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Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

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

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 2 Comments »

Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 72 Comments »

It’s Official: André Birotte is the New Federal Judge in Town!

July 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, in a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate, André Birotte Jr.
was confirmed to become the newest judge of the federal District Court in Los Angeles.

The cloture vote to end debate that came earlier in the day may have been a party-line-driven 56-43. But when it came to the actual vote to confirm Birotte, partisan quarrels were put aside and the final tally was an easy 100-0.

Since 2010, André Birotte, 47, has served as the U.S. Attorney of California’s Central District, the nation’s most populous, which has the responsibility for all federal litigation in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Under Birotte’s tenure, his office oversaw a complex variety of cases that spanned issues ranging from gang violence and narcotics sales, to terrorism, public corruption, white collar crime, cyber crime, and the nether world of financial predators–and more. The cases themselves included such high profile indictments as the bribery and money laundering charges brought against California state senator Ron Calderon and his brother, former state assembly member, Thomas Calderon—and, of course, the indictments of 21 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, who were charged as part of a still ongoing federal investigation into brutality and corruption inside the nation’s fourth largest law enforcement agency.

Among his other accomplishments as the U.S. Attorney, Birotte reinstated the district’s public corruption and civil rights sections, which had been disbanded. He also instituted an unusual amount of outreach into the various communities his office served.

“We have to be willing to listen to the community,” he said a few months into his first year as U.S.A.. “So we’re going to do outreach like never before.”

Birotte also repeated often that his office must be justice driven. “Firm but fair,” he said. “But more than anything, justice-driven. It’s not just about winning.”

The son of Haitian immigrants, after graduating from Tufts University in 1987 with a degree in psychology, followed by Pepperdine University School of Law four years later, Birotte began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the same Central District office he now heads.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General after a nationwide search. His selection came at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to figure out how to redefine and reform itself within the confines of a federal consent decree. Birotte is generally acknowledged as an important part of that reform.

While he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, in December 2009, after being recommended for the four-year term by Senator Dianne Feinstein following a selection process by a bipartisan advisory committee created by Feinstein..

“As Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Commission, André has managed to earn the enthusiastic support of both the police officers he is charged with investigating, and the community organizations that often raise concerns regarding police behavior,” Feinstein wrote regarding Birotte’s nomination. “This ability to command respect from all sides bodes well for his nomination to lead federal law enforcement efforts in the communities of the Central District.”

Indeed, and those same qualities bode well for André Birotte’s soon-to-begin tenure as LA’s newest federal judge.

Birotte will replace Judge Gary Feess who is taking senior status.


POSTSCRIPT: By summer’s end, Senator Dianne Feinstein is is likely to send a recommendation to President Obama for a nominee to replace Birotte as U.S. Attorney.

There is much speculation what effect the appointment of a new U.S. Attorney will have on such high profile cases as the continuing investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

So stay tuned.

Posted in Courts, Inspector General, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 5 Comments »

Double Charged: CA’s Unlimited Juvie Restitution…Supes Votes Put Off On LASD Citizens Commission & Mental Health Diversion…John Oliver on America’s Prisons….& More

July 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

The Cost of Court Involvement


WHEN KIDS ARE DOUBLE CHARGED: SHOULD RESTITUTION CHARGES FOR KIDS HAVE A CEILING?

In an investigative series called Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice, Youth Radio has looked into some of these suprise costs that suddenly are levied against a kid and his or her parent when that kid finds himself caught up in the juvenile justice system, as the infograpic above shows. (We highlighted an earlier segment here.)

The newest Youth Radio show segment, written and produced by Sayre Quevedo, and co-published by the Huffington Post, looks at how, for many kids in California, in addition to the myriad court and lock-up charges, there is restitution, which can be staggaringly high priced.

Here’s the story:

It is generally agreed that restitution is, in principle anyway, a good and healthy idea for both victims and lawbreakers. For victims, restitution makes up, at least in part, for whatever damage was done them. For lawbreakers it is a tangible reminder that their actions did harm to an actual person or people, and provides them an opportunity to take real world responsibility for their acts.

The principle holds true for juvenile lawbreakers as well as a adults. But when it comes to kids, should there be a limit? States like New York and Missouri say yes. In Missouri caps restitution for juveniles at $4000. New York sets the limit at $1500.

In California, there is no limit—a policy that many juvenile justice activists contend can result in unpayable amounts that do far more harm than good.

Here are some clips:

Ricky Brum stood with one of my producers in an alleyway behind a furniture store in Manteca, California, and to be honest, it was a little awkward. He didn’t really want to be there. Last February, Brum set some cardboard boxes on fire just a few feet away.

“Just that right there,” he said, pointing to a black spot on the pavement. “Just a little burn mark on the floor.”

One match did the trick, said Brum. “Like I just sat there and was like ‘Bam!’”

That “bam” changed Ricky Brum’s life. He was 15 when he set the fire. It was his first time getting in trouble with the law. He was lucky: his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Brum went on probation, and didn’t serve any time in juvenile hall.

Brum, and his mom Leanne, thought the worst was behind them. But then, while meeting with their public defender, they found out about restitution.

“We thought it was a joke,” said Leanne Brum.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Ricky Brum flipped through the restitution claim. Even though the fire department report said there was no damage to anything in the furniture store, the owner claimed his entire inventory of nearly 1400 items was smoke damaged.

The bill came out to $221,000….

[SNIP]

Payment is rare. There are no statewide statistics on juvenile restitution, but Youth Radio collected numbers from three of California’s largest counties and found that less than 30% of restitution amounts are paid.

“I think that people recognize there are certain dollar amounts that are not going to be paid at all, ever,” said Roger Chan, who runs the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland. Juvenile law, said Chan, is about reform, giving young people a chance to start over. However, Chan argues that restitution too often gets in the way because it saddles kids with unreasonably high debt.

“If you order such a huge amount of restitution to a young person who has no ability to pay it, how meaningful is that as a consequence,” asked Chan. “Is that really an effective way for the young person to be rehabilitated and is that really beneficial to victims?”

Chan is trying to change California’s law to let judges consider a kid’s ability to pay. It’s not just for the benefit of young offenders. Chan says it’s for victims too, because when restitution sums are realistic, he says victims are more likely to get paid.


BOARD OF SUPERVISORS’ VOTES PUT OFF BOTH ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION…AND A CITIZENS COMMISSION TO OVERSEE THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The members of the LA County Board of Supervisors were originally scheduled to vote on two closely watched motions, but both votes have now been postponed:

First of all there was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s motion of last week, which would cause the Supes to allocate at least the beginning sum of $20 million to launch a “coordinated and comprehensive” mental health diversion program in the county. It has been postponed until next Tuesday, July 29. (You can read the motion here.)

The motion has already attracted letters of support from such organizations as the National Alliance for Mental Illness Los Angeles County Council, and others, urging the board to commit the funds necessary to the kind of diversion programming that has been shown to save money—and suffering—in other counties, most notably Miami-Dade.

(We’ll update you on how the vote is looking as we get closer to next Tuesday.)

At the same time, the vote on the motion to create a citizens commission to provide community oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—which is co-sponsored by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina—has been put off until August 5.

This column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton looks at topic of the citizens commission, whether is a good idea or not, and whether the motion has a chance of passing.

Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:

The board is split: Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina have expressed support for the commission; supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich have indicated their opposition. (Jim McDonnell, leading candidate for sheriff, announced his support for the commission this month; Ridley-Thomas endorsed McDonnell a few days later.)

That leaves Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. When we spoke last week, he said he was still pondering the matter, but he’s clearly leaning against it. “I’m reluctant to create structures that have no power and no authority,” he said, adding that such a commission “will ultimately disappoint.”

That may be enough to scotch the idea for the moment, but perhaps not for long. Yaroslavsky is termed out, as is Molina. Molina’s replacement, Hilda Solis, has indicated she supports establishing a commission, so one supporter will arrive as another leaves. More important, the two challengers in a runoff for Yaroslavsky’s seat, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and former state legislator Sheila Kuehl, both told me last week that they too support a citizens commission. So even if Ridley-Thomas falls short this time, his third vote may well be on the way.


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM

Almost certainly the year’s best 17 minutes of news and information on the American prison situation was contained in a segment shown on Sunday night on….a comedy show, specifically John Oliver’s new-this-spring Last Week Tonight, on HBO.

Oliver hit nearly all the important points brilliantly and hard—using humor to carry all his sharpest points:

“We have more prisoners than China. China. We don’t have more of anything than China, except of course debt to China.”

“Our prison population has expanded 8 fold since 1970. The only thing that has grown at that rate since the ’70′s is varieties of Cheerios!”

And why has it grown? For a number of reasons, he says.

“…From the dismantling of our mental health system, to mandatory minimum sentencing laws….to, of course, drugs. Half the people in federal prison are there on drug charges. And it counts for a quarter of the admissions to state prisons. And, of course, it’s tricky to know how to feel about this because, on the one hand, the war on drugs has completely solved our nation’s drug problem, so that’s good!

“But on the other hand, our drug laws do seem to be a little draconian and a lot racist. Because while white people and African Americans use drug about the same amount, a study has found that african Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses up to 10 times the amount—-for some utterly known reason.

From there Oliver brought up the prison system’s reluctance to deal with prison rape, the tidy profit made by prison venders—many of whom have been found to boost their bottom line by horrific cuts to basic services, like…um. food—to the inherent unholy conflict of interest that occurs with prison privatization—and more.

In short, the segment is filled with excellent reporting and commentary combined with excellent comedy, all of which serves to illuminate some crucial issues that many of us are unfortunately too content to ignore. Watch and you won’t be sorry.


NEW WEBSITE URGES LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS TO GIVE $$$ SUPPORT TO LASD 6 CONVICTED BY FEDS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

A new website called Support Our 6 has appeared in the past few days, urging LASD members to give monetary support to the six members of the LA Sheriff department who were convicted earlier this month.

(Although the website mentions Deputy James Sexton, whose trial ended with a hung jury but who is being retried by the government in September, it isn’t clear if he is included in the fundraising efforts.)

The site’s organizers contend that the 2 deputies, 2 sergeants and 2 lieutenants were following lawful orders, which was not at all what the jury concluded.

We don’t yet know who is behind the website, but we’ll let you know when we know more.

In the meantime, the organizers’ POV is presented here.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 14 Comments »

This American Life Does the LASD, Garcetti Says Why He Will Do the Right Thing With Border Kids….And More

July 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THIS AMERICAN LIFE LOOKS AT THE WHEN THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT GETS MAD

This past weekend, in a show called “Mind Your Own Business” American Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story having to do with The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In particular, they talked about what happened when the FBI began to investigate brutality against inmates at the LA County Jail system, and the sheriff’s department decided they didn’t like being investigated.

Here’s how the segment, produced by Nancy Updike, opened:

There’s been a big, messy, fascinating story unfolding in Los Angeles for awhile… involving two big law enforcement agencies: the LA county sheriff’s department, which is huge, and the FBI. A secret investigation got exposed. There were accusations and counter-accusations, and clandestine recordings, and by the end, a bunch of people’s careers were over.

For the story (which begins shortly after the 30 minute on the podcast) producer Updike interviews LA Times reporter Robert Faturechi. Then she plays excerpts from three of the recordings that were introduced as evidence at the recent federal trial that ended with six members of the LASD being convicted of obstruction of justice.

The first recording she plays is from 2010 in which FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the lead investigator looking into inmate abuse at the jails, is covertly recording a conversation with Deputy William David Courson (with whom she’s on a semi-date) who told her—among other things—about what he called the “unwritten rules” of how to treat inmates. For instance, he said, “… you learn that any inmate who fights with a deputy goes to the hospital.”

They don’t have to make the first move, he says, they can just be thinking about it.

There’s lots more. So listen.


MAYOR GARCETTI EXPLAINS WHY HE WILL SHELTER ENDANGERED IMMIGRANT KIDS

This weekend, as anti-immigration protestors around the country continqued to oppose any kind of government help for the more than 50,000 unaccompanied kids now detained who have crossed American borders in recent months, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti talked to Arun Rath of NPR’s Weekend Edition, about his controversial announcement last Tuesday that Los Angeles would help find temporary homes for many of these kids while the courts tried to sort out what to do about the ballooning humanitarian crisis.

Here’re a couple clips from the NPR interview:

RATH: Determining the final status of these children could take a while. Immigration hearings can take years to schedule. This take us sort of beyond housing to, you know, schools, health care, other services. Won’t this seriously strain city resources over the long-term.

GARCETTI: Well, you know, Los Angeles already faces the broken immigration system and its costs when we can’t award scholarships to students who are A-students and have only known the United States but might be undocumented, when we see, you know, emergency room visits and other things. There’s no doubt that there’s been a strain on local budgets, which is why I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. But this is a different issue here. This is an emergency situation. These are kids first and foremost. And then of course, you know, we do have to go through formal procedures on what will happen with them. I would love to see those things accelerated. I would love them to see, you know, a faster path to citizenship for people who already live here. I would love to see our borders secured, but that shouldn’t keep us from action at moments of humanitarian crisis.

[SNIP]

RATH: Mayor, what would be your message to potential immigrants or those who are considering potentially risking their children’s lives to get them to this country?

GARCETTI: Well, I don’t think – the system that we have, it’s very wise. And for me, the reason that I’m reaching out is we have children that are here. But I certainly wouldn’t encourage people to send their children or for children to cross the border. That’s an incredibly dangerous journey. And I’d want people to hear that loud and clear. But just as loud and clear, I think we have an obligation, once we suddenly have children that are in our country here, to be caring about them while we determine their final status.


THIS IS NOT AN IMMIGRATION CRISIS, IT IS A REFUGEE CRISIS

If you are newly grappling with this issue, for one of the quickest, clearest pictures of why the growing number of unaccompanied minors represents a different brand of immigration dilemma, we recommend reading the whole of last Sunday’s NY Times op ed by the Pulitzer-winning author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario.

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read the whole chilling—and informative—essay, but here’s the opening to get you started.

Cristian Omar Reyes, an 11-year-old sixth grader in the neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, tells me he has to get out of Honduras soon — “no matter what.”

In March, his father was robbed and murdered by gangs while working as a security guard protecting a pastry truck. His mother used the life insurance payout to hire a smuggler to take her to Florida. She promised to send for him quickly, but she has not.

Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head and dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it, and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house.

“I’m going this year,” he tells me.

I last went to Nueva Suyapa in 2003, to write about another boy, Luis Enrique Motiño Pineda, who had grown up there and left to find his mother in the United States. Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus. Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras — more than from anywhere else.

Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa last month, a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.


TRAINS, AMPUTATIONS AND WHY KIDS ARE ON THE RUN

And for an additional view, read this by another very experienced reporter, the Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris, who writes of what she saw about kids fleeing violence ten years ago when she was based in Latin America for the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, and how much worse things have gotten now.

Ferris also writes about how dramatically different an outcome is likely to be for a child in immigration court— depending upon if he or she has a lawyer, or is without one.

Here’s a clip:

A Syracuse University project known as TRAC released a report this week analyzing more than 100,000 juvenile cases filed in the nation’s immigration courts over the last 10 years. Only 43 percent of kids in these cases were or are currently represented by lawyers who help plead for asylum or another form of legal status, according to TRAC, the acronym for the university’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Immigration courts are clogged with backlogs, but juvenile cases only represent about 11 percent of all cases currently pending.

Kids, like adults, do not have the right to the appointment of attorney in immigration proceedings.

But TRAC found that having a lawyer increased the odds that kids would win their claims against deportation: In cases that have been resolved, nearly half the children who had attorneys — 47 percent — were allowed to remain in the United States. When children did not have legal representation, courts allowed only one in 10 to remain here.


SUNDAY, UNACCOMPANIED KIDS WERE THE SUBJECT OF LA’S ANNUAL IMMIGRATION MASS

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has that story. Here’s how it opens:

During Sunday Mass at a sunlit cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a 22-year-old woman stepped timidly to a podium and began her story.

“My name is Dunia Cruz,” she said in Spanish. “I came here from Honduras.”

As she spoke of the gang violence that she said drove her and her toddler son from Central America in April — and of their dangerous journey across Mexico — Cruz was interrupted by bursts of applause.

Her tale resonated with many of the transplants from other countries in the crowded church pews….

Posted in immigration, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD | 9 Comments »

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

July 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

(Um. Ya think?)

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

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

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

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

For example, there was this:

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

And then later:

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

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

LA Funding Behavioral-Parent Training to Keep Kids Safe….LASD’s New Re-entry Center….Realignment Recommendations….and Supe Ridley-Thomas and Others Back Jim McDonnell for Sheriff

July 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA INVESTING $20M IN PARENT-CHILD INTERACTION THERAPY TO IMPROVE CHILD SAFETY

The taxpayer initiative First 5 LA is putting $20 million toward expanding Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), a program aimed at preventing child maltreatment by providing educating parents in a therapeutic environment. Through the new funding, between 320 and 400 new PCIT therapists will be trained to give one-on-one live parenting instruction to moms and dads at risk of having their kids taken away from them. During the 12 to 14 therapy sessions, a parent sits and plays with their child while receiving coaching cues in an earpiece from a therapist watching from another room.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on PCIT and the county’s efforts to reform LA County’s child welfare system. Here’s the opening:

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors began implementing the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, which calls for augmented child maltreatment prevention efforts.

While implementation of the commission’s many recommendations is a long-term venture, leaders are hoping that the rollout of a maltreatment prevention initiative may improve child safety in the short-term.

First 5 LA, a taxpayer-supported initiative that provides a variety of services to families with young children in Los Angeles County, is investing $20 million in child maltreatment prevention with a five-year-long therapist-training program known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).

The goal is to train up to 400 PCIT practitioners through the state. First 5 LA’s PCIT grant is in partnership with the county’s Department of Mental Health, through which PCIT providers can access state-funded reimbursement for services.

PCIT emphasizes improving the quality of the parent-child relationship through one-on-one live coaching. During a PCIT session, a parent-child pair plays and interacts in a therapy room while the therapist watches through a one-way mirror and guides their interactions using a discrete earpiece worn by the parent. PCIT is typically delivered in a series of 12 to 14 sessions and is broken into two main parts, Relationship Enhancement and Strategies to Improve Compliance.

In Los Angeles, PCIT is being made available to families at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system, or who have open cases but are not currently in the process of having their parental rights terminated.

After linking a lack of prevention services with “an excessive number of referrals and investigations” and high caseloads in the county’s dependency court system, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report, issued in April, called on the county’s board of supervisors to direct the Department of Public Health and First 5 LA to jointly develop a comprehensive prevention plan.

By training hundreds of clinicians and therapists who will serve thousands of families in the county, this will be the largest PCIT initiative since its development in the early 1970s, a prospect that excites researchers close to the strategy.

“The prospect of prevention is very powerful because we’ve shown the parents, with PCIT…[they] can change and become positive, nurturing, sensitive parents who can set limits with their children in a safe and effective way,” said Cheryl McNeil, a professor of psychology at West Virginia University. “Prevention efforts with PCIT encourage parents to use highly positive parenting tools before they get into negative interactions with their children.”


LASD RE-ENTRY CENTER HELPS THOSE RELEASED FROM JAIL WITH TRANSITION BACK TO THEIR COMMUNITIES

The LASD-run Community Re-entry Resource Center opened late in May to help recently released LA County jail inmates successfully re-enter their communities. The Resource Center helps former inmates get connected with things like food stamps, mental health services, substance abuse programs, and employment services. This is a welcome step in the direction of accomplishing one of realignment’s goals: reducing recidivism.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

The 40-year-old man in the black jacket and jeans was getting out of jail with no money and no place to live.

As he left the county jail complex in downtown Los Angeles, he stopped at the new Community Re-entry Resource Center, where he received a bus token and a referral to a homeless shelter. The man, who would give only his first name, David, got a phone number for the police so he could see whether his car had been impounded while he was imprisoned.

The center, which opened at the end of May and is run by the Sheriff’s Department, helps people leaving the jails adjust to life on the outside, in hope they won’t come back again.

Newly released inmates get assistance with food stamps, mental health services and health insurance. A probation officer is on hand, along with officials from various county departments. The nonprofits HealthRight 360 and Volunteers of America offer referrals to job centers and substance abuse programs.

“They go back to their old neighborhood and fall into the same trap, with the same friends, and they end up right back in jail,” said Sgt. Joaquin Soto. “We’re trying to avoid that.”

David said he was behind bars for six days after missing a court appearance related to a drug offense. But that was enough to set him back. He had been living out of his car and has no family in the area. He needed something to tide him over until he started a new job in a few days.

“They’re helping me out at just the right time,” he said.

Inside the jails, the sheriff’s Community Transition Unit provides similar services. On the way out, the drop-in reentry center offers a final chance for newly released inmates to get the services they need, said sheriff’s officials and reentry experts.

Read on.


NEW RESEARCH ON CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT AND HOW TO REDUCE THE BURDEN PLACED ON COUNTIES

In a recent research paper expanding on her comprehensive study on the effects of California prison realignment released in November, Stanford corrections system expert Dr. Joan Petersilia says that AB109 has had “mixed results” for California counties thus far.

Petersilia recommends a number of legislative tweaks to the realignment plan, including mandatory split-sentencing for all felony sentences served in county jails, statewide tracking of all offenders, and jail sentences to max out at three years.

Stanford News’ Clifton Parker has more on Petersilia’s research and recommendations. Here’s a clip:

When California embarked on a sweeping prison realignment plan in 2011, The Economist described it as one of the “great experiments in American incarceration policy.”

The challenge was to shift inmates from overcrowded state prisons to jails in California’s 58 counties.

At this point, the results are mixed and the “devil will be in the details” as tweaks to the original legislation are urged, according to new research by a Stanford law professor.

“Only time will tell whether California’s realignment experiment will fundamentally serve as a springboard to change the nation’s overreliance on prisons,” wrote Stanford Law School Professor Joan Petersilia, a leading expert on prison realignment, in her article in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. “It is an experiment the whole nation is watching.”

[SNIP]

“If it works, California … will have shown that it can downsize prisons safely by transferring lower-level offenders from state prisons to county systems. … If it does not work, counties will have simply been overwhelmed with inmates, unable to fund and/or operate the programs those felons needed, resulting in rising crime, continued criminality and jail overcrowding,” wrote Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

[SNIP]

Petersilia urges legislative revisions to California’s realignment plan (some are now under discussion in the legislature). Suggestions include:

Requiring that all felony sentences served in county jail be split between time behind bars and time under supervised release (probation), unless a judge deems otherwise

Allowing an offender’s entire criminal background to be reviewed when deciding whether the county or state should supervise them

Capping county jail sentences at a maximum of three years

Allowing for certain violations, such as those involving domestic restraining orders or sex offenses, to be punished with state prison sentences

Creating a statewide tracking system for all offenders

Collecting data at the county and local level on what is and is not working in realignment

She said several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. Still, only 5 percent of felons in Los Angeles County have their sentences split. She called this type of flexibility “extraordinarily important” to realignment, as it would lessen space and cost burdens for counties.

(We would like to note that LA will increase its use of split-sentencing after Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey instructed prosecutors in her office to start seeking split sentences for certain low-level offenders.)


SUPE RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER LEADERS TO ANNOUNCE SUPPORT FOR JIM MCDONNELL IN LA SHERIFF RACE

Today at 9:30a.m., LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen other South LA leaders will gather at Southern Missionary Baptist Church to announce their support for LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | No Comments »

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

July 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EXPANDING LAURA’S LAW IN LA COUNTY

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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


NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We think so too.

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

Read the rest.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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