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U.N. Investigator Wants to Examine California Prisons…Domestic Violence Services Victim to Gov. Shutdown…New Study on Low-income Students…and More

October 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(VIDEO: Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” discusses America’s prison system at TEDxMarionCorrectional.)

U.N. TORTURE INVESTIGATOR CONCERNED ABOUT ISOLATION IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez is seeking access to California’s prisons (and to individual prisoners) to make sure that the state’s use of solitary confinement does not violate international human rights laws.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

“We should have more justification” for putting prisoners in isolation, Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur (reporter) on torture told The Times’ editorial board Friday. He called for greater scrutiny of prison systems that routinely put inmates in solitary confinement.

[SNIP]

Mendez said he has agreed to investigate the cases of individual prisoners kept in the state’s isolation cells, to make sure they are being treated according to international law. He asked in May to inspect California prisons, but his request must be cleared by both the U.S. State Department and Gov. Jerry Brown, and Mendez said he has had no response.

[SNIP]

Mendez raised concern about any policy that keeps prisoners in their cells more than 22 hours a day with little social contact, for months or years at a time.

He said solitary should be used as discipline for only the most serious infractions, with safeguards that allow for independent review. Isolation should be unrelated to the crime for which an inmate was sentenced and never used as a means to carry out a sentence.


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CENTERS SUFFER DURING (AND AFTER) GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Largely underreported during the government shutdown, domestic violence and rape crisis centers suffered suspended grant funding and furloughs, and were forced to cut down on crucial services and housing for those in need. Centers worry they will face the same hardships if the government closes up shop again in January.

Washington D.C.-based journalist Dierdre Bannon has the story for the Crime Report. Here’s a clip:

…since the new legislation only finances the government through January 15, many service providers worry that in less than 90 days they could once again be denied access to grant money that helps them keep their doors open.

“When an average of three women are killed in the United States every day by a current or former intimate partner, it is unconscionable to allow life-saving domestic violence programs to shutter their doors and put their crisis lines on hold,” Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, wrote in a statement to The Crime Report.

Providers contacted by The Crime Report said they were still awaiting a full assessment of the shutdown’s impact, but several pointed out that their organizations had been left feeling financially insecure and uncertain about their future—particularly with another possible shutdown on the horizon.

“That kind of insecurity does not inspire confidence in boards of directors, and that could have a sweeping and long-lasting impact on organizations,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Southworth added that even though the government has reopened, it’s not clear when grant payments will be disbursed because it will take time to get those systems back up and running.


MAJORITY OF KIDS IN 17 STATES FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES

California is among seventeen states with more than half of public school students coming from low-income households, according to a study the Southern Education Foundation released late last week.

The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann has more on the study. Here are some clips:

In America, what you earn depends largely on your success in school. Unfortunately, your success in school depends largely on what your parents earn. It’s an intergenerational Catch 22 that’s at the heart of modern poverty.

…In 2011, there were 17 states where at least half of all public school students came from low-income families, up from just four in 2000. Across the whole country, 48 percent of kids qualified as low income, up from 38 percent a decade earlier.

To be crystal clear, the researchers were not analyzing poverty rates per se. Rather, they tracked at the percentage of children in each state who received free or reduced school lunches, which are only available to students whose families earn below 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that amounted to about $41,000 in 2011—a figure that might feel dire in New York City, but less so in New Mexico. In the end, we are talking about families poor enough to get for some amount of federal food help.

[SNIP]

…whenever you hear about “America’s failing school,” remember these maps. Poverty—or in many cases, near poverty—is the 50 pound backpack dragging down U.S. students.

And here are some notable clips from the study itself:

Low income students are more likely than students from wealthier families to have lower tests scores, fall behind in school, dropout, and fail to acquire a college degree. These gaps in learning and achievement have not improved in recent years, while the numbers of low income students have escalated in the South and nation. Test scores for the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) – the most reliable comparative test of academic performance across the states – suggest strongly that there has been little or no change in the wide differences in learning between students according to income from 2003 to 2011.

[SNIP]

Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States. With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.

There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem. The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.


CELEBS HELP INCREASE AWARENESS FOR LA’S HOMELESS GAY YOUTHS

Jamie Foxx, Elton John, and other celebrities appear in a heartrending new PSA to call attention to LA’s homeless LGBT youth epidemic.

Advocate’s David Reynolds has more on the above video. Here’s a clip:

Directed by Trent Kendrick and produced by Michael Fossat, the short film follows a young boy who is thrown out of his house by his parents after they discover he is gay. The PSA, titled Any Given Tuesday, shows the boy forced into a series of heartbreaking scenarios, including prostitution, drugs, and attempted suicide, which is the terrible road many youth must face once they are forced to live on the streets. According to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, 40% of the city’s homeless population is LGBT youth.

Jamie Foxx, Lisa Ling, James Wood, Elton John, and David Furnish appear in the PSA to raise awareness of this issue. Actor David Millbern, producer and costar of Here TV’s upcoming sitcom From HERE on OUT, also lends his talents in the short film to support the cause.

By the way, on Friday, the New Jersey became the 14th state to allow gay marriage. (Way to go, NJ!) For further reading, head over to Richard Socarides’ story for the New Yorker.

Posted in Education, LGBT, prison, social justice, solitary, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Holder’s Reforms for California, Moving Female Inmates Far Away from Their Families, Hunger Strike, Prop 8, and the LASD’s Missing M-16

August 15th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA NEEDS TO TAKE CUES FROM AG ERIC HOLDER’S REFORMS

In an Op-Ed for the Sacramento Bee, president of the Rosenberg Foundation Timothy P. Silard applauds Attorney General Eric Holder’s reform package announced Monday, and calls on California to follow Holder’s lead with some badly-needed reforms on the state-level. Here are some clips:

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, nor can we ignore any longer the pervasive racial bias that threatens the very legitimacy of the system itself. Holder laid out a set of promising reforms at the federal level. They include doing away with draconian mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes; increasing the use of diversion programs that can serve as effective alternatives to incarceration; and assisting victims and empowering survivors of crime.

While such federal reforms are long overdue, we know that fundamental changes are even more sorely needed at the state and local levels. California in particular is ground zero on this issue, and the state was conspicuously absent from the list of states that the attorney general lauded as models. Other states are pioneering a shift away from an “incarceration only” approach and toward evidence-based programs and services that are designed to reduce re-offending – all while improving public safety and saving precious taxpayer dollars.

[SNIP]

First and foremost, we should stop over-incarcerating low-level drug offenders and the mentally ill, and instead mandate treatment programs and job training so they get on track and stop offending. Simple possession of tiny quantities of drugs is a felony in California; those offenses should be reduced to misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

The state also needs a “sentencing commission” to overhaul the complex hodgepodge of our penal code, applying tough sentences for violent crime while reducing sentences for less serious offenses.

Finally, we can use the savings from reducing the number of people in prison and jail to invest in crime prevention, in proven alternatives to incarceration and re-entry services, and for programs that help heal children exposed to violence.


“ORANGE” AUTHOR SAYS FEDS’ IMPENDING TRANSFER OF FEMALE PRISONERS TO DISTANT FACILITIES A CRIPPLING BLOW FOR FAMILIES

Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” has written an excellent Op-Ed for the NY Times about the impending transfer of over 1,000 low-security female inmates from a federal prison in Connecticut to Alabama and other facilities across the country—far away from their children, spouses, and communities. Here are some clips:

Nine years ago, I served 11 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., for a decade-old nonviolent drug crime. Danbury is the sole women-only federal prison in the Northeast and is part of a complex that typically incarcerates low-security female offenders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The aging hulk of the facility dates from 1940 and has housed women for nearly 20 years.

[SNIP]

Starting this month, the federal Bureau of Prisons will transfer the more than 1,000 women incarcerated in the main facility at Danbury to other prisons across the country to convert it to a men’s prison (the small satellite camp immediately adjacent, where I served my time, will still incarcerate approximately 210 women). The bureau says the plan will ease overcrowding in its men’s prisons.

This added geographic separation may as well be a second sentence for these women, who already have to make it through prison with limited visits from family, and for their children, who still need and want their moms. A mother’s incarceration has a devastating effect on her family, and experts say that maintaining contact with a parent in prison is critical to a child’s well-being. One in 28 children has a parent in prison today, and Danbury houses the mothers of at least 700 children.

The Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, plans to send most women from Danbury to a prison in Alabama, and possibly to other ones farther afield. For many families these new locations might as well be the moon.

(Read on…)


HUNGER STRIKE AT AN IMPASSE?

The California prisoner hunger strike is now in its sixth week, and neither the striking inmates, nor the CDCR seem ready to give up their positions.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has an update. Here’s a clip:

Although Gov. Jerry Brown has made no public comment on the protest, his corrections chief says it is controlled by violent prison gangs bent on increasing their power. Advocates for the inmates say spending 23 hours a day in a windowless cell for decades is a form of torture that must end.

Without visible progress on the issues that separate the two sides, the protest — launched July 8 when 30,000 inmates refused breakfast — has become largely a battle over public perception.

“Being rational seems to have left this debate,” said Jeanne Woodford, who ran California’s vast prison system under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and now teaches at UC Berkeley School of Law. “It’s people who have dug their heels in on both sides.”

The official tally of hunger strikers Tuesday was 287, including 133 who have refused prison meals for 36 days.

[SNIP]

The next scheduled opportunity to negotiate is Friday, at a settlement conference ordered this week by a federal magistrate in the Pelican Bay litigation.


CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT REJECTS PROP. 8 PETITION

The California Supreme Court Tuesday denied a petition to revive Prop. 8, thus eliminating the state’s last legal road block for gay marriage. (Go, California!)

SF Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here are a couple of clips:

The court order came seven weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by sponsors of Proposition 8, the initiative defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, of a federal judge’s ruling declaring the measure unconstitutional.

The first weddings took place June 28, after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered all 58 county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But because the nation’s high court did not rule on Prop. 8′s constitutionality, sponsors of the 2008 measure urged the California court to step in and declare that only the two same-sex couples who sued to overturn the law should be allowed to marry.

State officials replied that the federal court ruling was binding statewide, and the state’s high court went along – in a July 15 order refusing to halt the weddings, and in Wednesday’s final order dismissing the case.

With no more legal actions pending, the issue appears settled, with California joining 12 other states and Washington, D.C. – with a total of 30 percent of the nation’s population – recognizing same-sex marriage. Another U.S. Supreme Court ruling entitles the couples to the same federal benefits as opposite-sex spouses.

[SNIP]

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who represented the city as a co-plaintiff in the suit challenging the ballot measure, was more cautious.

“By now, I suppose we know better than to predict that Prop. 8 proponents will actually give up their fight,” Herrera said in a statement. But he called any possible remaining legal options “absurd.”

(Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog also has a worthwhile article on the court’s decision.)


LASD ASSAULT RIFLE UNACCOUNTED FOR SINCE FEBRUARY

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. officials say that the department has lost one of its M-16 assault rifles. The firearm was only recently discovered missing, although it is believed to have disappeared back in February. LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore says policies will be changed to keep better track of weapons, both military and otherwise.

KPCC’S Rob Strauss has the story on the missing rifle. Here’s a clip:

The weapon was federal surplus given to the department by the state Office of Emergency Services, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told KPCC. Hundreds of them are given to the department every year, which Whitmore said is particularly helpful during tough budget times.

“This one we believe went missing around the first part of February of this year, and it’s obviously an embarrassment, and it obviously just shouldn’t happen,” Whitmore said.

The OES has suspended the department’s ability to receive surplus weapons until it can prove they know where all those weapons are at any given time, Whitmore said.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, guns, LASD, LGBT | No Comments »

US AG Holder Announces Criminal Justice Reforms, Judge Rules NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Violates Rights, Gov. Brown Signs Transgender Student Bill

August 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

HOLDER REVEALS FED. SENTENCING REFORMS AND OTHER CHANGES AIMED AT REDUCING THE PRISON POP.

Monday morning Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a much-anticipated criminal justice reform package to the American Bar Association. Among many important changes, Holder announced that federal prosecutors would be instructed to stop seeking often-excessive mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no gang-ties.

(The entirety of Holder’s speech can be viewed here or read here.)

San Jose Mercury’s Josh Richman and Thomas Peele have the story. Here are a few clips:

In a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, Holder said the Justice Department would promote drug-treatment and community-service programs as alternatives to prison for many low-level offenders who for years have been caught up in the same strict federal sentencing laws aimed at gang members and drug kingpins.

“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” Holder said.

The new strategy would only apply in the federal justice system – where 47 percent of prisoners are being held on drug convictions — but drug policy experts said the symbolism is far-reaching. As Holder pointed out, states across the country, including Texas and California, have re-examined drug enforcement and tough sentencing standards to thin out bulging prison populations.

Holder can make some policy changes, but a number of these reforms will require legislation to bring about real change.

Many drug offenses violate both federal and state law, leaving federal and state prosecutors to work out their own policies about who’ll prosecute which cases; the Justice Department typically has had little or no role in pursuing those accused of simple possession or even small possession-for-sale cases.

Drug-policy reform advocates have been calling for Congress to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for years, but said Holder’s move was a good first step.

While most people praised Holder’s news, Slate’s Emily Bazelon said that the reforms aren’t enough. Here’s why:

Holder’s policy is not a new law: He’s the boss, so the U.S. attorneys around the country are supposed to do what he says, but if they don’t, they’re not lawbreakers.

The experts I consulted said that the attorney general is merely centralizing the decision-making that already occurs. There’s a recent precedent: In 2003, under President George W. Bush, former Attorney General John Ashcroft directed all federal prosecutors to charge the “most serious, readily provable offense” available. In other words, Ashcroft too recognized that prosecutors have choices at charging, and he told them to go with the biggest crime they can make stick without too much trouble. Then as now, the idea is to rein in disparities, so that like offenders receive like sentences. (Though the research showing that black men do more time than other defendants who commit the same crimes suggests that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.) The difference between Holder and Ashcroft is that he’s moving the needle of prosecutorial discretion in the direction of mercy rather than stiffer punishment.

I’m left with a different question about Holder’s announcement: How big a shift does it actually represent? Let’s go back to his description of the kind of defendants who may now escape an automatic mandatory minimum: nonviolent drug offenders without ties to big gangs or cartels. According to the Times article previewing the speech, a DoJ memo being sent to all U.S. attorney offices decrees that the defendants they’re supposed to save from mandatory minimums must have no “significant criminal history.” That phrase has a particular meaning in federal sentencing law, and it’s not reassuring. If you have a marijuana possession in your past, or you got caught jumping a turnstile a couple of times, you have a significant criminal history. In other words, it doesn’t take much. Also, how many drug offenders really have no ties at all to big gangs or cartels, since they all have to get their product from somewhere?


JUDGE SEZ NYPD’S CONTROVERSIAL “STOP-AND-FRISK” TACTICS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Monday that NYC’s stop-and-frisk practice is racially discriminatory, unfairly targeting blacks and Hispanics, and appointed an independent monitor to make sure changes are implemented. Mayor Bloomberg said that he will appeal the ruling.

The Associated Press has the story. Here are some clips:

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her ruling. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory.”

Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades in some form, but recorded stops increased dramatically under the Bloomberg administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by four men, all minorities, and became a class-action case.

About half the people who are stopped are subject only to questioning. Others have their bag or backpack searched, and sometimes police conduct a full pat-down. Only 10 percent of all stops result in arrest, and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time.

Scheindlin noted she was not putting an end to the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.

[SNIP]

Scheindlin did not give many specifics for how to correct such practices but instead directed the monitor to develop reforms to policies, training, supervision and discipline with input from the communities most affected. She also ordered a pilot program in which officers test body-worn cameras in the one precinct per borough where most stops occurred. The idea came up inadvertently during testimony, but Scheindlin seized on it as a way to provide objective records of the encounters.

(The NY Times’ Joseph Goldstein also has good coverage of the ruling.)


A WIN FOR CALIFORNIA TRANSGENDER YOUTH

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday allowing transgender students across California to participate in sports and use facilities based on their gender identity, not the gender listed on their school records.

SF Gate’s Ellen Huet has the story. Here’s a clip:

AB 1266 would ensure that schools respect students’ gender identity with respect to sports teams, locker rooms, restrooms and all other programs and facilities. The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, was introduced by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

State law already prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of gender identity, but backers of the measure say the extra clarity in the law will go a long way in making a growing population of transgender students feel comfortable and safe at school.

“Being accepted or not accepted at school makes all the difference in the world for these kids,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a San Francisco organization that sponsored the bill. “That’s in terms of both their abilities to succeed in school in the short term and their long-term health and well-being.”

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LGBT, prison policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | No Comments »

LASD Detective Lied in Court and Arrest Reports, Law to End Rape Behind Bars: Ten Years Later…and More

July 24th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA SHERIFF’S DET. CAUGHT LYING ABOUT READING MIRANDA RIGHTS

Footage from the reality show “Bait Car” shows that LASD Detective Anthony Shapiro lied under oath in court testimony and in arrest reports. Shapiro claimed to have read suspects their Miranda Rights, but unaired video from the show contradicted the detective’s claims. In one instance, Shapiro is caught saying to a suspect, “You watch TV, you know your rights and all that?” before proceeding to talk to him.

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard has the story. Here are a couple of clips:

Video footage from a reality television program shows that a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective lied in court testimony and in arrest reports involving two car theft cases, the district attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors concluded that Det. Anthony Shapiro “willfully, knowingly and intentionally” made false statements when he claimed to have fully read suspects their Miranda rights, according to a memo obtained by The Times. Footage shot by television cameras for the TruTV program “Bait Car” shows that Shapiro never fully read the suspects their constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning, prosecutors said.

Despite the findings, the district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges against Shapiro. The office concluded that Shapiro’s false statements did not amount to perjury because they did not play a key role in the decision to arrest the men or in the outcome of the preliminary hearing where Shapiro testified, according to the memo.

“There’s no question that he lied. It’s just, can we prosecute it?” said district attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison.

[SNIP]

Shapiro has been relieved of duty with pay as the department conducts separate criminal and internal investigations, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. He said the internal affairs probe, which could result in discipline, is expected to be completed soon.


TEN YEARS AFTER A SUPPOSEDLY PROTECTIVE LAW IS PASSED, KIDS ARE STILL FACING SEXUAL ABUSE IN ADULT PRISONS

A decade after the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was enacted to deal with sexual abuse in the US prison system, there is still not enough being done to protect kids from the danger of being assaulted in adult facilities, according to Liz Ryan, President and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Here are some clips from Ryan’s call to action on TakePart:

The decade anniversary of the Prison Rape Elimination Act offers an opportunity for the U.S. Attorney General and the nation’s governors and local officials to finally protect children from the dangers of adult jails and prisons. Governors will have to certify compliance with the PREA by October 1 of this year.

The PREA regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Justice state that, “As a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”

The regulations include the Youthful Inmate Standard, which bans the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensures youth are constantly supervised by staff. At the same time, the regulations require limitations on the use of isolation in complying with the standard.

The bipartisan architects of the PREA law—Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA)—believe that youth should be fully protected from sexual abuse as was intended by Congress when it passed PREA and that a critical component of this protection is the removal of all under 18 youth from adult jails and prisons.

In an April 11, 2013, letter Wolf and Scott urged the U.S. Attorney General to issue clear guidance to states and localities on the regulation’s Youthful Inmate Standard.

[SNIP]

On the 10-year anniversary of congressional passage of this important law, Congress must ensure that the 100,000 children languishing in adult jails and prisons every year are protected from the dangers of sexual abuse behind bars.

It is crucial that governors and local officials implement best practices to fully protect youth in the justice system by removing youth from adult jails and prisons, and place them in juvenile facilities where they are more likely to receive developmentally appropriate services, educational programming and support by trained staff. Fortunately some states and localities already have long-standing policies that prevent the detention or incarceration of children in adult jails or prisons.


CA SUPREME COURT KNOCKS DOWN BID TO STOP GAY MARRIAGE…AGAIN

The California Supreme Court Tuesday rejected a bid from the San Diego county clerk to immediately halt gay marriage while it considers cases arguing that Prop 8 should remain valid in at least 56 of California’s 58 counties. The high court denied a similar request a little over a week ago brought by Prop 8 supporters.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story on this most recent strike-down. Here’s a clip:

In a one-line order filed Tuesday, the justices rejected the San Diego county clerk’s bid to restore California’s same-sex marriage ban while they review a two-pronged effort to keep the 2008 voter-approved law on the books. The state’s high court last week unanimously denied a similar request to immediately stop the marriages filed by Proposition 8′s sponsors.

Ernest Dronenburg Jr., San Diego’s clerk-recorder, brought his legal challenge last week, arguing that he should not have to obey the state’s mandate that clerks throughout California now must issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The governor and attorney general handed down that edict in late June, when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively invalidated Proposition 8 in a ruling that found the measure’s supporters never had the legal right to defend the law.


MORE ON THE HUNGER STRIKE

A two-hour informational meeting was held Tuesday between inmate advocates and CDCR officials in Sacramento to discuss the ongoing prisoner hunger strike.

Julie Small of KPCC has the update on the issue.

Posted in CDCR, juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, solitary | No Comments »

DEVASTATING: 19 Firefighters Killed Sunday Night in AZ Wildfire…and Other News

July 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



As many of you may have heard by now, 19 firefighters were killed Sunday
night battling an out-of-control wildfire, located about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The 19 were members of a team of highly-trained wildland firefighters known as the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots (pictured above), one of the elite Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) that are deployed as needed to major wildland fires throughout the nation.

The deaths of the Prescott hot shots is the second worst such incident in U.S. history, and the worst firefighting loss of life since 1933.

When firefighters or police officers are killed, it tears a particular kind of hole in the community—both locally and in the larger community. Thus, while WLA doesn’t genrally report on wildfires, in this case….attention must be paid.

Here is what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck tweeted at around 10 pm Sunday night:

Feeling incredible shock and grief over the deaths of the 19 firefighters killed in Yarnell,Az wildfires. Please pray 4 their families.CB

Yes.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

OFFICER LAWSUITS AGAINST THE DEPARTMENT DEMONSTRATE NEED FOR CHANGES AND REFORMS SAYS LAPD’S INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s Inspector General, Alex Bustamante, issued a sharply-worded report that critiqued the department’s failure to institute reforms to reduce the number of officers suing department—and collecting big $$ payouts—as a result of various claims of ill-treatment at the hands of the LAPD.

Here’s a small snip from the LA Times’ Joel Rubin’s story on the matter:


Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, calculated that the city has paid $31 million over the last five years to resolve employment-related cases in which members of the LAPD contended they were victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other misconduct. That was almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.

In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department to implement a mediation program devised by the LAPD, city attorneys and officials from the union representing rank-and-file police officers.

The Los Angeles Police Comission will discuss Bustamante’s report on Tuesday.

And while we’re on the topic, it would be good to know what percentage of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department payouts are to settle with department members.

It should also be noted that, in his report, Bustamante said that, in the last 5 years, the LAPD has paid out $110 million in lawsuits, 31 million of which is cops suing the department.

The Sheriff’s department has, by contrast, paid out over $100 million-in three years.

So how much of that 100 million plus is paid to settle with LASD department members who are suing their department?

Has anyone called for reforms to help cut those numbers down?


SUPREME COURT JUSTICE KENNEDY TOSSES OUT PETITION TO STOP GAY MARRIAGES.

On Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy turned down requests from Prop. 8 supporters to put a stop to gay marriages in California until they could appeal to SCOTUS to rethink it’s ruling.

Kennedy said, Uh, no.

NPR’s Mark Memmott has the story. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday, the court (with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion), ruled 5-4 that the proponents who came forward to defend Prop 8 after it was struck down by a lower court did not have the proper standing to bring the case to the High Court. So, in effect, the lower court ruling was allowed to stand.

The ruling has brought hundreds of same-sex couples to courthouses and city halls across California. As we wrote Saturday, it’s “wedding weekend in San Francisco” and other places.

This weekend, Kennedy (to whom appeals of decisions from California are directed) was asked to put a stop to the weddings. Prop 8′s supporters, as our colleagues at KQED reported, argued that because they have 25 days in which to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, the marriages should be on hold for at least that long.

Kennedy disagreed. So, the marriages can continue.


TRAVIS COUNTY, TX, EXPERIMENT COULD SET THE STAGE FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM ACROSS THE STATE

Travis County, Texas, (which includes Austin within its borders) has decided that it can do a better job in helping its law breaking kids turn their lives around, by making use of intensive therapy and other rehabilitative programs.

Brandi Grisson writing for the Texas Tribune has the story. Here’s a clip:

“…We will no longer commit kids to the state,” said Jeanne Meurer, a Travis County senior district judge. “We will take care of all of our kids.”

This year, legislators approved a law to allow the county to commit juvenile offenders to local detention facilities instead of sending them to large institutions operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. If the Travis County model is successful, it could set the stage for the next steps in reforming the juvenile justice system — sharply reducing the size of the agency and the number of detention centers.

“Travis County’s experience doing this will tell us what’s possible,” said Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on jail conditions.

Since Texas deals with many of the same complex youth populations in its facilities as does California, what Travis does should be worth watching.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Fire, juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court | 8 Comments »

AG Kamala Harris Acts Fast & Asks 9th Circuit to Lift Stay on Gay Marriage

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Immediately following the release of the Supreme Court ruling on Prop. 8, court watchers,
advocates, and constitutional scholars were trying to sort out what, in a practical sense, the ruling meant fo the legality of gay marriage in California.

Wednesday mid morning, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a statement that pretty much answers the question.

Here’s a clip from her official statement.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today declared that the United States Supreme Court’s historic opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry means that every county in the State of California must now recognize the right of same sex couples to legally marry and asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift its stay and allow same-sex marriages to take place.

“The Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry means that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to be legally married in all of California’s 58 counties,” said Attorney General Harris. “The Court agreed with our argument that opponents of same-sex marriage lacked the legal standing required to bring the issue to the court. Same-sex marriages can legally resume in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay on the District Court Ruling. I ask that the Ninth Circuit lift this stay immediately, because gay and lesbian couples in California have waited long enough for their full civil rights.”

In an earlier letter to Governor Jerry Brown, Harris advised that, should the challenge to Prop. 8 be found to have no standing (as was the case), the State Department of Public Health should instruct county clerks and recorders in all 58 counties to resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex couples.

Bottom line, same-sex marriages will resume as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay on the District Court ruling.

It appears that no other action is required.

Let the wedding bells ring!


Photo by LABaseballFan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LGBT | 6 Comments »

DOMA Unconstitutional! ….Prop. 8 Dismissed for Lack of Standing……Also The Supremes on Voting Rights…..A Young Father’s Parental Rights.

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The New Yorker has a photo of Edie Windsor learning of the decision.

MAIN PART OF DOMA IS STRUCK DOWN, RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN 5/4 RULING…..PROP 8 APPEAL SENT BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

DOMA is found unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages,” writes Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority.

Here’s a link to the DOMA opinion.

And this is from the live blogging at SCOTUSBlog:

“What this means, in plain terms,” writes Amy Howe of SCOTUSBLOG, which has been live-blogging the rulings, “is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law– with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.”

Adam Liptak of the NY Times writes this:

Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

In a second decision, the court declined to say whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Instead, the justices said that a case concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, was not properly before them. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial court’s decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the state’s shoes to appeal from the decision, the court said, it was powerless to issue a decision.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation. Its consequences for California were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages there are likely to resume in a matter of weeks.


SUPREMES SEND PROP 8 CASE, HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY, BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

Here’s the Prop 8 ruling.

Here’s the plain English version from the NY Times:

In the California case, the court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban. The Supreme Court’s ruling appears to remove legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in the state, but the court did not issue a broad ruling likely to affect other states.

Here’s Greg Stohr at Bloomberg:

A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and potentially clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.

The court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for gays to marry, or even ruling directly on California’s voter-approved ban, as the justices considered the issue for the first time.

The decisions in the two cases sustain the momentum that has grown behind same-sex marriage over the past decade. With a 5-4 procedural ruling in the California case, the court reinstated a trial judge’s order allowing at least some gay marriages there. And by invalidating part of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act by a different 5-4 majority, the court rejected many of the justifications for treating same-sex and heterosexual couples differently.

Interestingly, the decision on Prop 8 features a different 5/4 configuration with Roberts writing for the majority.

Here’s David Savage of the LA Times:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined [Roberts] to form the majority.

The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Okay, that’s it for the moment. Lots of good national coverage. This is an excellent day for equal rights in the nation.




PROVISION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT GUTTED BY SUPRIME COURT DECISION

The web and my email box are loaded with angry expert opinions and cries of anguish over Tuesday morning’s Supreme Court ruling on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Garrett Epps from the Atlantic writes about the dispiriting decision in appropriately blistering terms:

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.) But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality. An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes. The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

[BIG SNIP]

The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.


SUPREMES RULE FOR BABY VERONICA’S ADOPTIVE FAMILY NOT NATIVE AMERICAN FATHER AND FAMILY

This Solomonic/halving-the-baby decision is a heartbreaker however you look at it.

Dan Frosch and Timothy Williams write about the ruling for the New York Times. Here’s a clip:

An American Indian child being raised by her biological father should not have been taken from her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, saying that a federal law devised to keep Indian families together did not apply in the case.

The 5-to-4 decision, which reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, found that the case represented an exception to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that made it more difficult for American Indian children to be removed from their families. That landmark legislation effectively ended the practice of taking Indian children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools and foster care.

The court’s majority held Tuesday that the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, No. 12-399, did not involve removing a child from an Indian home because the girl’s father had relinquished his parental rights before the girl’s birth and her biological mother had agreed to allow the South Carolina couple to adopt the girl.

Four months after the child’s birth, the father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee tribe, changed his mind and sought custody of his daughter. He said he had not realized that his former fiancée was going to put the child up for adoption.

The girl was in the process of being legally adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who raised her for 27 months before South Carolina courts ruled in favor of Mr. Brown. The child, now nearly 4, has been living with Mr. Brown in Oklahoma for the past year and a half. The state courts found that both the Capobianco family and Mr. Brown had provided the girl with safe, loving homes.

The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of the dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from child welfare groups, adoptive parents and Indian tribes, all of whom have sought a clearer legal standard of how the Indian Child Welfare Act should be applied when it appears to conflict with state law.


Posted in children and adolescents, How Appealing, LGBT, race, race and class, racial justice, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Press Opinions on McDonnell/Baca, Compelling Arguments for Juvenile Justice Reform…and More

June 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

REGRETTING LB POLICE CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL’S DECISION NOT TO CHALLENGE BACA

Tuesday evening, Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell announced that he would not be running against LASD Sheriff Baca as expected. In the days since, various newspapers have expressed their disappointment that the Sheriff’s biggest competition will be backing out of the race.

Here’s one lamentation from LA Times’ editorial boardmember Sandra Hernandez. Here’s a clip:

Now he says he won’t run for sheriff because it would require too much time spent on fundraising and politicking. His decision, while understandable, is disappointing for many reasons. McDonnell is a well-respected cop who recently served on the county commission that criticized Baca’s management of the jails.

And here’s a clip from a similarly themed Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial:

Well, that’s disappointing. One of the most anticipated races of Southern California’s 2014 election season seems to have fallen apart with Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell’s announcement that he won’t run for Los Angeles County sheriff.

That’s good for Long Beach, but not for the county at large. McDonnell is a smart, talented and highly respected police chief who would have brought welcome competition to the race.


WHY WE SHOULD TAKE JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM SERIOUSLY

The American Psychological Association’s Kerry Bolger, in a notable post for the APA blog “Psychology Benefits Society,” explains the enormous importance of reforming the US juvenile justice system.

Here are the first two reasons listed:

1. Overreliance on incarceration is unnecessary.

Many young people in juvenile correctional facilities are incarcerated for low-level and nonviolent offenses. In 2010, for example, of the 59,000 youths under age 18 confined in juvenile facilities in the U.S., only 1 in 4 was detained or committed for a serious violent offense. About 12,700 kids (1 in 5) were confined only for status offenses (such as truancy, curfew violation, or running away) or technical violations (such as failing to report to a parole officer).

A number of states have shifted their youth justice policies away from overreliance on incarceration, with no accompanying increase in juvenile crime.

2. Incarceration doesn’t reduce future crime.

Juvenile incarceration doesn’t reduce re-offending, but rather increases it, especially among youth with less-serious delinquency histories.

That’s no surprise, considering that youth in juvenile correctional facilities are exposed to more serious offenders and to widespread physical and sexual violence in confinement.

(Read the rest here.)


STILL NO SCOTUS RULINGS ON GAY MARRIAGE (AND OTHER PRESSING ISSUES)

The Supreme Court did not issue rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Prop 8, affirmative action, or the Voting Rights Act. The court will now likely make decisions on the highly anticipated gay marriage cases on June 26 or 27, at the very end of the court’s current term.

HuffPost’s Luke Johnson has a quick update on the cases (and an entertaining little video). Here’s a clip:

The court is first expected to make a decision on Fisher v. University of Texas, challenging the university’s affirmative action policy in college admissions. The justices then will likely rule on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act along with decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8.

Posted in juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Bills About Guns…Kids & Solitary…Boy Scouts… and Foster Care …and More

May 31st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

A bunch of notable bills advanced in the CA legislature this week. Below is a round-up of the ones that most caught our eye.


STATE LAWMAKERS PASS GUN CONTROL BILLS AND MAKE MOVES TO REVOKE BOY SCOUTS TAX EXEMPTION

Twelve gun-control bills advanced through either the senate or the assembly, as did a bill to remove tax-exempt status from the Boy Scouts of America and other organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation or religion all advanced in either once house or the other.

LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Chris Megerian have a good run down on the main gun control measures. Here are some clips:

**Californians who want to buy ammunition would have to submit personal information and a $50 fee for a background check by the state, under a bill passed by the Senate. The state Department of Justice would determine whether buyers have a criminal record, severe mental illness or a restraining order that would disqualify them from owning guns.

Ammo shops would check the name on buyers’ driver’s licenses against a state list of qualified purchasers.

The goal of the bill is “to ensure that criminals and other dangerous individuals cannot purchase ammunition in the state of California,” said Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), author of SB 53.

[SNIP]

The Senate also OK’d a bill that would outlaw the sale, purchase and manufacture in California of semiautomatic rifles that can accommodate detachable magazines. The measure, SB 374 by Steinberg, also would require those who own such weapons to register them with the state.

The Assembly joined the action on guns by passing a measure to require the state Department of Justice to notify local law enforcement agencies when someone buys more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition.,,


BOY SCOUTS COULD GET TAX-EXEMPT STATUS YANKED

Here’s a clip from the same story regarding the measure passed by the state senate that would kill the Boy Scouts of America’s tax free status:

Senators on Wednesday voted to strip tax-exempt status from nonprofit groups, including the Boy Scouts of America, that deny participation based on sexual orientation or religion.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said he was glad the Boy Scouts’ national council recently decided to allow openly gay minors to serve as scouts. But he said it was unacceptable that the organization did not also lift its ban on gays serving as adult leaders.

“We’ve given the Boy Scouts ample time to solve their discrimination problem, and they have chosen a path that still leads to discrimination,” Lara told his colleagues.


YOUTH SOLITARY CONFINEMENT BILL PASSES THROUGH CA SENATE

As you may remember, we’ve been tracking SB 61, a bill authored by Sen. Leland Yee ((D-San Francisco/San Mateo) that will both define and limit solitary confinement for kids in state and county lock-ups. The bill made it through the CA Senate on Wednesday.

Here’s a clip from a statement from Yee’s office:

…..While the United Nations has called on all countries to prohibit solitary confinement in juvenile cases, the harsh measure is commonly used in juvenile facilities throughout California. Six states – Connecticut, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Alaska – ban solitary confinement for “punitive reasons.”

“The use of solitary confinement on a child is highly damaging and makes young people more dangerous and anti-social,” said Yee, a child psychologist. “Subjecting juveniles to solitary makes them more likely to reoffend, and more likely to suffer a lifetime mental illness.”

We’ll, of course, continue to track the bill’s progress.


A STRING FOSTER CARE BILLS MAKES IN THROUGH THE STATE SENATE

Several important foster care bills, also authored by Sen. Yee made it through the state Senate on Wednesday. The first bill fills in gaps in prenatal care for pregnant foster youth, gives priority housing, and provides other necessary services to young parents.

Another bill mandates that social workers actually see a foster child in his or her foster home on a regular basis—not just in meetings outside the home. (What a concept!)

Here’re some clips from Yee’s statement on the group of bills:

Young parents in the foster care system face the challenges of being in foster care as well as being a young, usually single, parent. Studies of both groups have found that they will experience higher than average rates of poverty, unemployment and low educational attainment. Senate Bill (SB) 528 seeks to provide assistance to these parents so both they and their child can have a better chance of success.

[SNIP]

“SB 528 will help pregnant youth in foster care prepare for parenthood by requiring local child welfare agencies refer pregnant youth to existing child and maternal health resources, including prenatal care and information about how to prevent subsequent pregnancies. This change is desperately needed,” said Amy Lemley, Policy Director for the John Burton Foundation, SB 528’s sponsor. “Currently, 20 percent of youth in foster care don’t access prenatal care until their sixth month of pregnancy, which has a range of negative outcomes include low birth weight. Los Angeles has started to take this approach and is seeing better birth outcomes among our state’s most vulnerable children.”

[SNIP]

“Parenting and pregnant youth are twice as likely to drop out of high school as to graduate,” said Yee. “It is imperative that we provide basic resources and assistance for pregnant and parenting teens who are in foster care. SB 528 will assist these foster youth and their children at the most critical time in their lives, and will save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”

And about another of Lee’s foster care bills;

SB 342 will ensure that monthly social worker visits of foster youth happen in the home of the child, ensuring that social workers have a more complete picture of the child’s home life and welfare and are better able to support the child and the family. Data from the Department of Social Services shows that nearly 24 percent of all case worker visits occur outside the child’s home leading to instances where some placements were not been visited by a social worker for an extended period of time.

“Far too often, foster children are being placed in substandard group homes and foster homes because no one has visited the placement home for months,” said Yee. “When the state removes a child from their home, we have a responsibility to ensure that the home in which they are placed meets basic standards.

One would certainly hope so.


IN OTHER NEWS….STUDY SHOWS DISCRIMINATORY SUSPENSION AND ARREST RATES IN NYC SCHOOLS

The shockingly disproportionate application of school discipline to black and learning disabled kids that his been shown to plague states like Texas and Mississippi (and, to some extent, LAUSD) turns out to be very present in NYC according to a new study conducted by the New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force.

The Crime Report has the story. Here’s a clip:

Black students account for almost 63 percent of all arrests in New York City schools, even though they make up only 28 percent of the city’s student body, and are more than four times as likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to a report released today.

And the rate at which students are suspended in the city’s public schools has increased by about 40 percent since 2006, according to researchers for The New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force, which was led by former New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

The 45-member task force — which includes city officials, education and justice system experts — spent the last two years examining disciplinary issues in New York City’s public schools.

And Here’s a clip from the report itself:

Most worrisome are patterns of suspensions for students with disabilities and students of color in New York City and across the nation. In New York City alone during SY2012, students receiving special education services were almost four times more likely to be suspended compared to their peers not receiving special education services; Black students were four times more likely and Hispanic students were almost twice as likely to be suspended compared to White students. New York City Black students were also 14 times more likely, and Hispanic students were five times more likely, to be arrested for school-based incidents compared to White students.

Studies have shown that it is not the violent and egregious misbehavior that drives the disparities. For example, the Texas study showed that Black students had a lower rate of mandatory suspensions (suspensions for violence, weapons and other equally serious offenses) than White students. Black students exceeded White students only in the rates of suspensions for discretionary offenses.

Posted in children and adolescents, Foster Care, guns, juvenile justice, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

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