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

May 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

More on the State of Juvenile Defense in LA County…LA’s Wrongful Convictions Unit…and Presidential Commutations

March 31st, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS PREVIEW MOTION TO RESEARCH WAYS TO OVERHAUL JUVENILE INDIGENT DEFENSE SYSTEM

On Monday, LA County CEO Sachi Hamai released a colossal 258-page report highlighting inequalities in representation for indigent juveniles who are represented by private panel attorneys, rather than the county’s public defenders. If you are unfamiliar with the issue, when public defenders are unable to represent juvenile defendants (often because of a conflict of interest), the kids gets bounced to panel attorneys, who are paid a shockingly low flat-fee stipend for each case.

Among other noteworthy findings, the report revealed that panel attorneys, when compared with public defenders, consulted with fewer experts, filed fewer motions, and provided less documentation in support of their client. And those kids with panel counsel were more likely to be sent to adult court than their peers represented by public defenders. (Read more about the report in our earlier post: here.)

A motion previewed at the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday would direct the CEO and County Counsel to look into a number of possible reforms to the way poor juveniles are represented in Los Angeles (with the help of a consulting expert on indigent defense), including the creation of an oversight unit for panel attorneys run by the LA County Bar Association, elimination of the problematic flat-fee structure for panel attorneys, increasing access to appropriate experts, merging the Public Defender’s Office with the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and increasing use of alternate public defenders in juvenile cases, among other actions. Currently, only Lancaster uses alternate public defenders for juvenile defense when public defenders are unavailable or have a conflict of interest. Panel attorneys are used less often under this structure (similar to the way adult indigent defense is set up in LA County). The motion directs the CEO and County Counsel to report back on these possible reform areas in 90 days.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Supe. Sheila Kuehl, said the proposal addresses “an area that needs our urgent attention.” The Supes are expected to consider the motion at next week’s meeting.


LA COUNTY CONVICTION REVIEW UNIT IS WADING THROUGH A FLOOD OF CASES

Since its launch nine months ago, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Conviction Review Unit—which investigates innocence claims—has been slammed with 730 petitions from people who say they’re innocent.

The Conviction Review Unit has only made it through preliminary reviews of about a third of the cases. A total of 213 cases are ready for an in-depth review, a couple of cases are currently undergoing a more thorough innocence review, 42 cases have been rejected outright, and 13 claims have been referred to staff for further action.

Advocates say the pace is frustratingly slow considering some men and women may be needlessly behind bars, but DA Lacey says the task force is “working as diligently and as hard as we can to quickly get cases reviewed.”

KPCC’s Ashley Bailey has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I think the DA’s heart is absolutely in the right place, I think the problem has been getting the unit up and going and understanding how these decisions will be made,” said Loyola Law Professor Laurie Levenson, founder of the university’s Project for the Innocent.

“On our end, that’s a bit frustrating ’cause we have cases that we want resolved today,” she said.

As of this March, 213 cases are ready for review, 42 claims have been rejected, 13 have been assigned to staff for followup, and a couple are under a much more thorough investigation.

Lacey said she’s mindful that people are sitting in prison every day and there could be a person who is wrongfully convicted waiting for help, but asked for patience and cooperation while investigators conduct a diligent review.

The goal of L.A. County’s unit is to investigate credible claims where new, substantial evidence, such as DNA, casts doubt on a conviction of someone still in prison on a serious or violent felony.

“The person has to currently be in custody and has to be a case where they claimed actual innocence from the get go, so we have of course murder cases that fall into that,” Lacey said. “These are serious cases where someone is probably doing life or a substantial amount of state prison time.”

SAN DIEGO JOINS THE PARTY

San Diego County has joined a growing number of cities and counties across the nation—Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia among them—with task forces to investigate wrongful convictions. SD’s new conviction review unit will be comprised of two full-time prosecutors to work in conjunction with the SD Public Defender’s Office and the California Innocence Project to write justice system wrongs.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kristina Davis has more on the welcome announcement from SD District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Here’s a clip:

“We recognize that despite our goal of pursuing justice and truth, in a few instances new evidence is discovered and in some cases, mistakes are found,” Dumanis said in a news conference Wednesday. “As prosecutors, our legal, moral and ethical obligation is to ensure the right person is convicted for the crime charged.”

The unit is already looking at about 10 cases.

The work will be done in coordination with the Public Defender’s Office and the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law. Both applauded the district attorney for her willingness to give convictions a second look.

“As good as our system is, as much checks and balances as we have, people do slip through the cracks,” said Public Defender Henry Coker. “Things look like what they’re not, and lives are lost in that process.”

Justin Brooks, director and cofounder of the California Innocence Project, said the District Attorney’s Office has been at the forefront of a nationwide sea change recognizing it is possible to put innocent people in prison.

“It’s all of our job together to right these wrongs,” Brooks said. “… It should be done in a way that’s not about pointing fingers but getting the right result.”

Claims of innocence must meet a certain threshold for review: the conviction must have occurred in the San Diego County Superior Court, the convict must still be serving the sentence, the crime must be a serious or violent felony (that is, murder, kidnapping, rape), there must be credible and verifiable evidence of innocence, and the convict must be willing to cooperate with the process.

Prosecutors realize they will likely be inundated with requests that don’t fit that criteria, but they promised to still look through each application for cases that should be reviewed. If the circumstances don’t necessarily fall into their jurisdiction, they said they will pass the request along to the appropriate person.

The unit will be led by Deputy District Attorneys Bryn Kirvin, who has served as the office’s ethics coordinator, and Brent Neck, who for the past five years has worked as the office’s liaison to the Innocence Project.


PRESIDENT OBAMA COMMUTES SENTENCES FOR 61 PEOPLE

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 61 Americans serving time in prison under outdated, tough-on-crime sentencing laws.

The move is a significant one for a president who has faced criticism from activists in past years for granting few people clemency.

President Obama has now commuted sentences for 248 people—more than the last six presidents combined, although ___ of those six presidents granted more pardons than Obama has thus far. For instance, while former President George W. Bush commuted just 11 sentences, he pardoned 189—a good deal more than Obama’s current 61, according to the US Department of Justice comparison chart. (If you are fuzzy on the difference between the two, a pardon wipes a person’s criminal record and restores rights, a commutation shortens a person’s sentence, but does not offer a clean slate.)

More than a third of the people benefiting from Obama’s latest clemency push were serving life sentences.

“The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws,” the president wrote in a letter to the 61 clemency recipients.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

County Litigation Figures, and LA County and City Approve Big-Ticket Settlements

January 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPT. SPENT $61 MILLION ON LAWSUITS LAST YEAR

LA County spent $118.9 million during fiscal year 2014-2015, an increase of 24% over the $95.6 million spent in FY 2013-14 according to a new report from County Counsel.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department alone spent $61 million on litigation, up 50%—$20 million—over the previous year’s $40 million. The LASD spent more than half—$33.5 million—on excessive force incidents, most of which were patrol cases (only 3.7% were jail cases). The excessive force cost was up nearly $10 million over the previous year.

Much of these cases date back several years. So while the sum paid out for law enforcement cases has risen over the past few years, instances of excessive use of force are actually declining. A report from the County CEO’s Office, also presented to the board Tuesday, says that use of force numbers dropped 22% from fiscal year 2013-2014 to 2014-2015.

Nearly half of the total $118.9 million was spent on litigation via attorneys’ fees and costs.

“Every cent the county spends on litigation is precious funding that we cannot use to house the homeless, promote better health and wellness for children, upskill our workforce and provide countless other needed services to our communities,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement.


ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER SETTLEMENT: LA COUNTY APPROVES $1.6 MILLION LASD SETTLEMENT

After County Counsel presented a breakdown of last year’s legal costs to the Supervisors, the board approved a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit against the LASD over the fatal shooting of an 80-year-old man, Eugene Robert Mallory, in his home.

The LA Times Abby Sewell has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

The deputies were serving a search warrant at Mallory’s home in the community of Littlerock near Palmdale in June 2013 while investigating reports of a suspected meth lab.

No evidence of methamphetamine was found. Sheriff’s officials at the time said that marijuana was discovered on the property.

Mallory’s wife filed a wrongful death suit against the department. According to a statement released by her attorneys at the time, deputies claimed that Mallory had confronted them with a gun, but his wife said he was “sleeping in his bed when he was confronted and shot without warning.”

In a memo to the supervisors, county attorneys said the county denies the allegations in the lawsuit but recommended settling the case “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation.”


EVEN MORE SETTLEMENT$ IN LA: CITY COUNCIL APPROVES $24.3 MILLION FOR WRONGFUL MURDER CONVICTIONS

The LA City Council has approved $24.3 million in settlements to two men, Kash Delano Register and Bruce Lisker, who spent decades behind bars for murders they did not commit.

The city will pay $16.7 million to Kash Delano Register, who spent 34 years in prison, and $7.6 million to Bruce Lisker, who spent 26 years in prison after being falsely convicted of killing his mother when he was 17.

CBS has the story. Here’s a clip:

Register had been convicted of the April 6, 1979, shooting death of 79-year-old Jack Sasson in West Los Angeles. A key witness in the case, Brenda Anderson, testified that she saw Register at the crime scene. Register was found guilty despite claims by his girlfriend that she was with him at the time.

Anderson’s sister, Sharon, testified at a court hearing in 2013 that her sibling had lied. According to attorneys for the Project for the Innocent, another Anderson sister tried to tell police investigating the shooting in 1979 that Brenda had lied to authorities, but the claim was never presented to Register’s defense attorney.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader ruled that the prosecution had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and used false testimony at Register’s trial. That ruling cleared the way for the then-53-year-old Register’s release in 2013…

Register’s New York-based attorney, Nick Brustin, said he is “hopeful that Los Angeles will build on this settlement by adopting reforms to their eyewitness identification procedures.”

“This case should also be a lesson to Los Angeles and other cities to take a hard look at other cases where inmates proclaim their innocence, even where, as here, there was no remaining physical evidence to do testing like DNA,” he said.

[SNIP]

Lisker was convicted in 1985 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for the death of his 66-year-old mother, Dorka, who was found stabbed and beaten to death in their Sherman Oaks home in 1983, when he was 17 years old.

A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2005 called into question much of the evidence in Lisker’s trial, and his conviction was overturned in August 2009 by a federal judge in Riverside, who ruled that false evidence had been used and that Lisker had inadequate legal representation.

Posted in LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 8 Comments »

LASD Oversight Moves Forward, LAPD Chief’s Recommendation for Charges in Venice Shooting, Closed Adoptions, and the State of the Union

January 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FORMING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a plan for appointing members to a civilian oversight commission for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The motion allows former law enforcement to serve on the nine-member panel, but only if they had been disengaged from the LASD (or other law enforcement agency) for at least a year.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who submitted the motion with Supe. Hilda Solis, defended the inclusion of former members of law enforcement, saying, “This is not about anti-law enforcement from my point of view, it is about pro-accountability of law enforcement. You want the best people to be part of causing that to happen, irrespective of their discipline.”

Supervisor Solis added that moving toward the creation of an oversight commission is a step toward better fiscal responsibility—better use of taxpayer money. “The County spends millions of taxpayer dollars settling lawsuits. That money could be spent on housing, services, or tax relief.”

You can read more about the decision on Supe. Ridley-Tomas’ website. Here’s a clip:

The motion also drew praise from Jose Osuna, director of external affairs at Homeboy Industries, which provides job training to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to become contributing members of society.

We are highly encouraged by the commitment that is demonstrated by this motion to improve relationships between law enforcement, government, and the community,” Mr. Osuna told the Board.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell expressed support for the motion, saying, “I welcome the opportunity to work with the Inspector General and to have the Civilian Oversight Commission to be able to validate the good that’s being done (by the Sheriff’s Department) on behalf of the public.”Since the Sheriff signed a memorandum of agreement last month to provide the Inspector General with unprecedented access to information, the Board will wait until May 31 before considering asking voters to give the Commission subpoena powers via Charter amendment.

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA, supported the move. “I agree with the makers of the motion that it is worthwhile to allow the Sheriff to demonstrate that his voluntary agreement to share information with the Commission will be sufficient,” he told the Board. “[Afterwards], the Supervisors can consider what, if any, changes should be made involving subpoena power and changes to state law.

Under the motion, the five Supervisors would each appoint a Commissioner. The Board as a whole would appoint four other Commissioners from a pool of candidates recruited by a consultant.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL PRAISES LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S RECOMMENDATION FOR CHARGES IN OFFICER-KILLING OF HOMELESS MAN

An LA Times editorial lauds LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that a deputy be charged in the fatal shooting of a Venice homeless man as a rare and welcome change from what we have come to expect from the nation’s police chiefs. Here’s a clip:

To some, it may seem like an overtly political act. Some may suspect that Beck threw an officer under the bus to appease local activists and perhaps city officials in an effort to avoid the kind of uproar faced in Chicago and other cities where police officers have shot unarmed African Americans with seeming impunity. And who wouldn’t be suspicious? After all, this sort of recommendation isn’t made by police chiefs very often.

But maybe it should be done more often. Not the throwing under the bus part — obviously a police chief should base his decision on the facts and the evidence, and not on political pressure or public outcry. But the willingness of a chief to acknowledge that sometimes use of force is not justified even if a suspect was behaving badly is an important step forward. Historically, police chiefs in L.A. and elsewhere have been part of the cone of silence in cases of deadly use of force. No doubt the public outrage over police killings has made that stance more difficult.

The police union, however, is not at all thrilled with Beck’s decision to recommend charges. The LA Times Kate Mather has more on the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s statement, as well as a story about Beck’s responses to critics and outreach to his officers.

And the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the fatal shooting of Brendan Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice, and Chief Beck’s recommendation to charge Officer Clifford Proctor.


THE POTENTIAL TRAUMA OF CLOSED ADOPTIONS

After losing nearly all contact with her four nieces and nephews after their closed adoption—an process that has been traumatizing for all involved—17-year-old Jordain Rodriguez has stepped up to fight for children in the child welfare system. Rodriguez believes that regular contact with her nieces and nephews, whom she helped raise, would have been far more beneficial for the children, helping to reduce abandonment-related trauma.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…at age 13, life abruptly changed for Rodriguez. She was taken from her parents by child protective services and placed in relative foster care with her grandmother. Not long afterward, her nieces and nephews entered the system as well.

She remains haunted by the experience, especially when social workers arrived to take away some of the children.

“It was the worst thing I have ever had to do,” Rodriguez said. “They didn’t want to go, and they were scared to go in the car with a stranger.”

About a year later, the children were placed with an adoptive family, and Rodriguez and other family members—including her parents, her brother, her boyfriend and both of her sisters—were allowed a final visit before the children disappeared into the adoptive system.

“We didn’t tell the kids it was the last visit, but you could tell they knew this was the last time,” she said. “They were all upset. You could just tell.

“After the visit, I was very mad that I couldn’t do anything to keep them with me and that I had no say so about what the parents decided. I started crying a lot. It just broke my heart to see them leave.”

During the process, she worked with the Real Family Project to create a video about her story and listened to the experiences of adults who had been adopted in childhood. Issues like grief, abandonment and identity development may often follow adoptees into adulthood, leading to unresolved trauma long after an adoption occurs.

“I didn’t think that the hurt would stay with them so long after the adoption,” Rodriguez said. “It opened my eyes. Without answers, kids are always going to wonder where their families are.”

[SNIP]

Rodriguez is not content to let fate handle matters or wait until her nieces and nephews reach 18, when they’ll be able to access information about their biological family if they wish. In February, along with other CYC members, Rodriguez will make a visit to the state capitol in Sacramento, where she’ll present some of her research to legislators in support of a bill to better protect the rights of family members in the adoption process.

In closed adoptions, [adoptive parents] have all the power,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing is not making this just about siblings. It needs to be about all of the biological family. If they’re a good influence on the kids and if they have good intentions, [the law] shouldn’t just let adoptive parents rip them away.”


CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM LARGELY ABSENT FROM OBAMA’S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH

Among the State of the Union guests seated next to Michelle Obama last night was Sue Ellen Allan, a woman who spent close to seven years in Arizona’s state prison for women. Once she was released in 2009, Allan fought to get back into the women’s prison to help the locked-up women with education services and employment training to disrupt the recidivism cycle. Sue Ellen’s non-profit re-entry program, Gina’s Team, is named after her cellmate who died while locked up.

Allan’s inclusion on the list of State of the Union guests is particularly noteworthy because while we hear often about initiatives and services meant to help imprisoned men, we rarely hear about women-specific programs and other efforts.

You can read more about Sue Ellen’s story over at Buzzfeed.

Also among the guests in the First Lady’s Box was Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who has become a national leader for community policing practices.

The White House also left an empty chair in the First Lady’s Box to represent the people killed by gun violence in the US each year.

Despite a handful of important criminal justice guests, the president only touched lightly on a couple of criminal justice topics. “I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse,” Obama said early on in his speech.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the social justice-related topics that Obama skipped, including gun violence.

Slate’s Leon Neyfakh has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Besides the reference he made to the issue at the very beginning—in which he used justice reform as an example of a bipartisan effort he hopes Democrats and Republicans can work on together during the coming year—Obama brought up the criminal justice system just once, gesturing somewhat obliquely at the end of the speech to his belief that employers should not reject applicants based solely on their criminal record. (In a reference to the national debate over police use of force, he also gave a shoutout to “the protester determined to prove that justice matters” and “the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”)

While reform advocates might take solace in the fact that criminal justice came up mere seconds into Obama’s remarks, it still got barely any airtime. Some experts in the field are speculating that it’s a strategic move—that Obama doesn’t want to associate himself too closely with the ongoing efforts to push a criminal justice bill through Congress, lest it scare off Republicans who would rather not be seen supporting his agenda. There’s also an argument to be made that, given the federal government’s relatively limited ability to make a dent on what is fundamentally a state issue, it’s only appropriate that the president prioritize other topics.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | No Comments »

Populating the LASD Oversight Commission….LAPD Chief Recommends Charges in Officer-Involved Shooting….and More

January 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES TO DISCUSS WHO SHOULD SIT ON AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors are expected to discuss the makeup of a civilian commission to oversee the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

In previous talks about the oversight commission, one important topic of discussion has been whether retired sworn personnel could serve as commission members, or whether that would create a conflict of interest.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis have submitted a motion to only allow former LASD personnel to serve on the nine-member commission after they had been disconnected from the department for one year.

Mark Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now argues ex-deputies should not serve on the board at all. Johnson says that even former personnel like Bob Olmsted, who testified about corruption and misconduct within the department to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, could serve as advisors to the commission but not as commissioners, arguing that ex-cops on the commission could potentially harm the group’s credibility.

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

“Fundamentally, we don’t think law enforcement should be policing law enforcement,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now, a group that formed to protest deputy-on-inmate violence in the jails and pushed for the new commission.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said. “The community needs to know that they can go to a place where the people they are talking to have not been entrenched in a practice of law enforcement – one that protects law enforcement.”

But L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the powerful Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs argue excluding former deputies from eligibility would be unfair and also exclude people who know the inner workings of the department.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis agree — and have introduced a motion that would allow former deputies to serve on the commission after a one-year period away from the department. They argue an ex-cop’s perspective could be valuable on a panel charged with looking for problems at the Sheriff’s Department.

“There is no question that it could have a lot of value depending on who the person is,” said Ridley-Thomas. He points to the late Jesse Brewer, a former LAPD assistant chief who became a strong voice for reform on the city’s civilian police commission in the 1990s.

“In my view he was one of the best commissioners to ever serve,” said Ridley-Thomas.

Johnson agrees that former officers can be valuable, citing ex-Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted. He was one of the few sheriff’s officials to testify about problems at the department at the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.


FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECOMMENDS CHARGING OFFICER IN FATAL SHOOTING

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has recommended that the LA County District Attorney’s Office charge police officer Clifford Proctor in the fatal shooting of Brendon Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice.

Video and other evidence from the May shooting led police investigators to determine that during an altercation, Proctor shot 29-year-old Glenn twice in the back while Glenn was lying on his stomach on the ground.

It’s now up to LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey as to whether Proctor will be charged. This is the first time Chief Beck has ever recommended charges for an on-duty fatal shooting by an officer.

ABC7 has the story. Here’s a clip:

Proctor’s attorney said the officer saw Glenn reaching for his partner’s gun. However, Beck said that after reviewing video, witness accounts and other evidence, investigators determined Glenn was not trying to take either Proctor’s gun or his partner’s weapon at the time of the shooting.

Glenn was among 21 people fatally shot by Los Angeles police in 2015, when the overall number of officer-involved shootings in the nation’s second-largest city increased by 52 percent.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that he hopes Beck’s recommendation is “considered with the utmost gravity.”

“As the District Attorney reviews this case, my hope is that Chief Beck’s recommendation is considered with the utmost gravity. No one is above the law, and whenever use-of-force crosses the line, it is our obligation to make sure that principle is upheld,” he said.

The police union, however blasted Beck.

“Chief Beck should never be involved in this,” said Craig Lally of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “He should just hand over the investigation and let the people that are actually going to either file or prosecute this case – with the evidence at hand – let them decide.”

Meanwhile, there was rare praise for Beck from civil rights activists.

“It is so unprecedented,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable. “When in living memory can you remember a local police chief saying ‘an officer messed up. An officer abused his authority.’”


WINNING A CONVICTION AGAINST AN OFFICER IN A FATAL USE OF FORCE CASE IS DIFFICULT, TO SAY THE LEAST

Between 2005-2015, there was only one officer charged with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty fatal use of force. While the number of officers charged in the deaths of civilians has risen across the nation, it is still very difficult to convict an officer in an on-duty shooting, point out the LA Times’ Jack Leonard and James Queally, who have compiled a list of recent charges against California officers and their outcomes. Here’s a clip:

Despite California’s sheer size, officers rarely face charges for on-duty shootings, according to Phillip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State in Ohio who is tracking murder or manslaughter charges against officers nationwide.

From 2005-15, only one California officer was charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with an on-duty shooting, said Stinson. Nationally, 65 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with their role in on-duty shootings in that time frame, Stinson said.

Last year saw a noticeable spike in the frequency of such serious charges across the country, he said.

Eighteen officers were charged in 2015 with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting, according to Stinson’s data. From 2011-14, just 16 officers faced similar charges.

Stinson said it’s too early to tell if there is a link between increased national scrutiny of police actions and an uptick in the number of murder or manslaughter charges filed against officers.

California prosecutors who have brought such cases in the last few decades have sometimes struggled to win convictions.


NO MORE CONTROVERSIAL STRIP SEARCHES FOR VISITORS TO CA PRISONS

Thanks to a change in state law, visitors at California prisons will no longer be subjected to strip searches.

Under the new regulations, visitors will now incur a year’s worth of heightened scrutiny if drug sniffing dogs or scanners detect illegal substances. And the penalties for those who refuse a clothed pat-down after being flagged by dog or machine will face increasing penalty levels for each refusal.

The Associated Press has the story.

It’s the first time visitors will be scrutinized by dogs that previously have been used to search inmates, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said Monday.

Visitors who are spotlighted by a dog or ion scanner but refuse clothed searches face an increasing range of penalties under the revised regulations the department proposed on Friday and will take effect after a public comment period.

A first refusal means no visit that day. A second refusal could bring a loss of visiting privileges for 30 days, while a third could mean no visits for a year. A fourth refusal in a year could result in the permanent revocation of visiting privileges.

The progressive penalties will encourage visitors to submit to the searches, the department said in outlining the new regulations.

Even if a visitor submits to a clothed search and no drugs or other contraband is found, the visitor can’t have physical contact with an inmate during that day’s visit and must go through the process again the next time he or she visits an inmate within the next 12 months.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD | 112 Comments »

Letter Asks DOJ to Deal With OC Prosecutorial Misconduct Scandal…Responses to Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s Prop 47 Videos…LA Launch of Coalition to End Child Exploitation…and More

November 19th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

PROSECUTORS, LEGAL EXPERTS, AND OTHERS URGE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS OF MISCONDUCT AT THE ORANGE COUNTY DA’S OFFICE AND SHERIFF’S DEPT.

In a 25-page letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, more than three dozen former prosecutors, legal experts, and organizations called for a US Department of Justice investigation into the Orange County District Attorney and the OC Sheriff’s Department’s use of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence from defendants.

“We the undersigned share a firm belief in our criminal justice system and its overall ability to produce fair and reliable results,” the letter begins. “Compelling evidence of pervasive police and prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County, however, has caused us grave concern.”

The alleged misconduct resulted in Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals’ removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.

Among those undersigned are former CA Attorney General and LA District Attorney John Van de Kamp, former LA District Attorney Gil Garcetti, former Chief Assistant United States Attorney Richard Drooyan, as well as Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, of the UC Irvine School of Law, Harvard legal theorist Charles Ogletree, criminal justice scholar Angela Davis, Harvard professor Alex Whiting, and the ACLU.

The writers list reasons why they believe the Orange County’s justice system to have reached crisis-level: “Charges in extremely serious cases have been reduced or dismissed; violent crimes—including murders—have gone entirely uninvestigated; to date, four law enforcement officers have refused to testify in pending criminal matters, citing their Fifth Amendment privilege against self‐incrimination; and at least one prosecutor has been found by a court to have given ‘incredible’ testimony under oath. More troubling still, this all appears to be the tip of the iceberg.”

“Orange County requires a thorough investigation by an independent entity, one with the authority to investigate long-concealed evidence in the custody of the OCSD and OCDA,” concludes the letter. “The unwillingness of the OCSD and OCDA to acknowledge the due process implications of the alleged misconduct has become only more entrenched as attention to the situation has grown. Nearly two years have passed since many of these issues were first brought to the attention of the OCDA and OCSD, allowing them ample time to demonstrate their ability to bring themselves into conformity with core constitutional principles. It is our firm belief that the Department of Justice is the only entity equipped to conduct this investigation and restore public confidence in the criminal justice system in Orange County.”

(For backstory on the OC’s misconduct scandal, go here.)


MARK-ANTHONY JOHNSON OF DIGNITY AND POWER NOW RECORDS VIDEO REBUTTALS TO LASD SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL’S VIDEO OP-EDS CRITICIZING PROP. 47

At the beginning of November, as part of a series of LA Times editorials on Prop. 47 and its effects, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell videotaped a few short op-ed messages sharing his take on the law one year into its implementation. Sheriff McDonnell said that the law has removed consequences beyond citations for certain offenses, and has made Californians less safe than they were a year ago.

Mark-Anthony Johnson, wellness director for the nonprofit Dignity and Power Now, shot a series of op-ed videos in direct response to McDonnell’s videos.

You can watch the first video message above, but head over to the Times for the rest.


LA SHERIFF AND OTHERS WILL GATHER TO LAUNCH COALITION TO END YOUTH SEX TRAFFICKING

Today (Thursday), LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell will launch the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force along with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Supervisors, United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker, advocate groups, and young victims of sex trafficking.

Through partnerships with community groups as well as county, state, and federal agencies, and a $1.5 million grant from the DOJ, the task force will combat human trafficking, with a particular focus on protecting victims of child sex trafficking and prosecuting those who buy and sell children.

The launch of the new task force follows Sheriff McDonnell’s October announcement that there’s “no such thing as a child prostitute.” (WLA reported earlier this month on why the LASD’s focus on child sex trafficking is so important.)


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF SEX TRAFFICKING…US SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN SAYS TARGETING YOUTH HOMELESSNESS WILL REDUCE EXPLOITATION OF MINORS

In an op-ed for the LA Daily News, US Senator Dianne Feinstein says prosecution of buyers of children and teens, as well as better coordination between law enforcement and social service providers, must be top priority in the fight against sex trafficking.

Feinstein says that targeting youth homelessness would go a long way toward helping young victims. A bill introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Rob Portman, called the Homeless Children and Youth Act, would give kids who live in motels (or do not have a permanent home) access to programs and resources for the homeless. Here’s a clip:

In California, the number of homeless children has nearly quadrupled since 2003. According to recent data from the Department of Education, there are nearly 120,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties alone.

A 2013 Covenant House survey of trafficking victims showed that nearly half had been homeless. The University of San Diego study also confirmed that homeless and runaway children are at much greater risk of being trafficked.

The good news is that real progress is being made in Los Angeles. Sheriff Jim McDonnell and I convened a meeting in August with law enforcement, public officials and advocates to discuss how we can fight trafficking. There was consensus that this problem is growing quickly and meaningful action must be taken to address it.

The Board of Supervisors, with the support of Sheriff McDonnell, passed a resolution recognizing that child trafficking victims like Carrie are victims, not prostitutes.

Sheriff McDonnell has also partnered with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and regional colleagues to launch a task force to better coordinate investigations and rescue operations, and connect victims to services. Through collaboration, traffickers will end up where they belong — behind bars — and these girls will get help…

Coordination between law enforcement and social service providers must be continually improved so victims don’t fall through the cracks, and we need to do much more to address youth homelessness, one of the root causes of the trafficking epidemic.

Posted in Department of Justice, Homelessness, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sex trafficking | 5 Comments »

Protecting Foster Kids, Gov. Brown’s Veto Message, John Oliver on Mental Illness…and More

October 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SUPES CREATE AN IMPORTANT PHILANTHROPY LIAISON FOR CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM…HELP FOR LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS…AND NEW LAWS TO CURB DRUGGING OF CA FOSTER CHILDREN

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a new center—a philanthropy liaison—within the still developing Office of Child Protection. The new liaison effort will fill in a problematic gap in the child welfare system: collaboration with philanthropic groups on initiatives to better protect and serve foster kids.

The new Center for Strategic Public-Private Partnerships will have three staff members who will be tasked with securing funding assistance from philanthropic groups. Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion with Supe Sheila Kuehl said she sees the money going toward keeping kids safe from abuse, addressing trauma in foster children, and other critical safety and wellbeing efforts.

“The power of public-private partnerships has been under-utilized within the County. This motion changes that unfortunate dynamic,” Supervisor Solis said. “With this new Center in place, we will be far better positioned to combine the best thinking and resources of government and philanthropy into programs that work for children. That is why this initiative is a priority for me.”

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the new center. Here’s a clip:

“We believe it will be a game-changer and lead to a more effective and collaborative relationship between government and philanthropy as we work together toward a better future for our children,” said Chris Essel, SCG’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Twelve philanthropic groups have already endorsed the center, according to a press release from Solis’ office: The Ahmanson Foundation; Annenberg Foundation; Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation/Pritzker Foster Care Initiative; Blue Shield of California Foundation; California Community Foundation; The California Endowment; David Bohnett Foundation; Hilton Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation; UniHealth Foundation; and Weingart Foundation.

“Improving our child welfare system requires the kind of innovative solutions that result from cross-sector collaboration. This is a very important example of government and philanthropy working together on behalf of our children and families,” said Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation, in a press release.

The board also passed a motion by Supe Kuehl to hire a consultant to focus specifically on the finding areas in which the county departments are failing LGBTQ foster kids, who are over-represented in the child welfare system. The consultant will gather data and present recommendations to the board on how to better care for the vulnerable LGBTQ foster population, including recommendations on training for those in contact with the kids (like social workers, mental health professionals, and foster parents).

“All the young people in our foster care system face incredible challenges, but the nearly 20% who identify as LGBTQ are in great need of targeted support to ensure they’re properly cared for, valued and respected, said Kuehl. “This is an important first step in improving outcomes for these kids and I’m proud to have the opportunity to champion them today.”

Here’s a clip from Kuehl’s website:

These youth face unique challenges and barriers to finding positive outcomes and permanent homes—challenges stemming from discrimination due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

Not only are LGBTQ youth over-represented in the foster care population, there are also significant disparities in experience between LGBTQ youth and their non-LGBTQ counterparts. These disparities could be mitigated if we develop and utilize accurate data and enhanced training efforts to more fully address their needs, including identifying and re-mediating the effects of bullying and trauma.

As part of a five-year, federal grant awarded to the LGBT Center in Los Angeles, the Williams Institute at UCLA and Holarchy Consulting conducted a landmark study of 786 randomly sampled foster youth ages 12 to 21. The findings show that 19 percent – nearly one in five – foster youth in Los Angeles County identify as LGBTQ. This means that there are almost four times more LGBTQ youth as a percentage of young people in foster care than those identifying as LGBTQ outside foster care.

Given this over-representation of LGBTQ youth among foster children, it is even more problematic that there has been very little focus on this population. According to the Williams-Holarchy study, LGBTQ youth have a higher than average number of foster care placements and a greater likelihood of being in a group home, hospitalized or homeless at some point in their lives. More stable placements and stronger reunification efforts could lead to improved educational and permanency outcomes.

Costly group home and hospital stays could be avoided with a more targeted approach in serving this unique population. While many of our departments have made very good efforts to develop specialized LGBTQ programs, now is the time for the County to systematically address the needs of LGBTQ youth in our child welfare system.

Also on Tuesday, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of three weakened, but still important, bills to curb doctors over-prescribing of dangerous psychotropic medications to vulnerable foster kids. San Jose Mercury News’ Karen De Sá has more on the three bills authored by Senators Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). (If you haven’t, be sure to read De Sá’s powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked over-drugging of California’s foster children.)


OPINION – CALIFORNIA’S 5,000 CRIMINAL STATUTES NEED AN OVERHAUL

Over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a pile of bills that would have created new crimes (and put more people behind bars for longer). In his veto message the governor urged caution, pointing out that the state already has a whopping 5,000 criminal laws. “I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just, and more cost-effective,” said Brown.

An LA Times editorial lauds the governor’s message, and calls for a sentencing commission to review the criminal statutes and give meaningful reform recommendations to responsive lawmakers. Here’s a clip:

We take that statement not as merely a wise admonition but as a call to action. California needs a comprehensive review of its 5,000 criminal statutes. It needs a sentencing commission to provide a holistic view of crimes and penalties, to recommend needed changes — what to roll back, what to toughen up — and to critique legislative proposals. It needs lawmakers who take such recommendations seriously and are prepared to inject some sense into our criminal justice framework.

The Legislature too often proves itself inadequate to the task. Senators and Assembly members carry bills as one-offs that respond to current tragedies, outrages or headlines, or that cater to the needs of particular advocacy groups, even when there is little or no evidence that greater safety or savings will result. There is an entire crime bill industry that measures effectiveness by the number of infractions turned into misdemeanors and misdemeanors turned into felonies. Results have included, for example, more serious charges and stiffer criminal sanctions for the theft of avocados or crustaceans than other goods of similar value, and long sentences for relatively minor nonviolent crimes such as drug possession.


https://youtu.be/NGY6DqB1HX8

JOHN OLIVER SLAMS THE STATE OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT IN AMERICA

John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, continues to hammer away at important social and criminal justice issues. This week, Oliver takes on the issue of mental health in the United States, including the inadequate treatment, the never-ending cycle of fatal encounters between law enforcement and the mentally ill, and the horrifying fact that there are ten times more people with mental illness behind bars than in psychiatric hospitals. Watch the segment above.


A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS BEHIND THE BIPARTISAN FEDERAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL

FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik has a very helpful analysis of the major bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill announced last week. (Backstory here.)

Here’s a clip:

The crimes that would have new mandatory minimums produce few convictions. They are interstate domestic violence — involving travel across state lines by an offender or victim — resulting in death or serious injury, or committed with a dangerous weapon; and providing goods or services to terrorists or proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

Just 44 people were sentenced for interstate domestic violence last year, according to the Sentencing Commission’s 2014 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. And 162 people were sentenced for the category of crimes that includes arming or aiding terrorists.

The commission’s numbers include some people whose crimes wouldn’t have been covered by the new mandatory minimums proposed in the Senate bill. That’s because the legislation doesn’t cover everyone who has violated the relevant federal statutes; it covers only a subset of the most serious offenders. For instance, not all interstate domestic violence results in death or serious injury or is committed with a dangerous weapon.

For that reason, the number of people who would have been affected by the bill if it were in effect in 2014 is smaller — far smaller, according to Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports the bill but opposes the new mandatory minimums. She estimates that if the mandatory minimums were in place last year, they would have affected just 22 people for interstate domestic violence and just eight people for aiding or arming terrorists.

By contrast, thousands more people could benefit from a different provision of the bill. It retroactively applies the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the gap in sentencing guidelines between offenses involving crack cocaine and those involving powder cocaine. (Crack sentences, which disproportionately affect black prisoners, were significantly higher than those for powder.) Making the 2010 law retroactive would give approximately 6,500 people convicted of crack offenses who remain in prison the right to file a motion for a reduced sentence — although the bill doesn’t mandate that courts grant the motion and some of the prisoners already are near the end of their sentences.


THOUSANDS OF FEDERAL PRISONERS SERVING DRUG SENTENCES TO BE RELEASED WITHIN THE MONTH

And in the coming weeks, the US Department of Justice is scheduled to release around 6,000 drug offenders from federal prison, reducing prison overcrowding and shortening old, harsh drug-related sentences.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

The inmates from federal prisons nationwide will be set free by the department’s Bureau of Prisons between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. About two-thirds of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. About one-third are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported, officials said.

The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive.

The commission’s action is separate from an effort by President Obama to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders, an initiative that has resulted in the early release of 89 inmates.

The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 figure, which has not been reported previously, is the first tranche in that process.

“The number of people who will be affected is quite exceptional,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports sentencing reform.

The Sentencing Commission estimated that an additional 8,550 inmates would be eligible for release between this Nov. 1 and Nov. 1, 2016.

The releases are part of a shift in the nation’s approach to criminal justice and drug sentencing that has been driven by a bipartisan consensus that mass incarceration has failed and should be reversed.

Along with the commission’s action, the Justice Department has instructed its prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences.

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, War on Drugs | No Comments »

The LA Jail Construction Re-Vote

September 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS VOTE, THIS TIME LEGALLY, ON A REPLACEMENT FOR MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors once again voted to approve the construction of a 3,885-bed facility to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail as well as a women’s facility at Mira Loma detention center.

The Supervisors did not veer from their original jail vote on Aug. 11, which was found to be in violation of CA’s open meetings law.

Because the jail proposal was attached to a major plan to divert the mentally ill from county jails, the Supes also replicated their original vote on the diversion program, but not without first hearing from advocates and others calling for a smaller (or in some cases, larger) jail.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell urged the board to bump the capacity to a flexible range of 3900-4900 beds, saying, “We have now received three independent sets of population projections that all show the jail population is trending upward…and they have come back, by and large, with the same projections, the same calculated bed needs, and the same recommendations.”

The SoCal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, said, “If you want to improve public safety, building jails is not really the way to do it for people with mental illness and co-occurring disorders.” Eliasberg still calls 3,885 too large, but says it’s far better than a 4,600-bed jail. (The 4,600 was recommended by Health Management Associates. Read more about their problematic report and about the jail size debate: here.)

The board also unanimously approved an amendment by Supes Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl to create a gender-responsive committee to look into how to best reduce the negative impact of housing women in the very remote Mira Loma jail, far from their families and communities.

“The Mira Loma jail will be a four-hour one-way trip for a family that lives in Lynwood,” Supervisor Solis said. “It is hard to see how these women will have sufficient access to visitors, programs and medical care.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, women's issues | 10 Comments »

Recalculating the Size of the Men’s Central Jail Replacement – UPDATED

August 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker



By Taylor Walker and Celeste Fremon.



IF THE LA SUPES WANT A SMALLER JAIL, THEY MUST AUTHORIZE PRETRIAL RELEASE, AND SHOW HOW THE NEW LOWER NUMBERS WILL WORK

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the LA County Board of Supervisors is slated to re-vote on a $2 billion jail building plan, after the original vote was found to be in violation of the state’s open meetings law. The Supes’ first attempt at a vote, on Aug. 11, approved construction of a 3,885-bed facility to replace the horrifically decrepit Men’s Central Jail, which has a 5,276-bed capacity. The jail replacement was attached to a large-scale plan to divert a significant percentage of the mentally ill who wind up in the county’s jails to community-based treatment. The Supes will have to re-approve this plan, as well. (Read more of the backstory: here.)

A new LA Times editorial urges the LA County Board of Supervisors not to just perform a “quick and dirty” duplicate of their previous vote, but to carefully consider all the moving parts. If three out of five of the Supes want a jail with fewer beds than are presently to be found in the existing Men’s Central Jail, they will have to increase alternatives to incarceration. They should, for example, begin by authorizing and encouraging the sheriff to implement a well-thought-out system of pretrial release, as state law permits.

The board of supervisors, advocates, and others (including WLA) had hoped that the projected implementation of a robust mental health diversion program would substantially reduce the number of beds needed in the new jail. (LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald recommended a 4,900-bed facility.) But, after considering Prop. 47, mental health diversion (to a limited degree)**, and other population-affecting factors, Health Management Associates—a group that was hired by the board to re-crunch the jail population numbers—unexpectedly recommended a 4,600 to 5,060-bed facility. In other words, HMA, the boards own consultant, came up with a number that was much larger than the 3885 the board approved on Aug. 11.

If the county chose not to fully implement the mental health diversion efforts, the projected number went even higher—to 6,773. HMA’s proposed capacity was not far from that of a controversial jail plan tabled by the Supes in July in order to explore the feasibility of a smaller jail.

We at WLA have also been pushing for a smaller jail, so we took note but when HMA came back with larger numbers than expected. Earlier this month, when we did our own tour of Twin Towers & MCJ, we started to better understand why Sheriff McDonnell, and Assistant Sheriff Terry McDonald, are pushing for a larger facility.

Yet it is also important to note** that, in certain crucial ways, HMA’s numbers are misleading. A coalition of advocates knowledgable about the issue of mental health diversion in LA—including the So Cal ACLU, Public Counsel, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and a lot more—wrote a fact-laden letter to the board pointing out that HMA didn’t really look hard into how many mentally ill inmates now cycling in and out of LA’s jails could be safely and successfully served in community settings, even though they were asked to do so. Instead of the detailed analysis that HMA admitted was needed, they took only a general, low-ball swipe at the affect on LA’s jail population that a rigorous program of health diversion was likely to produce.

So the bottom line is this: in order for a lower-capacity jail to be realistic, there must be a fully articulated and practical commitment to shifting the balance further away from incarceration and toward community alternatives. And somebody needs to demonstrate with real math that HMA has it wrong, and that the new lower numbers will work, if the proper fiscal investments are made in community treatment, along with a serious pre-trial release program.

The Times’ editorial board has a lot more to say about the jail plan, which includes a women’s jail renovation at the remote Mira Loma Detention Facility. Here’s a clip:

We hold firm to the conviction that the county must rely more on alternatives, and less on incarceration, than it has, and that less capacious jails create a healthy incentive to invest more in the community-based treatment and reentry services that are so desperately needed. We also hold firm, though, to the conviction that public safety planning and public spending must be based on facts and expertise, not wishful thinking or ideology.

As the board prepares for its do-over, then, we’re looking for something more substantive than a quick-and-dirty repeat of the supervisors’ previous discussion and vote.

Supervisors who support a smaller replacement for the Men’s Central Jail, configured to provide humane and first-rate treatment to mentally ill inmates who are too dangerous for community treatment, should lay out whatever deficiencies in the study led them to reject the consultant’s recommendations. Some disappointed advocates have argued that the consultant didn’t consider the aggressive diversion program offered by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and adopted in part by the board at the same Aug. 11 meeting, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Any supervisor who might want to delay the decision further should explain why it makes sense to keep inmates in the outdated and inhumane the Men’s Central Jail, or the similarly decrepit women’s jail — the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood — any longer than absolutely necessary. The men’s jail, because of its outdated design and deteriorating conditions, contributes to tension between inmates and sheriff’s deputies, which in the past likely led to suicides, injuries and abuse of visitors as well as inmates. The women’s jail is plagued by plumbing and other problems that require periodic building evacuations.

The supervisors should explain as well why they have not reduced the need for jail bed space even further by authorizing the sheriff — as state law permits — to release people who have not been convicted of any crime but are being held, pending trial, merely because they cannot afford bail. Pretrial detainees make up the largest segment of the county’s jail inmates, and although many are accused of violent crimes and are potentially too dangerous to be released, many others should be out.

If they again adopt a plan to move forward with a replacement women’s jail in Lancaster, on the site of the former immigration detention center known as Mira Loma, the supervisors should also include plans for daily transportation to and from that far corner of the county for the inmates’ lawyers, counselors and family members.

Read the rest.


**UPDATE, Monday, 10:30 pm: In our earlier version of this story, we wrote that HMA had taken into consideration the affect of mental health diversion on LA County’s future jail population. But, we have since noted that, although HMA wrote that “expansion of diversion programs certainly has the potential to reduce the number of mental health beds…over the longer term,” they admitted that, in order to estimate this impact, “a more detailed analysis… would be required.” HMA, however, didn’t include such an analysis in their report, and their numbers reflect that lack—-which is a problem. The text has been updated to reflect these important nuances.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, pretrial detention/release | No Comments »

Money for Diversion, Solitary Confinement Pt. 3, Video of LASD Lakewood Shooting, and Rehabilitating Locked-Up Women

August 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES, PROBATION DEPARTMENT CLASH OVER FUNDING FOR DIVERSION PROGRAM

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the LA County Board of Supervisors is slated to re-vote on a jail building plan, after the original vote was found to be in violation of the state’s open meetings law. On the agenda, it was attached to a program to divert the county’s mentally ill from jails, which will also be reconsidered Sept. 1.

In the meantime, a disagreement about how the board plans to fund the diversion plan has arisen.

Over a period of five years, the LA County Probation Department has received $200 million in state money allocated to help keep people with felony convictions from getting locked up for certain probation violations.

The Supes want to redirect half of the state money from Senate Bill 678 to set up and run the planned Office of Diversion and Reentry which would be under the county’s Health Services Department.

But LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers argues that SB 678 money is intended solely for probation programs, and that if the Supes get their way, it would likely be to the detriment of future probation program funding.

The LA County Supes have already set aside $30 million in county money, but had banked on about $100 million in additional state funding. The probation chief says he is willing to help the board come up with money from somewhere else. And Supe Mark Ridley Thomas says he believes the board is committed enough to this comprehensive diversion program that they will find another source of funding if necessary.

We’ll keep you updated on the issue.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Probation chief Jerry Powers has protested, saying the money must go to his department and be spent on felony probationers. In a letter to county supervisors, Powers warned the board’s plan “would likely jeopardize future [state] funding” for a wide range of programs.

State officials echoed Powers’ concerns and said they have raised the issue with county leaders.

“We have always understood [money authorized by Senate Bill 678] to be a probation program, and the dollars in the program are calculated based on the number of people that probation is keeping out of prison or jail,” said Diane Cummins, a special assistant to Gov. Jerry Brown. “It seems clear in the statute that the money has to go to probation.”

The new diversion office would be part of the county’s Health Services Department, not the probation department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the new diversion program, said the issue is being reviewed by county attorneys.

“We rely on legal opinions rather than that which is being asserted by a given department head,” he said.

Ridley-Thomas said even if the state money can’t be used for the new diversion office, the board’s “commitment to diversion is so high that I suspect the board members will be motivated to find the necessary resources to fund” the program.


THE STATE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN NEW YORK

The final story in a three-part NPR series on solitary confinement in the US focuses a lens on New York, where major efforts (and lawsuits) have been changing when and how long prisons can hold inmates in isolation cells.

NPR’s Brian Mann takes a look at both sides of the debate. On one side, the head of the NY prison guard’s union, Mike Powers, says the solitary confinement is an indispensable deterrent and is used strategically by officers to keep prisons safe.

On the other side, reform advocates say isolation is inappropriately used as a “default mechanism,” and that studies on the issue suggest solitary confinement can cause serious psychological damage.

(Here’s where we linked to part one and part two.)

Here’s a clip:

“Our SHUs are not the dungeons that people portray them to be,” Powers says…

“I don’t know how many times I’ve had an offender, an inmate, tell me that ‘I’m not going back in there, Powers. You can count on that,’ ” he says.

This is the debate happening across the U.S. Many corrections officers see solitary confinement as a normal practice, relied on for decades.

Reform advocates say isolation is used far too often. They point to the fact that many of the 4,500 inmates held in New York’s isolation cells before last year’s agreement were teenagers, pregnant women and inmates who committed minor infractions.

“Five out of six offenses that lead people into solitary are for nonviolent ticket infractions, like excessive bearding or having too many stamps,” says Five Mualimm-ak, now a reform activist, who spent 11 years behind bars on weapons charges, including five years in solitary. The figures come from a New York Civil Liberties report released in 2012.

“Socially, it made me numb. I felt like I was stripped of all the skills I was used to using on a human-being level,” Mualimm-ak says.

Solitary confinement is getting a second look from politicians as part of a general shift away from tough crime policies and because studies show isolation can harm inmates’ mental health and lead to more crime once they’re released. In a statement, New York’s acting corrections commissioner, Anthony Annucci, said the reform effort here will make prisons “more humane.”

But with details of New York’s new policy still being hashed out, Soffiyah Elijah with a pro-reform group called the Correctional Association worries that opposition from prison guards will block significant change.

“It’s the No. 1 hurdle because they are on the front line, they’re given amazing discretion to abusively use the ability to put somebody in solitary confinement, and it’s their default mechanism,” Elijah says.


VIDEO RELEASED OF CONTROVERSIAL LASD LAKEWOOD SHOOTING OF MENTALLY ILL MAN – QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN

On July 6 in Lakewood, Los Angeles County deputies shot and killed John Berry, a 31-year-old mentally ill man who had likely gone off his medication.

John’s brother, Chris Berry, a federal law enforcement officer, saw the whole thing. He was the one who called the cops on John. Chris says that when he requested a mental evaluation team, which would have included a mental health care professional, he was told deputies would be responding instead.

Berry’s family has released video captured by a witness at the scene that has been included as evidence in a civil trial.

Deputies say Berry rammed his car head-on into a patrol car, pinning an officer between the two cars before the witness started filming. His family says he didn’t hit the patrol car. They say the video depicts deputies peppering Berry with bullets as he is backing up in the car.

The LA Times’ Corina Knoll and Rubin Vives have the story. Here’s a clip:

But Berry was not himself and appeared to be off his medication July 4 when he showed up at home upset that he had lost his job. He called the police to complain that he wasn’t being allowed access to the belongings in his room. When a deputy arrived, Berry gathered some possessions and left the house he shared with his mother, sister, brother and a niece.

Two days later, Berry reappeared at the house, parking his car on the front lawn. His older brother went out to talk to him.

“He was sitting in the driver’s seat of his BMW,” Chris Berry, 37, recalled. “I could tell he hadn’t slept in a while.”

Chris Berry, a federal police officer who works at a facility with two psychiatric hospitals, said he called the Lakewood sheriff’s station and asked that a mental evaluation team be dispatched. He was informed that deputies would be sent instead.

The deputies who arrived were immediately aggressive and escalated the situation, Chris Berry said. He said he watched as they unleashed pepper spray, shot his brother with a Taser at least four times and struck him with batons. His brother, he recalled, looked stunned and cried, “What did I do wrong?”

“They said he accelerated and crashed into the police car. That did not happen — I was there for the whole thing,” Chris Berry said. “But they have to say that because it justifies their aggressive actions.… I believe in my heart and I know Johnny wasn’t trying to hurt them.”

Chris Berry said that as a law enforcement officer, he is pained to be mixed up in what feels like a family fight. “I called one brother to help another brother and…” He stopped, unable to finish the sentence.

The family hopes the release of the video will hold the department accountable while also forcing law enforcement agencies to rethink how they interact with the mentally ill.


LONGREAD: WOMEN IN PRISON FIND HEALING AND PURPOSE THROUGH EDUCATIONAL AND THERAPEUTIC PROGRAMS

The Desert Sun’s Anna Rumer has a great longread about redemption for incarcerated women (often victims themselves) in California detention facilities, and the programs that helped them change their trajectories. Here’s how it opens (but do read the whole thing):

Looking at Danielle Barcheers, it’s impossible to imagine her as a killer.

The perky 34-year-old often wears a smile and makes repeated apologies for the “mess” in her spotless cell. She comes off like a beam of light amid the 1,640 women serving time at the California Institution for Women in northern Corona.

She’s come a long way. In 1997, 15-year-old Barcheers became the youngest girl in California at the time to be tried and convicted as an adult after helping murder her boyfriend’s grandmother.

Sentenced to 25 years to life, politicians bragged about locking away a child they considered an uncorrectable bad seed — a distinction Barcheers found herself believing for a long time.

But in the 18 years since she first said goodbye to her physical freedom, she’s found another way to free herself and other women as a mentor and certified drug counselor.

Most of these women were victims themselves, prison counselors say — victims of addiction, physical abuse, sexual violence and broken homes. But somewhere along the way, they became the victimizers.

Since Barcheers was sentenced, she’s seen a 180-degree change in the political attitude about rehabilitation. Today, prison officials look to education, counseling and social programs to help provide the women their greatest opportunity to escape the cycle of violence.

Of those who are given a second chance, only half will make enough of a change to leave behind the mistakes and traumas that haunt them. But others find hope.

Barcheers may never banish the ghosts of her past completely, but she has made peace with them and, for the first time in her life, herself.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, solitary | 16 Comments »

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