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Model Educational Program in Some of LA’s Juvie Camps….1 in 25 of Death Sentenced Inmates Likely Innocent….Drug Offender Releases Did Not Cause Recidivism….and More

April 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


LA COUNTY’S EXPERIMENTAL EDU PROGRAM FOR LOCKED-UP YOUTH MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN KIDS’ LIVES

In 2010, some of Los Angeles County’s juvenile camps had such a ghastly record for educating the kids in their care (or more properly not educating them) that the So Cal ACLU and others won a massive lawsuit against LA County Probation and the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) forcing the two county agencies to get their collective act together.

Fast forward to 2014. Probation and LACOE are running a model educational program called the Road to Success Academy in its in girls’ camps—with startlingly good results.

By fall 2015, the Road to Success AcademY is expected to be in operation in half the county’s juvie camps.

Elly Yu at the Juvenile Justice Exchange has more on this and other educational programs for young people in lock-ups around the country that are making a difference in kids’ lives.

Here’s a clip:

When 17-year-old Moriah Barrett first entered Camp Scott, a juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles County, Calif., she was already far behind in school credits in completing the 11th grade. Because of her charges, she would be spending the next five months of her life at the all-girls’ facility — finishing high school wasn’t on her mind.

But at Camp Scott, Moriah enrolled at the Road to Success Academy, a public school run by the Los Angeles County Office of Education and housed within the juvenile detention facility. She said it wasn’t like anything she had expected.

Instead of filling in photocopied packets like she did at juvenile hall, she was working on science projects that involved rockets or writing beats about the human skeletal system. She wrote self-reflective essays, painted murals, and met weekly with a counselor to check in on her credit status. Within five months, she was able to complete her GED.

“When I was at Road to Success, it was completely different. They had devoted teachers,” Moriah said. “You can see they’re caring. They don’t give up on you.”

The Road to Success Academy, which started in 2010 as a pilot project, is among a handful of schools across the nation that have been trying to turn the tide of poor education within juvenile justice facilities. Their models have included innovative ways of teaching, emphasis on higher education and the recruitment of high quality teachers.


ONE IN 25 DEATH PENALTY CONVICTIONS MAY BE WRONG

Since the advent of so many DNA innocence cases and other dramatic criminal exonerations in the last few years, many are increasingly haunted by the question of how many more innocent people are still serving long sentences but remain undiscovered. Even worse, have we executed innocent people?

A new statistical study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences attempts to quantify answers to those questions.

Pete Yost of the AP has the story. Here’s a clip:

About one in 25 people imprisoned under a death sentence is likely innocent, according to a new statistical study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And that means it is all but certain that at least several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent, the study says.

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.


LOW LEVEL DRUG OFFENDERS RELEASED EARLY DID NOT INCREASE RECIDIVISM SAYS STUDY

Last week’s Department of Justice announcement that it encourages petitions for clemency for some nonviolent drug offenders serving outsized sentences in federal lock-ups caused some Republican lawmakers to complain that public safety might be adversely affected.

It turns out, however, that in 2011, the U.S. Sentencing Commission did a study that examined whether drug offenders let out early were more or less likely to recidivate than those who served their full sentences.

And the difference in the two groups was….zero. (Actually, the people who served their full sentence were one percentage point more likely to reoffend.)

Ian Duncan of the The Baltimore Sun has more. Here’s a clip.

….the potential freeing of thousands of inmates is not completely unknown for the federal justice system — and advocates for shorter sentences say experience shows prisoners can be released without harming the public.

Previous changes to sentencing rules have led to early release for tens of thousands of inmates serving time for crack convictions. In 2011 the U.S. Sentencing Commission looked at what effect the changes had on ex-convicts’ likelihood of re-offending.

The study compared the recidivism rates of two groups of inmates. The first included crack offenders who had their sentences cut after a 2007 change to the rules. The second consisted of inmates in similar cases who had served their entire original sentence.

“The overall recidivism rates for the two groups are similar,” the report’s authors concluded.

The study found that among the group released early, 30 percent had re-offended within two years of getting out of prison. In the group that served full sentences, the rate was about 32 percent. The study found the difference not statistically significant.

For advocates of early release, like James Wyda, the federal public defender in Maryland, the finding is important because it appears to show prisoners can be released early without posing a greater threat to the public.

“We’ve granted so much sentencing relief and no one notices — not a story,” he said.

That opens the door to the possibility of cutting sentences further, Wyda added. “How far could you take these sentences down and still meet the purposes of punishment?” he asked.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF OUTSIZED MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING….

CNN’S Wesley Bruer and Nick Valencia have this story. Here’s a clip:

“I did not really realize I was getting life until the date of sentencing. When my attorney told me, I told him that I wanted to take back my guilty plea… they denied me.”

Timothy Tyler says his life ended when he was 23-years-old. That was two decades ago, when he was arrested and later sentenced to a mandatory double-life term in prison without the possibility of parole for conspiracy to possess LSD with intent to distribute. A self-described “Deadhead,” Tyler was busted after mailing five grams of the hallucinogenic drug to a friend who was working as an informant for the federal government.

He’s had more than 20 years to fixate on that moment, years of “what ifs” and “whys.” More than 20 years of feeling like he died, until now.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, juvenile justice, LASD, law enforcement, Probation, Sentencing | No Comments »

The #myNYPD Twitter Disaster, Shortage of Foster Parents for Kids with Higher Needs, Problems with New Clemency Initiative…and More

April 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

#MYNYPD SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN BACKFIRES

Originally intended to inspire Twitter users to share nice pictures of the New York police force interacting with the communities they serve, the Twitter publicity campaign, #myNYPD, set off an explosion of tweets depicting aggressive arrests and alleged abuses of power by officers. Once the campaign turned sour, it spread to other cities across the nation, including Los Angeles. This isn’t the first Twitter failure of its kind (nor is it likely to be the last).

NPR’s Rachel Martin talks to professor Zeynep Tufekci (of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard) about this particular botched Twitter publicity stunt and others like it, and the learning opportunity they provide. Here’s a clip:

MARTIN: So the NYPD has been trying to get into the world of social media more aggressively recently. What went wrong with this particular effort?

TUFEKCI: Well, what went wrong is that social media doesn’t function like old-style public relations, where you could just push a message and not expect to hear back. What happens is, if people have something they want to say to you, they will say it back to you.

This is not the first time this happened. McDonalds tried the same thing with #McDStories as a hash tag and in fact, they paid to promote it. And people told their own McDonald’s stories that were far from flattering to McDonald’s. So this is something that is a reality in the 21st century. If people want to talk back to you, and you wade into the places where they can talk back, they will. It doesn’t work like television.

MARTIN: Last year, the financial services firm JPMorgan Chase created the hash tag #AskJPM. And they found themselves hit with a deluge of negative questions along the lines of – did you always want to be part of a vast corrupt criminal enterprise or did you break bad? So again, what are we seeing – the same kind of mistakes being repeated by corporations when it comes to social media?

TUFEKCI: Well, one way to look at it as mistakes, from a public relations point of view. But if you look at it from a civic point of view, it’s actually – rather than mistakes, it’s an opportunity for reality of perception to break through.

As for JPMorgan’s precedent-setting, positive PR-seeking catastrophe, here is a video of actor Stacy Keach reading #AskJPM tweets:

(For more on JPMorgan’s failed Q&A session, we recommend this Rolling Stone story by Matt Taibbi.)


“THERAPEUTIC FOSTER CARE” AND THE SCARCITY OF PEOPLE WILLING TO FOSTER KIDS WITH MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS

The LA County Department of Children and Family Services struggles to come up with suitable foster parents for the 18,000 kids in the system—period. Even more difficult than finding placements for foster kids in general, is finding homes for the approximately 300 kids with severe mental and behavioral health issues, designated as requiring “therapeutic foster care.” The majority of these kids in need of foster parents willing to go above and beyond, end up in group homes.

Potential foster parents who participate in the DCFS “therapeutic foster care” program, have to go through 60 extra hours of training, but receive more resources, incentives, and help than other foster parents. And outcomes for kids who participate in the program are “spectacular,” says Mary Nichols, who runs the therapeutic program.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

There’s a severe lack of homes for L.A. County’s most vulnerable foster children. And each day the county fails to find a home for them is another day it violates a federal court order.

That’s according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which is desperately trying to find homes for kids with mental health needs, who have been traumatized by family violence, and have been bumped around the foster care system. This group is at particularly high risk of dropping out of school, abusing drugs, and incarceration.

Nearly 18,000 children are currently in foster care in Los Angeles County. Of those, DCFS has identified about 300 who have severe mental health and behavioral problems — children who qualify for a relatively new program known as “therapeutic foster care.” In 2008, the county started the program in response to a federal court order to move kids with mental health problems – but not so severe that they need hospitalization – out of institutional-style group homes and into family homes.

The problem is there aren’t enough foster parents willing to participate in the program. At this point, there is room for 102 children in the system. The need has grown so dire that six family foster care agencies — who usually compete for parents — have banded together in a recruitment campaign to find homes for these children with special needs.


PROBLEMS NOT ADDRESSED BY THE DOJ’S NEW, BROADER CLEMENCY APPLICATION CRITERIA

Last week we linked to a new Department of Justice clemency initiative (here, and here) that will widen the pool of federal prisoners that can apply for a presidential pardon—namely non-violent drug offenders sentenced under old laws.

While this is a step in the right direction, ProPublica’s Kara Brandeisky points to several problems within the clemency system that the new initiative and application criteria fail to address.

Here’s a clip from just one of the issues:

The new criteria apply to inmates who are serving federal sentences that are longer than sentences that would likely be given today. To be fast-tracked for commutation consideration, inmates must have served 10 years of a sentence for a non-violent crime. They must also be low-level offenders without gang affiliations who have demonstrated good conduct.

The Justice Department has identified about 23,000 prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or more, but it’s unclear how many of these inmates meet the other criteria. If inmates do not meet all the criteria, they may still apply for early release, but their applications will not be given priority.

Some prisoners convicted under older, harsher sentencing rules who haven’t yet served 10 years won’t be eligible. Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director at the ACLU, said that’s why Congress should pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would let courts reduce sentences for prisoners convicted under out-of-date laws.

Gupta said that while the new criteria are sensible, they should not be a substitute for congressional action. “Clemency has been grossly underutilized, but it’s not going to bring relief to everyone who should see relief,” Gupta said. “And it’s not going to change some of the laws.”

Read on.


LOS ANGELES SHERIFF DEBATE REMINDER

Los Angeles County Sheriff candidates (with the exception of Paul Tanaka) will square off in their latest debate tonight (Monday) at 6:00p.m. at the Ronald Deaton Auditorium. This particular debate is sponsored by the Professional Peace Officers Association. Further info can be found on the PPOA website.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Should We Spend $2 Billion on New Jails? Which Way LA? & Candidates Opine….and More

April 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHICH WAY LA? LOOKS AT NEWEST VERSION OF THE COUNTY’S EVER EXPANDING JAIL BUILDING PLAN

Nearly everyone seems to agree that we need to tear down the decrepit and dangerous monstrosity that is Men’s Central Jail. Members of the LA County Board of Supervisors think so, as does Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald who is in charge of the jails for the sheriff’s department, along with So Cal ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg, and various criminal justice advocates.

But after it’s torn down, then what?

On Wednesday, Vanir Construction Management Inc. released the latest iteration of what has now ballooned into a possible $2.3 billion jail building project for the supervisors to consider in replacing Mens Central Jail and building a new 1,600-bed women’s jail at the now-disused Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster. The proposed new facility would replace the overcrowded women’s jail in Lynwood.

There are actually five versions of the plan that range in price from $1.74 billion to $2.32 billion.

The dollar figure is up from an earlier set of plans presented by Vanir last July, which were priced from $1.3 billion up to the deluxe version at $1.6 billion. And those price tags were already a jump from the $1 billion Vanir suggested just four months earlier still.

On Thursday night, KCRW’s Which Way LA? hosted a critical discussion of the plan featuring Assistant Sheriff McDonald, and the ACLU’s Eliasberg, with Barbara Bogaev hosting, standing in for Warren Olney.

Along with the price increases, the segment touched on a lot of the issues that have been troubling us. Things like:

Why is a Vanir—a construction company—acting as the highly paid “consultant” that comes up with the jail reform plan? Isn’t that a bit of a conflict of interest? Put another way, isn’t this report really just a bunch of glorified bids?

In any case, be sure to listen.

The Supes are due to consider the plan on May 6, which is Tuesday after next. We’ll have more on the matter closer to the date.


IN LATEST SHERIFF’S DEBATE CANDIDATES TALK JAIL BUILDING & MORE… AND TRADE JABS WITH EACH OTHER

As it happens, in the most recent sheriff’s candidates’ debate on Thursday night at the Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, the seven would-be sheriffs were each asked what they thought of the expensive Vanir jail building proposal.

(For the record, this debate was moderated by the League of Women Voters and sponsored by Dignity Now: Safety for All in partnership with ACLU of Southern California; Justice, Not Jails; Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership; and Committee for Racial Justice.)

The candidates did not seem as prepared for the question as they had been for most of the others so their responses were interesting.

Here’s a rundown on what the seven said:

Todd Rogers, who fielded the question first, balked visibly at the price, then said that although he favored a replacement for Men’ Central Jail, he did not want to see the number of beds in the county system increased.

“I think we have plenty of jail beds in LA County and I think we can do a better job of managing our population.” Rodgers said that more than fifty percent of the jail population was mentally ill or locked up as a result of substance abuse.

“We need to find…treatment out in the community for many of these people,” he said, and save the jail beds for those who really need them. This wasn’t easy, Rogers added. As assistant sheriff, he’d tried to find beds for the mentally ill. “And we only found 200. That’s unacceptable.”

Tanaka too favored getting rid of MCJ, the flaws of which he described in detail. But he also recoiled from the high price and talked about the groups who did not need to be in the facility, like “low level first time offenders who don’t belong there.”

He said that of the low level offenders should be diverted to “community programs that can get them on their feet and back out as productive members of society….The same thing goes for the mentally ill.”

Lou Vince, Pat Gomez and Jim Hellmold also said no increased jail capacity, although Hellmold was particularly adamant that the nightmarish Men’s Central had to be bulldozed.

McDonnell said that when he was on the jails commission he learned from a custody facilities expert that Men’s Central Jail was one of the worst structures in the nation. But he was one more who questioned the big jump in price to replace the thing.

McDonnell also hit the topic of the jail systems’ alarming numbers of mentally ill inmates. “We need to deal with mental health,” he said,“but we need to deal with it on the front end, before people ever get to jail.” For those who do wind up in the jails, he said, “we need to do the best we can,” which required “a state of the art facility.”

Eventually McDonnell circled away from the building plan, and back to the issue abuse in the jails. How the facility is run “is the most critical part of the issue,” he said. “How we house [the inmates] or where we house them is one issue. But how we treat people with respect and dignity is a whole other issue.”

Olmsted, who went last, said he’d been part of an earlier discussion to replace Men’s Central in 2008, when the price tag was far lower. But whatever the price, he said, the problem was still the same.

“When was the last time you heard of our jails being undercrowded.” he shouted to the audienced, then paused as the audience laughed. “Never! he said in answer to his own question.

So what would Olmsted do? “I can get 3000 or 3500 more beds… by having an intervention program for the mentally ill— a mental health court to get them booked somewhere else before they ever get into the system. ….I don’t think society ever envisioned Men’s Central Jail being the largest mental health hospital in the nation.”

The rest of the debate was reasonably lively and featured the candidates taking jabs at each other.

Many of the jabs were aimed at Tanaka who, at present, has raised the most campaign funds, and, save for McDonnell, has the lengthiest list of endorsements. Candidates made frequent reference to Tanaka’s infamous “working the grey,” speeches. At one point, Lou Vince even quipped to Tanaka with a glance at his attire, “I wouldn’t have worn a grey suit tonight.”

In his closing remarks, Tanaka took his own swings back with some humor as he made reference to the punches he’d been taking all evening, and at earlier debates.

“I would venture guess that I’ve not met most of you, probably 99 percent of you, before tonight. So everything that you perceived about Paul Tanaka before you walked in tonight you read about or was perpetuated by these guys up here. And I know what you were thinking because I looked out in audience the when I sat down, and I saw some of you whisper, I know exactly what you were thinking. you were thinking, “Damn, I thought he was a lot bigger!”

“Because of all these horrendous things you’ve heard about me, I would just ask you to look at facts—objectively and non-emotionally….”

“Take a look at my 33 year track record…” And then he ticked off his accomplishments.

Posted in 2014 election, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 19 Comments »

Four Former LASD Undersheriffs Endorse Jim McDonnell for Sheriff….and Slam Paul Tanaka

April 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



At 10:30 on Thursday morning, four retired undersheriffs for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department announced their collective endorsement
of Long Beach Chief of Police, Jim McDonnell, for the office of Sheriff of LA County.

The retired officials making the announcement were Robert Edmonds, Jerry Harper and Paul Myron, along with the fourth of the group, Theodore von Minden who was not present. Taking turns reading from a prepared statement in front of the cluster of reporters who had gathered for the press conference held in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, the three said that they had carefully considered all seven candidates before making their selection of McDonnell.

“We are here today because we care deeply about the leadership entrusted to the next elected sheriff of Los Angeles County. We believe that the people of this county and the nearly 18,000 member of the sheriff’s department sorely need and want a leader who can insure the public trust.”

And that person was McDonnell, they said. explaining that they didn’t see the Long Beach Chief as outsider, “but a prominent, highly respected member of the greater law enforcement family of police agencies that our LASD deputies work with 24/7.” The department needs a fresh perspective, they said, and McDonnell was the most qualified to bring that perspective.

The men did not simply praise their candidate of choice., They were also highly critical of retired Sheriff Baca and his former second in command, Paul Tanaka, who is one of the six other candidates for for sheriff.

“We sadly recognize that the administration of retire Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka was beset with major problems which have damaged the department as well as the public trust,” they said in their prepared statement. said the three. “These failures were of their own making.”

Once the formal presentation was over, Harper, Myron and Edmonds went further in their criticism of Tanaka. “We don’t think he is qualified. He should not be running,” said Harper.

Paul Myron said he hoped the voters would take the time to inform themselves by “reading the report from the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.”

Edmonds pointed to the federal charges of obstruction of justice that have been brought against seven department members. “When you have deputies go out and brace an FBI agent, there’s no way that would happen without higher command being involved.”

All three talked about Tanaka’s reported speeches to deputies urging them to “work the gray.”

“We all know what that means,” said Harper, dismissing Tanaka’s contention that the phrase was a harmless one merely referred to deputies using discretion in certain situations. “There’s such a thing as discretionary law enforcement.” Telling young deputies “to work in the gray is totally different.”

The three did have praise for three of the other candidates, Jim Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, and Todd Rogers, all of whom they said had a lot of strengths. (They felt that Pat Gomez and Lou Vince did not have enough supervisory experience to run an complicated agency the size of the sheriff’s department.)

When asked about the endorsement and the criticism, Tanaka campaign spokesman, Reed Galen, told reporter Ruby Gonzales of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that “apparently these gentlemen have been off the job too long to understand and appreciate Tanaka’s 31-year career in the sheriff’s department”

The four retired undersheriffs have a collective 48 years serving in the two highest ranks in the LASD under that of the sheriff. Von Minden was as assistant sheriff for Peter J. Pitchess, and the first undersheriff for Sherman Block. Edmonds and Harper both served as assistant sheriffs and undersheriffs for Block. Myron was the first undersheriff for Lee Baca.

Two of the four have sons now working in the department.

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 28 Comments »

New, More Expensive Los Angeles Jail Proposal, LASD Deputies Planted Guns in Marijuana Clinic, DCFS Director on Foster Care Reforms, and the New Clemency Criteria

April 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES JAIL REPLACEMENT PROPOSAL RELEASED, AND IS EVEN MORE PRICEY THAN THE LAST TWO BIDS

On Wednesday, Vanir Construction Management Inc. released a report detailing five options for replacing the aging Men’s Central Jail, as requested by the Board of Supervisors. The proposed options range in price from $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over a ten year period.

This isn’t the first jail construction bid presented to the county. Last July, the jail-replacement proposals ranged in price from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.

A few months before that, in March of 2013, LA County CEO Bill Fujioka and Sheriff Lee Baca proposed a $933 million jail building project.

We presume there’s a good reason for the repeatedly escalated price, and we hope that will be a topic of discussion by the Board of Supervisors.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the latest on the construction proposals. Here’s a clip:

The county supervisors, concerned about deteriorating facilities and poor living conditions for inmates with mental health issues, want to tear down the aging Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and replace it. The new facility would be primarily focused on housing inmates with physical and mental health needs and substance abuse issues.

Officials are also contemplating creating a new 1,600-bed women’s jail at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, to replace the overcrowded women’s jail in Lynwood.

The plan is not expected to increase the county’s total number of available jail beds, but officials said it would help the county comply with federal mandates on the treatment of mentally ill inmates, and would allow women — who are typically lower risk than male inmates — to be housed in a less restrictive environment with more options for job training and other programs.

The report by Vanir Construction Management laid out five options, all of which involve replacing the Men’s Central Jail. The new facility would hold between 4,860 and 5,860 inmates, depending on the option chosen, with the bulk of the beds set aside for inmates needing medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and a smaller number of beds for high-security inmates. Four of the five options also include a new women’s jail.

The construction is projected to cost between $1.74 billion and $2.32 billion over the next 10 years, and after that would add $162 million to $300 million a year to the county’s jail operating costs.


LOS ANGELES DEPUTIES PLANT GUNS IN MARIJUANA CLINIC, FALSELY ARREST TWO MEN

In an alarming story, two former LA County deputies, Julio Martinez and Anthony Paez, are accused of planting two guns in a marijuana dispensary in order to arrest two men. Over a year later, an internal investigation found inconsistencies between the deputies’ report and the dispensary’s surveillance tape.

The ex-deputies face more than seven years each behind bars, if convicted.

ABC7′s Hanna Chu has the story. Here’s a clip:

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged on Wednesday with one felony count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and peace officer altering evidence, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office announced. Martinez was also charged with two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

Prosecutors say the deputies wrote a report saying they “witnessed a narcotics transaction and observed one suspect with a firearm” while they were on patrol in the area of West 84th Place on Aug. 24, 2011.

Martinez apparently followed one suspect inside a pot clinic, where he allegedly found a firearm near a trash bin and another next to ecstasy pills. One man was taken into custody for possession of an unregistered firearm, while another man was arrested for possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.

Charges had been filed against the two men falsely arrested. The case against one of the men was later dismissed, however the other suspect had pled before the corruption was discovered. The district attorney’s office said it was in the process of notifying the man’s defense attorney.

An investigation into the incident about a year later found that the deputies’ report was inconsistent with a video recording from the pot clinic. According to a criminal complaint, Martinez kicked at a wall outlet to shut off electricity inside the room during the incident, while Paez “opened a drawer and retrieved a handgun and placed it on a chair.”

Charges were dropped against one of the two men falsely arrested, but the other was sentenced to a year in jail (according to the LA Times’ Kate Mather).


DCFS DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT

On Wednesday’s Air Talk, host Larry Mantle talks with Philip Browning, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services about the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report.

Browning has some interesting things to say about the commission’s recommendations, so take a listen.

Here is a clip from the episode’s summary:

The department’s director, Philip Browning, says they have an oversight body already – the Board of Supervisors. He says many of the ideas have been instituted already – “about 96% have been partially or fully implemented.”

He goes on to say new social-worker training incorporates home-call simulations and promotes critical thinking and common sense. Was the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection more of the same – or critical to overhaul DCFS? What will the Board of Supervisors decide?


DOJ ANNOUNCES NEW CLEMENCY CRITERIA

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative by the Department of Justice to open up the possibility of clemency to low-level drug offenders sentenced under outdated federal guidelines.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the new, broader criteria for clemency applications.

Here’s a clip from the Justice Dept. website:

Under the new initiative, the department will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following factors:

They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;

They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;

They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;

They do not have a significant criminal history;

They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and

They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole. “Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.”

Posted in Foster Care, jail, LASD, War on Drugs | 9 Comments »

When the LASD Spied on the City of Compton—and Forgot to Tell Anybody

April 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this month, The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED ran a jointly produced story about the future of high tech surveillance. As the story’s centerpiece, the reporters focused on a 2012 program of aerial surveillance that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department operated for nine days in the city of Compton.

Here’s the opening clip from the story produced G.W. Schultz and Amanda Pike:

When sheriff’s deputies here noticed a burst of necklace snatchings from women walking through town, they turned to an unlikely source to help solve the crimes: a retired Air Force veteran named Ross McNutt.

McNutt and his Ohio-based company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, persuaded the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to use his surveillance technology to monitor Compton’s streets from the air and track suspects from the moment the snatching occurred.

The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.

“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”

So did the people of Compton know about this eye in the sky?

Uh, no. As it turns out they didn’t. At least not when it was going on. Here’s what Sergeant Doug Iketani, who supervised the project, told KQED.

The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

The CIR/KQED report of a “hush-hush” surveillance program in LA County sparked a rash of stories in which people—–some of them Compton residents—–expressed their distinct displeasure at the whole notion.

For example there were stories in CBS Los Angeles….Reason Magazine.The Atlantic….and TechDirt.…among others.

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon of this week, the LASD put out a press release, saying that in the end the department decided not to use the system past its nine day experiment. According to the release, the main reason for nixing the surveillance system had to do with the fact that the images it produced weren’t high resolution enough for the watchers to be able to ID law breakers. In fact, it turned out it was also difficult to tell autos apart.

So nobody needs to get all upset, the release implied, although not in so many words.

“Hawkeye II Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System” was simply a system tested and evaluated as an option which would supplement cameras already deployed in the city of Compton. No notification to the residents was made because this system was being tested in a city where cameras were already deployed and the system was only being evaluated. Additionally, the limitation of the system would not allow for the identification of persons or vehicles. The system’s lack of resolution in no way compromised the identity of any individual. The recordings reviewed by Department personnel were found to have no investigative value as discernable detail of gender, race, hair color or any other identifiable feature could not be made.

The Sheriff’s Department utilizes several forms of technology as a tool to provide communities and citizens of Los Angeles County with a safer environment and better quality of life. The Department has used aerial surveillance in the form of helicopters since the 1950’s; beginning with Sky Knight, a program still in use today. The Department is committed to taking advantage of new technology to assist Deputies in the field and improve the service to the communities we serve.

Don’t get us wrong. We too want our law enforcement to be vigorously up to date on the latest technology for keeping our communities safe. But when it comes to strategies that could affect our rights and our privacy, we’d strongly prefer that they let us know what they were doing—before they actually do it.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, LASD | No Comments »

The Power of LASD Inspector General…Breakdown of Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…DOJ to Consider Thousands of New Clemency Requests…and More

April 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DOES LASD CIVILIAN WATCHDOG MAX HUNTSMAN HOLD ENOUGH SWAY TO CLEAN UP THE DEPARTMENT?

In January Max Huntsman took on the role of Inspector General over the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But as civilian oversight of a department with an elected sheriff, Huntsman does not have the power to enforce reform. The only way he can turn up the heat on the department is by focusing a public spotlight on areas in need of reform, and making recommendations.

Monday NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at Huntsman’s power as IG, and whether it will be enough to bring some lasting change to the department.

Here’s a clip (but go take a listen):

Max Huntsman’s job — in the newly created role of watchdog — is to help clean up the department. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any real power.

In a sign perhaps of how unglamorous his new job will be, Huntsman’s new digs are a cramped collection of dark offices and cubicles, two floors above the famous food stalls of LA’s Grand Central Market.

On a recent visit, he had just one employee — a receptionist — but soon a team of 30 lawyers, auditors and retired law enforcement officers will be in place here. They’ll help Huntsman set up a system to monitor the Sheriff’s Department — namely its jails.

Just blocks from here, at the Men’s Central Jail, deputies are accused of beating and choking inmates without provocation, harassing visitors, then conspiring to cover it all up. In the indictments last fall, federal prosecutors portrayed a “culture of corruption” inside the agency.

“The bottom line is, I think you need to have people looking over your shoulder and knowing what you’re doing in order to make sure those cliques don’t develop, that you don’t get a group of people in the jail who think of themselves more as a gang than as deputy sheriffs,” says Huntsman. “That’s when you don’t have that light shining that that happens.”

That “light” is really the only tool Huntsman will have. Unlike a police chief in a big city who answers to the mayor or a civilian commission, LA’s sheriff is elected and enjoys a lot of autonomy. Huntsman can only present his findings and recommend reforms.

So far he’s gotten a warm welcome and promises of cooperation — but it’s early.

“They really, really want to respond to all these problems,” says Huntsman, “as they should. I mean, there are federal indictments on the table, there’s talk of a federal consent decree, or a memorandum of understanding.”


THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON FOSTER CARE’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORMING DCFS AND BETTER PROTECTING LA’S MOST VULNERABLE

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has a helpful analysis of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s recommendation for a new and separate entity to oversee and unite the Department of Children and Family Services and other county departments involved in child welfare.

Kelly also breaks down the rest of the commission’s final report and recommendations presented to the Board of Supervisors, including lower caseloads for social workers and boosted funding for relatives taking care of children in the DCFS system who would otherwise be in foster care.


DOJ OPENING UP CRITERIA FOR CLEMENCY APPLICATIONS TO PRE-FAIR SENTENCING ACT NON-VIOLENT DRUG OFFENDERS

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (mostly) balanced out the 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sale convictions and those for crack cocaine sales. Still, there are thousands of drug offenders serving longer sentences than they would be given under the FSA.

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Dept. is launching an initiative to grant clemency to non-violent crack cocaine offenders sentenced under pre-FSA outdated and harsh mandatory minimums.

The DOJ will also be beefing up the number of attorneys in the pardons office to handle the influx of clemency applications.

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

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder has announced a series of initiatives to tackle disparities in criminal penalties, beginning in August, when he said that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would not be charged with offenses that call for severe mandatory sentences. He has traveled across the country to highlight community programs in which nonviolent offenders have received substance abuse treatment and other assistance instead of long prison sentences.

Underlying the initiatives is the belief by top Justice Department officials that the most severe penalties should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. On April 10, after an endorsement from Holder, the U.S. Sentencing Commission — the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges — voted to revise its guidelines to reduce sentences for defendants in most of the nation’s drug cases.

In the meantime, however, thousands of inmates are still serving federally mandated sentences that imposed strict penalties for the possession of crack cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed in 2010, reduced the disparity between convictions for crack and powder cocaine, and Obama has called sentences passed under the older guidelines “unduly harsh.” The law also eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the simple possession of crack cocaine.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said Monday. “This is simply not right.”

[SNIP]

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce details about the new criteria the Justice Department will use in considering clemency applications and how the department plans to review those applications.

The department has asked the American Civil Liberties Union and other nonprofit groups to help identify candidates for clemency. Some of those groups are likely to help inmates submit the necessary paperwork.


PARTISAN SHIFTS IN SENTENCING REFORM STANCES

As sentencing reform is picking up steam at national and state levels, once stark party lines are blurring. The realities of mass incarceration, especially the fiscal consequences, have created a shift in positions. Conservatives, formerly of a tough-on-crime mindset, are now some of the strongest supporters of sentencing reform.

For instance, the Texas-based conservative program Right on Crime has—successfully—led Texas’ prison reform agenda. Once faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis, the state has built up rehabilitation programs and incarceration alternatives. Instead of building new prisons and leasing more space in private facilities (looking at you, California), Texas is closing prisons and saving millions.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has more on the partisan shift. Here’s a clip:

…As the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most far-reaching changes in years to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups seeking to rehabilitate convicts.

A surprising number of high-profile Republicans are working arm in arm with Democrats on legislation to shorten jail terms and hasten prisoner releases. At the same time, in their own reversal of sorts, key Democrats are arguing against the legislation in its current form.

“It’s a little counterintuitive,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a conservative former judge who is co-sponsoring a proposal to let tens of thousands of inmates out of federal prisons early if they complete rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

As soon as this month, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that combines two bills that easily passed the Judiciary Committee. One cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and the other makes it easier to win early release. The combined measure would also make retroactive a 2010 law that reduced sentences for those previously convicted of possessing crack cocaine.

The legislation has attracted strong support from Republican conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. “I think it’s a mistake for people to assume that all conservatives or all Republicans have the same view in this regard, that we should kill them all and let God sort it out,” said Paul Larkin, a criminal justice expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Sentencing nonviolent offenders to decades in prison is “costly, not only in dollars but also the people involved,” Larkin said. “Sending someone to prison for a long time is tantamount to throwing that person away.”

But the new politics of crime remain complicated, with some old-line Republicans still opposed to the proposals. “Do we really want offenders like these out on the streets earlier than is the case now, to prey on our citizens?” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a recent Senate speech, referring to the bill to ease mandatory-minimum sentences. Grassley, however, supports the early-release proposal.

In a twist, some key Democrats are also opposed to the efforts to relax mandatory minimums and allow early releases, while others remain on the fence. Facing a Republican campaign to seize control of the Senate this fall, Democrats are concerned about appearing soft on crime, a vulnerability that has haunted them in the past.

Posted in Foster Care, Inspector General, LASD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 20 Comments »

$$ for Relatives Caring for Kids in the DCFS System, LASD Tightening Use-of-Force Policies & Putting Body Scanners in Jails….LAPD Commission Responds to Vehicle Camera Tampering….and Wolves

April 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: GIVE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO RELATIVES CARING FOR CHILDREN IN THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would funnel some CalWORKS money directly to relatives caring for children removed from their homes.

An LA Times editorial says this bill is a step in the right direction, but that more funding support should be given to grandparents and relatives caring for children in the DCFS system.

Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

A little funding to allow a child to stay with relatives — $8,000 or so a year — is a drop in the bucket compared with the more than $100,000 a year it costs the public to maintain a child in a group home. And because children raised by family members have higher rates of graduation and lower rates of homelessness, drug abuse and arrest as adults, it’s smart policy to give grandparents and others living in retirement and on Social Security enough information and money on the front end to buy their young charges clothes and food and to pay for gas or bus fare to get to doctors and parent nights at school.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection wisely argued in its draft final report that funding and services for a child removed from his or her parents should be determined by the child’s needs, not by the status of the placement family. State lawmakers are considering a bill — AB 1882 — that would go part of the way toward helping to direct funding to relative caregivers, and it’s a good start. But so much more could be accomplished in Los Angeles County if the Board of Supervisors would make child welfare a priority across all county departments and not just at the Department of Children and Family Services.


LASD REVAMPING USE-OF-FORCE POLICIES, AND REPLACING JAIL PAT-DOWNS WITH BODY SCANNERS

LA County Sheriff’s Department officials are attempting to really solve the problem of excessive force by revising the department’s use-of-force policies. Deputies will be held accountable not only for their actions during a force incident, but also for any negligent actions that trigger the physical conflict.

The department will also launch a pilot program to replace pat downs and invasive cavity searches in county jails with body scanners, in an effort to relieve tension between inmates and deputies. To start, two scanners will be placed at the Inmate Reception Center downtown.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here are some clips:

Under the new policy, investigators will consider how officers acted prior to an incident when determining whether they acted properly. Previously, they were just supposed to focus on the moment when force was used.

“It’s so dramatic, it’s like an about-face from how this county has been doing it,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.

Under the ruling, force could be deemed unreasonable if the deputy acted negligently leading up to an force incident, attorney Richard Drooyan told supervisors.

Drooyan, who’s been tasked with monitoring the sheriff’s implementation of recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, said current department policies focus on the moment when force is used.

[SNIP]

The ruling may also increase the county’s potential liability from previous cases that are already headed toward litigation, prompting Molina to ask for a team of attorneys to review those cases again.

[SNIP]

…A major step forward in reducing jailhouse tensions will start testing Monday when the department puts a pair of body scanners to use at its Inmate Reception Center…

Once in place, [Assistant Sheriff Terri] McDonald said, the scanners will allow inmates to avoid physical searches, while more effectively keeping drugs and other contraband out of jails.

“It allows them in a more dignified way to be subjected to a search,” McDonald said.


LAPD COMMISSION NOT PLEASED WITH LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY REGARDING IN-CAR CAMERA TAMPERING

Last week, we pointed to a story about LAPD officers’ unauthorized dismantling of 80 in-car video cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate. (While it is no excuse, a story on the LAPD union’s blog provides some extra context.)

On Tuesday, LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, had to answer to the department’s civilian oversight commission regarding the lack of accountability and department transparency displayed in handling the issue.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Commissioner Kathleen Kim was especially troubled by the lack of accountability.

“The inability to investigate is probably as troubling as the incident itself,” Kim said. “Because the ability to investigate serves as a deterrent for these kinds of things happening in the future.”

[SNIP]

An investigation into the missing antennas didn’t lead to any disciplinary action against individual officers or supervisors. LAPD commanders told the police commission Tuesday it would be difficult to single out misconduct among the 1,500 officers at the South Bureau. That’s because officers on different shifts share patrol cars and they are often transferred in and out of the bureau.

“For me personally I didn’t see the potential for an outcome of holding anybody accountable,” said deputy chief Robert Green, in charge of LAPD’s South Bureau.

Green said he put all his officers on notice: “to make sure that they understood the importance of digital in-car video, the importance of the perception of missing antennas and the fact that if an antenna or a part of the system was tampered with, it was considered very, very serious misconduct.”

With president Steve Soboroff absent Tuesday, police commissioners Paula Madison, Robert Saltzman and Kim took turns questioning three high-ranking LAPD officials, including Chief Beck. They asked why individuals were not held accountable for the tampering and why the department didn’t notify the police commission sooner of the problem.

Deputy Chief Stephen Jacobs took responsibility for not notifying the L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general of the problem, calling it as an oversight and not an intentional act.

“The simple answer is this: If the commission believes that it was not notified correctly, then the commission is right,” Beck said.


CALIFORNIA WOLF NEWS

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission considered placing the gray wolf on the endangered list, in anticipation of a future generation of the wolves in the state. (Back in the early 1900′s California wolves were killed off by hunters. When the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, crossed the border in 2011, he was the first wild wolf in California since 1924.)

The commission opted to delay the decision for another 90 days in order to hear more public comment on the issue.

The AP’s Scott Smith has the story. Here’s how it opens:

While much of the country has relaxed rules on killing gray wolves, California will consider protecting the species after a lone wolf from Oregon raised hopes the animals would repopulate their historic habitat in the Golden State.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday postponed for three months a decision on whether to list the gray wolf as endangered. Commissioners heard impassioned arguments from environmentalists who want the wolves to again to roam the state and from cattle ranchers who fear for their herds.

“I think we made them blink,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection. “I think they heard our arguments.”

State wildlife officials say they don’t support the listing because wolf packs haven’t roamed in California for nearly a century and there’s no scientific basis to consider them endangered.

Recent interest in protecting the species started in 2011, when one wolf from Oregon — called OR-7 — was tracked crossing into California. The endangered listing has been under review for the last year.

[SNIP]

Wildlife officials oppose the listing because wolves have been absent from California, so researchers have no way of measuring threats or the viability of the animal in the state, said Eric Loft, chief of wildlife programs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yet, the animal is iconic of the western landscape and California could easily become the home to functioning wolf packs within a decade, said Chuck Bonham, director of the wildlife agency.

The hearing was in Ventura. Hopefully the next will be in reasonable driving distance of certain wolf-loving Los Angeles residents.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, wolves | 1 Comment »

LA Times’ Sheriff Stories, Lower Recidivism Rate for Kids on In-Home Probation vs. Probation Camp…and More

April 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO NOTEWORTHY LASD-RELATED LA TIMES STORIES

The LA Times has two worthwhile sheriff’s department-related stories we don’t want you to miss:


CHECKING IN WITH SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT AND THE POST-BACA LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

Since he replaced Lee Baca in February, Sheriff John Scott has made significant adjustments to the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. One of Scott’s first acts as sheriff was to turn the controversial members-only smoking patio into an open barbecue space for all LASD employees. It was a symbolic move.

Since then, Scott has dismissed seemingly politically-placed field deputies and reserve deputies, and bolstered the department’s hiring requirements and academy, among other changes.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang takes a look at how (interim) Sheriff Scott has started the task of turning the department in a new direction. Here’s a clip:

Soon after taking office, Scott got rid of the four politically connected field deputies who drew six-figure salaries and answered directly to Baca.

Recently, his housecleaning extended to some volunteer reserve deputies who carry badges and, in some cases, guns. About 40 of the department’s roughly 800 reserves have been let go, officials said. The reserve program came under scrutiny several times during Baca’s tenure, often over allegations of politically connected people being given special treatment to become reserves.

In 2010, a state report found that the department gave reserve badges to people who flunked mandatory law enforcement tests. As a result, 99 reserves were stripped of their badges.

One of the reserve deputies who recently was asked to resign was Gary Nalbandian, a Glendora auto shop owner and Baca fundraiser. Nalbandian made headlines in 2006 when as head of Baca’s homeland security support advisory board, he distributed official-looking photo identification to 48 local business owners and political donors who made up the group.

In a letter to The Times, Nalbandian said he was being forced out because he is not supporting the candidacy of two sheriff’s captains seeking to replace Baca. “It is my strong belief that I was politically targeted,” he wrote.

Scott did not say why he pushed Nalbandian out. But in describing several of his moves, Scott argued that he was trying to take the politics out of the department.

“There were a lot of people brought into this department for political reasons,” he said.

Scott is both an insider and an outsider, a 36-year department veteran who retired in 2005, then became undersheriff in Orange County. After Baca resigned, the Board of Supervisors brought Scott, 66, back to lead the troubled agency until the winner of a seven-man election takes over at the end of the year.

Nearly three months into his tenure, Scott has ruffled a few feathers but is generally winning praise as he treads the line between not doing enough and doing too much.


PATRISSE CULLORS AND THE COALITION TO END SHERIFF VIOLENCE IN LA JAILS

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has an excellent profile on Patrisse Cullors, an activist against the “culture of violence” in LA County Jails. Spurred on by her brother and father’s encounters with the LASD and jail system, Cullors formed the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in LA Jails. The advocacy group has kept meaningful pressure on the LA County Board of Supervisors to establish civilian oversight.

Here are some clips:

Outside the bunker-like county jail complex, bail bondsmen hover by the visitors’ entrance, thrusting fliers at potential customers as they file in to see husbands, sons and friends. Along the sidewalk, taxi drivers hustle for fares among newly released inmates who pace about, dialing cellphones, reconnecting and searching for rides.

A young woman with a short shock of dreadlocks atop a mostly shaved head set off by chunky gold earrings joins them. She has a brisk walk, a broad smile — and a clipboard.

Patrisse Cullors, self-described “freedom fighter, fashionista, wife of Harriet Tubman,” comes to the jail complex regularly in search of recruits to her 18-month-old campaign to upend what she contends is a culture of violence among deputies inside the walls.

[SNIP]

Cullors and a small group of fellow activists have helped gain new respect and momentum in the halls of power for a once-floundering idea: creating a civilian commission to oversee the troubled L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

For more than a year, Cullors’ Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails has applied steady pressure on the county Board of Supervisors, in part by trying to organize a large and unlikely bloc of county voters — former jail inmates. The coalition hopes it can become a constituency with clout in the June election to replace former Sheriff Lee Baca, who unexpectedly stepped down in January.

His department had been under scrutiny by media and advocates for years over alleged abuses in the county jails. A federal investigation led to criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies late last year.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has pushed for civilian oversight of the department, lent support to Cullors’ effort from the start. But others are skeptical of setting up a commission with no legal power over the elected sheriff.

“They have a legitimate point of view, a point of view that I actually agree with,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “Where we have a parting of ways is, doing what they want to do is not going to accomplish what they want to accomplish.”

Still, Cullors’ group made sure the issue stayed on the supervisors’ radar — in part by recruiting dozens of former inmates to call Yaroslavsky’s office.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the board-appointed blue ribbon commission that studied jail violence in 2012, appreciates the group’s efforts:

“The constant drumbeat that they were able to sound underscored for everyone on the commission the importance of the work we were doing.”


LOS ANGELES KIDS SERVING IN-HOME PROBATION HAVE LOWER RECIDIVISM RATES THAN THEIR PEERS IN PROBATION CAMPS (AND GROUP HOMES)

Kids who are sentenced to in-home probation are far less likely to re-offend than kids sentenced to time in probation camps, according to a paper published in Social Work Research, by scholars Joseph Ryan (University of Michigan), Laura Abrams (UCLA), and Hui Huang (Florida International University). Using data predominantly from the LA Department of Child and Family Services and the LA County Dept. of Probation between 2003-2009, the paper’s authors found that kids in probation camps and group homes were more 2.12 and 1.28 times more likely to re-offend than kids serving probation at home, respectively.

Alexandra Raphel of Journalists’ Resource has a helpful summary of the paper, which is stuck behind a paywall. Here are the key findings:

Rates of re-offending varied significantly relative to youths’ punishment and treatment: “Compared with in-home probation, the likelihood of recidivism was 2.12 times greater for youths assigned to probation camp and 1.28 times greater for youths assigned to group homes.”

“Within the first year only, 13% of youths assigned to in-home probation experienced a subsequent arrest. Twice as many (26%) probation camp youths and 17% of group-home youths experienced a subsequent arrest within the same time period.”

“At five years, 39% of in-home probation cases, 47% of group-home placements, and 65% of probation camp placements were associated with a new offense.”

“Male youths are significantly more likely to recidivate [re-offend] as compared with female youths, and African American youths are significantly more likely to recidivate as compared with both Hispanic and white youths.”

However, “African American and Hispanic youths were more likely to receive placement in either a probation camp or group-home setting as compared with white youths adjudicated for a similar offense.”

Certain family-related factors were correlated with negative outcomes: “The risk of recidivism was 1.36 times greater for youths with an open child welfare case.”


A WELCOME MOVE BY THE LA DA’S OFFICE TO BOOST ELECTRONIC REPORTING OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE

In anticipation of the forthcoming recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, the LA County DA’s office has been hearteningly proactive, requesting the hiring of three paralegals and an attorney to the office that manages the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS). This software, a crucial inter-agency (DCFS, LASD, DA, LAPD, etc.) database for reporting child abuse, is currently underfunded and under-utilized.

Daniel Heimpel has the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has asked the county’s chief executive to pay for three paralegals and an attorney to beef up the underfunded unit that oversees electronic tracking of suspected child abuse.

The request suggests that officials are anticipating increased costs and accountability for electronic reporting, which is expected to be one of many recommendations offered by the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission at the end of the week.

The allocation, which was not included as a line item in CEO William Fujioka’s recommended budget released on April 15, would be used “to create a unit within the Department’s Family Violence Division to more efficiently and accurately comply with its duty to audit Suspected Child Abuse Reports (SCARS) cross-reporting in the County, as recommended by the Board-approved Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.”

[SNIP]

Since being launched in 2009, the system – which provides a database for all child abuse allegations and the disposition of follow up investigations – has been administered by one full-time and one part-time employee in the district attorney’s Family Violence Division.

There has been no money to pay for software updates. Further, there has been little capacity to ensure that DCFS, the district attorney, the Sheriff’s Department and the county’s 45 other law enforcement agencies were acting on the child abuse reports coming into their computer terminals.

ESCARS “can tell the operator how long it took law enforcement to open a SCAR [child abuse report] and close it,” [Commissioner Dan] Scott said. “We saw huge discrepancies.”

Scott pointed to the percentage of calls of suspected child abuse that wound up being charged as crimes. At some agencies, “six to seven percent turned into crimes, while at other agencies the number was around 30 percent. There is something wrong there.”

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Probation | 62 Comments »

Sex Trafficked Boys Overlooked as Victims….Trials for Sheriff’s Department Members Indicted for Hiding Federal Informant Schedules for May…..Pulitzers…and More

April 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SEXUALLY TRAFFICKED BOYS ARE SEEN AS VICTIMS LESS OFTEN

It is heartening that kids who are involved in sex trafficking are now being seen—for the most part anyway—as victims to be protected and helped, rather than lawbreakers subject to arrest.

Unfortunately, this understanding that kids are the victims in the equation does not apply equally to both genders, writes Yu Sun Chin in his reports for the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

According to Chin, although boys represent over 50 percent of the kids commercially trafficked for sex in the U.S., they are still too often seen as perpetrators not victims by law enforcement.

Here’s a clip:

For years, the sex trade was ‘their’ problem, a heinous part of culture in poorer nations. But attention here to sex trafficking has slowly increased in recent years with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and other federal state laws.

Still, males remain a largely invisible population within the dialogue on sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in fact, boys comprised about 50 percent of sexually exploited children in a sample study done in New York, with most being domestic victims.

However, the percentage of male victims may be higher due to the underreported and subversive nature of the crime, said Summer Ghias, program specialist for the Chicago-based International Organization for Adolescents.

“We’re conditioned as a community to identify female victims more readily,” she said, “because that has been the more prominent focus of the anti-trafficking movement.”

Despite these high percentages of commercially sexually exploited boys, a 2013 study by ECPAT-USA indicates that boys and young men are rarely identified as people arrested for prostitution or rescued as human trafficking victims, and are arrested more for petty crimes such as shoplifting.

Experts say that the law enforcement’s attitudes toward male victims are still weighed down by gender biases in trafficking discourse, which pins females as victims and males as perpetrators. Therefore, male victims in custody often fall through the cracks of services that could be offered to help them because they are not properly assessed for sexual exploitation.


THOSE INDICTED FOR THE HIDING OF FEDERAL INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN WILL BEGIN TRIAL IN MAY SAYS JUDGE

In a hearing on Monday afternoon, Federal Judge Percy Anderson ordered that trials begin in mid-May for LA Sheriff’s Department defendants charged for their alleged part in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.

At the same hearing, Anderson agreed to grant a motion to sever the trial of Deputy James Sexton from that of the six other defendants (lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long., and deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo.)

As expected, Anderson denied a list of other motions brought by attorneys representing Sexton and several of the others, including motions to dismiss charges. (WLA reported on some of the motions filed by defendants here and here.)

As the cases speed toward trial, the main question that hangs in the air is whether the U.S. Attorneys Office will eventually indict any of the higher-ups who are said to have ordered the hiding of Brown, or if only those allegedly following those orders (including whistleblower Sexton, who will now be tried separately from the other six) will be threatened with prison terms and felony records.


KPCC INTERVIEWS PAUL TANAKA

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Paul Tanaka as part of Stoltze’s continuing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates for KPCC.

Here’s a clip:

Early on, Tanaka had little interest in being a cop. It’s hard to imagine now, but the buttoned-down Tanaka once wore a ponytail. “A lot of people had long hair back in the 1970s,” he explains.

He also adhered to the cultural rules in his strict Japanese-American household in Gardena, earning a black belt in Aikito and respecting his parent’s wishes.

“In an Asian family, you’re going to be a doctor or an attorney or a CPA,” says Tanaka, sporting a dark suit and tie on a recent afternoon at his campaign headquarters in Torrance.

He was an “A” student, studying accounting at Loyola Marymount University and holding down two jobs — one as a janitor, one making sports trophies — when his life changed. He spent a day on patrol with a sheriff’s deputy as part of a class and fell in love with policing.

It took years for Tanaka’s father to fully accept his eldest son’s decision. The young man had to adjust too:”One of the more traumatizing things was I had to do was cut my hair.”

Early in his career, Tanaka says he faced racial epithets in a mostly white department. He ignored most, chalking it up to ignorance. Over the years, the certified public accountant gained a reputation as detail-oriented — a commander who knew more about your job than you did.

Tanaka grew close to Baca, who eventually appointed him undersheriff. Tanaka became the heir apparent. The jail violence scandal that surfaced three years ago changed all of that.

Did he know about deputy abuse of inmates when he ran the jails from 2005-07? Tanaka claimed ignorance to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

“It was never brought to my attention,” he said in his testimony.

What about violent deputy cliques inside Men’s Central Jail?

“That was never, ever mentioned as a problem,” he said.


CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CONTINUE TO UP THE ANTE WITH EACH OTHER IN DEBATE MONDAY

All seven candidates for the office of LA County Sheriff squared off again on Monday night. KNBC 4 reports on some fiery moments.

Last Monday night’s mistaken fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of aspiring television producer, 30-year-old John Winkler, during a hostage stand-off, could not help but provide an emotional backdrop for the debate, some of those present reported.


THE PULITZER PRIZES EVOLVE

Much is rightly being made over the fact that one of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism was awarded jointly to the Guardian US and the Washington Post for their coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations.

It is also notable, however, that the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting went—not to any conventional news outlet—but to reporter Chris Hamby who writes for the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, non-profit news site that is one of many throughout the U.S. (WitnessLA included) that have filled in the gaps left as traditional news organizations cut back their coverage, often leaving vital issues underreported.

Both prizes are cheering signs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we’re on the subject of Pulitzers, I happen to heartily approve of the Pulitzer judges’ choice of Donna Tartt’s deliciously Dickensian novel The Goldfinch as the winner for the prize in Fiction.


And, speaking of literary prizes, here are the winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, announced this past Friday night.

(I was on the judging panel for the Current Interest Prize and my fellow judges and I are very proud of our winner—Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital—as well as all five of our finalists.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, FBI, Future of Journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney, writers and writing | 29 Comments »

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