Jail Population Declining, Unsolved Homicides Update, Unaccounted-for Mental Health $$, and Sluggish County Settlements,January 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
LA COUNTY JAIL POPULATION DOWN THROUGH PROP 47 AND BOOST TO SPLIT-SENTENCING
LA County has started catching up with other counties using their realignment money to implement split-sentencing—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation. Last July, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey instructed prosecutors to seek split-sentences.
Since then, the county’s use of split-sentencing for low-level offenders has risen from 5% to 16.6%, according to a Probation Dept. report presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. (Still a far cry from counties like Contra Costa, where 92% of non-serious offenders were serving split sentences by June of last year.) And as of January 1, across the state, split-sentencing for felonies will be mandated unless a court decides “that it is not appropriate in a particular case.”
Thanks, also in large part, to Proposition 47, the LA County inmate population has dropped low enough to ensure that most offenders will now serve nearly the full length of their sentences. (If you need a refresher: Prop 47 reclassified certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.)
These numbers may come into play during the LA County Board of Supervisors’ discussions about whether to spend $2.3 billion on a 4,860-bed replacement for Men’s Central Jail. (We hope so.)
The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who manage the jail system, complained that the resulting influx of offenders serving longer sentences was leading to the early release of thousands of other inmates. At the same time, probation officials have had trouble adjusting to a new population of offenders with lengthier criminal records and more serious mental health and substance abuse problems.
In November and December, the first two months after the penalty-reduction law took effect, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office reported that felony sentences of prison, jail or probation had dropped by 41% from the same period in the previous year. And the number of inmates in county jails decreased from about 18,700 at the end of October to fewer than 16,000 at the end of December.
As a result of the falling population, the Sheriff’s Department has reversed a long-standing policy of releasing most inmates after they serve a fraction of their sentences. For years, most men convicted of lower-level crimes served only 20% of their sentence and women served 10%. Now, McDonald said, most inmates are serving 90%.
…Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, who joined the board after November’s election, have expressed reservations about the size of that jail.
Kuehl said Tuesday that she continues to question the need for that many beds and “whether there is more capability and better capability to do mental health and substance abuse treatment in the community than in a locked facility.”
By the way, there is a ton of other interesting information in the Probation Department year-three realignment report. Or you can skim a condensed summary (with charts!) in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
LAPD’S RESPONSE TO INVESTIGATION INTO CLOSED—BUT UNSOLVED—HOMICIDE NUMBERS
Between 2000-2010, the LAPD closed unsolved homicides without arresting or charging a suspect at a rate more than double that of the national average, according to an investigative story by Mike Reicher as part of the LA Daily News’ fantastic series called “Unsolved Homicides.” (More on that in our previous post, here.)
Since then, the LAPD has responded, saying that they are unable to provide more data about why so many murders were cleared without being solved because they do not have the man power to pull the records, and provide the information. But former LAPD chief (and current city councilmember) Bernard Parks says collecting the information would not be difficult.
Here are some clips from Reicher’s update on this story:
“I would want them to be extremely transparent and clear about the numbers,” said Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine. “How many arrests are brought forward and declined by prosecutors? It could be that the courts are overwhelmed, that the resources aren’t there to deal with the volume. These are important questions that nobody has an answer to.”
When asked for the reason each case was closed, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith wrote, “We do not have the staff available to pull the concerned cases, conduct the research and provide you the detailed information you requested.”
Those reasons should be easily accessible, said City Councilman and former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. Each detective has to justify why a case is closed, he said.
“If they’re not watched, and they’re not evaluated, people can easily manipulate them to have better stats,” Parks said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not only transparency, it’s the basic element of filing a case. You can’t just say, ‘I cleared it, and I’m not going to tell you why.’ ”
LAPD Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said the agency already discloses enough information: “I think our guys are as transparent as any department in America.”
HOW DOES CA SPEND $13 BILLION ALLOCATED FOR THE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHERE ARE THE RESULTS?
In 2004, California’s Proposition 63 approved an extra 1% tax on millionaires to provide $13 billion in additional funding for mental illness programs state-wide. A report from the Little Hoover watchdog panel found that the state is unable to show how the money was spent (continuing a ten-year trend), or whether the extra money has helped California’s mentally ill.
The report gives six sensible recommendations on how to realize the full potential of this funding, through data collection, financial reporting, and weeding out ineffective programs, among other efforts.
The Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:
An investigation by The Associated Press in 2012 found that tens of millions of dollars generated by the tax went to general wellness programs for people who had not been diagnosed with any mental illness. Those programs include yoga, gardening, art classes and horseback riding. The state auditor reported similar findings a year later….
Counties are responsible for choosing and running their own programs, but an oversight commission was not established until eight years after the funding began and it has little authority.
Because of that, the report said, there are few repercussions for sloppy accounting or insufficient data, making it difficult for the state to evaluate the programs.
Commissioners said that during hearings on Proposition 63 last year they heard anecdotal stories of individual success, but the state cannot show “meaningful big-picture outcomes — such as reduced homelessness or improved school attendance.”
EDITORIAL: SWIFTER SETTLEMENTS TO PARTIES WRONGED BY LA COUNTY AGENCIES
When a lawsuit against an LA County department (the sheriff’s department, for instance) results in a settlement, county lawyers regularly draw out the process, even when there is no other option but to settle. The Board of Supervisors can (and do) further defer finalizing legal settlements.
The Supervisors understandably aim to be good stewards of the county’s money, and sometimes it’s necessary to make certain that the department at fault takes corrective action. But injured parties wait longer to receive restitution when the county delays action, and it can cost taxpayers even more money.
An LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to ensure a timely payment to the those wronged, and if necessary, to lean on departments taking too long to remedy violations. Here are some clips:
Joseph Ober was an inmate in another case; he said that deputies beat him without justification and denied him medical treatment. He and county lawyers reached a settlement in May, and one of the terms was final sign-off by the supervisors within 120 days. That deadline passed in August, and the court ordered the county to pay daily interest on the $400,000 settlement amount. The supervisors finally approved the agreement last week.
County officials face an inherent tension when settling lawsuits. They want to protect the county treasury as much as possible, so they bargain hard and sometimes drag their feet in quest of a better deal. But they also have an obligation to make victims of county mistakes and misdeeds whole; and they must make sure that the problems that led to the suits are fixed. To that end, the supervisors understandably demand to see evidence of corrective action — so the same thing won’t happen over and over — before they approve settlements.
But many of these delays cost the county additional money, as in the Ober case…