- Prop 47 Report, Laptops in Lock-up, Prison Rape, and Training Teachers to Identify Abuse
- POSITIVE YOUTH JUSTICE: When Kids Make Amends to their Victims of Crime – by John Kelly
- Job Changes, Investigations, & a Demotion for 3 LA Sheriff’s Dept. Captains
- OP-ED: Movement to Restore Youth Begins by Ending the Punitive Incarceration Model
- John Legend’s Oscar Night Statement….Tech Education for Kids in Lock Up… The Bail Industry Fights Back….Will CA Regulate Solitary for Juveniles?…
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Life in general
LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al MartinezJanuary 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon
AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES
It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)
To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.
The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:
After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.
In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.
The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.
Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.
Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.
The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.
“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.
(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)
SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE
With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.
But do such strategies work?
Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.
With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.
The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.
California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.
San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.
Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?
“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”
As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”
With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.
RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.
The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.
So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.
“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”
But as to why CJC having a better effect?
“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.
The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”
Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”
Sounds fine to us.
NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS
In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.
Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.
Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.
Here’s a clip:
The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.
Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”
The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.
A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.
Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.
As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.
“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”
The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.
SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME
For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.
As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.
For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.
Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.
So, listen. Okay? Okay.
THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ
Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.
Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)
Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.
He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.
The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”
PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.
Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »
Jason Lee singing John Prine’s classic “Christmas in Prison”
WitnessLA Will be dark until Monday, January 5 (unless there’s breaking news that we simply cannot ignore). So we’ll see you bright and early Monday morning in 2015. Until then, we hope your days are full and happy ones.
Here’s some music to help:
A song from the Living Sisters’ terrific new holiday album, “Harmony Is Real : Songs For A Happy Holiday.”
The Temptations wonderful version of Silent Night.
And then two that we seem to post every year, just because….
The Pogues doing their wonderful Fairytale of New York
And finally Rufus Wainwright singing Minuit Chrétiens acapella as his famous mother Kate McGarrigle looks on with utter delight at her son, at this, her last concert before her death of cancer, one month and 5 days later.
Robin Williams, R.I.P….. The LAPD Commission Votes on Beck Tuesday: What Will Happen?…..Why Juvenile Justice & Education Must Partner Up….& MoreAugust 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
ROBIN WILLIAMS, RIP, THE LOSS OF A STAGGERING TALENT
There are certainly other comedians who are—were—as funny as Robin Williams. But, as his friends, colleagues and admirers struggled to express their shock and sorrow at comic/actor Williams’ death on Monday—possibly by suicide—each seemed also to need to explain why, really, really there was nobody like him.
This was particularly true when it came to the high-wire act of Williams’ stand-up improvisation.
An improvisational genius, wrote both the LA Times Kenneth Turan and the NY Times’ A.O. Scott. “Genius” is an overused word, but in Williams’ case, that about nails it. At his riffing best, his speed at associating was so dazzling, his impersonations so intuitive and fearless, his intelligence so incandescent, in watching him, one felt one was observing the most astonishing of magic tricks.
Chris Columbus, who directed Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, and was close friends with the comedian actor for 21 years, explained it another way.
“To watch Robin work was a magical and special privilege. His performances were unlike anything any of us had ever seen, they came from some spiritual and otherworldly place….”
Yep. And his performances elicited not just humor but joy. It may sound sappy, but there you have it. Plus there is his marvelous body of work as an actor, his tireless performances for American troops, his years of leadership in fundraising for the homeless with Comic Relief, and his many private acts of sweet-natured kindness, (many of which are now appearing in essays and remembrances, like this story at CNN and this one at Next Avenue).
All these reasons and more are why the loss of Williams on Monday feels so intolerable.
Among the other remembrances worth reading is one by LA Times’ Turan who tells of his few but inevitably indelible encounters with Williams over the years. But there are lots of good ones.
ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE TALKS TO REPORTERS ABOUT TUESDAY’S LAPD COMMISION MEETING & THE VOTE ABOUT WHETHER TO OFFER BECK ANOTHER 5 YEAR TERM
AirTalk’s Larry Mantle’s interviews KPCC’s Erika Aguilar, Frank Stoltze about what they’ve learned about Tuesday’s vote on Beck, and to the LATimes’ Ben Poston, who was part of the team who reported on the LAPD’s misclassifying aggravated assaults as lower level crimes, then to Raphe Sonenshein, the Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles, who is a Beck fan.
To get you started, here’s a clip from the intro:
The Police Commission is meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] to decide whether to reappoint LAPD Chief Charlie Beck for a second five-year term.
Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row and Beck has played an important role in keeping Los Angeles safe in the face of budget and departmental cuts. But Beck has also come under fire for favoritism and inconsistency in dishing out discipline. Of late, he has been embroiled in a scandal of sorts involving a horse the department bought that was subsequently revealed to have been owned by Beck’s daughter. And over the weekend, the LA Times published an analysis finding that the LAPD has misclassified some 1,200 serious violent crimes as minor offenses.
How does the reappointment process work? What criteria does the five-person Police Commission use for making their decision? What’s your opinion of Chief Beck’s performance thus far?
YOUTH JUSTICE EXPERT TELLS WHY THE WORLDS OF JUVENILE JUSTICE & EDUCATION MUST TRULY PARTNER UP TO END THE “SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE,” NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT
Fifteen years ago, national youth justice expert and educator, Dr. John Mick Moore, was working as a special education director in King County, Washington, when he began to notice that more and more of his school’s special ed students were winding up in the juvie justice system, plus they were “a larger percentage of dropouts.” Then five years later, in Kings County the two systems began talking to each other. New programs were instituted. Grants were procured. And the fate of formerly lost kids began to improve.
Now, Moore, writes about the fact that, despite much good rhetoric, he doesn’t see this kind of practical partnership in most areas of the country, and why that must change.
Here’s a clip:
In spite of all this good work for the past 10 years, I’m still not seeing education as an equal partner when I visit jurisdictions across the nation. I hear phrases like “dual jurisdiction youth” or “crossover youth” focusing on social welfare and juvenile justice. This work has added tremendous value but education seems to be an afterthought. I have never seen a youth who had significant issues with those two systems who didn’t have significant issues with education. It is obvious that juvenile justice and education will never successfully reform current practices and local outcomes without becoming full partners.
So, why now? What’s the big hurry? The big hurry is that everyday we are losing ground on our nation’s economy and the democratic way of life. Ten years have passed since the “Silent Epidemic” was brought to our attention. Each year a youth is incarcerated, hundreds of thousands of dollars are consumed while lost income reduces the nation’s tax base. Each youth who cannot read, write and make educated decisions jeopardizes the core of our democratic process — an educated population of voters. I regularly express to my colleagues that juvenile justice and education must end the failed practice of isolation and begin to function as true partners on behalf of our youth.
HOW PAROLED LIFERS ARE HELPING TO SLOW DOWN THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE
And while we’re on the topic of that “pipeline,” we don’t want you to miss this hour-long special on lifers by NPR’s Latino USA, with Maria Hinojosa and Michael Simon Johnson, which features a story about a group of lifers trying to slow down the school-to-prison pipeline with what they call the FACT program, Fathers And Children Together, bringing locked-up fathers back into their children’s life so that having an incarcerated parent no longer guarantees the cycle will continue.
It’s a fascinating special and a promising program.
The above video is of last year’s first annual 4th of July celebration at Grand Park in downtown LA.
Barring breaking news, we at WitnessLA are taking this three-day weekend off. We have a bunch of stories for next week, so we’ll see you bright and early Monday morning.
We hope you have a fantastic (and safe) Independence Day!
What Does CA’s Use of Juvie Isolation Look Like?…..Stop Locking Up Truant Kids in CA! ….The Lousy State of Education in Juvie Lock-Ups, CA’ s included….North Carolina Sheriff Takes On Wrongful Convictions….Farewell to Gabriel Garcia MarquezApril 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING LOOKS HARD AT CA’S JUVIE SOLITARY
In addition to the shock and perplexity felt by many over California State Senator Leeland Yee’s arrest for what is alleged to be extravagant corruption and wrongdoing, the even larger disappointment is over the loss of his extremely valuable work in the arena of juvenile justice now that he’s been disgraced.
A case in point is, the legislation Yee (Dem-San Francisco) introduced earlier this year to ban solitary confinement as a form of punishment for juvenile inmates in California. Now, sadly, bill appears to have nearly zip chance of passing after Yee’s indictment last month on corruption charges.
Trey Bundy reporting for the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a look at the way California juvie lock-ups are still using solitary confinement. Here is what he found in one of the state’s most progressive juvenile facilities in Santa Cruz, CA.
Although solitary confinement for extended periods is considered one of the most psychologically damaging forms of punishment – particularly for teenagers – no one knows how many juveniles are held alone in cells in California.
Neither the state nor the federal government requires juvenile halls to report their use of isolation for minors – and no laws prohibit them from locking down youth for 23 hours a day.
One thing is clear: Even the county considered one of the most progressive in the state sometimes resorts to solitary confinement to control adolescents.
The Center for Investigative Reporting was given a rare glimpse inside juvenile isolation cells at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. Considered a model youth detention facility by many juvenile justice experts, Santa Cruz still places youth in 23-hour isolation, sometimes for days on end.
But amid a growing national debate over juvenile solitary confinement, the way Santa Cruz manages its youth population could serve as a guide for lawmakers as they attempt reform in various states.
The cells at Santa Cruz look like what you would find in a prison: gray concrete floors, cinderblock walls, a bunk, a window, a heavy green door and a metal sink-toilet combo.
When isolation is used at the hall, teenagers usually are kept in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. Guards check on them every 15 minutes, and they can receive visits from nurses, lawyers, pastors and administrators. Officials refer to the practice as room confinement. In extreme cases, inmates can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows that sit behind two sets of doors off the main hall. It’s clear by talking with youth here that even a few days alone in a cell can take a toll.
Sitting on a bunk in his 8-by-10-foot cell, one 15-year-old boy described throwing a fit when he thought he was unfairly locked inside for several days.
“I started, like, banging on my wall all day,” he said. “I got all kinds of toilet paper and I covered my light and was throwing up on my walls and making a big old mess.”
Santa Cruz probation officials allowed CIR to interview juvenile inmates on the condition that their names not be revealed.
The boy, who is now 16, has been detained at the hall nine times since April of last year on charges ranging from gun possession to auto theft. His stays lasted between two days and three weeks. This time, he was in room confinement for trying to pick a fight with an inmate from a rival neighborhood.
His mother has had drug problems and doesn’t always have a fixed address, so he couch-surfs a lot. He sometimes has to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of release. Occasionally, he said, life becomes so draining and chaotic and that he violates the monitor on purpose to get back here.
“I kind of feel safe here,” he said. “I come here back and forth, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be back in here.”
The boy was released a week after speaking with CIR and, as he predicted, was back 14 days later. “I’m probably my own worst problem when I’m in here,” he said.
JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA
It doesn’t happen in every county, but the locking up of kids for so called status offenses like truancy has to stop says head Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash, explaining that kids are just made worse by this kind of incarceration, and that most often truancy is a symptom of a family situation or an emotional issue that the kid is dealing with.
The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.
Here’s a clip:
With all the talk about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, many people may be surprised to learn that California still, in the year 2014, allows kids to be locked up for not going to school. On its face, state law prohibits this, but court decisions have created a loophole that allows incarceration when truants are deemed to be in contempt based on their truancy. Although a majority of California counties do not use this practice, a few persist in locking up truants. Senate Bill 1296 — the Decriminalization of Truancy Act, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, would close the loophole. It deserves widespread support.
The loophole stems from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which originally prohibited the incarceration of “status offenders” — including truants, runaways and incorrigible youth — because Congress didn’t want youth who had committed no crime to be treated like criminals. Unfortunately, the law was later amended to allow confinement if the young person continued to violate court orders. A few California courts have used that amendment to justify locking up truants.
Over the past decade, there has been increasing opposition to the needless incarceration of truants through loopholes in state law. Fourteen states have changed their laws already, and elimination of the federal exception has been a central part of efforts to reauthorize the law. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles has introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act aimed at eliminating the exception once and for all.
HOW BAD ARE THE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN AMERICA’S JUVENILE LOCK UPS? VERY, VERY BAD.
A new study by the Southern Education Foundation looks at how well or poorly various states are doing in getting kids who are locked up to the goal line of a high school diploma. The answer in most states—California prominently included—we are doing very, very badly.
Here’s a clip from the report’s introduction:
There is every reason to predict that today most of these students, like those who came before them in the juvenile justice systems, will never receive a high school diploma or a college degree, will be arrested and confined again as a juvenile or adult, and will rarely, if ever, become self-supporting, law-abiding citizens during most of their lives. Yet, substantial evidence shows that, if these children improve their education and start to become successful students in the juvenile justice systems, they will have a far greater chance of finding a turning point in their lives and becoming independent, contributing adults. The cost savings for states and state governments could be enormous.
NC SHERIFF BECOMES INNOCENCE CHAMPION—AND SAYS ITS GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY
One day, after reading a nonfiction novel by popular author John Grisham, North Carolina Sheriff Chip Harding arrived at a blinding conclusion; one of the best ways to convict the right person for a serious crime, he concluded, is to avoid convicting an innocent.
Lisa Provence has the story for C-Ville.com Here’s a clip:
Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has always approached his work as a cop through his background as a social worker and through his Baptist faith. But after a four-decade law enforcement career that includes nearly 30 years putting criminals behind bars as a Charlottesville Police Department investigator, he had a come-to-Jesus moment reading John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. The true story of a once major-league baseball player named Ron Williamson who spent 11 years on death row for a brutal Oklahoma rape and murder before being cleared by DNA evidence hit Harding like a punch to the stomach.
“It embarrassed me, that I’m part of law enforcement that did that,” he said.
Last month, Harding sent a rallying letter to the 123 sheriffs and 247 police chiefs in Virginia asking for their support in forming a justice commission to help prevent wrongful convictions like Williamson’s in the Commonwealth.
“I think we can change practices to lessen the likelihood of convicting the innocent while strengthening our chances of convicting the actual offender,” Harding wrote. “If police chiefs and sheriffs were to propose and or support reform—we would be taken seriously.”
That Harding would be the one leading the charge to overhaul the criminal justice system, one known for its resistance to change, shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s long been on the cutting edge of investigative work as the guy who pushed for the General Assembly to fund Virginia’s DNA databank in the 1990s. And while he aggressively—and successfully—pursued hundreds of felony cases during his years as a detective, he also serves as the vice chair of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which provides Bible classes and counseling services to inmates at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Realizing he was part of a system that put innocent people behind bars—or worse, to death—was “humbling and shameful,” Harding said. “And it induced a rage. From there I started wondering how often that was going on.”
Here’s a hint at how often: Nationwide, 1,342 people have been exonerated, often after spending decades in jail, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools. In Virginia, 36 people have been cleared of committing heinous crimes, 17 of those thanks to DNA evidence.
“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding, who went on to read UVA law professor Brandon Garrett’s Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, an examination of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA.
FAREWELL TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, LATIN AMERICA’S MYTHO POETIC TRUTH TELLER, COLUMBIAN ALCHEMIST WITH WORDS, IRREPLACEABLE GENIUS
Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at age 87. He had been ill for a long time.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Garcia Marquez to literature in general, and to Latin American writing specifically.
And of course to his legions of entranced readers. (Your editor included.)
To glimpse the power of the man referred to in the Spanish speaking world as Gabo, one has only to read the opening sentence to Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, long considered one of the best first line’s in literature:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
(What book lover with any sense would not wish to read on after that?)
Each of his ten novels produces its own kind of revelation. But for me, after One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book of his I most treasure is Love in the Time of Cholera Gabo’s novel about lovers whose story takes fifty years, nine months, and four days to finally entirely bloom.
It has its own great opening line as well:
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
NPR’s Mandalit del Barco has more in a wonderful appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez here.
Gabo, rest in peace. We will miss your light, of course. But we are grateful beyond words that you left so much of it behind for us.
Impassioned non-fiction-writer, novelist, naturalist Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday at 86 of leukemia.
For those of you unfamiliar with the man, or his work, a few facts:
Called a “shaman of literature,” Matthiessen has written 33 books, most of which were greeted with some kind of acclaim or other. He is, however, best known for such books as his cultural critique/thriller novel set in the Amazonian jungle, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and his account of a stone-age culture, Under the Mountain Wall, which Truman Capote would credit with influencing his conception of his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. Matthiessen’s meditational account of a 250-mile trek across the Himalayas, The Snow Leopard,” was his biggest seller, and his 900-plus-page novel Shadow Country, took 30-years of rewriting before he felt he’d gotten it right.
His nonfiction account of the rise of the American Indian Movement, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, got him sued by an FBI agent and the former governor of North Dakota for libel, and caused the book to be yanked entirely from sale for nine years. Finally, after three different courts told both plaintiffs to pound sand, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the matter on appeal, the paperback edition of the book was, at last, published in 1992.
Matthiessen co-founded one of the most famous literary magazine’s in history—The Paris Review—as a cover for his brief career as an undercover agent for the CIA. (His politics swung to the left shortly after that.)
After winning two National Book Awards for the same nonfiction book, the The Snow Leopard, he won the award again a few years later, this time in fiction for Shadow Country. And, yes, he is the only writer ever to have pulled off such a triple play.
(Oh, yeah, and his novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord was a finalist for the award.)
Readers often credit his books with having changed their lives. (I would fall into that category.)
A generation or two of naturalist writers were clearly influenced by his writing.
His final novel, In Paradise, which he told interviewers would probably be his last word, will be published on Tuesday.
If you want to know more, the LAT’s David Ulin has written a lovely appreciation.
And here’s a bit of Matthiessen in his own words.
Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born
The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one sees that there is a source fro this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home … The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is so overgrown with thorns and thickets of “ideas”, of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own “true nature”; each man is his own savior after all.
Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions – such as merit, such as past, present, and future – our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment.
― Peter Matthiessen
Photo by Linda Gavin/Courtesy of Riverhead Books
Journalist/author Joe McGinniss died unexpectedly on Monday, March 10. He’d been battling prostate cancer, but it was the pneumonia following chemo that took him away with shocking suddenness.
Everyone who knew him is reeling.
(I knew Joe through his wife, writer and editor Nancy Dougherty, who is a very dear friend of mine, a wordsmith-sister, so I am reeling and heartbroken too.)
If for some reason you don’t recall his name, what you need to know first is that Joe McGinniss changed journalism.
With his 1969 book “The Selling of the President,” about the marketing of Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential campaign, he blasted open what was possible in the world of political writing. With his beautifully composed, ferociously reported (and still quarreled over) “Fatal Vision,”” published in 1989 about the Green Beret doctor, Jeffery McDonald, who was accused of murdering his wife and two children, McGinniss advanced the form of the true crime narrative as literature.
After the news of Joe McGinniss’ death broke, the usual tributes and obits streamed to the surface. As is often the case, most do not seem to capture the man, but they at least list his formidable accomplishments, even if from a great distance. (This, by the AP’s Hillel Italie is probably the best of 40,000 feet obits.)
Atlantic Monthly columnist Andrew Sullivan’s essay on McGinniss is a welcome exception.
Here’s a clip from what Sullivan wrote:
Joe McGinniss was responsible not only for several books that are rightly understood as landmarks of journalism – he was also the case study of arguably the most famous essay about journalism, Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” He was a deeply curious and ferociously independent writer, compelled by the minutiae of the human comedy and riveted by the depths of human tragedy.
I think of him as some kind of eternal, unstoppable foe for Roger Ailes, whose media campaign for Nixon in 1968 presaged so much of what was to come – and still reins supreme – at Fox News. And yet Ailes and Joe were extremely close friends their entire lives and Joe would defend him – if not his network or politics – tenaciously as the years went by. That was how Joe was. Once he loved you, he loved you. And I was blessed by some of that love.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe – at the tender age of 26! – transformed political journalism with The Selling Of The President, the legendary expose of the cynicism of media optics in presidential campaigns – and, by the by, a lovely, ornery rebuke to the magisterial tomes of Theodore H White, as Ann Althouse notes. And the first thing to say is that the man could write. He couldn’t write a bad sentence. His narratives powered along; his prose as clear as it was vivid; his innate skill at telling a story sometimes reaching rare moments in non-fiction when you’re lost in what is, in effect, a factual novel.
But what I truly treasured about Joe – and I came to love him even though we only met a couple of times – was his dogged imperviousness to his peers or to establishment opinion. If he smelled a story, he would dig in, obsessively recovering its human truth. If others thought the story was irrelevant or non-existent, it wouldn’t affect him. His motivation, as it was with his first book, was to peel back the layers of image and propaganda and spin to reveal the reality. He did this with Jeffrey McDonald. And he did it with Sarah Palin….
About his book on Palin: as usual, Joe went where the story led him. Political columnist Dave Weigel, writing for Slate, has posted some of his memories of meeting with McGinniss when the author was researching the former Alaskan governor in her home state, and how unexpectedly Weigel’s source turned into a valued friend.
Weigel’s musings are a good read and give another small shard of insight into this irreplaceable author…journalist… father…husband…friend….who had so much more still to write.
Photo courtesy of JoeMcGinniss.net
The word first went out at around just before 9 am Friday morning that an LAPD officer had been killed in a dreadful collision with some kind of big rig truck, his partner in the patrol car, was in critical condition.
Later in the day, more information was released. The injured officer was a female, a rookie not long out of the academy. The cop who died was her training officer, a fourteen year veteran on the force, and a family man with two young daughters. Both officers were out of the Hollywood division. The two were reportedly responding to an “unknown trouble” call when they collided with the truck on Loma Vista Drive and Robert Lane, in the hilly area above Sunset Boulevard, not too far from Greystone Mansion.
The rookie’s name was not released. The name of the 40-year-old training officer was, Nicholas Choung Lee, a well-liked Officer III.
The loss of a law enforcement officer, or a firefighter, is a loss for everyone. As family and friends and fellow officers grieve, we join them in their heartbreak.
Coincidentally, many who had never met Nick Lee found that they had just seen the calm, good-looking officer just a few days before in the video birthday card that Chief Charlie Beck and other department members made and sent to cheer up 7-year old, Tyler Seddon, a sweet-faced boy who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
(In case you didn’t watch the video when we posted it earlier this week, here it is again. If you start at about minute 1:17, you will see as Lee wishes Tyler happy birthday. “I hope you feel better and I wish you well,” he says.)
Seeing Lee, reportedly a devoted dad to his two girls, one likes him immediately.
“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I must ask our #LAPD officers to wear a mourning band for our own,” Chief Charlie Beck tweeted at midday on Friday.
Then a little while later, “Thinking of our brothers & sisters @LAPDHollywood during extremely difficult time. We will get through this together.”
And finally: “#LAPD Police Officer III Nicholas Lee, Serial No. 34980. A man of greatness and selflessness. Nick was a great cop. May he rest in peace.”
What Charlie said.
WLA on Madeleine Brand Show Wed. Talking About Baca & LASD….Closing the Camp Kilpatrick Sports Program?…. How Has Prez Done on Criminal Justice?….Farewell to Harold RamisFebruary 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
I’ll be on KCRW’s new Madeleine Brand show on Wednesday at 12 noon, 89.9 FM. We’ll be talking about my lengthy article on former Sheriff Lee Baca that is in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine (due out Wednesday).
UPDATE: I originally thought it was going to be broadcast Tuesday, but although it was taped Tuesday morning, it’ll be broadcast on Wednesday.
You can listen in real time. I’ll also link to the podcast after the show.
(And here’s a link to a sort of teaser interview that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me about the story.)
Obviously, I’ll let you know when the story itself is out!
CLOSING THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM?
The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a story on the possible closure of the famous juvenile sports program at LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick.
We’ll have a lot more on this issue in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from Banks’ column:
A sports program that brought national acclaim to a Los Angeles County probation camp is headed for extinction — unless it can prove that it helps youthful offenders stay trouble-free.
For more than 20 years, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has been the only juvenile correctional facility in the state to field teams that compete against public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.
The camp’s football team inspired the 2006 movie “Gridiron Gang” and sent several players to college. Its basketball team has come close to being a regional champion. Its soccer program produced this year’s Delphic League MVP.
But Camp Kilpatrick is being torn down next month and will be rebuilt on a new model — one that stresses education, counseling and vocational training over competitive sports.
It’s part of a long-overdue shift in the county juvenile justice system, from boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach to rehabilitating young people.
Still, it would be a loss to the young men incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick if sports are a casualty of reform….
We agree. Read the rest here.
NY TIMES’ BILL KELLER ASSESSES OBAMA ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE RECORD & HOLDER SEZ SENTENCING REFORM WILL BE DEFINING
In his final column for the paper, outgoing NY Times editor-in-chief, Bill Keller grades President Obama on his criminal justice reform record.
Here’s a clip:
I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin.
It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.
Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had high expectations.
In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project (after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this president has lived up to those high expectations so far…..
“This is something that matters to the president,” [US Attorney General Eric] Holder assured me last week. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.”
A FAREWELL TO HAROLD RAMIS….TOO SOON! TOO SOON!
Radiantly, brilliantly, humanely funny. It seems terribly wrong that Harold Ramis is dead.
Above is writer, actor, director Ramis talking to students about “good comedy.” With his films such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and more, Harold Ramis showed how it was done.
Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LASD, Life in general, Obama, Probation, racial justice, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 12 Comments »