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LA Supes Move Forward with Two Jail Projects Amid Protests

October 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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 The outdated jail must be replaced with a “modern treatment center that can meet the critical mental heath and medical needs” of the county’s incarcerated, McDonnell said.


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

LA Jail Visitor Beating: Jury Acquits Sixth Deputy on Two Charges, Deadlocks on Third Count – UPDATED

September 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, a jury acquitted Byron Dredd, an LA County sheriff’s deputy indicted for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to cover up of a brutal beating of a handcuffed visitor to Men’s Central Jail, Gabriel Carrillo, by falsifying official reports, thus causing Carrillo to be criminally charged as the aggressor. The charges could have resulted in a fourteen year prison sentence for Carrillo. (Backstory: here.)

Dredd was acquitted on two counts—one of writing a false report, and one of conspiracy to violate Carrillo’s civil rights. Jurors deadlocked on a third count of lying to the FBI.

In December 2013, five LA County Sheriff’s department members were indicted for the Carrillo beating and cover-up. Three of the men involved were convicted, and two struck plea deals (these two deputies later testified against Dredd). Dredd is the sixth LASD member to be tried. Dredd testified in his own defense, saying that his written report was manipulated by his boss.

U.S. District Judge George King set a Monday deadline for prosecutors to decide whether they will retry Dredd on the third count.

UPDATE: On Monday, government prosecutors announced that they would indeed retry Dredd on the third count that caused the jury to deadlock. If convicted of the charge of lying to FBI agents, Dredd could face as much as five years in federal prison. The new trial is set to begin on October 25.

Dredd is on paid leave from the department and reportedly employed at FedEx, and according to one of Dredd’s family members, likely does not wish to return to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

LA Times’ Joel Rubin has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

The verdict marks a rare loss for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, which has won a string of abuse and obstruction cases against deputies and higher-ranking sheriff’s officials following an FBI investigation into county jails.


Carrillo and his girlfriend were handcuffed and taken into custody after deputies said they found them carrying cellphones, which is against state law. After Carrillo reportedly mouthed off repeatedly to the deputies in a secluded room, he was punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed in the face.

After the beating, which left Carrillo bloody and bruised, the deputies and their supervisor claimed in reports that when one of Carrillo’s hands was uncuffed for fingerprinting, he attacked deputies and tried to escape.

Based on those reports, Carrillo was brought up on criminal charges. After Carrillo’s attorney brought to light photographs showing injuries to both of Carrillo’s wrists, corroborating his assertion that he was handcuffed during the beating, prosecutors from the county district attorney’s office dropped the charges.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD | 5 Comments »

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

June 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Why Did Los Angeles County Jail Inmate Unique Moore Die? by Art Levine

February 29th, 2016 by witnessla


A New Wrongful Death Lawsuit Raises Questions on Conditions in Los Angeles County’s Women’s Jail

by Art Levine

Before breakfast on Saturday, November 8, 2014, at the Century Regional Detention Facility—or CRDF as the women’s jail in the Los Angeles County system is most commonly known—an inmate named Unique Moore started coughing and complained that she couldn’t breathe. Moore, a 37-year-old African American woman, had a history of diabetes, asthma, and severe mental illness.

When Moore was arrested three weeks earlier for a violation of the terms of her probation, she reportedly informed jail officials at intake that she had a long history of asthma, and that if she had an episode in which she had difficulty breathing, it could be fatal without the proper first aid.

She would need her inhaler.

Once inside the jail, Moore was prescribed various medications for her mental condition, including the antipsychotic Seroquel that, in 2011, the FDA found posed dangers of sudden cardiac death. But it was the threat of an asthma attack that worried her.

According to a new civil lawsuit filed by her parents, Elaine Bridges and Jimmie Lee Moore, Unique Moore’s fears of an asthma attack came to pass around 6 a.m. on that Saturday last November. As she sat up and struggled to get her breath on the lower bunk of her cell, she called with difficulty to her cellmate, or “cellie,” who was then still on the top bunk. Gasping, Moore asked the woman to shout to the guard that she needed an inhaler.

LA County jail policy doesn’t allow inmates to keep inhalers permanently in their cells for fear that the hard plastic devices, designed to deliver medication to an asthma sufferer’s lungs, might be repurposed as weapons.

Moore’s cellmate told her version of the morning’s traumatic events to attorney Portasha Moore, now co-counsel in the civil lawsuit. She said that Unique Moore next complained of feeling hot and asked her cellmate to fan her as they waited for the inhaler to be fetched. (Attorney Portasha Moore is not related to Unique Moore.)

Seeing her companion’s distress, the cellmate immediately pressed an emergency call button located inside each cell to summon help, and began to shout for a deputy. When no help turned up, the cellmate’s shouts were joined by nearby female inmates in unit 3400, a 30-cell section of the 2,300-woman jail located in suburban Lynwood. Reportedly, minutes went by and still no deputies arrived. Thee was more shouting, and more minutes without deputies. Eventually Moore collapsed to the floor of the cell, unconscious. The cellie said she screamed out again and again.

Eventually a deputy turned up. But, by then, Moore couldn’t be aroused.

Kendra Cox, an inmate who was housed in the next jail module, unit 3300, told me in an interview, that the slow response on the part of jail deputies was not at all unusual. “A lot of times when we wanted toilet paper or sanitary napkins, they ignored us,” said Cox. In the pod where Kendra bunked, the sounds from the next unit were muffled. Still, she said, on this particular morning, the inmates’ cries for help were loud and alarming enough to wake Cox and those around her.

For what she estimated was close to 20 minutes, Kendra said, she stood near the door at her cell, looking out the window, and wondering where the guards were.

“They probably thought it was insignificant,” she said, referring what she characterized as the agonizingly slow response to Moore’s emergency. Just women wanting something. “They were men,” she said.

According to Cox, the guards for Unique’s pod weren’t even present when the calling first began. Instead, she said, they were chatting with colleagues in the adjoining section – Cox’s pod –before their shift began. All the while, according to Cox, the inmates in Moore’s unit kept shouting and pounding on their thick metal doors.

Eventually, the guards did respond. But, by the time they showed up, according to her cellmate and others, Unique was on the cell floor unconscious. Deputies would later claim in reports that she was still completely conscious, that it was only when they returned to her cell again after getting the inhaler from the jail’s medical clinic, that she had gone into cardiac arrest.

What is not in dispute is that paramedics were called for Unique Moore at around 6:30 a.m. The paramedics arrived and found Moore on the floor of her cell in full cardiac arrest at 6:38 a.m. She was given additional CPR (taking over from jail staff), plus four doses of Epinephrine and intubated, meaning a flexible plastic tube was inserted down her a windpipe to maintain an open airway, so she could receive oxygen. Then she was transported via ambulance from the jail to St. Francis Medical Center, where she arrived at 7:17 a.m, and was given further treatment. Unique Moore was declared dead at 7:41 a.m.

During the day on Saturday, word spread quickly via the highly active jailhouse grapevine about the fate of the woman nicknamed “Chocolate.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials, however, declined for close to a year to acknowledge that a death had occurred at all. Then, when this reporter presented department officials with the coroner’s report on Unique Moore, LASD spokespeople finally conceded that, yes, Moore had died. But Homicide Bureau Detective Lt. David Dolson disputed the claim that there was any neglect, mishandling, or any other kind of institutional failures in the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department response to Moore’s lethal emergency.

“The Homicide Bureau’s investigation did not reveal any apparent delay in providing the inhaler,’” Dolson said in a written statement.

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department would not comment further on the lawsuit’s allegations while the litigation is pending.

“They failed her,” said the Moore family’s co-attorney, John Sweeney, “She clearly had a bad asthmatic condition and she died on the floor after her cell-mate pushed the emergency button and [deputies] didn’t come in a timely manner.”


The initial autopsy report written shortly after Moore’s death by a deputy medical examiner concluded, “From the anatomic findings and pertinent history I ascribe the death to Asthma (Clinical History).” The report also cited “other conditions contributing but not related to the immediate cause of death: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, drug use (history).”

A few months later, however, after receiving further input from LASD Homicide Bureau detectives and reviewing the homicide bureau’s report, deputy medical examiner Dr. Vladimir Levicky concluded his final March 2015 autopsy report with a different emphasis.

“The cause of death of death in this case is asthma,” he wrote. “The mode of death is accident due to the history of drug use.” Never mind that there were no illegal drugs whatsoever in her system according to the toxicology report. No cocaine, barbiturates, opiates, MDMA, methamphetamines, codeine, morphine, marijuana, hydrocodone, nor anything related.

In their interviews given to coroner’s office, according to its case file on Moore, LASD officials painted a rosy picture of the high quality of medical care Moore received. As the coroner’s report stated, Moore “was routinely seen by medical staff at the jail. Every time the decedent needed her inhaler, medical staff would check her blood sugar level. On Sunday, the decedent told her cell mate she needed her inhaler. The cellmate called a deputy, and the deputy arrived at the decedent’s cell. The cellmate told the deputy that the decedent needed the inhaler.”

Shortly after her death, LASD homicide detective Jeff Cochran gave the coroner a version of events that differs markedly from eyewitness accounts of the day of Moore’s death. According to Cochran’s narrative, after one of the jail deputy learned about the asthma emergency, he then sped to the medical staff, retrieved the inhaler for Moore and returned to find that she had fallen to the floor, semi-conscious and breathing with difficulty. “As soon as the decedent was pulled out of her cell, the decedent went into cardiac arrest,” Cochran told the coroner.

This version was expanded upon in a November 2015 email to me written by Cochran’s colleague, Lt. Dolson, roughly a year after Moore’s death: “Inmate Moore died at the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing in her cell. Prior to her death, Moore’s cellmate activated the emergency call button in their cell. A deputy responded and was told by the cellmate that Moore needed her inhaler. Nursing staff was notified, and the deputy returned to Moore’s cell. She was now unresponsive, but breathing. Medical staff responded and monitored Moore. Paramedics were summoned. Moore was transported to the hospital where she died.”


Unique Moore had much in the common with the thousands of mentally ill who, despite growing efforts at diversion away from incarceration and into community diversion programs, still cycle in and out of LA County’s jail system. When she was arrested for a probation violation in October 2014, she was in the heart of LA’s Skid Row district seemingly looking for drugs when she was supposed to be completing a series of required drug rehabilitation classes.

Moore had a long history of drug addiction, which appeared to be an effort at self-medication for the mental problems that had dogged her since she was seven years old. As she got older, her initial symptoms bloomed into a serious mood disorder, worsened by the hallucinations caused by schizophrenia, according to what her father told his attorneys. As her mental health worsened, Moore’s self medication moved from marijuana to harder drugs, including PCP, cocaine and meth.

During her mid-teens, Moore served the first of her stints in the county’s juvenile detention facilities, which were soon replaced by adult lock-up time, on drug charges.

Around 95 percent of the approximately 4000 mentally ill inmates who reside in in LA County’s jail system on any given day, like Unique Moore, have substance-abuse disorders and are often so unmoored from their families and communities that more than 80 percent are homeless or lack stable housing when released, as the new Los Angeles County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, noted in testimony in February 2015 before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “Jails were not built as treatment centers or with long-term treatment in mind,” McDonnell said.


When Unique Moore returned to CRDF for the final time in the fall of 2014, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was still reeling from the effects of one scandal after the other involving general departmental corruption, brutality in the LASD-run jails, and mistreatment of the jail system’s mentally ill inmates, specifically. More than 20 department members had been federally indicted, many of them for charges involving brutality in the county’s jail facilities.

Two years before, in September 2012, the specially appointed Citizens Commission for Jail Violence had issued its scathing report describing a “troubling culture” among jail deputies with “a disturbing mindset that promotes a lack of respect for inmates, an aggressive view that force is best used early and often to control the inmate population.” This was, wrote the commissioners, the result of “a failure of leadership” by the sheriff, Lee Baca, whereas his undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, not only failed “to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them.”

In early 2014, after being elected to four terms, Sheriff Lee Baca had abruptly resigned under a cloud, But, by the fall of the year when Unique Moore had her asthma attack, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who had been so harshly criticized in the jail commission report, was in a runoff election to become the new sheriff. The Department of Justice was threatening to slap the department with a federal consent decree over its treatment of the mentally ill inmates in its jails, an action the county Department of Mental Health (DMH) and then Sheriff John Scott protested as unnecessary because of the purported “incredible efforts” and “progress” in caring for those inmates.

Earlier, the Southern California ACLU had filed a massive class action suit alleging horrific abuse in the jails, that would eventually result in a landmark settlement mandating a new system of outside monitors to oversee jail reform. A few years prior, the ACLU had issued a devastating report on Mental Health inside the jails.

Yet, for all the focus on brutality and neglect inside the nation’s largest jail system, most of the attention was directed toward the men’s jails. CRDF hasn’t gotten sustained legal, advocacy group or media attention until this past August when the reform group, Dignity and Power Now (DPN), working with student researchers from UCLA Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, issued a highly detailed report called Breaking the Silence, alleging a broad pattern of abuse and neglect that was especially damaging to women of color with mental illnesses.

The report was centered on the accounts of seven women who had been incarcerated at CRDF, and who were interviewed in detail by the UCLA researchers about their experiences. The most harrowing was the story of “Nina,” a forty-seven-year-old African-American woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression. After two weeks at CRDF, where she was reportedly denied access to appropriate medical professionals, and to the needed medication to “quiet the voices” in her head, Nina attempted suicide by jumping off of a second-story balcony.

Unique Moore had a complex medical history, according to the coroner’s report, jail medical records and the pending lawsuit. She had congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma, anemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and neuropathy, all clearly disclosed to the jail’s medical staff when she was arrested for violating her probation less than a month before she died.

Because of her condition, and the medication she was taking, she needed careful monitoring and prompt attention in case of breathing or cardiac emergencies. But as far as Kendra Cox and other former inmates could tell, few, if any, of the mentally ill inmates who mixed in with the general population got regular medical exams or care. These assertions received support from the harsh assessment by Department of Justice in its June 2014 report about the quality of care given mentally ill inmates, the UCLA/Dignity and Power Now report, and the views of some current and former LA County Department of Mental Health clinicians expressed in exclusive interviews.


“It’s not safe for our clients there,” said Kristina Ronnquist, a former Department of Mental Health social work intern who worked in the women’s jail in 2013 and 2014. It was also not a good climate for employees who report abuse, she said. “I was very clearly told not to speak out, that it would harm me professionally, given the unsafe environment of going against the sheriff’s department.”

Ronnquist testified to what she’d seen in front of the Jail Commission in 2012, and told the LA County Board of Supervisors about her experiences in CRDF in May 2014.

“One of my teenage clients just recently made a very serious attempt at suicide,” she said, “and one day later was taunted by a sheriff’s deputy, who slammed her fingers in the door after she refused to move them, causing serious injury.”

According to Ronnquist, other mental health clinicians wanted to speak out about abuse they’d observed “but they’re too scared to say anything,” she said.

Ronnquist’s accounts were echoed by former CRDF inmates like Kendra Cox. “They treated us horribly like we were second-class citizens,” Cox said of the custody staff, noting that no inmates dared to report the guards on the early-morning shift for their alleged delayed response to Unique Moore. “We didn’t tell them what really happened,” Cox said after her release from jail. Inmates were much too worried about retaliation, she said.

Other former inmates told similar stories. “Ain’t nobody tell the truth in jail,” said Tina Middlebrooks, 50, who was released in February 2015 after a three-year stint for drug dealing. “When you’re in jail, it wasn’t cool for you if the guards thought you were snitching. They tore up your cell and threw all your [personal] stuff out.”

Middlebrooks was staying in a section of the jail that was not at all near to Moore’s, but said she learned about the tragedy on the same day that Unique Moore died. “I really tripped out on her death,” she told me later.

Middlebrooks had gotten to know Moore several years earlier when they were both in state prison on drug charges. She said found Moore’s death particularly disturbing because she was grappling with her own mental illness — schizophrenia — while being housed in the general population and taking her prescribed Seroquel, just like Unique Moore.

“She was a beautiful person both inside and out,” Middlebrooks said of Moore. “She was funny and outgoing. I was devastated.”

Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, and a former Fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute, and and is currently researching a book on mental health issues.

Levine’s investigation into Unique Moore’s death for Witness LA is co-published in The Huffington Post,

Posted in LA County Jail | 13 Comments »

Helping the Mentally Ill Exiting LA Jails, Prop 47′s DNA Dilemma, DOJ to Help Compton Reduce Crime, and “De-Publishing”

September 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In August, The LA County Sheriff’s Department announced a settlement with the US Department of Justice regarding treatment of the mentally ill in county jails.

But inmate advocates say that while the LASD-DOJ agreement requires an overhaul of mental health treatment and services for mentally ill inmates as well as referral to a social worker upon release, the settlement leaves gaping holes that will perpetuate the homelessness-incarceration cycle.

The public interest law firm, Public Counsel, is working to get the settlement amended to include “warm hand-offs” (rather than paper referrals) from jail staff to social workers as mentally ill inmates are released back into their communities. Public Counsel also takes issue with the fact that people with mental health issues like dementia and personality disorders are disqualified from the assistance for mentally ill.

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

“We ought to be allowing them to exit jail with at least a reasonable chance that they won’t be back any time soon,” said UCLA Law Professor Gary Blasi, an attorney with Public Counsel, which is suing to have a say in the court-imposed reforms.

He said inmates need a “warm hand-off” from jailer to social worker because they often lack the capacity to navigate a complicated web of county mental health facilities and services.

“That means that you have a human being in one system who connects with another human being in another system,” Blasi said. “They assume responsibility for seeing that the person doesn’t get dropped in the gap between the bureaucracies.”

Thousands of mentally ill inmates are released from L.A. County jails every year. The population of inmates with serious mental health conditions has continued to grow.

In August, after years of monitoring conditions, the U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with the sheriff’s department to massively overhaul how such inmates are treated while in jail.

Now, Public Counsel, representing a group of former inmates, is going to court to “intervene” in the case and alter the settlement agreement.

The current agreement “creates practices that will continue to cycle the mentally ill between Skid Row and the County Jails, depriving them of necessary medical and psychiatric services,” according to a Public Counsel statement.


Last November, California voters passed Prop 47, which retroactively downgraded certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors.

What Prop 47 didn’t address, was what to do with the DNA samples previously taken from people arrested for felonies that have since become misdemeanors, since DNA samples are not taken from people arrested on misdemeanor charges (only felonies).

An appellate court has ruled that the law does call for retroactive DNA expungement for former offenders whose felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors. Critics say that wiping out all that DNA from the database will harm future investigations. Critics also point out that law enforcement officers take DNA samples for wobbler charges—which could be designated as either misdemeanors or felonies—, and for those cases that end in misdemeanor charges, DNA samples are not destroyed.

The debate rages on, and the issue will either be addressed by the courts or by lawmakers.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kristina Davis has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Nearly 2.5 million DNA samples are stored in California’s DNA Data Bank and are frequently cross-checked against DNA evidence taken from crime scenes to find potential matches. From April to June, hits from the database aided some 48,000 investigations, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Justice.

Oddly, for a voter campaign as costly and debated as Proposition 47’s was, the DNA issue wasn’t really addressed as a talking point by either side before the election.

The issue is rearing its head now as part of a case involving a San Diego teenage boy who applied to have his felony commercial burglary charge reclassified to a misdemeanor. The District Attorney’s Office fought the request, saying the retroactive part of Proposition 47 should not apply to juveniles because of differences in how minors are convicted. In adult court, defendants are found guilty or not guilty. In juvenile court, a conviction is known as a “true finding.” Proposition 47 does not mention juveniles specifically.

The state’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the teen in July, saying that Proposition 47 applies equally to juveniles and adults.

The appellate three-judge panel also asked the lower San Diego Superior Court to reconsider how that finding might affect the boy’s request to have his DNA expunged. The judges made their opinion clear on the matter: that voters intended for Proposition 47’s retroactive relief to result in the purging of existing DNA samples.

Juvenile Deputy Public Defender Maryann D’Addezio Kotler, who is representing the boy, said the appeals court made the right call.

“The taking of someone’s DNA is an infringement on someone’s privacy, obviously, and we certainly only want the government to take it when it is sanctioned by law,” she said.


As far as expungement goes, under existing DNA law, someone can have their DNA removed only under conditions of innocence or reasonable doubt, including acquittals, findings of factual innocence or dismissals.

In their petition to the state Supreme Court for review of the case, prosecutors argue that nothing in Proposition 47 should change those existing laws concerning DNA.

“It defies reason,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said in an interview.


On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced that the city of Compton was one of five new cities chosen to join a two-year program called the Violence Reduction Network. This means that through the DOJ partnership, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (which has jurisdiction over Compton) will receive training, personnel, and other support to reduce sex trafficking, gun violence, and other crimes.

Compton joins the ranks of two other California cities—Oakland and Richmond—receiving help from the feds through the Violence Reduction Network.

Richmond, if you’ll remember is being pointed to as a national model for community policing and crime reduction.

The LA Times’ Angel Jennings has the story. Here’s a clip:

The FBI has already committed to relocating its Safe Streets Task Force unit from Pasadena to Compton, said U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Thom Mrozek.

The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshal’s Service will also devote people to work with the sheriff’s Compton office, Mrozek said.

The Violence Reduction Network “is definitely a game changer for public safety in Compton that will positively impact the quality of life for our entire community,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown said in a statement.

Federal agencies will work together to tackle gang violence, human trafficking, narcotics, gun proliferation and cyber-crime, sheriff’s Lt. Chris Perez said.

Though Compton has long been notorious for gang crime, including drive-by shootings, violent crime has dropped significantly in recent years.


There’s long been a tradition of “de-publishing” judges’ opinions from the official records so that they are not used as precedents in subsequent cases.

However, an intense battle has been raging in California over the idea of de-publishing, which critics say is a way for prosecutors to have the last word (even when they have lost an appellate review) in order to remove that ruling from being used in future court proceedings.

The Marshall Project’s Andrew Cohen has more on the de-publishing dispute. Here’s a clip:

Take this new case of a minor we know only as “Elias V.” On June 9th, an intermediate California appeals court overturned a trial judge’s finding that incriminating statements made by “Elias V” in a case involving allegations of “lewd and lascivious” conduct could be used against the young man. The so-called “confession,” the appellate judges ruled, was involuntary for several different reasons. The opinion, which you can read here, was comprehensive, detailed, and replete with references to some of the most modern scholarly work on the fallibility of juvenile confessions.

The decision, to suppress the confession in a case of one juvenile accused of inappropriately touching another juvenile, was immediately controversial. But it was not necessarily wrong. It was immediately published so that lawyers in California could cite it as precedential authority and lawyers in other states could read it for clues and rationales that might apply in other cases. The California Attorney General’s office, which has the immediate authority to appeal such rulings to the California Supreme Court, chose not to do so. As far as California goes, the Elias V ruling was good law.

That did not end the dispute, however. In California, once the attorney general decides not to pursue an appeal, a slim window opens allowing prosecutors (or defense attorneys or anyone else) to seek to otherwise limit the scope of a decision with which they disagree. They can achieve this by convincing the California Supreme Court to “de-publish” an opinion, to rid it of any precedential value. Prosecutors do this when, as in the “Elias V.” case, they get a ruling they fear will result in the suppression of incriminating evidence in other cases. Defense attorneys do this when they fear a pro-police ruling will encourage other trial judges to tip the scales toward prosecutors.

What happened next in the Elias V. case was extraordinary, according to lawyers who try to keep track of these things. Two months after the June decision, prosecutors in two other California counties, wholly unrelated to the case, wrote letters to the California Supreme Court asking the justices to “de-publish” the Elias V. decision. They argued that it would “cause confusion both in juvenile and adult criminal courts.” One prosecutor listed as a reason to de-publish the fact that “the new rules… are based on social science rather than firmly established legal principles.”

What happened after that was even more extraordinary. The appellate judges who had issued the controversial Elias V. ruling then responded to the prosecutors with a long letter of their own to the California Supreme Court. De-publication of their ruling, they wrote, would have the effect of “shielding from public attention” the social science research they had included in their opinion.

Read on.

Posted in DNA, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, Prosecutors | No Comments »

Feds Fund LAPD Body Cams, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on Air Talk, and Police in Schools

September 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Department of Justice funding of over $23 million for officer-worn camera programs would go to 73 police departments across the nation, including $1.1 million to the Los Angeles Police Dept., in an effort to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community relations.

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Southern California urged the Department of Justice not to contribute funding to the LAPD’s body cam program, citing concerns about department policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.

Among other California recipients, Pasadena and San Bernardino police departments were awarded $250,000 and $546,502, respectively.

“This vital pilot program is designed to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility,” AG Lynch said during the announcement. “The impact of body-worn cameras touches on a range of outcomes that build upon efforts to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to thrive.”

Read more about the funding, implementation, and expectations on the DOJ’s website.


On Monday’s on Air Talk, host Larry Mantle Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell shared his thoughts on the importance (and financial burden) of using officer-worn cameras.

“Everybody wants body cameras on deputies and officers for the accountability piece, and I’m supportive of that, because it gives us a greater context to see what the full story was when we go to evaluate an incident,” said Sheriff McDonnell. “The downside is just the tremendous cost.”

McDonnell points out that the actual purchase of the cameras, and even the cost of storing the footage, are a tiny fraction of what it would cost to train and maintain personnel to handle all that video.

“When somebody is arrested, they get a traffic citation, they are involved in a use of force, so they bring litigation against the department, they want that tape, they want that video to be able to use for their case, so we go through discovery motions to provide that,” McDonnell explained. “The staff necessary who would be trained and certified that they have the ability to be able to pull the appropriate length of video and then to be able to go in and pixelate where appropriate uninvolved, innocent parties, to be able to present that then for court or if we’re going to make it public, that piece there alone is a tremendous added expense…”

The sheriff also expressed concern over the LA County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a 3,885-bed jail to replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail after three separate consultant groups came back with recommendations closer to a 5,000-bed facility.

McDonnell has a lot more to say, so go listen to the segment in its entirety.


The Atlantic’s Melinda Anderson gives a history of cops in schools (hint: officers weren’t originally placed in grade schools to handcuff 4-year-olds throwing tantrums) and why having cops on campus leads to over-criminalization of kids.

Some school districts are making efforts to undo the school-to-prison-pipeline, in part by pushing for specialized training for officers as well as eliminating police involvement in school discipline.

Here are some clips:

The origin of school-employed police—who are often officially referred to as “school resource officers” (SROs)—dates back to the 1950s. It arose as part of an effort in Flint, Michigan, to foster relationships between local police and youth. That basic idea then spread to other locales, where SROs soon took on roles ranging from counselors and coaches to tutors and mentors. But in the 1990s, the initiative’s focus underwent a dramatic policy shift, with SROs drifting from their mission as community liaisons, largely thanks to the Justice Department’s “COPS in Schools” grant program. Between 1999 and 2005, the department’s community-policing division reportedly awarded in excess of $750 million in grants to more than 3,000 law-enforcement agencies, resulting in more than 6,500 newly hired SROs. And because the recruitment and training of these officers were largely overseen by conventional police departments, board and district officials—who are typically the decision-makers when it comes to school policies—had little, if any, clout over these efforts.

The sharp increase in campus-based law enforcement coincides with the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which left 15 dead, including two teen gunmen, and prompted calls across the country for a stronger police presence on school grounds…

Combined with the rapid expansion of zero-tolerance discipline in schools that accompanied the War on Drugs, these isolated yet seminal incidents of mass violence help explain the upsurge in school resource officers, making them a fixture in many of the nation’s schools. A recent survey conducted by the Department of Education found that 43 percent of public schools employ security staff, including school resource officers, while 28 percent have “sworn law enforcement officers routinely carrying a firearm.”

While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian.


A recurring theme in debates over school police involves concern over the officers’ reportedly poor training; in McKinney, for example, the officers receive no special training before being dispatched to schools. In some cases, questions have also been raised about the amount of funding invested in such programs. In Chicago, for instance, “school police services”—the result of an agreement between the city’s police department and the mayor-appointed school board—cost taxpayers $13 million in 2013, a period during which Chicago students were protesting school-budget cuts and a shortage of school counselors.

Meanwhile, a group of parents, students, and community members in the Bronx, alarmed at the high number of arrests and summonses issued by SROs in their schools, called for a public hearing in 2012 with the New York City Department of Education and the NYPD Safety Office. That discussion led to monthly meetings and, eventually, a training workshop for New York City school police—known in the city as “school safety agents”—at which rookie officers are tasked with reflecting on racial disparities in campus-arrest data, discussing the often hidden costs of arrests and summonses on students, and engaging in conflict resolution through role play. Since the trainings commenced in 2012, Bronx schools have seen a significant fall in arrests and summonses, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the Bronx still outranks New York’s four other boroughs when it comes to the total number of arrests and summonses, the Bronx’s 2011-12 school year reports cited by the NYCLU showed 256 arrests and 796 summonses, compared to 86 arrests and 285 summonses in 2014-15.

Posted in Education, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Mental Illness, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

The LA Jail Construction Re-Vote

September 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


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.


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


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 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.


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.


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 »

Trauma Lawsuit Against Compton School District, Drugging Foster Kids, the Brown Act-violating Jail Vote, and California’s New Resident Wolves

August 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald heard arguments in a potentially precedent-setting suit against Compton Unified School District for failing to help severely traumatized kids struggling with learning.

The lawsuit filed by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in May, alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law.

If Judge Fitzgerald grants the injunction, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.

A decision in favor of the young plaintiffs could also have a ripple effect on schools across the country.

Compton Unified’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the suit could have the effect giving all of Compton’s students a disability designation just because of where they live.

(Go here for WLA’s previous reporting on this lawsuit.)

NPR’s Cory Turner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them.

The LA Times’ Stephen Caesar also reported on this issue.


A California bill would have mandated oversight of the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, giving current public health nurses power to monitor the kids, and paying for 38 new public health nurses across CA’s 58 counties.

The bill likely would have been a meaningful step forward in addressing a serious breakdown in foster kids’ mental health care, (uncovered in Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids“) that is, until its author Senator Jim Beall had to strip it of nearly all of its power in the hopes of getting it past budget hawks.

Implementation would have cost $5 million in the first year, and up to $10 million per year, thereafter.

Because Sen. Beall cut the funding out of the bill to give it a chance in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, nurse oversight is no longer be mandatory: counties can choose to opt in (or not) and will have to cough up the money if they want to participate.

Unfortunately, according to National Center for Youth Law’s Anna Johnson, “If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it.”

Contra Costa Times’ Josh Richman has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Appropriations committees are usually the highest hurdle you have to jump over … second perhaps only to the governor’s signature,” Beall, D-San Jose, said later Wednesday. “We’re going to get the bill on the governor’s desk.”

Beall’s SB 319 is one of four pending bills inspired by the Bay Area News Group’s investigative series “Drugging Our Kids,” which revealed that nearly 1 in 4 foster care teens takes psychiatric drugs.

The drugs are often used to control behavior, not to treat mental illnesses. Most of those on the drugs are prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of medication that have the most harmful side effects.

The bill still would give public health nurses the authority to get foster youth’s medical records from social workers and prescribing doctors, Beall said, even though it won’t be required. Almost all of the state’s largest counties will do so, he predicted, and he can use his seats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees to revisit funding for more nurses and perhaps a statewide mandate in next year’s budget talks.

Still, foster-youth advocates were disappointed.

The Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law sponsored SB 319, and center policy analyst Anna Johnson testified on its behalf Wednesday. Afterward, she said the state’s refusal to spend any money on this is especially disappointing because the federal government would pay 75 percent of the bill.

“If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it” as many other states have, she said. Refusing to do so means “we’re happy with passing that cost on to foster children’s bodies” by “taking a big risk that children will continue to not be monitored on these medications, whether they’re medically necessary or not.”


Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a letter confronting the Board of Supervisors about violating the Ralph M. Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, the vote did not honor the public’s guaranteed right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

The LA Times’ editorial board says that even though the Supes remedied the improper vote by recalendaring it, the move doesn’t do anything to solve the public trust issue the first vote created. Here’s a clip:

Then, without prior notice, they proceeded to discuss and adopt a separate plan to downsize a facility to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to move ahead with construction of a women’s jail in the Antelope Valley. They offered this ludicrous explanation: The proper jail size depended on the number of people they could divert, so the agenda item on diversion programs and funding necessarily provided the public adequate notice that they would also take up and vote on the controversial multibillion-dollar public works projects.

The true reason for trying to shoehorn in the jails vote? It might be that they had just discovered that state officials were serious about a looming deadline to apply for construction funding, and that they were going to miss it because of their inattentiveness; or that properly calendaring the item for a later meeting would interfere with their vacation plans; or that providing legally adequate notice would raise too much of a public ruckus; or all of the above.

Some county officials also reasoned, after the fact, that anyone who cared about jails also cared about diversion, and therefore was already in the room and received their (very short) notice in real time.

But the purpose of public notice requirements isn’t solely to allow people to show up at board meetings to offer comments, especially in a county of 10 million residents. Only a small slice of the public weighs in that way. Others voice their opinions by calling, emailing, organizing, lobbying or arguing in advance of a major decision affecting them — if they know, as the law entitles them to know, when that decision is to be made. And when push comes to shove, taxpayers and other members of the public have every right to know what their elected representatives are doing, whether they plan to weigh in or not.


A new pack of gray wolves, called the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials, has appeared in California. The two adult wolves and five pups, captured on a trail camera, are the first resident pack in CA in decades.

In 2011, a lone gray wolf, OR-7, made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon. OR-7 now lives with his pack just over the Oregon border.

Here’s what the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has to say about the new pack:

Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.

In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.

CDFW is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick who has been following the California wolf saga for years has the story.

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Trauma, wolves | 7 Comments »

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