LA Sheriff’s Department Had Special Hiring Program for Pals……Citizen Previn, LA County’s WatchDog…The Dangers of LA’s Private Foster Care System…Mississippi Contemplates Serious Sentencing Reform…December 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has a new story about questionable hiring practices at the LASD. This time the story centers around a program called “Friends of the Sheriff,” that “granted preferential treatment to the friends and relatives of department officials, including some candidates who were given jobs despite having troubled histories…”
According to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore, the program did indeed exist, and the department shut the thing down last Thursday after the sheriff became aware of the Times’ reporting.
The Times characterizes the program as a project stamped with the approval of the Sheriff, but Whitmore is emphatic that Baca did no such thing. “He didn’t authorize it. He didn’t approve it! He didn’t sponsor it,” Whitmore said hotly.
Whitmore does not, however, dispute the Times’ reporting of the involvement of former undersheriff Larry Waldie with the project. He also said that the program started in 2005 and that one of those who helped to jump start it was former LASD captain Bernice Abrams.
Abrams, if you’ll remember, is a longtime friend of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and, a year ago, was allowed to retire ahead of being terminated for her alleged protection of a reported drug dealer.
In the February 2009 report by the Office of Independent Review, OIR chief attorney, Michael Gennaco, delivers a harshly critical 31-page assessment of the department’s background checking process in 2005-2007, during which time Gennaco notes that the department’s application of its standards “changed dramatically” resulting in far “fewer disqualifications.” He also described how independently contracted psychologists were pressured to lower their standards during the background process…and provided a series of individual case studies showing how the lowering of hiring standards had unpleasant results.
CITIZEN PREVIN: LA COUNTY’S FEROCIOUS AD HOC WATCHDOG
LA County watchdog Eric Previn often drives the staffs of the LA County Board of Supervisors and other county officers absolutely crazy because when he grabs hold of an issue, he does not relinquish it. His missives to selected press persons and to denizens of county government are long and full of wordplay, but his institutional knowledge is broad and deep, and his willingness to dig for facts indefatigable.
Reporters frequently gain from the information Previn uncovers.
Elected officials ignore Previn at their peril.
Above is a video portrait of Citizen Previn by Matthew Hamilton, a grad student at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
DOES LA’S PRIVATE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM ENDANGER KIDS?
In 1986, the California state legislature allowed for the creation of private non-profit foster care agencies with the idea that these new privatized agencies, known as FFAs, would be safer and better for kids, a lot less expensive for the state, and would take some of the heat off the state and counties’ often disastrously over-burdened systems.
As the FFAs proliferated it turned out that they were more expensive, not less. Moreover, while many of the new private agencies were quite good. Some were affected by the system’s perverse fiscal incentives to get kids into placement faster, keep them in foster care longer and to cut corners on the quality of care.
A report by the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf looks at the numbers on these FFAs, and tells some of the worst of the FFA horror stories that point to a system painfully in need of reform.
Unfortunately, the problem is not new as shown in this 2009 news story by Daniel Heimpel in which he paints an almost identical picture of the FFAs and their unhappy potential for abuse and tragedy.
Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:
….Today, the state’s private foster family system — the largest in the nation — has become more expensive and more dangerous than the government-run homes it has largely replaced.
Those living in homes run by private agencies were about a third more likely to be the victims of serious physical, emotional or sexual abuse than children in state-supervised foster family homes, according to a Times analysis of more than 1 million hotline investigations over a recent three-year period.
In Los Angeles County, at least four children died as a result of abuse or neglect over the last five years in homes overseen by private agencies, according to county officials. No children died in government-run homes during that period.
The flow of money to private foster care — now about $400 million a year — introduced a powerful incentive for some to spend as little as possible and pack homes with as many children as they could.
Those agencies are so short of homes that they accept convicted criminals as foster parents. The state has granted waivers to at least 5,300 people convicted of crimes. In the most egregious cases, people with waivers later maimed or killed children.
The system is so poorly monitored that foster care agencies with a history of abuse can continue caring for children for years. Substantiated cases of wrongdoing can bring little punishment from regulators.
Private agencies now care for 15,000 children statewide. The care comes at greater cost — an additional $327 million between 2001 and 2010, the state auditor found.
Los Angeles County has come to heavily rely on this system; five out of six foster children who are not placed with relatives go to private homes.
It is “as bottom of the barrel as you can imagine,” said Jill Duerr Berrick, co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy at UC Berkeley. “They are clearly not keeping track of quality issues. It’s really quite surprising we don’t have more tragedies.”
SWEEPING PRISON AND SENTENCING REFORMS PROPOSED IN MISSISSIPPI (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA?)
After taking a look at the fact that the state had the second highest incarceration rate in the nation, which was resulting in ghastly fiscal burdens on the state budget (sound familiar, California?) Mississippi’s lawmakers decided they needed to stop tinkering around the edges and go for serious reform without sacrificing public safety.
Here’s a clip:
A criminal justice task force on Tuesday recommended sweeping reforms to reduce Mississippi’s soaring prison population and costs, standardize sentences and reduce recidivism.
“This is the first time in my career — 32 years — that we have taken a comprehensive look at corrections in this state,” said Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. “… We all know the cost of doing nothing.”
The recommendations include providing more discretion for judges to impose alternatives to prison and creating “true minimums” on when violent and nonviolent offenders are eligible for release. They also call for defining what constitutes violent crime — something officials said isn’t clear in state law. Proposals also include increasing the threshold from $500 to $1,000 for felony theft and lowering drug sentences for possession of small amounts while cracking down on large drug dealers.
Epps headed the bipartisan, 21-member task force of lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and defense attorneys. The group, after working for seven months with assistance from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project, developed recommendations for the 2014 Legislature.
Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker pro tem Greg Snowden and others voiced their support for the proposal after the task force adopted it. The task force was created by a bill Snowden authored this year.
Bryant said the reforms “put victims first,” protect public safety and provide “clarity of sentencing.” Reeves praised the recommendations as “evidence-based, data-driven, fiscally sound criminal justice reforms.”