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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 | 4 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 »

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

FIRST HEARING LANDMARK LAWSUIT AGAINST COMPTON SCHOOL DISTRICT OVER PUNISHING TRAUMATIZED KIDS INSTEAD OF HELPING THEM

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.


BILL TO CREATE NURSE OVERSIGHT OF FOSTER KIDS’ PSYCHOTROPIC PRESCRIPTIONS LOSES $$$

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.”


LA COUNTY SUPES’ IMPROPER JAIL PLANS VOTE IS RESCHEDULED, BUT THE BOARD CAN’T TAKE BACK THE BREACH OF PUBLIC TRUST

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.


CALIFORNIA’S NEW WOLF PACK: THE FIRST IN NEARLY A CENTURY

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 »

LA Jail Building Vote Rescheduled So Supes Can Take a NEW new Vote, This Time Legally….Veterans Help Each Other Heal in Prison……Does a NY Prison Have a “Beat Up Squad?”…Education in Prison Saves $$$ – UPDATED

August 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


CHASTENED SUPES RESCHEDULE VOTE FOR LA’S MUCH DISCUSSED (AND OFTEN VOTED ON) BIG BUCKS JAIL BUILDING PLAN

As we reported Tuesday morning, last week’s August 11 vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors to move ahead on a compromise version of the costly and controversial jail rebuilding plan turned out to be ..um…illegal. It seems it was not calendared on the board’s agenda, thus it violated the Brown Act, which guarantees that the public—i.e. the rest of us—will be notified in advance that such a vote is going to take place in order to be able to participate in the decision making process in the form of public comment.

Thus, as of Tuesday, the vote has been scheduled to be re-voted on Sept. 1, complete with plenty of time for public discussion.

We are genuinely curious about what the supervisors thinking in blasting the vote through last week without putting it on the agenda properly. Instead, after multiple years of discussing this puppy, it was rushed through as a sort of rider on another scheduled vote—namely the mental health diversion plan—as if it was simply a minor amendment of no consequence, instead of a hugely controversial multi-year project that will cost upwards of $2 billion.

It didn’t matter that, before the illegal vote, ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg threatened every kind of lawsuit he could think of, and other jail reform advocates threatened similar measures.

But then, on August 13, two days after the vote, District Attorney Jackie Lacey wrote the board a short, pleasant, but very firm letter advising the five Brown Act scofflaws that they’d better fix things. Like, now.

The supes did as they were told. Sort of. They didn’t actually rescind the illegal August 11 vote. Instead, they approved a motion by Supervisor Mike Antonovich to redo the vote legally on the new date, while leaving the old vote on the books in the meantime. The reason for leaving the old vote intact until a new vote could replace it was to avoid missing a strict deadline to apply for $100 million in state money that would help to finance the Mira Loma women’s jail. (Fear of losing the $100 mill was much of the reason the Supes engaged in their tortured efforts to make the legally challenged vote happen in the first place.)

Here’s the letter: Letter to Board of Supervisors

NOTE: This story was updated to correct our earlier erroneous report that the vote had been rescinded in order to reschedule it.


MILITARY VETERANS HELP EACH OTHER HEAL IN A WASHINGTON STATE PRISON

A Washington state prison houses convicted military veterans together, seeking to capitalize on their shared experiences to promote healing and their eventual transition to the outside. Washington is one of the handful of states that have instituted programs where vets are grouped in a special unit. Florida, Oregon, Virginia, and Colorado are some of the others.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington is one such prison where the process seems tentatively to be working.

Patricia Murphy, reporting for KPCC as part of the KUOW/American Homefront Project, has more on the issue:

Here’s a clip:

“We want to recapture that positive stuff that they learned in the military and them have them apply it to civilian life,” McElravy said.

The 90 or so men move about their unit freely. The walls are painted with armed forces insignia and flags.

The program is attractive to prison officials largely because it doesn’t cost extra money. Inmates with non-violent behavior while in prison are eligible; they work with the State Department of Veterans Affairs to sign up for VA benefits, services and job training.

Inmate Michael Kent began serving time for robbery in 2011 and came to the vets pod a year and a half ago.

“When I came to the pod, people greeted me. I was like, ‘Whoa, something is different here,’” Kent said. A common background helped to foster a sense of responsibility.

“There wasn’t all the politics. There wasn’t all the other garbage to be involved in,” he said. “All they were trying to do is help each other out. “

A story by Matthew Wolfe that ran late last month in the Daily Beast tells of a prison in Virginia with its own veterans’ pod, that is also seeing early intimations of success. Here’s a clip from that story:

Butler County’s Judge McCune, who spent a decade as a prosecutor, admits that veterans do receive treatment that, in a perfect world, would be available to all defendants. But he sees rehabilitating soldiers afflicted with combat trauma as a special moral imperative.

“If you’re willing to give your life to protect your country, we as a society have an obligation to help you deal with some of the problems attached to that service,” he said. “We’re trying not to make the same mistakes we made after Vietnam.”

In Haynesville, each veteran is assigned a position in the dorm. Recently the other inmates voted Corporal Boyd senior coordinator, making him the dorm’s unofficial leader. In previous facilities, Boyd tried to kept his veteran status under wraps—a challenge, as his right shoulder bears a massive tattoo reading “USMC.”

“A lot of guys don’t take kindly to you being in the military,” Boyd said. “A guy might be like, ‘What? You think you’re better than me?’ It’s better to keep quiet.”

In the veterans dorm, though, fights are almost nonexistent. If a conflict between inmates arises, there’s an intervention where everyone sits down and hash it out internally. The mood is calm and the dorm orderly. In the morning, racks are made, shoes squared away. Boyd and another group of vets meet for PTSD group on Thursday. The unit holds veterans from five different wars, and the average age of the dorm is a decade or two older than the inmates in gen pop. Boyd told me the level of trust was such that no one bothered to lock their footlockers.

“Everyone’s on the same page,” Boyd said. “We just want to do our time and go home.”


DOES A NEW YORK PRISON HAVE A “BEAT UP SQUAD?”

The New Times’ Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have written a very soberly reported story about a group of guards who work in the Fishkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City, who may have deliberately beat to death a mentally ill inmate this past April.

Here’s a clip from the story’s opening:

On the evening of April 21 in Building 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, an inmate with a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder, packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.

Not long after, he got into a confrontation with corrections officers, was thrown to the floor and was handcuffed. As many as 20 officers — including members of a group known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad — repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Harrell, who is black, with some of them shouting racial slurs, according to more than a dozen inmate witnesses. “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him,” said Edwin Pearson, an inmate who watched from a nearby bathroom.

Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.”

“His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”

Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.

He was taken to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and at 10:19 p.m. was pronounced dead.

In the four months since, state corrections officials have provided only the barest details about what happened at Fishkill, a medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. Citing a continuing investigation by the State Police, officials for weeks had declined to comment on the inmates’ accounts of a beating.

An autopsy report by the Orange County medical examiner, obtained by The New York Times, concluded that Mr. Harrell, 30, had cuts and bruises to the head and extremities and had no illicit drugs in his system, only an antidepressant and tobacco. He died of cardiac arrhythmia, the autopsy report said, “following physical altercation with corrections officers.”


PROVIDING EDUCATION IN PRISON REDUCES RECIDIVISM & SAVES MONEY: SO WHY NOT DO MORE OF IT?

Late last month, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a pilot program to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 22-year ban on giving such grants to inmates.

Meanwhile, in California four community colleges are launching classes inside certain state prisons as part of an 18-month, $2 million pilot program starting this fall.

Michelle Chen, writing for the Nation Magazine, points to a 2013 RAND Corporation study, which reported that participation in prison education, including both academic and vocational programming, was associated with a more than 40 percent reduction in recidivism, resulting in $4 to $5 saved, for each dollar spent on educational programs.

So why the resistance to providing more college opportunities inside the nation’s lock-ups?

Here are some clips from Chen’s story:

The plan to extend Pell Grant access in prisons is described as a “limited pilot program” authorized through a federal financial aid waiver program under the Higher Education Act. Incarcerated adults could apply for grants of up to $5,775 for tuition and related expenses, at college-level programs offered in prison facilities nationwide. Designed to allow for studying long-term effects of education on recidivism, the program moves toward restoring access to Pell Grants for incarcerated people, which Congress removed in the mid-1990s.

College behind bars remains a tough sell to some law-and-order conservatives—hence the charmingly titled counter-legislation, the “Kids Before Cons” Act. Generally, however, the idea of de-carcerating the prison population appeals to an ascendant libertarian streak among Republicans because, in fiscal terms, textbooks and professors yield better returns on investment than weight rooms and laundry duty.

[SNIP]

But educational interventions may have more profound social impacts. Attending college classes has been associated with improved social climate and communications in the prison population, and “reduced problems with disciplinary infractions,” according to an analysis by the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP). A study on women incarcerated at New York’s Bedford Hills facility was linked to improved family relationships, by demonstrating to family members a commitment to rehabilitation and turning parents into academic “role models.”

This is not simply about turning inmates into good worker bees. As a formidable prison debate team in New York has shown, postsecondary education enhances critical thinking by compelling incarcerated people to channel their often prodigious street smarts into more sophisticated forms of inquiry and analysis.

Glenn Martin, head of the reform group Just Leadership USA, which helped advocate for the Pell Grant initiative along with other decarceration measures, attended college himself while serving time in a New York prison. Post-release, he was rejected repeatedly for jobs, he recalls, but “what a college degree did for me was [also] to recalibrate my own moral compass and help me better understand why I was facing all those barriers to the labor market, the stigma I was facing.… I was able to analyze my situation in a much much more complex way.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, prison, Veterans | No Comments »

LA Jail Plan to be Reconsidered….Rebuilding Jordan Downs….and Bail

August 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAST WEEK’S LA COUNTY JAIL PLAN VOTE APPEARS TO BE IN VIOLATION OF THE BROWN ACT

The LA County Board of Supervisors may have violated the Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday. The amendment, proposed by Supe. Michael Antonovich, was to launch construction on two new jails—one, a 3,885-bed replacement of Men’s Central Jail (to the tune of $2 billion), and the other, a women’s jail renovation at Mira Loma Detention Facility.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, advocates and others say the vote was illegal according to the Brown Act which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

Supe. Antonovich has since submitted a motion to reconsider the jail plans on September 1, but the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg is worried the new “ambiguous” motion also means the jail diversion plan it’s attached to will also be reconsidered, unnecessarily.

“The only thing that really needs to be recalendared and opened for comment is the board’s decision to go ahead with the jail plan,” said Eliasberg. “As far as I’m concerned, the diversion motion was properly noted and should be treated as properly passed.”

The Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We understood that there were members of the public concerned that there was not enough time to participate in the process,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said Monday. “We recalendared the item to make sure anyone who wanted to provide input on this item had that opportunity.”

The vote to continue construction of a $2 billion new jail in downtown L.A. to replace Men’s Central Jail and the renovation of a women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Facility was tacked onto a motion during last week’s meeting on the jail diversion plan.

Antonovich proposed an amendment to the jail diversion motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would authorize contractors to continue construction on the two jails and proposed that 4,600 beds be built in the downtown jail that would house mentally ill inmates, inmates who have substance abuse issues and those who require medical attention.

Kuehl proposed a change to Antonovich’s amendment that the new jail have 3,885 beds, which was approved by a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining.

The diversion plan was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed. Knabe said he wanted to have a flexible number of beds so that if the diversion efforts were successful, the number of beds in the jail could be reduced.

The agenda did not mention there would be discussion or a vote on the jail plan.

The jail plan was discussed at the Aug. 4 board meeting, but no vote was taken. At that meeting, the supervisors discussed a consultant’s report on the number of beds required at the new downtown jail facility.

During last week’s meeting, Peter Eliasberg, ACLU legal advisor, said the vote violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings for local government bodies. He said the board opened itself up to a lawsuit.

The problematic vote riled the LA Times’ Editorial Board. Here’s the first paragraph of the board’s response:

Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?

We’ll keep you updated.


EDITORIAL: LA CAN’T KEEP JORDAN DOWNS WAITING FOR MUCH-NEEDED REBUILD

Plans for major reconstruction of the once-notorious 700-unit Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been on hold for years.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) has been sitting on a $700 million plan to clean up the subsidized housing community, and add 700 more units, as well as restaurants and shops meant to provide jobs opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and the rest of the Watts community.

Jordan Downs has a history of gang violence, but is not as bad as it once was. The housing project went nearly four years without a homicide (until this April). Before that, from 2000-2011, 25 people were killed there.

Money has been spent on substance abuse treatment, community policing, child care, job training, and other programs including, Project Fatherhood. Through the Project Fatherhood program, men from Jordan Downs meet every week to teach each other, and younger men in the community, how to be fathers.

HACLA has lost out on federal funding, and is in the middle of cleaning up an adjacent toxic factory site on 21 acres, both of which are causing delays. But the LA Times’ Editorial Board says HACLA and city officials must make the Jordan Downs rebuild a priority, and get it built. Here’s a clip:

Numerous challenges lie ahead: There are commitments for some funding but hardly all of it, and the Housing Authority has twice lost out on federal grants for the project. Residents, meanwhile, are fearful of how the rethinking and reconstruction of their homes will change their lives.

The goal of public housing has long been to provide temporary shelter to families who need time to get on their feet before moving on, but Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.

Questions of ideology and pragmatism lurk in the background. Has traditional public housing failed? Will adding market-rate housing and retail better serve the people who live there? Will the new Jordan Downs be an alternative to old-style projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Gonzaque Village, or a model for them?

However those questions are answered, it’s crucial for current and future residents that Jordan Downs be rebuilt into a complex that could offer a way out of subsidized housing and up the economic ladder.

[SNIP]

Plans for the new development have it maintaining 700 units of subsidized housing, and every resident in good standing at the old Jordan Downs is being promised a home there. An additional 700 units of market-rate and affordable housing would also be built. Ideally, subsidized residents would get jobs and earn more income and graduate to nonsubsidized housing, possibly in the same complex. The retail complex would also offer job opportunities for residents in Jordan Downs and throughout Watts.

But first, it has to get built.


AMERICA’S DISEASED BAIL SYSTEM AND PRE-TRIAL DETENTION

The NY Times’ Nick Pinto takes a hard look at bail,the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.

More than half of the nearly 750,000 people locked in city and county jails nationwide have not been convicted of a crime. And many of them remain in jail awaiting trial because can’t pay the bail amount a judge has set, not because they are a threat to public safety or in danger of absconding.

Time spent in jail pretrial, solely because a poor person gets arrested and can’t afford bail, can be extremely counterproductive for all concerned, causing loss of the person’s job, removing a parent from his or her family unnecessarily, and contributing to the cycle of incarceration that keeps jails and prisons stuffed.

The broken bail system also pressures people to take plea deals they might otherwise refuse, so as not to have to spend weeks, months, or years, behind bars without a conviction. Sometimes, like in the case of Sandra Brown (link), victims of the bail system don’t even make it out alive.

In the case of Kalief Browder, an inability to post $3,000 bail led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of this year. He was 22-years-old.

Here’s how Pinto’s story opens:

On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.

The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’

Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.”

Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are “a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.” The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.

Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.

When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.

But the bail system wasn’t always this way.

When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Posted in ACLU, HACLA, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, pretrial detention/release, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 3 Comments »

LA County Supervisors Choose a New Jail Plan & Vote Serious $$ to Fund Mental Health Diversion Strategy

August 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The LA County Board of Supervisors made two significant decisions on Tuesday regarding LA’s troubled jail system.

In an historic move, the Supes approved a plan to establish an Office of Diversion to oversee the county’s nascent mental health diversion effort. More importantly, the board allocated $120 million to launch the plan to divert mentally ill people away from jail and into community treatment, with a minimum of $10 million a year to continue the program.

LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey, was ebullient. This day, she said, was something “that many of us have been dreaming of in terms of people acknowledging that the old way of doing things simply isn’t working.”

But as excited as she was, Lacey emphasized that, when it came to diversion, the devil would be in the details.

She had questions about the motion, she said, but she was confident that all concerned could work out those details in good faith.

Next the board voted to go ahead with the construction of a replacement for the old and awful Men’s central jail, and for a new women’s jail at Mira Loma, which would be partially funded by the state of California.

The sticking point was, as it has always been, the size of the MCJ replacement.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich moved that the new replacement facility should supply 4,600 new beds, which is still a lower number than the 4,900 beds that Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the county’s custody facilities, say are needed to appropriately house and treat the county’s mentally ill inmates—now and in the future—even with an aggressive diversion plan.

Supervisor Hilda Solis disagreed and proposed a far smaller 3,243-bed facility.

“In the light of the massive investment [in diversion] contemplated by a separate motion on the board’s agenda today,” said Solis, “it is clear that Los Angeles County intends to be at the forefront of efforts to develop safe and effective ways of reducing our society’s unsustainable and ineffective reliance on incarceration.”

Solis also name checked the MacArthur Foundation’s Challenge Grant, under which the county has agreed to be mentored to design and implement a plan to lower LA County’s jail population.

Finally, Sheila Kuehl offered a compromise plan for 3,885 beds.

“I think listening to this,” she said, “people probably feel a bit of whiplash. Everybody’s got a motion.” Her suggestion was a larger jail than she wanted, she said, and smaller than the sheriff and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald would like. But while she didn’t think incarceration was the answer for many people, she believed the compromise size was called for.

“…Over the next ten years,” Kuehl continued, “it seems unlikely to me that we will be able to divert every single person. And what will happen if we do not tear down that abomination, Men’s Central Jail, and put something in tis place that is truly a treatment facility…Then all that will happen is people who need mental health treatment…” will not get any treatment at all.

“We could imagine that everyone can be diverted, but the truth is, they cannot.”

Kuehl’s compromise passed 3/1 with Supervisor Don Knabe voting no, and Supervisor Solis abstaining.

Cindy Chang at the LA Times has more. Here’s a clip:

Men’s Central Jail currently houses about 4,000 inmates. Many of the inmates at the new jail would be moved from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, which is now used for mentally ill inmates. That would allow the department to move some inmates in Men’s Central Jail to Twin Towers, which was originally designed to house the general population rather than the mentally ill.

It’s unclear how much the compromise plan would cost.

The jail proposals were not listed on the public meeting agenda. Instead, during Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors tacked them onto the ambitious diversion plan for mentally ill offenders proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl.

Jail reform advocates praised the diversion plan but opposed the jail plan. They accused the board of violating open meeting laws by voting on the jail plan without written notice.

Anna Mouradian, a justice aide to Antonovich, said the county could have jeopardized $100 million in state money for the new women’s facility at Mira Loma if the board had not voted on the jail plan. The State Public Works Board is scheduled to consider the Mira Loma project on Monday.

Mouradian said the county was justified in voting on the jail plan on Tuesday because the diversion plan was on the meeting agenda, and the two issues “go hand in hand.”

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, threatened a lawsuit over the vote.

“This is an enormous construction project,” he told the board. “It should not be rushed ahead, no matter how much this board is afraid of losing money for Mira Loma.”

The MCJ replacement project will take six to eight years to complete and will do away with the crumbling and dangerous dungeon like structure that everyone agrees must be torn down. It is to be replaced with a state-of-the-art center geared toward providing treatment for inmates with mental and emotional health and substance abuse issues.

The new women’s jail to be built at the vacant Mira Loma Detention Center will provide a more dorm-like, rehabilitative environment that is designed toward women’s specific needs.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health | 1 Comment »

LA Supes to Vote on Mental Health Diversion, Differing Definitions of Solitary Confinement, Rancho Cielo, and HuffPost & WaPo Ferguson Reporters Facing Charges

August 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES LIKELY TO VOTE ON CREATING AN “OFFICE OF DIVERSION” TO KEEP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF JAIL

Today (Tuesday), the LA County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on increasing mental health diversion efforts in the county through creating and funding an Office of Diversion.

Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report full of recommendations on how to redirect LA’s mentally ill from county jails and into far more appropriate community treatment. Several of the most important pieces of DA Lacey’s report include implementation of major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, adding more urgent cares to which officers can bring people in crisis, and launching a specialized housing program.

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and in a report presented to the board last week, interim CEO Sachi Hamai estimated Lacey’s diversion plan would have a total implementation cost of $83,574,841. The necessary additional funding will come from realignment money, as well as money from SB 678, the Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act.

Today’s motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl would establish a Director of the Office of Diversion position under the Department of Health Services (DHS).

The director would work with five other Diversion staff members (experts in mental health, substance abuse treatment, housing, etc.) to oversee LA County’s efforts to divert the mentally ill, homeless, and those with substance abuse problems from lock-up. The Diversion office will coordinate closely with the Jail Care Transitions Director (whose job it is to ensure inmates have access to reentry services when they’re released).

The motion would also create a committee to push diversion recommendations and to keep cross-agency collaboration running smoothly. The Permanent Steering Committee would be comprised of one official from the Chief Executive Office, the Superior Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternative Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Probation, the Fire Department, the Department of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse Prevention and the Control division of the Department of Public Health, and DHS.

“We need the Office of Diversion Services to serve as a pipeline, bringing people from one resource to the next in an effective way so they do not commit more crimes once they are released,” said Supe. Ridley-Thomas. “In fact, we need to design a game plan so that they don’t enter the system in the first place.”

The SoCal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, said that if the motion passed, “it would be a major step forward in the diversion effort.”


DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT POSE PROBLEMS

During a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing that focused on conditions in federal prisons, including solitary confinement practices, criminal justice advocates and prison officials had a strange disagreement about whether the US Bureau of Prisons even uses solitary confinement.

Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, told US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) that isolation isn’t actually happening in federal facilities because in the overstuffed prisons, inmates are sharing cells in solitary confinement, and are only housed solo if they are determined to be a threat to others or if a health professional deems it necessary.

But according to the Department of Justice’s own definition of solitary confinement, if inmates are kept in their cells for 22 or more hours per day, in limited contact with other people, it doesn’t matter whether or not inmates are in their own cells or housed with others.

The ACLU’s Amy Fettig, called the confusing exchange “simply a word game to try to cover up a practice that harms people.”

The National Journal’s Emma Roller has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We do not practice solitary confinement,” Samuels told Booker at the hearing. “Our practice has always been to ensure that when individuals are placed in restrictive housing, we place them in a cell with another individual, to also include that our staff make periodic rounds to check on the individuals.”

“I’m sorry, I just really need to be clear on that,” Booker cut in, sounding baffled. “Your testimony to me right now is that the BOP does not practice solitary confinement of individuals singularly in a confined area?”

“You’re correct,” Samuels said. “We only place an individual in a cell alone if we have good evidence to believe that the individual could cause harm to another individual and/or if we have our medical or mental health staff given an evaluation that it would be a benefit to the individual to be placed in a cell alone. We do not under any circumstances, nor have we ever, had a practice of placing individuals in a cell alone.”

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said Samuels did not testify accurately.

“It’s patently untrue. The Bureau of Prisons does use solitary confinement,” Fettig said. “It is simply a word game to try to cover up a practice that harms people.”

So, what explains the two different stories? According to Fettig, the bureau has reckoned with a growing prison population by double-celling inmates in solitary confinement, then claiming that doesn’t qualify as solitary confinement.

In fact, this interpretation is at odds with the bureau’s parent organization, the Department of Justice. The DOJ defines solitary confinement as “the state of being confined to one’s cell for approximately 22 hours per day or more, alone or with other prisoners, that limits contact with others.”

Read on.


FORMER PROSECUTOR AND JUDGE OPENS RANCH TO HELP KIDS BREAK FROM THE PATH TO JUVENILE DETENTION

In an essay for the Washington Post, Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips tells the story of how he went from landing kids in detention facilities as a Monterey County prosecutor (and then as a superior court judge), to creating a camp to keep kids out of lock-up.

The 100-acre Rancho Cielo Youth Campus in Salinas, provides teens and young adults with opportunities to earn college credits, participate in job training, and other skills-building services.

Judges can recommend teens for placement at Rancho Cielo, but no one is “sentenced” to stay at the camp. Phillips said he wanted the kids to see it as a space to grow and succeed, rather than as a punishment facility.
(now a Monterey County Supervisor)

According to Phillips, around 200 kids have graduated from Rancho Cielo, and that 83% of participants are still employed or in college one year after their time in the program ends. And, all told, Rancho Cielo’s costs are around 10% that of incarceration.

Here’s a clip from Phillips’ story:

I gained firsthand knowledge of the cycle of violence here — first during a long tenure as a Monterey County prosecutor and later as a Superior Court judge. I devoted most of my 21 years on the bench to criminal cases. During my career, I was responsible for sending a lot of young people to prison. That was my job.

By the mid-1990s, California had gotten tough on crime (“Use a gun and go to prison” and the three strikes law), and the legislature was severely restricting judicial discretion. I found myself having to decide whether an 18-year-old kid would be sentenced to either 46 years to life or 52 years to life. Most of the young people who stood before me were men of color who, because of multiple factors, had never had the opportunities that are supposed to be afforded to all our kids in this great nation.

There was also a bit of economic irony. Very few services were provided for young people involved in criminal activity before they got in trouble. But once the trigger was pulled, all sorts of resources were directed to them — police, prosecutors, a defense attorney, the judge, the judicial system, probation officers, and of course, prison incarceration. After a while, I didn’t feel as good as I once did about my job; I didn’t feel as if I was making things better. So I decided to do something about it.

I had learned there was one strategy that actually worked to engage disenfranchised young people: the combination of education, job training and, eventually, employment. These critical three experiences allow youths to reconnect with communities from which they feel alienated and help build the self-esteem and self-confidence that many lack.

I knew of a county-owned, 100-acre, abandoned facility in Salinas called Natividad Boys Camp. The beautiful land and distance from the streets of Salinas made it the perfect location for programs to help struggling kids regain trust in themselves and in our community. I tried to convince our county to restore the facility as a site for youth programs, but was told it would take $20 to $30 million to reopen the doors. It took the help of some friends in the legal community to form a nonprofit and convince the county to lease me the property.

Initially, my board of directors consisted mainly of elected officials. Frankly, we didn’t accomplish much. I was able to raise enough grant money to fund a feasibility study of my idea, but that $26,000 study concluded that the Rancho Cielo project was totally impossible. I decided to change direction and replaced my board of directors with people in the business community — construction industry leaders, in particular, since they were willing to get to work revamping the old building along with the kids.

I had no money, but we moved forward anyway, commencing work on the property in 2003. When I arrived at 7 a.m. on that first Saturday, 75 pickup trucks already covered the hills; 22 dump trucks from various trucking companies lined the road. It was a beautiful sight to see. We never looked back. a beautiful sight to see. We never looked back.


WASHINGTON POST AND HUFFPOST JOURNALISTS WHO COVERED FERGUSON ARE NOW FACING CHARGES IN ST. LOUIS

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly, who reported on the 2014 Ferguson protests, are now being charged in St. Louis with trespassing and interfering with a police officer.

According to officers, the journalists did not leave the McDonald’s they were working in quickly enough when they were ordered to pack up and go. Reilly reportedly had his head slammed against glass during the arrest, and Lowery said he was pushed into a soda fountain.

In a statement, the Washington Post’s executive director, Martin Baron said, “Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous.”

The Huffington Post, in a statement backing the reporters, said, “At least we know St. Louis County knows how to file charges. If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, solitary | 13 Comments »

Far-Reaching DOJ Settlement With LA County Sheriff’s Department to Trigger Major Jail Reform

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



The long-expected settlement between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
and the U.S. Department of Justice was officially announced Wednesday morning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown LA.

The settlement concerns the failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment, including “adequate mental health services,” for the mentally ill in the LA County’s long-troubled jails. It is the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span what is now nearly two decades of scrutiny of LA’s county lock-ups, starting in June 1996, “to determine whether the conditions in the jails violated the constitutional rights of its prisoners.”

Now, 19 years later, those investigations have resulted in a lawsuit that was filed in federal court, also on Wednesday, in which the DOJ alleges that indeed the County of Los Angeles “deprived” inmates in its jails of “rights, privileges or immunities” protected by the Constitution of the United States.”

Wednesday’s settlement is an agreement in lieu of the feds’ legal complaint going forward. The agreement required a stamp of approval by the LA County Board of Supervisors, who did the requisite stamping in a closed door meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Deckerhich said in a statement she hopes the settlement helps the county avoid “protracted litigation” and “provides a blueprint for durable reform.”

For the most part, however the tone at the press conference was cooperative and non-adversarial. For instance, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff made a point of reaching out to deputies and others working in the jails, whom he thanked as “dedicated professionals…. who are in the front lines at the jails every day. Their efforts are critical to the long-term success of this agreement…”


SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IN THE SETTLEMENT?

The agreement spells out in detail the series of marks that the department needs to hit within the next year, if it wants to stay out of legal hot water. It includes sections on new “scenario-based” training for LASD staff, suicide risk procedures, appropriate data gathering, the use of restraints, use of force and more. The settlement also delves deeply into what kind of review procedures should kick in within the department, if and when things go wrong—in other words, if there is a suicide, attempted self harm, or a “critical incident.”

As to how the settlement actually works: if the department fails to hit the agreed upon marks specified, the federal judge in charge of the settlement can step in and institute penalties—i.e. the oversight period can be extended. The department’s progress will be overseen most closely by an independent monitor, who will also have the help of a small team of “content experts.”

Attorney Richard Drooyan was named as the monitor. As a former head of the Los Angeles police commission, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney and—most relevantly—the general counsel for the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence—Drooyan is considered to be an excellent choice. Plus, due to their time spent together on the CCJV, he is someone with whom Sheriff McDonnell already has a good and established relationship.


THE SHERIFF PICKS UP THE TOOL

The sheriff seems genuinely to welcome the agreement, which he described a “…comprehensive approach to reform” that he and the department’s custody leadership “fully embrace.”

McDonnell also rightly sees the 60-page document as a useful tool that—as he told radio host Warren Olney Wednesday on KCRW’s Which Way LA?—will give him the needed leverage “to get the resources necessary,” to accomplish long lasting reform.

When asked about the personnel training that the settlement requires, McDonnell quickly gave what he said was a representative example of why it was badly needed. “We teach deputies in the academy to be assertive, to raise your voice where appropriate…” but, he said, “if you do that with someone with autism, that is exactly the wrong thing to do, it sets someone off” and you end up in a confrontation that could have been avoided.

In a letter sent to department members, McDonnell was similarly upbeat about the potential positive effects of the deal with the feds, describing the agreement as an opportunity.

Even prior to the agreement, he wrote, the department had already been able to use requirements contained in the coming settlement to make needed changes and put in place additional resources—with, of course, the fiscal support of the board of supervisors. Those changes included:


· 500 additional LASD personnel
. Over 160 additional DMH personnel
· Multiple jail modifications to reduce suicide risks
· More frequent safety checks
· Additional cleaning crews
· Increased training opportunities for interaction with the mentally ill
· Enhanced inmate assessments and additional treatment
· Drug treatment and community re-entry planning
· Additional out of cell therapy and recreation time

“You are part of an historic time for the LASD,” McDonnell wrote, “and this agreement will establish us as being on the leading edge of modern correctional systems. While I have always said I welcome outside eyes on the Department, this will continue to be a collaborative process, and one that we will accomplish together, as a team.”


THE BAD OLD DAYS

So, if things have improved, how how bad were they before?

Actually, really bad—at least in certain quarters.

As recently as four years ago, the LA Times reported the story about a young deputy, an “honor recruit” who was a standout at the academy, was allegedly forced to beat up a mentally ill inmate, then to participate in a cover up. According to the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi, the deputy, Joshua Sather, “said that shortly before the inmate’s beating his supervisor said, ‘We’re gonna go in and teach this guy a lesson,” according to the records.” The attack, according to Sather, was then covered up.”

By the way, reportedly no one was disciplined over the whole mess.

Many of the worst examples of the kind of conduct that brought on the law suit and the settlement have to do with the mishandling and/or neglect of suicidal inmates, too often resulting in tragic and unnecessary inmate deaths, such as the death of 22-year-old John Horton, whose suicide in Men’s Central Jail we wrote about in 2009.

And, although the DOJ admits that there has been much laudable reform, there are more recent incidents, like the circumstances last month that led the sheriff to relieve 10 department members of duty after learning that an inmate who had displayed “suicidal ideation,” and was believed to have other mental problems, had reportedly been in some kind of restraints for 32 hours without being fed or given more than a cup of water, after head-butting or pushing a female deputy causing her to sustain a concussion.


IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE MENTALLY ILL

The settlement also makes it very clear that, while most of the reforms it requires have to do with the treatment of the mentally ill, the DOJ is equally concerned with the treatment—or more properly mistreatment—of inmates in general, such as the abuse of a jail visitor that resulted in the recent conviction of three former department members, and the plea deals for two others.

In that regard, the settlement points to the ACLU’s massive class action lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca, that was settled earlier this year, known as the Rosas agreement.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2012, alleged that then Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies of inmates in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

The Rosas settlement, like the DOJ settlement, resulted in a roadmap for reform, complete with required goals, the accomplishment of which, is to be overseen by three independent monitors, and enforced by a federal judge who can find the department in contempt.

Wednesday’s DOJ settlement repeatedly mentions the Rosas agreement, suggesting that it is filling in what Rosas didn’t cover: “…this Agreement addresses remaining allegations concerning suicide prevention and mental health care at the Jails…”

Peter Eliasberg, the Southern California ACLU’s legal director, and the prime mover behind Rosas, was very heartened by the DOJ settlement. “For far too long, the County Board of Supervisors turned a blind eye to evidence of savage abuse by deputies and failure to provide even minimally adequate treatment to inmates with mental illness, even after presented with 2008 and 2010 ACLU reports that specifically outlined many of the same problems this agreement seeks to fix.” This oversight, he said, along with the Rosas agreement…”will finally bring much needed change to the nation’s largest jail system.”

At the press conference, McDonnell expressed similar sentiments, but understandibly gave them a slightly more buoyant spin. “This is our collective opportunity,” he said, “to be on the leading edge of reform and to serve as a model for the nation.”

We genuinely hope so.

Posted in Department of Justice, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 24 Comments »

Thousands of CA’s Disenfranchised Will Soon Gain Voting Rights, LA Supes Hear Reports on Mental Health Diversion and Jail Building, and 20-Year Interviews in Solitary

August 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA SECRETARY OF STATE MOVES TO END FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF THOUSANDS OF AB 109′ERS UNDER COUNTY SUPERVISION

On Tuesday, two days before the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that voting rights would be restored to thousands with felony convictions under county supervision through Realignment.

(If you need a refresher: California’s Public Safety Realignment, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration and supervision burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties.)

Sec. of State Padilla’s move is a reversal of a decision his predecessor, Debra Bowen, made to disenfranchise realignment probationers. Before Bowen’s move, only people with felonies who were still incarcerated or who were on state parole were barred from voting.

Last year, Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo ruled against Bowen’s 2011 removal of voting rights. By the time Bowen was leaving office she had appealed Grillo’s decision. Padilla, who inherited the appeal, chose to drop the challenge, saying, “Civic engagement and participation in the election process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society.”

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism,” Padilla continued, “We need to engage—not shun—former-offenders.”


LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY PRESENTS MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PLAN TO SUPES

On Tuesday, at the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report detailing a plan to divert mentally ill offenders from county jails into community treatment.

“We have some resources, we have some diversion occurring, but it’s simply not to the scale that we need to do it,” said DA Lacey.

The most imperative part of the plan is implementing major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, but Lacey also wants to add more urgent cares where officers can bring people in crisis, as well as launch a specialized housing program.

Too many of our low-level offenders leave jail in worse shape than if their behavior was addressed in treatment,” said LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “Our jails simply were not built as treatment centers or with long-term treatment in mind.”

Lacey also stressed the importance of interagency communication (for instance, between the Department of Mental Health and the sheriff’s department) through a central data system, and adding more co-deployed teams of officers and clinicians to better serve the needs of people in the midst of a mental health emergency.

WLA previously posted about Lacey’s diversion report. Read more about it here.

LA County’s interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented her own report to the board–a fiscal review of the DA’s mental health diversion plan. The report breaks down estimated costs for each of Lacey’s 29 recommendations

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and the CEO estimates a total implementation cost of $83,574,841.

According to the CEO’s report, the board should made a decision by at least August 17, so as not to lose state funding for a proposed $100 million renovation of a Mira Loma detention facility to accommodate female prisoners.


CONSULTING FIRM GIVES INTERESTING REPORT ON MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL REPLACEMENT PLAN

Another important issue before the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday came in the form of a report from Health Management Associates explaining to the board what kind of population needs to be accommodated by a new jail, while taking into consideration Prop. 47, mental health diversion, and other major factors.

The report recommends the Men’s Central Jail replacement have a 4,600 to 5,060 bed capacity, a range very similar to the capacity of a jail plan tabled by the Supes last month in order to explore the feasibility of a smaller jail. If the county does not move forward on the diversion initiatives, the jail will need to hold 6,773 inmates, according to the report.

HMA predicts jail population growth, from 17,000 to 21,599 in the next 10 years, despite successful efforts to lower the population via things like split-sentencing and the passage of Prop 47—which reclassified certain non-serious felony offenses as misdemeanors.

The LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By 2025, 4,600 to 5,060 beds will be needed in the new facility for inmates who require medical and mental health care if the county pursues its current diversion and community treatment initiatives. If the county does not dedicate those resources, 6,773 beds will be needed to house a mentally stressed population by 2025, the consultants from Health Management Associates projected.

Drastic measures are needed to avoid violating the civil rights of inmates, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

“The current state of the jails in the County of Los Angeles strikes a note of unconstitutionality and a violation of civil rights,” Ridley-Thomas said. “To the extent that this the case, the status quo cannot be and will not be tolerated. Therefore, what is before us is how to uphold public safety and make sure those who require incarceration are incarcerated without the violation of their rights.”

Finding other facilities outside of the jails to house mentally ill inmates could open space to treat high-risk inmates with substance abuse issues, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.

Based on county population projections and sentencing trends, the consultants estimated that the total jail population will grow to more than 21,000 by 2025. There are about 17,900 inmates currently within the county’s eight jail facilities, and about 3,500 of those inmates have some form of mental illness.

The percentage of inmates who require medical and mental health treatment is projected to grow from about 20 percent in 2015 to about 34 percent in 2035, the consultants said.

The supervisors will likely vote on the jail plan next week since the construction of the proposed jail is tied to the construction of a new women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Center. The county is applying for a $100 million state grant for the Mira Loma Detention Center plan, which has an Aug. 17 deadline, according to the county interim CEO.


A VERY HUMAN LOOK AT THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

In 1993 a social psychologist named Craig Haney conducted interviews with prisoners locked in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. Dr. Haney’s aim was to study the psychological effects of isolation.

When Dr. Haney came back two decades later for more interviews, he was shocked to find some of the same inmates still in solitary confinement. They had spent 20 years in windowless boxes away from other humans. Haney interviewed dozens of inmates who had spent between 10-28 years in isolation as part of a report for a class action lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s use of solitary confinement.

Because most researchers have used either test subjects or inmates who have not been in solitary for very long, Haney’s interviews provide a rare look into what happens to a person who is isolated for years.

The New York Times’ Erica Goode has more on Dr. Haney’s interviews and findings. Here’s a clip:

…the inmates, Dr. Haney found, still had many of the same symptoms. “The passage of time had not significantly ameliorated their pain,” he wrote.

For comparison, Dr. Haney also interviewed 25 randomly selected maximum-security inmates at Pelican Bay who were not in solitary confinement.

While 63 percent of the men in solitary for more than 10 years said they felt close to an “impending breakdown,” only 4 percent of the maximum-security inmates reported feeling that way.

Similarly, among the prisoners in isolation, 73 percent reported chronic depression and 78 percent said they felt emotionally flat, compared with 48 percent and 36 percent among the maximum-security inmates.

In depositions prepared for the Pelican Bay lawsuit, the inmates in long-term solitary also described having anxiety, paranoia, perceptual disturbances and deep depression.

One plaintiff, Mr. Reyes,said he had severe insomnia and that in the silence of the isolation unit, he sometimes heard a voice calling his name and cell number. Other times, he said, “I just see spots, just little things move.”

Mr. Redd, said that his dreams were often violent but that they became that way only after coming to Pelican Bay.

“I didn’t even have dreams,” he said. “I didn’t even have thoughts of looking up at the top of my bunk and you see cracks on the bunk and say, ‘Hey, man, if they got a little earthquake, this wall, this top bunk is going to fall down on you.’ You know, you start getting a little nervous thing.”

Locked in his cell, Mr. Redd said, he often plunged into despair.

“It’s not to the point where you want to commit suicide,” he said, “but sometimes, I’m at the point that I’d be wanting to write the judge and say, ‘Just give me the death penalty. Just give me the death penalty, man.’ ”

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health | No Comments »

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