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Fighting Zero-Tolerance in a North Carolina County…Why States Turn to Private Prisons…Foster Kids’ Need for Consistent Education…and Disney Cuts $$ to Boy Scouts Citing Anti-Gay Policy

March 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“MISSION CRITICAL” DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS KIDS BEING PUSHED THROUGH THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

In the nationwide push to end the school to prison pipeline, many school districts are turning away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline practices (LAUSD included). Last week, President Obama launched an important initiative to keep kids of color in school and out of the justice system, but there is still much work to be done.

A new documentary produced by Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina) looks at the battle raging in Wake County, North Carolina, where 10% of kids were suspended during the 2011-12 year.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the documentary (which can be watched in its entirety in the above video). Here’s a clip:

The lawyers and staff of the organization bought a $200 camera and over 18 months shot raw interviews of parents and students who’ve been affected by the pipeline. After piecing it together, “Mission Critical: Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Wake County” was released last week at a community screening.

“We really wanted to humanize and personalize what really is a civil rights crisis in our community,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services and one of the film’s directors.

Wake County Public Schools has one the biggest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation, Langberg said. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district gave out 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions. The figure amounts to one suspension given for every 10 students, according to a report by Advocates for Children’s Services.


PRIVATE PRISONS: EXTRA SPACE FOR STATES WITH OVERCROWDING PROBLEMS, BUT IS IT WORTH IT?

For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America claim to save states money, but often have less than desirable track records, and employ lock-up quotas. (WLA previously pointed to CCA’s run-in with contempt of court in Idaho.)

Politico’s Matt Stroud takes a closer look at why states, including California, (and even the feds) enter into contract with private prisons. Here’s a clip:

In October, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison behemoth, onlookers might’ve wondered if he’d been following the news.

The same could be asked of Wall Street in general. Over the last five years, CCA’s stock price has increased by more than 200 percent and earlier this month Jim Cramer’s investment website The Street praised the company’s “strengths” on Wall Street, enthusiastically rating its stock a “buy.”

As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government. Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013, its most ever and more than a hundredfold increase since the company went public ten years ago.

But while privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea.

[BIG SNIP]

Yet companies such as CCA continue to get contracts—and Congress has been one of the industry’s benefactors. A 2009 change to the Department of Homeland Security’s federal spending bill requires officials to keep 34,000 people in federal immigration detention centers operated by private prison companies. The federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service all contract with private prison companies.

Again: Why?

Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.

Gilroy is director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to government problems and has also received financial support from both CCA and the GEO Group. He explains the lure of private prisons as a simple matter of cost and convenience: “It costs a lot of money to open a prison,” he says. “And to have it fully ready, you need a full contingent of staff, you need to set that staff up with health care, arrange for maintenance workers, provide food and utilities. And that’s a big order, particularly if you’re in a rush.” Private prisons can fill that rush order, he says.

A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California

(Read on.)

Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for CCA wrote a lengthy reply to Stroud’s Politico story. Owen says that Stroud only focused on the company’s problem areas, or “challenges,” and says there are many positive things CCA is doing for states and inmates. Here’s a clip:

The opinion writer opens his piece with ill-informed commentary about CCA’s relationship with California. In fact, there is perhaps no better example of the important role we can play in addressing corrections challenges. The difficulties the state has faced with overcrowded facilities are well documented, and for more than seven years, CCA has provided an important relief valve to help them manage their inmate population. Our facilities and professional staff have alleviated unsafe conditions and created opportunities for offenders to access a wide range of programs that prepare them to re-enter their communities once their time is served. The most recent iteration of our partnership is an innovative agreement that allows California to lease needed space from our company and staff the facility with public employees.

Additionally, the tools we are providing to help manage this difficult situation are being delivered at a significant cost savings. Overall, economists from Temple University, in an independent study receiving a partial grant from our industry, analyzed state government data and found companies like ours save 12 percent to 58 percent in long-term taxpayer costs.

The opinion piece moves on from California to cherry-pick stories of incidents that portray our company and industry through a lens that is not only incomplete but also often factually inaccurate and disingenuous. It is an unfortunate reality that no corrections system—public or private—is immune to challenges. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working each and every day to address concerns head on and learn from our mistakes, as we have recently in Idaho…

And here’s what Owen has to say about those pesky lock-up quotas:

I also want to address the issue of minimum-occupancy guarantees. Fewer than half of our contracts have them, and those that do contain explicit provisions allowing our government partners to terminate the agreement in a short period of time if the capacity is no longer needed. The idea that somehow our partners are locked into space they aren’t using is grounded more in politics than in fact…


FOSTER KIDS WHO REPEATEDLY CHANGE HOUSES AND SCHOOLS LOSE MONTHS OF EDUCATION, LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE

The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey has a worthwhile story about how frequent uprooting and instability in a foster kid’s life create significant gaps in learning and reduce their likelihood of graduating high school. Here are some clips (but do go read the rest):

When 12-year-old Jimmy Wayne’s parents dropped him off at a motel and drove away, he became the newest member of the North Carolina Foster Care system. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended 12 different schools.

“I don’t even remember what I learned—no, let me rephrase that—I don’t remember what they tried to teach me—after fifth grade,” he told me recently. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about science, I was thinking about what I was going to eat that day or where I could get clothes. When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

[SNIP]

Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster care children years behind their peers. Falling behind isn’t the only problem with frequent school moves: School transfers also decrease the chances a foster care student will ever graduate from high school.

[SNIP]

Kate Burdick, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Juvenile Law Center, shared the changes she’d make that would greatly improve the chances that children in foster care get the educational stability they need:

Schools must ensure school stability for children in foster care by requiring schools to be flexible around residency requirements in order to allow children to remain in the same school or district, and provide the supports to make that stability happen, such as reliable transportation and dedicated adult liaisons who can provide academic support.

Promote greater collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools in order to ensure that foster children’s particular educational needs are being met.

Collect tracking data on educational progress and outcomes, including attendance, school moves, enrollment delays and academic outcomes in order to reveal where policies and practices could be improved.

(For recent stories on the state of foster care in Los Angeles County, go here and here.)


DISNEY TO STOP GIVING MONEY TO BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OVER ANTI-GAY POLICY

The Walt Disney Company is cutting funding to the Boy Scouts of America starting in 2015 because of its policy banning gay scout leaders.

The AP has the story. Here’s a small clip:

The Boy Scouts organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect the organization’s ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.

[BIG SNIP]

The memo was posted on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that is critical of the Boy Scouts’ policy to ban adult gay troop leaders.

Last week corporate giants like Delta, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple threatened to move outside of Arizona if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto legislation that would have let businesses refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. (Bloomberg’s Thomas Black and Jennifer Oldham have that story.)

It’s heartening to see these two instances of corporate America standing up for LGBT equality.

Posted in CDCR, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LGBT, Obama, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LASD News Roundup, the Post-Release Life of the Exonerated, Solitary Confinement Debate Gains Steam…And More

February 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AN LASD CAMPAIGN WEBSITE PRANK

When Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, both candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff, tried to set up campaign websites, they found most of their viable options were already purchased. Not only that, the bought up sites (JimHellmoldforSheriff.com, for instance) redirected to a site for former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s campaign denied any involvement when contacted, and asked the web hosting company to shut down the redirecting sites shortly thereafter.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

When Jim Hellmold decided to run for sheriff of Los Angeles County last month, he knew that one of the first things his campaign needed was a website. He figured JimHellmoldForSheriff.com would make the most sense.

Except when he typed the address into his browser it took him to an already established site promoting one of his competitors: former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

So he tried another: JimHellmold2014.com.

Again, he was directed to a site boosting Tanaka.

“I was left with ‘Hellmold-the-number-four-sheriff-dot-com,” the assistant sheriff said. “I look rinky-dink.”

Across town, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who decided to run for sheriff around the same time, was having a similar experience. Basic domain names with his name were already taken and leading him to a site for Tanaka…

“Apparently he bought everything he thought I wanted,” McDonnell said. “I was disappointed. I thought, you know what, we’re all cops trying to run for a job and hopefully we respect each other.


AN ASSEMBLY BILL TO CREATE INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT OF THE LASD

A new California bill, introduced by Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would create a permanent civilian oversight committee for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

For months, the LA County Board of Supervisors have been discussing the possibility of an oversight commission. On Tuesday, the Supes voted to have IG Max Huntsman, (interim) Sheriff John Scott, and county counsel to look into what kind of oversight would work for the department. (Read about it here, if you’ve missed it.)


THE PLIGHT OF EXONEREES IN THE UNITED STATES

People who are exonerated after spending time in prison rarely receive monetary compensation, and when they do, it takes years to travel through the court system. Exonerees given the assistance that everyone else released from prison receives.

In 2013 alone, 87 people were freed after wrongful incarceration.

Over the weekend, the NY Times’ Alan Feuer had a worthwhile story (we didn’t want you to miss) about the lack of support offered to the unjustly imprisoned upon their release. Jeffrey Deskovic, a fellow exoneree who is working to bridge that gap. Here are some clips:

A sprawling literature exists describing the challenges of re-entering society after serving time in prison, an experience that is marked by depression and disorientation, and is hard enough for those who have been rightfully punished for their crimes. But what about those who are wrongly sent away as the victims of mistaken identity or prosecutorial error? The justly incarcerated are likely to have access to a battery of post-release services like health care, housing aid and social-work assistance, but those who should not have been locked up in the first place are rarely given treatment to address their special needs, and are often left to fend for themselves, finding the cure for their “disease” in one another’s company.

“There was a gap for men like us and I wanted to fill it,” said Mr. Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and a murder he did not commit. After his release in 2006, he filled that gap with the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, a product of a settlement with his jailers that is focused on helping the innocent who found themselves imprisoned to manage the financial and emotional results of their own release.

A combination of advocacy organization and support group, the Deskovic Foundation, since its creation in 2012, has collected a small, tightknit brotherhood of exonerated inmates, a society of the wronged whose members have been forced to come together and assist one another in the absence of assistance from anyone else.

When Eric Glisson, improperly imprisoned on a murder charge for 17 years, was recently planning at age 40 to open Fresh Take, his juice bar in the Bronx, Mr. Deskovic offered him marketing advice and bolstered his credit by co-signing the lease. When Mr. Lopez, convicted of a killing he did not commit, was freed from prison last winter after serving more than 23 years, Mr. Deskovic replaced the clothes he was arrested in with an outfit from Macy’s and put him up for six months — rent free — in the foundation’s apartment in Washington Heights.

[SNIP]

“People who have been wrongly convicted don’t have any reason to trust authority,” said Karen Wolff, a social worker with the Innocence Project. “The irony is it impacts their ability to deal with the people there to help them — with their lawyers, the social-service agencies they go to, even with potential bosses down the line.”

Then, of course, there are “bitterness issues,” Ms. Wolff said.

“The first year out is critical in their ability to transition back to life,” she added, “and there is no central place, no single institution that can tell them, ‘O.K., this is what we took from you, now here’s what we’re going to give you back.’ ”

It is widely assumed that exonerated inmates can simply make a claim against their jailers and walk away, like Mr. Deskovic, financially set for life. But only 29 states have laws that permit the wrongfully imprisoned to sue for compensation, and even in those states, the cases often languish in court for years.


JAM-PACKED CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HAS TO FIND A BIGGER ROOM

The debate about solitary confinement, an issue we often point to on WLA, has really been heating up, at both the congressional and state levels.

On Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue had so many attendees that the committee had to move to a larger room.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson talks about the hearing with Melissa Block on All Things Considered. Here’s a clip:

BLOCK: And it was just last week that we saw New York announce sweeping changes to solitary confinement for inmates in state prisons there. Why are we hearing so much about this practice right now?

JOHNSON: In the last couple of years, a lot of different factors have come together. There have been efforts by states to save a lot of money and reduce violence in prisons and also a critical massive advocacy by the ACLU and some researchers. And now, today, we saw some bipartisan interest in the U.S. Senate.

One fact that came out today was that it cost about $78,000 a year to house somebody in the federal prison system in solitary. That’s three times as much as it cost to put somebody in a regular prison unit. And, Melissa, here, as in so many areas of law and order around the country, states are leading the way. Mississippi and Maine have been early adopters of reforms in this area. And even in Texas, state lawmakers last year have passed legislation to study solitary confinement.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO END USE OF “GAY PANIC” AND “TRANS PANIC” AS CRIMINAL DEFENSE STRATEGIES

Another new California bill, AB 2501, would ban the use of “gay panic” or “trans panic” as a defense strategy in criminal cases. Under the bill (to be introduced by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla in partnership with Equality California), a defendant would no longer be able to blame an alleged crime against another person as having occurred due to fear caused by the victim’s orientation or gender identity.

Here’s a clip from Assemblymember Bonilla’s website:

“It is reprehensible to learn that criminal defendants are encouraged by their defense counsel to employ a ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in an attempt to receive a possible lesser charge or avoid conviction,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla. “A panic attack defense allows a criminal defendant to claim that violence against the LGBT community is somehow understandable or acceptable due to the victim’s orientation or gender identity. With this bill, we are making it very clear that it is never acceptable, and that there is no place for prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

AB 2501, sponsored by Equality California, a statewide advocacy organization for the LGBT community, would prohibit the use of a “panic defense” to qualify for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter instead. Current law calls for the jury to be instructed that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.

(And a quick shout out to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for vetoing the bill that would have allowed businesses to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to refuse service to the LGBT community.)

Posted in Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LGBT, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, solitary | 24 Comments »

Two Extra Years to Ease California Prison Overcrowding, More Than a Child Welfare Czar, and DOJ Sez: Equal Rights for Same-Sex Couples

February 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGES GRANT GOV. BROWN TWO MORE YEARS TO REDUCE PRISON POPULATION

On Monday, the federal three-judge panel agreed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a two year extension on the state’s deadline for reducing the California prison population to 137% capacity. The judges’ order calls on the state to begin Gov. Brown’s proposed parole expansion and early release credit program immediately. Among other stipulations, the order says that Brown cannot increase the number of inmates in out-of-state facilities, and says the state should try to bring the current number (8,900) down.

The state’s final deadline will be Feb. 28, 2016, but there will be two smaller targets to hit—the first is a 1000-inmate reduction by June 30, 2014.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, has more on the judges’ decision. Here’s a clip:

Monday’s ruling comes with new conditions: The judges will appoint a compliance officer with the power to release inmates if the state misses interim deadlines for easing the overcrowding. And even as they granted more time to comply with the court order, they criticized the state’s efforts to delay the release of inmates, who remain packed into prisons at more than 144 percent of capacity.

[SNIP]

Had the judges refused to extend the deadline, Mr. Brown had planned to spend about $20 million this fiscal year and up to $50 million in the next to house prisoners in out-of-state facilities. California currently houses about 8,900 inmates in other states, and Monday’s order prohibits the state from adding to that number.

Now, instead, Mr. Brown has proposed spending $81 million in the next fiscal year for the rehabilitation programs intended to reduce the recidivism rate and help bring the prison population down over time. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” Mr. Brown said.

[SNIP]

“This extension means two more years of suffering for inmates that should not have been granted,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for some inmates.

Mr. Bien said that to keep the prison population from continuing to rise, California would have to reform its sentencing laws. The state has agreed to consider establishing a commission to recommend reforms of state penal and sentencing laws, according to Monday’s court order…


CREATING LASTING FOSTER CARE REFORMS

In December, the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection handed the Board of Supervisors a set of preliminary recommendations for reforming DCFS. While the final recommendations will be issued in April, the commission urged the board to implement the early recommendations immediately, including choosing a lead agency (or child welfare czar) to oversee the suggested DCFS reforms.

During last week’s meeting, the Supervisors moved forward with just two of the recommendations, citing a lack of extra funds. The board requested a fiscal analysis for the other recommendations, and will wait until April to make their next move.

In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has some insightful suggestions for both the commission and the Board of Supervisors, moving forward:

As the Board of Supervisors and the commission moves forward, they should consider four key elements to success. These are:

Lessons from child welfare reform initiatives that hinge on cross-agency collaboration.

The value of putting front-line workers from various child-serving departments in the same building.

The power and necessity of incorporating youth in the process.

The role of the news media in ensuring that all the players involved are getting the job done.

And here’s a clip expanding upon the third and fourth ideas in Heimpel’s list (but do go read the rest):

Youth as Part of the Solution

This is not the first time Los Angeles has seen a Blue Ribbon Commission and unless we finally get it right, it won’t be the last. As far as I see it, there has to be a fundamental change in the strategy for protecting children.

Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is the point of doing any of this if it is not guided by the young people who experience the system? The commission should recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay for youth to be a part of the decision-making process under any eventual czar. It can’t only be a bunch of grayhairs calling the shots.

The Press

The very existence of the Blue Ribbon Commission is attributable to the press’ role in compelling the Board of Supervisors to act. And it wasn’t until the press took notice of the commission’s preliminary recommendations that the debate about spending money or designating a czar became real. The commissioners shouldn’t forget this when laying out their final recommendations.

They should recommend that press coverage of child welfare is expanded. The commission should advocate for the easing of confidentiality laws on the state level, the continuance of Judge Michael Nash’s blanket order giving greater access to the media in juvenile dependency courts after he steps down next year, and the creation of a fund to support journalism projects that cover the system and the Board of Supervisors independently.


US AG ERIC HOLDER ANNOUNCES NEW JUSTICE DEPT. POLICY: EQUAL PROTECTION FOR SAME-SEX MARRIED COUPLES

On Saturday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice will extend equal protection to same-sex married couples who encounter the criminal justice system. (Woohoo!) For instance, couples will now have the right to refuse to testify against their spouse, the federally incarcerated will receive the same visitation and furlough rights as heterosexual married couples, and death benefits for surviving spouses of peace officers will be extended to same-sex couples.

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

Under the Justice Department policy, federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in heterosexual marriages, including visitation by a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.

In addition, an inmate in a same-sex marriage can be furloughed to be present during a crisis involving a spouse. In bankruptcy cases, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly. Domestic support obligations will include debts, such as alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse. Certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses should be excepted from discharge.

“This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where he announced the new policy.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”


Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, prison | No Comments »

OC Supervisors Block Plan to Release and Monitor Low-Risk Felons…Officers Who Shot at Women in Dorner Hunt to Return to Work…California Judges May Be Prohibited from Boy Scout Affiliation

February 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

ORANGE COUNTY SUPES REJECT SHERIFF’S PLAN TO ELECTRONICALLY MONITOR SOME LOW-LEVEL FELONS

The Orange County Board of Supervisors shot down Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ plan to open up the county’s successful electronic monitoring system—which is already being used to monitor those serving time for misdemeanors—to include some inmates serving time for low-risk, non-violent felonies. By releasing certain low-level felons, Hutchens intended to prevent overcrowding in the OC jail system.

The LA Times’ Jill Cowan has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I understand they need to find an alternative to incarceration, and I appreciate the sheriff’s efforts,” Supervisor Janet Nguyen said Tuesday. “But I’m still uncomfortable allowing felons to be out on the street.”

The move came as the county, like many jurisdictions across the state, grapples with a ballooning jail population and scant resources to house inmates.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said her department has struggled to accommodate an influx of inmates from a variety of sources…

Hutchens said there are about 900 more inmates in Orange County’s system as a result of the realignment.

[SNIP]

This week, Hutchens said those home-monitoring programs have been successful, adding that inmates who are being monitored electronically are still technically in custody.

Assistant Sheriff Lee Trujillo told the board Tuesday that the only inmates who would have been eligible for electronic monitoring are “low-risk” felons — those who are nonviolent, with limited criminal records and just days remaining on their sentences.

(Our new LA Sheriff John Scott is on loan from the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., and will be returning to his position as OC’s Undersheriff when our permanent LASD leader is elected.)


OFFICERS WHO MISTAKENLY SHOT AT TWO WOMEN DURING DORNER MANHUNT WILL RETURN TO THEIR JOBS

The eight officers who fired over 100 rounds at two women in a pickup truck during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last February will return to the field after they receive additional training, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Both the civilian police commission and Chief Beck found that the shooting (which injured both women) violated department policy, but no disciplinary action will be taken against the officers involved.

The commission also found the department to be at fault in the incident. President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Tyler Izen, says the officers were “placed into a highly unreasonable and unusually difficult position.”

AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I have confidence in their abilities as LAPD officers to continue to do their jobs in the same capacity they had been assigned,” Beck said in a department message to officers obtained Wednesday night by The Associated Press. “In the end, we as an organization can learn from this incident and from the individuals involved.”

Both the chief and an independent commission found the 2013 shooting that injured two women violated department policy. The seven officers and one sergeant could have faced penalties including being fired.

Other discipline not outlined in the chief’s message could be handed down, police Lt. Andrew Neiman said, but department policy prevents him from discussing it.

Attorney Glen Jonas, who represented the two women who won a $4.2 million settlement from the city, said he was concerned by the chief’s decision not to terminate any of the eight officers.

“If either of the women had been killed, you can bet your bottom dollar somebody would be fired and maybe prosecuted,” Jonas said. “A stroke of luck, firing more than 100 rounds and missing, should not mean the discipline is lighter.”


CALIFORNIA MAY BAN JUDGES FROM BELONGING TO BOY SCOUTS DUE TO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS

The California Supreme Court’s ethics committee unanimously recommended the court forbid judges from affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America, based upon the Boy Scouts’ ban on LGBT leaders. California prohibits judges from being a part of organizations with discriminatory policies, but make an exception for non-profits like the Boy Scouts. The committee will take public comments on the issue until April 15. If the state Supreme Court decide’s to approve the ban, it will go into effect on August 1.

SF Gate’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here’s a clip:

If the court agrees, California will join 21 other states whose judicial ethics codes have antidiscrimination provisions that forbid judges from affiliating with the Boy Scouts.

Banning scout membership would “promote the integrity of the judiciary” and “enhance public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” the ethics committee said Wednesday.

[SNIP]

The panel noted that 22 states, including California, prohibit judges from belonging to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but only California exempts “nonprofit youth organizations” from that prohibition. The state’s high court, which sets judicial ethics standards, adopted that exemption in 1996 to accommodate judges affiliated with the Boy Scouts.

“Selecting one organization for special treatment is of special concern, especially in light of changes in the law in California and elsewhere prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the committee said.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Orange County, Realignment | 2 Comments »

Critical Juvenile Justice System Needs, Senate Committee Hearing on Prisons, March Against Child Sex Trafficking, and Gay Marriage in Illinois

November 8th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(Jump down to the second section for the story on the above photo.)


COMPONENTS OF A COMPETENT JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake says locking kids up should be considered the last available option and used “for the shortest time possible.” He says, however, that putting fewer kids behind bars is not the only missing piece of the youth justice reform puzzle.

Here are some clips:

The overwhelming lessons of science and experience should be enough to convince policymakers to use detention, jail or prison as a last resort and for the shortest time possible. Instead, most states perpetuate large punitive institutions at great cost even though best practices demonstrate that local community-based, family-involved treatment is more effective at reducing juvenile crime. Imprisonment fails as a strategy to rehabilitate because it seldom changes behavior except to worsen it.

I do not mean that incarceration is never necessary nor that any state should ignore the need for swift action to remove a kid from the public in exigent circumstances. And I don’t mean that any kid should not be held accountable for his or her criminal actions.

But our juvenile justice systems should be held accountable also – to increase public safety through attention to the individual circumstances of a child in conflict with the law.

[BIG SNIP]

…sending fewer kids to prison is only one step on the path to a rational, competent and effective system. What follows is a list of some necessary components – means to the ends of greater public safety, positive outcomes for kids in conflict with the law and greater fiscal responsibility.

- Data. The system often doesn’t have research data or ignores it. Instead, it relies upon shorthand formulas, such as bright-line rules like “three strikes and you are out of society and into prison.” Real world information about the characteristics of the juvenile population is needed at all decision points in the system.

- Restorative justice. Crime creates real harm to real people, not just an infraction against state rules. The offender, the victim and the community must be included…

- Training. Creating a common vocabulary and a common understanding of juvenile characteristics, science and effective practices requires training at all levels.

(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)


“IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK”

Bokeh, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s art blog, has featured some wonderful photographic creations by kids in an art program at a Rhode Island detention center. The program, known as AS 220, serves kids in the state’s juvenile detention center, and holds classes at a middle school for at-risk youths and in the community through their brick and mortar studio. Creative programs like this one have proven to be hugely beneficial by providing kids with an emotional outlet, and a sense of empowerment and self-worth, and by helping them develop problem-solving skills.

Here’s a clip from Katy McCarthy’s story on the program:

In the striking images from AS 220’s “If these walls could talk,” the magic made is not an illusion. Like a surrealist painting, the manipulated photos employ metaphor and symbol to create dynamic portraits.

Two students pose with giant light wings blossoming out behind them: Her’s white and linear, his multi-colored confetti-like squiggles.

We all know the myth of Icarus. If you fly too close to the sun you’re bound to be burned, an appropriate analogy for young people reflecting on the decisions they’ve made and paths they have chosen.

Scott Lapham, the program’s photography coordinator, is the adult brain behind the project. As he sees it, “Ancient Greek myths are of great interest because their characters often posses both supernatural powers and human frailties … [the students] are also encouraged to reflect on how the myths of Icarus, Odysseus and Midas can pertain to their own past and future decision making.”

[SNIP]

It seems especially crucial that children serving time for mistakes they have made should be able to re-compose their histories up to that point. Reflect on their lives and situations as something other than “system-involved.”


TWO TAKES ON SENATE HEARINGS ON FEDERAL PRISON POLICY

A US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Wednesday to discuss problems facing federal prisons. The hearing featured testimony by Bureau of Prisons Chief Charles Samuels Jr., who said that overcrowding in federal prisons is putting prison guards in danger. Samuels endorsed AG Eric Holder’s reform package as a solution, and also stressed the importance of rehabilitative reentry programs to curb recidivism.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo and Ryan J. Reilly have the story. Here’s a clip:

“The staff are putting their lives on the line every single day,” said Samuels in his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on challenges facing the federal prison system.

There is one corrections officer for every 150 inmates in the system’s housing units, Samuels noted. To manage this population, the bureau is doubling and tripling the number of inmates bunking cells, and converting television rooms and open bays into sleeping quarters.

Still, “challenges remain as the inmate population continues to increase,” Samuels said.

There are 219,000 inmates in the federal prison system, compared with 25,000 in 1980, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half of these inmates are in prison for drug crimes.

Changing how the government prosecutes those crimes could help reduce overcrowding, Samuels said.

He endorsed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which calls for federal prosecutors to consider providing certain non-violent offenders with access to special drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration.

These efforts “will help stem the tide of offenders entering the bureau and lead to lower average sentences where appropriate, and thus should decrease our population somewhat over the long term,” Samuels said.

Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic, was critical of the hearings and felt that senators failed to ask Samuels the hard questions on crucial issues. Here are some clips:

If you think Congressional “oversight” of an unelected official who controls the everyday lives of over 200,000 American prisoners ought to include probing questions and candid answers about dubious life-or-death practices and policies, then you surely would have been disappointed Wednesday morning watching members of the Senate Judiciary Committee play patty-cake with Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels.

[SNIP]

Only Senator Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, mustered up a serious question for the prisons chief. In fact, he asked one of the questions I had asked someone to ask of Samuels. Senator Durbin wanted to know: What had the Bureau of Prisons done since June 2012, the last time Samuels appeared before the Judiciary Committee, to study the relationship between solitary confinement and mental illness among federal inmates? It’s a question that goes to the heart of the BOP’s most controversial practice—as well as one that directly implicates the “cost” component of confinement.

Samuels told the Committee that there are approximately 4,000 fewer inmates in “restricted housing” today than there were then but, given the bureaucratic nature of prison-speak, it’s hard to know precisely what that means. Samuels did not even mention mentally ill federal prisoners in his response to Senator Durbin’s question about them. The senator, for his part, inexplicably did not press the BOP chief for such a response, and then the pair moved on to talk about the relative costs of confinement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as opposed to confinement on the American mainland.

That was it. From this Committee, that single question and non-responsive answer was the extent of anything that could be remotely considered “oversight” in the classic sense of that word. Sure, they talked about how expensive it is to house federal prisoners—far more expensive than it is to house state prisoners. And they talked about how important it is to ensure the safety of correctional officers. And they talked about all the shiny programs the BOP says it employs to help inmates prepare themselves for their eventual release.

But true accountability and transparency? No.


MRT’S MARCH AGAINST CHILD EXPLOITATION THROUGH SEX TRAFFICKING

In his November newsletter, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced a march and rally for Los Angeles’ children who have fallen victim to human trafficking. The march will take place on November 21st from 6:30p.m. to 8:30p.m. along Long Beach Blvd. Ridley-Thomas has been pushing for new solutions on this issue, and we hope he keeps it up.

Here’s a clip from Supe. Ridley-Thomas’ website:

“I encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of our children to join us Friday, November 21,” said the Chairman. “A concerned community must turn out to let these victims know we care, tell the neighborhood that this blight will not be tolerated and to send a warning to the customers and traffickers that we are watching you and we will come after you.”

On any given day along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard that traverses the cities of Compton, Lynwood and into South Gate, scores of young girls can be seen walking along in short skirts and tight tops while older men in cars slow down to arrange a purchase. It continues to be called prostitution, yet in many cases it is not – it is actually the sex trafficking of children. Trafficking is an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative trade that is now largely run by gangs as part of a criminal enterprise. With victims often expected to have sex with as many as 20 adult men per night, and a nightly quota set by the pimp to bring in between $1,000 to $3,500 per day, it is also becoming more profitable than drug dealing.


GAY MARRIAGE ARRIVES IN ILLINOIS

In case you missed it, Illinois lawmakers passed a gay marriage bill on Thursday. After Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill on Nov. 20th, Illinois will join the list of (now) fifteen states that boast marriage equality.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, prison, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice, Sentencing | No Comments »

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 »

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