact statement is a nonpartisan analysis that examines the impact
of justice policy changes on racial and ethnic populations. For example, when new legislation is proposed in California, such an analysis could be conducted by an existing state agency (e.g., the State Interagency Team Workgroup to Eliminate Disparities & Disproportionality) and reported back to legislative committees on the potential adverse effects of the proposed bill.

• Racial profiling: Some law enforcement agencies have strong definitions of what constitutes racial profiling— and training on how to avoid the practice. Such standards should be in place in jurisdictions across the state and nation. Additional best practices in policing Latino communities across the country include Spanish-speaking liaisons (if officers do not speak Spanish), specific education and training of officers, Spanish hotlines and increased officer participation in community events.

• Risk assessments: When someone is arrested, determining their individual risk as they await trial (to reoffend, to show up to court, etc.) is key to managing jail space and minimizing undue disruption to families. Consistent use of proven risk-assessment tools can help local jurisdictions effectively manage their jail populations while also preventing unnecessary or biased decisions from disproportionately affecting Latinos

(The report also notes that while it focuses on Latinos’ contact with the justice system, African Americans do face greater disparities overall.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the report and its significance. Here are some clips:

Lead researcher Roberto Suro, director of USC’s Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, compiled public data available on Latinos’ interactions with the criminal justice system.

The data, he said, shows that “for Latinos, the criminal justice system has this process of cumulative disadvantage, where the disadvantages start at even the first encounters with the system.”

[SNIP]

But, until recently at least, criminal justice reform hasn’t prominently featured in Latino electoral politics, Suro said.

“In Southern California now, you have Latinos in positions of power or in positions of advocacy in a way that wasn’t the case twenty or thirty years ago when big decisions were made about a strategy of mass incarceration,” Suro said.


NEW TRAINING PROGRAM TO HELP LA COUNTY FOSTER PARENTS FIGHT CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a training program to teach foster parents and group home workers how to identify kids who may be victims of sex-trafficking and how to intervene on their behalf.

Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe recommended the program, and have both been working to put a focus on child sex-trafficking in LA County.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

The supervisors voted Tuesday to ask county staff to work with local colleges and universities to develop a training program that will become mandatory for foster care providers.

“The county should move as quickly as possible to help safeguard the county’s most vulnerable population from being sexually exploited,” Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe wrote in a memo to their colleagues.

County officials said state funds may be available to carry out the training. Staff will report back in 60 days on the costs to implement the training countywide.

AND A REMINDER OF HOW MANY KIDS ARE TRAFFICKED…

Time Magazine’s Nolan Feeny has the story on the FBI’s weeklong, nationwide child sex-trafficking bust that resulted in the rescue of 168 exploited children and the arrest of 281 pimps.


UPDATE ON BILL THAT WOULD INTRODUCE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES TO CALIFORNIA JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last week, California bill that would impose the first mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would have required two-year minimum out-of-home sentence on kids convicted of sexually assaulting someone who is unconscious or disabled.

On Tuesday, the committee passed the bill after the two-year mandatory minimum sentence portion was removed. Now, kids convicted of assaulting someone who is incapacitated will receive mandatory treatment and counseling. The bill still takes away the anonymity of kids charged with this crime, and includes a sentence enhancement of one year for kids who share texts or pictures of the crime.

SF Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has the story. Here’s a clip:

The bill was amended to take out language that would have required a two-year minimum sentence at juvenile hall or another out-of-home detention facility for teens convicted of sexual assault against a victim who is incapacitated. The bill now would require mandatory rehabilitative treatment and counseling, which could be accomplished while living at home.

SB838 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, maintained provisions that would open juvenile court to the public in cases where teens are prosecuted under Audrie’s Law and creates a one-year sentence enhancement for those convicted of sexual assaults who share pictures or texts of the crime to harass or humiliate the victim.

[SNIP]

Last week, the Assembly’s public safety committee delayed a vote on the bill after it was evident lawmakers would not support the mandatory minimum sentence provision.

Opponents of the bill argued mandatory minimum sentences create a “one-size fits all” model that emulates broken adult court sentencing laws. Mandatory minimum sentences have never been introduced in the state’s juvenile court system and many states and the federal government have begun to roll back the use of mandatory minimums in the adult court system.

Beall said he would have preferred to keep the mandatory minimum requirements, but he faced a deadline this week to pass the bill. The bill had previously passed the Senate unanimously.


NOVEMBER GENERAL ELECTION RUNOFF IN STORE FOR JIM MCDONNELL AND PAUL TANAKA IN BID FOR SHERIFF

The mail-in ballots have been counted, and appear to confirm a November runoff between between Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the office LA County Sheriff. The Board of Supervisors will make the results official on July 1.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell — the overwhelming victor in the June 3 primary election — finished just 0.65 percent short of the 50 percent plus 1 mark needed to skip the Nov. 3 election and be sworn in as head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka claimed 15.09 percent of votes to beat out third-place finisher Bob Olmsted and stay in the hunt. The department’s former second-in-command built the race’s largest campaign coffer, collecting more than $900,000 in contributions. McDonnell raised more than $760,000.

With thousands of ballots uncounted on election night, the ultimate outcome was not certain until the final count was released Wednesday.



Graphs: Traci Sclesinger, “Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Pretrial Criminal Processing,” Justice Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

Supes Unaware of DOJ’s Jails Concerns (Really?)…A New Child Protection Czar To Be Created….Adult Interrogation Techniques Not Good for Kids…..and More

June 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SUPES SAID TO BE UNAWARE THAT DOJ WAS REALLY, REALLY UNHAPPY WITH LA COUNTY’S TREATMENT OF MENTALLY ILL JAIL INMATES (SERIOUSLY???)

The LA Times Abby Sewell reports that, on Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas expressed that he and his fellow board members were in the dark about the seriousness of Department of Justice officials’ concerns regarding the reported ongoing mistreatment of mentally ill jail inmates.

The supervisor’s remarks were made in reaction to the blisteringly critical assessment of the issue released last Friday by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.

While we genuinely commend the fact that the supervisor came right out and admitted that the board should have been more aware, we also wonder how exactly the supes managed to blinder themselves so thoroughly.

There were, after all, lots of red flags. For instance, there was the jump in suicides in the jails: In 2012, there were four “completed” suicides. In 2013, there were ten inmate suicides. And, mind you, these stats came after all the much-touted improvements were made in the running of the jails.

Plus, in January of this year there was a suicide that the DOJ especially noted as being emblematic of “systemic deficiencies in the Jails’ suicide prevention practices.” The case in question involved a vocally suicidal inmate with a history of mental illness, who—according to proper protocol—should have been checked on every 15 minutes, but who instead remained unobserved and unchecked in his cell for at least three hours during which time, surprise! he killed himself.

As Hector Villagra, the executive director of the So Cal ACLU wrote on Friday when the DOJ report was released, “…a number of today’s Justice Department findings are eerily similar to those reported by Dr. Terri Kupers, a nationally recognized expert, in a 2008 ACLU of Southern California study – a study that the Board of Supervisors, Department of Mental Health and the Sheriff’s Department ignored.”

Moreover, even after getting the bad news in September that the DOJ had launched a civil-rights investigation into problems in the LA County Jail system (this is on top of the FBI’s ongoing probe into abuse and corruption in the jails), during the discussion of whether or not to approve the county’s hugely expensive new Vanir jail building plan, those advocating for the plan from the LASD and from county mental health claimed that this multi-year jail-building strategy was exactly what the DOJ folks wanted. Without it, the building plan supporters threatened, we’d end up with a federal consent decree or some other equally onerous (and expensive) form of federal oversight.

So….the supes approved the building plan and a month later almost to the day the DOJ sent its letter informing the county that that it had run out of patience, and it was now time for “corrective action in the form of a court-enforceable agreement”—AKA federal oversight.

That certainly worked out well.

Okay, enough of our lecturing. Here’s a clip from Sewell’s story:

….Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said board members and their staffs were not privy to communications sent by the U.S. Justice Department to Sheriff’s Department and county mental health officials regarding ongoing problems until September. That’s when county officials received a letter announcing a federal civil-rights investigation of the jail system.

“That was our notification,” Ridley-Thomas said. “From my point of view, that’s hugely problematic.”

The issue gained urgency last week, when federal officials issued a scathing report on jail conditions for mentally ill inmates, citing a recent surge in jail suicides. The Justice Department said it would seek court oversight of reforms.

In 2002, the county approved an agreement with federal officials requiring improvements in the handling of mentally ill inmates. But unlike a similar — and more recent — agreement with the federal government involving the county’s treatment of juveniles in the probation system, board members neither requested nor received regular updates on efforts to resolve the federal jail issues.

There were conflicting portrayals Tuesday of who was responsible for the communication breakdown. Some county officials and staff — including Ridley-Thomas, who joined the board in 2008 — said they didn’t know until September that the county had entered into a formal agreement with the federal government concerning jail problems.


AND NOW THE GOOD NEWS: SUPES CREATE CHILD PROTECTION CZAR & MORE

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors took an important step when they voted 4-1 to create a “child protection czar” who will head up a new Office of Child Protection. This move was one of the urgent recommendations made by The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection in their final report issued on April 18 of this year.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

The vote, split four to one, came after hours of debate on how to proceed with dozens of recommendations put forward by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. In April, the panel declared L.A.’s system in a “state of emergency” and said the only fix would be going outside the county’s current patchwork of law enforcement, health, and foster care officials currently responsible for ensuring child safety in the county.

They recommended establishing a new Office of Child Protection to coordinate the departments and oversee broad changes to the system.

The Board, with the exception of Supervisor Don Knabe, agreed to the proposal.

Knabe said a brand new bureaucracy would hardly solve the issues the child welfare system faces.

“We started out DPSS and then we went Department of Children and Family Services, now we’re going to have an Office of Child Protection, next we’ll have an Office of Child Protection Protection, and another committee and commission,” Knabe said, before voting “no” on the proposal.


SOME OF COPS’ COMMON COERCIVE INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES SHOULD NOT BE USED WITH KIDS, SAYS STUDY

According to an ongoing psychological study at the University of Virginia some of the confrontational and deceptive interrogation techniques commonly used by law enforcement to question subjects are deeply problematic when used with teenagers and their still-developing brains. For one thing, the techniques can result in false confessions.

Fariss Samarrai of Science Daily has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some interrogation techniques commonly used by police departments throughout the United States to obtain confessions from adult suspects may be inappropriate for use on juveniles, according to an ongoing University of Virginia psychology study.

Such techniques purport to detect deception in criminal suspects and use methods to heighten suspects’ anxiety during interviews, with the goal of obtaining an admission of guilt. Such psychologically manipulative interrogation techniques are considered contentious by critics because they can result in false confessions.

The risk of this is heightened for juvenile suspects, whose still-developing brains make them impressionable and vulnerable to interviewing methods in a stress-filled interrogation room.

“Teenagers are good at making bad decisions,” said Todd Warner, a U.Va. Ph.D. candidate in psychology who is conducting the study. “More than 90 percent of juvenile suspects waive their Miranda rights and begin talking after an arrest. Because they are young and the areas of the brain responsible for executive function are undeveloped, they are more likely than adults to make impulsive decisions, are more suggestible to authority figures, and weigh short-term gains, such as leaving the interrogation room, over long-term consequences, [like] remaining in custody.

“These decision-making tendencies can make teenagers more vulnerable to making incriminating statements or even false admissions of guilt when under the pressure of an interrogation.”


SUPREMES REFUSE APPEAL OF RULING REQUIRING STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR INMATES WITH DISABILITIES EVEN IF IN COUNTY CARE

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to hear an appeal by the State of California of a court order that holds state officials responsible for making sure that inmates with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations in the various county jails. (PS: These are inmates that, pre-realignment, would have been the responsibility of the state.)

When they appealed the lower court ruling, Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, maintained that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would make the California “liable for alleged ADA violations in the county jails”

Uh, yeah. And your point would be…..?

Reuter’s Jennifer Chaussee has the story.

Here’s a clip:

….The court’s denial highlighted tensions between the most populous U.S. state and federal courts about crowding and conditions in California’s troubled prison system.

The state has been under court orders to reduce its prison population since 2009 and has sought to comply partly by funneling some non-violent offenders to county jurisdiction.

In 2012, a U.S. District Court judge ordered state officials to notify the counties when inmates have disabilities entitling them to accommodations under federal law while in jail. The state must also take complaints from prisoners who say they are not getting assistance they need.

“They were essentially refusing to pass that on to counties,” said Lisa Ells, part of the legal team representing disabled inmates. “So the counties would receive an inmate and have no idea if that person was disabled.”

In her 2012 order, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken required the state to track the roughly 2,000 disabled inmates in its custody and report to county jails when someone was transferred to county jurisdiction who was entitled to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Those accommodations can include wheelchairs, tapping canes for the blind or accessible beds and toilets. Once the state makes the county aware of an inmate’s needs, it is the county’s legal obligation to provide the necessary accommodations.

After the order was issued, the state complied, but also submitted a series of appeals aimed at overturning the requirement.

Posted in children and adolescents, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 3 Comments »

Supes Terminate Contract with LA Works over $1M in Overcharges, San Quentin’s Award-Winning Newspaper, and an Arts Initiative for Low-Achieving Schools

May 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AUDITS FIND LA WORKS OVERCHARGED LASD (AND ANOTHER COUNTY DEPT.) A WHOPPING $1M, SUPES END CONTRACT WITH AGENCY

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to end LA County’s contract with LA Works, an agency that provides employment training services to inmates and the unemployed, after audits found the organization had overcharged the Sheriff’s Dept. and the Dept. of Community and Senior Services nearly $1 million. The job training jail classes run by LA Works will likely be suspended for two weeks while the board negotiates a contract with the second lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

LA Works, an Irwindale-based joint-powers agency that provides workforce development services, was given a sole source contract in 2011 to teach job training and life skills classes in the jails. A recent county audit found that it had overbilled the Sheriff’s Department by about $133,000 for staff time spent on non-sheriff’s programs and for vacation, sick and holiday leave costs that were earned before the contract started.

A separate audit found LA Works had overbilled the county’s Department of Community and Senior Services more than $850,000 on an on-the-job training program for unemployed and underemployed residents. Under that program, LA Works was to help people find jobs and would then pay a portion of their wages during their training period.

Auditors found that the agency billed the county for training people who had already been hired, including nurses making $32 an hour, which the auditors noted “is well over the self-sufficiency wage of $11.84 per hour” that is the most someone can earn and still qualify for the program.

LA Works initially argued that the on-the-job training bills were proper, but after auditors released a follow-up report, the agency changed its stance and agreed to repay the money. The agency did not dispute the overbilling in the Sheriff’s Department and has repaid the money, according to an audit report…

The contract for programming in the jails expires this month. LA Works was the lowest bidder on a new $32-million, six-year contract to provide the services.

But county Supervisor Gloria Molina, citing the “significant and unallowable” overbilling, proposed Tuesday that the board direct the Sheriff’s Department to instead negotiate a contract with the next-lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

(LA Daily News’ Richard Irwin also reported on this issue.)


A LOOK INSIDE SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON’S AWARD-WINNING, INMATE-RUN NEWSPAPER

San Quentin State Prison may be notorious for being California’s only death row facility for male prisoners, but it is also home to the state’s only prisoner-run paper, San Quentin News. The monthly paper is circulated among 17 other prisons thanks to subscriptions, grants, and donations. San Quentin News, which recently won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, provides inmates with an important creative outlet and helps build writing and communication skills. (You can read the current issue on the newspaper’s website here.)

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the paper and the men who run it. Here are some clips:

Founded in 1940 and then revived as a serious journalistic enterprise six years ago, the monthly News, which bills itself as “The Pulse of San Quentin,” is the state’s only inmate-produced newspaper and one of the few in the world. The paper’s 15 staff members, all of them male felons, write from the unusual perspective of having served an estimated 297 ½ years collectively for burglary, murder, home invasion, conspiracy and, in one case, a Ponzi scheme.

In a notorious prison best known for its death row, the men are committed to what Juan Haines, the 56-year-old managing editor, who is serving 55 years to life for that 1996 bank robbery, calls “boots on the ground” journalism, accomplished without cellphones or direct Internet access. “It’s about being heard in a place that’s literally shut off from the world,” he said.

From their newsroom trailer next to the prison yard, where inmates work out amid spectacular views, the reporters and editors delve into issues at “the Q,” as San Quentin State Prison is sometimes called, as well as those far beyond its walls. They have covered a hunger strike, crowding in California’s women’s prisons and a federal court order concerning mental health care for California death row inmates.

But the paper specializes in stories that can be written only by journalists with a “uniquely visceral understanding of the criminal justice system,” said Arnulfo T. Garcia, the paper’s editor in chief, who is serving 65 years to life for a long list of crimes that includes burglary, robbery and skipping bail to flee to Mexico.

Lately, the paper seems to be gathering momentum. Editors, who sometimes work through dinner over ramen noodles, are talking about expanding the current circulation of 11,500. Students from the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, have helped them develop a 12-year business plan that would increase the number of paid subscribers to help subsidize the free copies for inmates.

[SNIP]

Robert L. Ayers Jr., a former San Quentin warden who retired in 2008, said that positive outlets were important for prisoners. He said he decided to revive the publication as a quality journalistic endeavor rather than what he called an “inmate rant rag.”

“When they get involved and see they’re accomplishing something, that could be the one positive tick mark in the ‘good’ column for them,” he said. In learning how to write, he added, “they start expressing themselves in ways other than physical or violent means.”


ART EDUCATION PROGRAM EXTENDS TO TEN OF CALIFORNIA’S HIGH-POVERTY, LOW-ACHIEVEMENT SCHOOLS

On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the expansion of Turnaround Arts, an initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, that uses art education to help bridge the academic achievement gap at low-performing schools nationwide. Ten high-poverty California schools serving 6,000 kids will receive musical instruments, art supplies, and other help from art organizations. (Turnaround Arts was piloted in 2012 at eight schools, helping to bring up attendance, lower discipline numbers, and boost kids’ grades.)

KPCC’s Mary Plummer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The program infuses arts education access into struggling schools by providing musical instruments, art supplies, professional development for teachers and help from arts organizations. It began as a national initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and expands into six new states in the Fall.

California’s program will be the largest, serving 6,000 students in Kings, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, Humboldt, Jan Joaquin and Contra Costa counties this fall. All of the schools are within the bottom five percent of the most challenged schools in the country, according to the selection criteria.

“I hope it means that arts education will become a model for all schools in the future,” said architect Frank Gehry, one of several high-profile artists recruited to work with the schools. Gehry and former California Arts Council chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver are spearheading the effort in California.

Other big names that have signed on include Jason Mraz, Forest Whitaker, Rashida Jones, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marc Anthony, Tim Robbins, Chad Smith, Kerry Washington and Russell Simmons.

Turnaround Arts launched in May 2012 at eight low-achieving schools across the country. Officials said discipline dropped by nearly 80 percent at some schools and that English and math scores rose. They also credited the arts instruction with bringing up attendance and enrollment numbers.

Posted in arts, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | No Comments »

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