New LA Program for Child Victims of Sex-Trafficking, Reopening LAUSD Libraries, Holder Takes on Disenfranchisement, and Jerry Brown—Prisons and Playing CardsFebruary 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO AID VICTIMS OF CHILD SEX-TRAFFICKING
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the launch of an innovative program to help kids victimized by sex-trafficking, called the First Step Diversion Program.
The DA’s office is partnering with local law enforcement and DCFS to identify girls under the age of 18 who have been arrested for prostitution. For a year after entering First Step, young participants will receive services such as counseling, substance abuse treatment, and education programming. At the end of the year, those who complete First Step will have the arrest cleared from their record.
Here are some clips from Jackie Lacey’s announcement:
Until now, minors between the ages of 12 to 17 who were arrested for sex-related crimes were deemed juvenile delinquents. Between 2000 and 2010, the Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed 2,188 petitions against minors caught soliciting or loitering for solicitation.
Those arrested were processed through juvenile courts with little or no resources devoted to addressing the underlying issues that forced them into prostitution.
“We believe that minors who engage in sex for pay are victims not criminals,” District Attorney Lacey said during a news conference. “We believe that we should help these children, not detain them.
Lacey said the District Attorney’s Office is joining forces with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Probation Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to identify girls under 18 who have been arrested for sex related offenses.
First Step will be rolled out in two Juvenile Division Branch Offices – Sylmar and Compton. These juvenile offices were selected due to the volume of arrests and because those girls arrested actually reside in that community.
A supervising deputy district attorney will be assigned to oversee First Step within each juvenile office.
For a period of one year, minors who agree to enter the First Step program will receive referral services, such as crisis intervention, sexual assault and mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, education and other appropriate social services.
SHUT DOWN LAUSD LIBRARIES MAY REOPEN THEIR DOORS
In December, we pointed to a story about the inordinate number of LAUSD school libraries that have been shuttered because there’s no staff to run them.
On Tuesday, the LA Unified school board approved the creation of a task force to address the issue. The task force will draft a library funding plan and present a budget to the board within 90 days.
KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has a welcome update on her previous story. Here’s a clip:
There are only 98 librarians in a district 768 school libraries. Many elementary schools opt for library aides instead – a lower-pay, part-time position. But even with aides, 332 school libraries do not have staff. State law says only librarians or aides can run school libraries.
“We all know that one immediate solution is the staffing of all our libraries,” said board member Monica Ratliff, who authored the task force resolution. “Few are openly opposed to the concept of staffing all our libraries and many are currently interested in addressing the current system of inequity in which some students have access to library books and others don’t.”
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER CALLS FOR AN END TO FELON DISENFRANCHISEMENT
Earlier this week, US Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights to the millions of felons who are still disenfranchised after serving their time.
The NY Times’ Matt Apuzzo has the story. Here are some clips:
In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Holder described today’s prohibitions — which in some cases bar those convicted from voting for life — as a vestige of the racist policies of the South after the Civil War, when states used the criminal justice system to keep blacks from fully participating in society.
“Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Holder said. “They could not vote.”
Mr. Holder has no authority to enact the changes he called for, given that states establish the rules under which people can vote. And state Republican leaders made clear that Mr. Holder’s remarks, made to a receptive audience at a civil rights conference, would not move them.
“Eric Holder’s speech from Washington, D.C., has no effect on Florida’s Constitution, which prescribes that individuals who commit felonies forfeit their right to vote,” said Frank Collins, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.
Like mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses, laws banning felons from the voting booth disproportionately affect minorities. African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting.
Nearly every state prohibits inmates from voting while in prison. Laws vary widely, however, on whether felons can vote once they have been released from prison. Some states allow voting while on parole, others while on probation.
Some states require waiting periods or have complicated processes for felons to reregister to vote. In Mississippi, passing a $100 bad check carries a lifetime ban from voting.
In four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia — all felons are barred from the polls for life unless they receive clemency from the governor.
“This isn’t just about fairness for those who are released from prison,” Mr. Holder said. “It’s about who we are as a nation. It’s about confronting, with clear eyes and in frank terms, disparities and divisions that are unworthy of the greatest justice system the world has ever known.”
And here’s what an NYT editorial had to say about Holder’s move:
Despite some progress, the United States remains an extreme outlier in allowing lifetime voting bans. Most industrialized nations allow all nonincarcerated people to vote, and many even allow voting in prison.
Adding insult to injury, felon disenfranchisement laws — which are explicitly permitted by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — are devoid of both logic and supporting evidence. They undermine the citizenship of people who have paid their debt to society, and possibly at a cost to public safety. As Mr. Holder pointed out, a study by a parole commission in Florida found that formerly incarcerated people banned from voting were three times as likely to re-offend as those who were allowed to vote.
Regardless of which party might benefit most at the polls, repealing felon disenfranchisement laws is in the interest of upholding American ideals. And it has increasing bipartisan support; Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, Republicans who have promoted criminal-justice reform on a larger scale, are also pushing to scale back or end these laws. Even after someone has completed a sentence, Senator Paul said in September, “the punishment and stigma continues for the rest of their life, harming their families and hampering their ability to re-enter society.”
TWO LA TIMES ESSAYS WITH DIFFERENT VIEWS ON GOV. JERRY BROWN’S TWO YEAR PRISON OVERCROWDING REPRIEVE
George Skelton in his Capitol Journal column says California’s deadline extension is a “win-win” for all parties involved. It’s an obvious victory for Governor Jerry Brown, who fought an uphill battle to gain the extra time, but Skelton says everyone—including inmates, lawyers and taxpayers—will benefit from the judges’ ruling.
Here’s a clip:
The judges, lawyers and inmates will gradually obtain — although not as quickly as they’d liked — more breathing room in the lockups and, consequently, better medical and mental healthcare. Moreover, the felons will be provided improved rehab, education, job training and treatment for drug abuse.
And some prisoners will be given early release, although Brown certainly won’t be calling it that.
The taxpaying public will be saving money in the long run. They’ll be paying for incarcerating fewer prisoners. And those released will be more likely to go straight and not return as expensive wards of the state.
At least that’s the theory. And it’s worth trying, given that California’s old stack-’em-like-cordwood mentality resulted in a recidivism rate — repeat lawbreaking — of 70%, twice the national average.
A Times editorial does not share Skelton’s optimism, and suggests that the judges should not have been quite so lenient with the governor, but pushed him to lock more rehabilitation into his plan.
Here’s how it opens:
There’s always one kid in class who gets away with it. You know the one. The teacher says the homework is due Friday and if you don’t turn it in, you flunk. But this kid pleads for more time. Just give him the weekend and he promises to get it done. The teacher says OK, then Monday comes and he asks to be given until the end of the week. And then he promises to turn it in at the end of the year. Then he says he can get it done by next April. Promise.
Now, how about two years from now?
Gov. Jerry Brown is the kid who got away with it, persuading a three-judge federal court panel to give him until February 2016 — long after this year’s elections — to reduce the state’s prison population by 5,500 inmates and to put in place anti-recidivism programs to keep the numbers down permanently. Even the judges expressed surprise at their own leniency, acknowledging that they’ve heard similar promises from California governors many times since 2009, when they ordered the state to shrink the inmate population to comply with constitutional strictures against cruel and unusual punishment. The judges noted that in the intervening years, prisoners have continued to be mistreated, that Californians have paid a financial price for the state’s delay, and that “this court must also accept part of the blame for not acting more forcefully with regard to defendants’ obduracy in the face of its continuing constitutional violations.”
AND A VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE ON THOSE SUTTER BROWN PLAYING CARDS
California’s first lady, Anne Gust Brown, came up with the adorable corgi playing cards with a state deficit chart on the back that were handed out during the governor’s State of the State speech.
The cards were such a massive hit that there may be a reprint in the works.
The SF Gate’s Carla Marinucci has the story. Here’s a clip:
She said the brainstorm had occurred to her as her husband was writing his speech. “This was about the governor sending a message … actually, not to the whole public,” but specifically to the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Gust Brown said.
And “how do you keep getting a message out to a group that wants to declare victory?”
Certainly, state legislators “made a lot of hard decisions to get us to a surplus,” and had reason to want to celebrate, she said. “We’ve done a lot to get out of these horrible deficits,” she said.
But Brown wanted to “keep reinforcing the decisions” based on fiscal prudence, she said.
And the challenge: Talking about issues like a rainy day fund “is boring,” she said. “People roll their eyes. You can say it in a speech, or put it in a chart, and they forget it.
“So I liked having some way where Jerry could reconfirm the point … and Sutter being there, I knew, would make it more memorable.”
Along with the dog’s photos on the front of the card, she added a flip side: a chart showing the persistence of the state’s deficits.