Tuesday, April 28, 2015
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LA Officials to (Belatedly) Crack Down on Over-Drugging LA Kids….A Juvie Lifer Artist…and the Shooting of Walter Scott

April 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



MENTAL HEALTH OFFICIALS TO CRACK DOWN ON OVER-DRUGGING OF KIDS IN COUNTY CARE (UM…THAT WOULD BE NICE.)

In the past year, it has come to light that kids are being over-drugged in many of California’s various foster care and juvenile systems, LA County’s included. Then more recently, we learned that powerful medications are unnecessarily being jammed down the throats of poor kids via the Medicare system. (See here and here and here for some of the latest stories.)

Tuesday, however, there was a piece of good news when the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health officials plan to crack down on doctors who appear to be inappropriately prescribing powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs to kids in LA County’s foster care and juvenile justice systems.

The question is, however, knowing the serious dangers posed by overprescribing or wrongly prescribing antipsychotics for children or teenagers, why weren’t the county’s mental health officials paying better attention?

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

Social workers and child welfare advocates have long alleged that the widespread use of the drugs is fueled in part by some caretakers’ desire to make the children in their care more docile. On May 1, the county Department of Mental Health is scheduled to launch a program to use computer programs to identify doctors who have a pattern of overprescribing the medications or prescribing unsafe combinations of the drugs.

Once problematic doctors are identified, the department will recommend that judges no longer approve their prescriptions for youth under court supervision.

Additionally, Los Angeles County mental health workers will fan out across the county to randomly interview children, caregivers and doctors about the reasons behind the prescriptions and how they are working.

The hope is that the in-person reviews will allow the county to go beyond the information doctors submit in their paperwork, offering a more complete picture of the youth’s mental health and whether less-intrusive interventions were used before turning to drugs.

“We know there is really a need to do this,” said Fesia Davenport who was recently named interim director of the county Office of Child Protection, a new agency charged with coordinating services across county departments for abused and neglected children. “Once we start to look at the data I think we’ll identify patterns and really understand why the use of the drugs seems to be high.”

In February, Therolf, writing for the LA Times, noted that “51% of California’s foster youth who are prescribed mental health-related drugs took the most powerful class of the medications — antipsychotics.” (And, of course, Karen de Sá, of the San Jose Mercury News, reported extensively on the over-drugging of foster kids in her multi-part series.)

That 51% figure is deeply concerning..

The risks of using antipsychotics on kids are considerable—except in certain very closely monitored situations. (For further details, read last week’s WLA story by Taylor Walker about the most recent study released showing the disturbing overuse of antipsychotics on Medicaid kids, with California one of the five states studied.)

The crack-down Therolf reports is a very welcome step, albeit distressingly belated. Yet, another underlying issue still calls out to be discussed, namely that, every study we have on the matter shows that most kids who land in foster care or the juvenile justice system, or both, are suffering from high degrees of childhood and adolescent trauma. This kind of toxic stress almost inevitably results in some kind of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms—which are crucial to address. But, in most cases, powerful drugs are neither an appropriate nor safe way to ameliorate and heal these issues.

Of course, real healing of trauma-harmed kids is labor intensive— and cannot be done from the remove at which one can prescribe drugs.

But that’s a discussion for another day.


A JUVENILE LIFER WHO MAKES MEANING WITH ART COULD BE AMONG THOSE GETTING NEW SENTENCE IF SCOTUS AGREES

In 1999, when Kenneth Crawford was fifteen, he was the getaway driver for a brutal murder of strangers. He did not himself beat, rob and shoot Diana Lynn Algar, 39, and her friend Jose Julian Molina, 33, at a campground in Pennsylvania. The admitted killer was an 18-year-old fellow drifter and carnival worker, David Lee Hanley. Nevertheless, Crawford was tried as an adult, and given a sentence of life without parole in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, which was still legal for juveniles as the time.

Although nearly all of his upbringing was horrific, Crawford makes no excuses for his involvement in the crime for which he was convicted.

“I was too drunk and full of pills and have only myself to blame,” he wrote to a couple who have befriended him during his time in prison.

The victims “were good people and their families did not deserve the pain and suffering they endured. I have begged the Lord for forgiveness and I believe I have been forgiven. But I will never forgive myself.”

One of the primary ways Crawford, now 31, finds meaning and solace in his life behind bars is painting miniature scenes on fallen leaves he collects. The results are remarkably beautiful.

Crawford is also one of the 2100 inmates given life sentences as teenagers, whose prison terms could possibly be affected when the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the question, likely in September of this year, of whether their historic ruling of Miller v. Alabama should be applied retroactively. Miller, if you remember, which was presented by civil rights attorney and author, Bryan Stevenson, ruled that mandatory sentences of juvenile life without parole were unconstitutional.

Gary Gately has delved further into Crawford’s story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Here are some clips:

Five years ago, Kenneth Carl Crawford III returned to that woods behind his childhood home in Oklahoma, but only in his mind — the only way he can go back now, perhaps the only way he’ll ever go there again in his time on this Earth.

After a storm, he had been gazing at a thick forest about 100 yards away when he noticed a bunch of leaves had blown over the high electric fences topped by razor wire and landed in the prison yard at the State Correctional Institution-Greene, here in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

Crawford picked up one of the leaves. “It had been a long time since I had touched a part of a tree, let alone held a piece of it in my hands,” he would write in his journal.

He kept looking at the leaf, mesmerized, nostalgic for so much of a bit of boyhood paradise lost.

Then he took the leaf back to his 8-by-12-foot cell and decided to recapture some of what he missed so dearly — and ultimately painted on it a scene right out of the woods he remembered.

He’s been painting wildlife scenes — and painting them superbly — on leaves ever since.

Crawford, 31, has plenty of time to create his miniature masterpieces. He’s serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for his involvement in a double murder at age 15 in 1999.

[SNIP]

Crawford, a lean man with the beginnings of a mustache and beard, calls the Sanfords “Mudder” and “Peepaw.” [The Sanfords are a couple who ran across his art and have gradually befriended him.]

“I’ve had ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ and none of them turned out too well,” he says.

Indeed, his alcoholic father beat him, his brother and his two sisters with extension cords and switches in drunken rages and often left them home alone in their ramshackle trailer with no electricity or heat and little food. And he forced them to tend to his marijuana plants behind the trailer.

Crawford’s mother ran off with one of her boyfriends to work the carnival circuit when Ken was 5…..

When he was 9, Child Welfare Services came to remove Ken and his siblings from their father’s custody — and promised the children their lives would be much better with foster parents.

They weren’t.

Crawford recalls one 400-pound foster father who forced the children to scratch and bathe his legs because he could not reach down to them.

Another foster father showed off Ken’s ability to play football — until he outshone the man’s biological son, at which point the foster father made Ken quit the team.

A third foster father told him he’d be in prison by the time he was 18.

When Ken was 10 and wetting the bed, his foster mother screamed at him and ordered him to strip naked and lie on a towel on the living room floor. As other children in the home laughed, she put a diaper on him and made him wear it to school the next day.

He wet the bed again that night, and she forced him to sleep in the bathtub.

If he could change two things in his life, Crawford says now, he would have never have hung out with David Lee Hanley, and, if it were somehow possible, he would have eluded Child Welfare Services workers.

“If I could go back in time, I would have hid from Child Welfare Services. I should have hid. I shouldn’t have let them find us,” he says.

Speaking of his father’s abuse and neglect, he says: “That’s what we knew. It was nothing out of the ordinary for us. We still had something, and the physical abuse we grew up with I was used to.

“In foster care, it was mental abuse, and the mental abuse was much worse.”

Still, he’s quick to add that he doesn’t blame anybody for the circumstances that led to the double homicides. “I made the choices,” he says.


THE SHOOTING OF WALTER SCOTT

As most of you probably know by now, a 50-year-old black man named Walter Scott was fatally shot on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C., after being stopped for a broken tail light by a white Charleston police officer, Michael T. Slager, 33.

On Tuesday, Officer Slager was charged with murder.

Initially, Officer Slager reported that he made a traffic stop and was in foot pursuit after the subject. Next Slager reported shots fired and that the subject was down. “He took my Taser,” Slager said on the radio. Later, in the police report, Slager stated he had feared for his life because the suspect, Scott, had taken his taser in a scuffle.

However when a video taken by a bystander surfaced, and it told a very different story.

Here’s how the South Charleston Post and Courier describes what is on the video:

The three-minute clip of Saturday morning’s shooting starts [shakily], but it steadies as Slager and Scott appear to be grabbing at each other’s hands.

Slager has said through his attorney that Scott had wrested his Taser from him during a struggle.

The video appears to show Scott slapping at the officer’s hands as several objects fall to the ground. It’s not clear what the objects are.

Scott starts running away. Wires from Slager’s Taser stretch from Scott’s clothing to the officer’s hands.

With Scott more than 10 feet from Slager, the officer draws his pistol and fires seven times in rapid succession. After a brief pause, the officer fires one last time. Scott’s back bows, and he falls face first to the ground near a tree.

After the gunfire, Slager glances at the person taking the video, then talks into his radio.

The cameraman curses, and Slager yells at Scott as sirens wail.

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer shouts before he handcuffs Scott as another lawman runs to Scott’s side.

Scott died there. [Actually, in the beginning Scott appears to be alive.]

Slager soon jogs back to where he fired his gun and picks up something from the ground. He walks back to Scott’s body and drops the object.

At no time, does Slager or the next officer on the scene, attempt to help the dying Scott, although one of the officers searches him and then eventually feels for a pulse.

According to the Post & Courier, Mr. Scott “had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. The only accusation of violence against Scott during his lifetime came through an assault and battery charge in 1987″—in other words, 27 years ago, when Scott was 23.

A family member told reporters that Scott likely ran because he didn’t want to be arrested for back child support.

In a statement released Tuesday night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) said, “What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina.” Senator Tim Scott (R) said “The senseless shooting and taking of Walter Scott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.” Senator Scott said that he would be watching the case closely.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, mental health, Youth | 7 Comments »

After 24 Years, Juvie LWOP Lifer Paroled…2 Supremes Blast US Justice System…Recognizing Good Prosecutors

March 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


CONVICTED OF MURDER AT 16, RELEASED 24 YEARS LATER IN ONE OF FIRST SB 9 PAROLES

In 1991, the year that LA’s gang violence was at its most deadly, Janet Bicknell, a 49-year-old teacher’s aide, was driving home from a Westminster supermarket. Five gang members—four of them adults—were looking for a car to jack with the idea of using the car in a drive-by shooting against some “enemy” gangsters and they spotted Bicknell’s car. One of the five, 16-year-old named Edel Gonzalez, a gang member since he was 11 and the only kid of the group, stepped in front of Bicknell’s car then tried to yank open the driver’s side door. When Bicknell attempted to drive away, one of the adult gangsters raised a .44-caliber pistol and shot Bicknell in the head, killing her.

The senseless brutality of the murder shocked Westminster. Although Gonzalez did not himself kill Bicknell, the crime was committed in the course of a robbery, so the other four—including Gonzalez—could legally be tied to it along with the actual shooter. Gonzalez was the first of the group to go to trial and, in 1993, he became the youngest person in Orange County to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole

Fast forward more than twenty years, to September 2012, when Governor Jerry Brown—after much dithering—signed AB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which allows some of those sentenced to life without parole as juveniles, to apply for resentencing hearings if they have served 15 to 25 years, and have met certain strict criteria.

So it was that that Gonzalez became the first person in California to apply for resentencing under the new law. In December 2013, Judge Thomas Goethals changed Gonzalez’s sentence from life without to 25 years to life with parole.

Then in 2014, a second law known as Senate Bill 260, went effect requiring parole commissioners to consider the diminished culpability of youth at the time of their crime.

The combination of the two laws, plus Gonzalez exemplary behavior in prison along with his ongoing expressions of responsibility and profound regret about the murder of Bicknell, helped his pro bono lawyers at USC’s Post Conviction Project successfully advocate in his behalf.

On Tuesday of this week, Gonzalez was released from custody.

Back in 2013, Gonzalez told the judge that, if he was released, he hoped to work with kids to help them stay out of gangs. “There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not reminded of the wrong, the harm and the pain I’ve caused,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who was brought to the US by his parents as a small child, is not a citizen. As a consequence, he will deported to Mexico shortly. He already has plans in place in Tijuana, where he will work at a local church counseling kids about staying out of trouble, in addition to other tasks.

Here’s what Marshall Camp, one of Edel’s earlier lawyers, said about his client to Super Lawyers after his 2013 resentencing. “He lived a model life in prison, avoiding gangs, drugs, and violence, while taking advantage of educational opportunities and finding religion. I can’t imagine how someone could do that with no realistic prospect of ever getting out.”

Merisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times has more.

In California, about 310 prisoners are serving life prison sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed before they turned 18, said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the corrections department. Nationwide, about 2,500 prisoners are serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, said James D. Ross, spokesman for Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

The California legislation, SB 9 — which comes into effect as Gov. Jerry Brown has been paroling more “lifers,” including adults convicted of murder — shows how the state has “evolved,” said Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“It really shows that California is on the right track,” she said, “that it’s trying to shape its laws with what we know is true: That young people have a capacity to turn around their lives.”

But Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, who helped found the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, said she was concerned about setting violent offenders back into the community.

“If anybody dies because this guy got let out, what are you going to say to those people?” said Bishop-Jenkins, whose pregnant sister and her husband were killed in 1990 by a 16-year-old in a suburb of Chicago. “I know everyone loves to believe every human being is fixable. I used to believe that — sadly, I know differently now.”

Two landmark court decisions also paved the way for the laws that resulted in Gonzalez’s Tuesday release.

First, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without parole was cruel and unusual. (Superstar civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson argued Miller v. Alabama before SCOTUS.)

Then in May 2014, the California Supreme Court handed down its own ruling to modify California’s sentencing law, with People v. Gutierrez, which affirmed that juveniles are different from adults, and that these differences must be taken into account in sentencing, even in very serious cases.

While it (obviously) had no effect on Gonzalez’ case, it is interesting to note that in Florida, that state’s supreme court ruled last week that juveniles not convicted of murder may not be sentenced to life in prison, and that even those convicted of murder may not be sentenced to life without parole.


TWO SCOTUS JUSTICES SLAM THE AMERICAN JUSTICE SYSTEM IN CONGRESSIONAL HEARING

In testimony on Monday before a house subcommittee, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Bryer surprised many observers by blasting the U.S. Justice System for, among other things, over incarceration, “terrible” sentencing minimums, and the use of solitary confinement.

Justice Kennedy, the much watched swing voted on the court, was up first, and was asked about the nation’s “capacity to deal with people with our current prison and jail overcrowding.” Think Progress’s Jess Bravin has this about what Kennedy said:

“In many respects, I think it’s broken,” Kennedy said of the corrections system. He lamented lawyer ignorance on this phase of the justice system:

I think, Mr. Chairman, that the corrections system is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions we have in our entire government. In law school, I never heard about corrections. Lawyers are fascinated with the guilt/innocence adjudication process. Once the adjudication process is over, we have no interest in corrections. Doctors know more about the corrections system and psychiatrists than we do. Nobody looks at it. California, my home state, had 187,000 people in jail at a cost of over $30,000 a prisoner. compare the amount they gave to school children, it was about $3,500 a year. Now, this is 24-hour care and so this is apples and oranges in a way. And this idea of total incarceration just isn’t working. and it’s not humane.

Kennedy, traditionally considered the swing vote among the current set of justices, recalled a recent case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which the defendant had been in solitary confinement for 25 years, and “lost his mind.”

“Solitary confinement literally drives men mad,” he said. He pointed out that European countries group difficult prisoners in cells of three or four where they have human contact, which “seems to work much better.” He added that “we haven’t given nearly the study, nearly enough thought, nearly enough investigative resources to looking at our correction system.”

Kennedy’s comments come just weeks after a federal review of U.S. solitary confinement policy also found that the United States holds more inmates in solitary confinement than any other developed nation.

Kennedy, who seemed to be more voluble in his testimony than Breyer, also slammed the nation’s overuse of incarceration.

“This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working,” said Kennedy. In many instances, he said, it would be wiser to assign offenders to probation and other supervised release programs.

The whole thing just wasn’t cost effective, Kennedy told the committee, and wasn’t helpful to public safety.

Justice Breyer added that mandatory minimum sentences were “a terrible idea,” and urged Congress to “prioritize” improvements to the criminal-justice system. Breyer has long been an opponent of mandatory minimums, which he says “set back the cause of justice.”


LET’S RECOGNIZE THE MAJORITY OF GOOD PROSECUTORS SAYS INNOCENCE PROJECT LAW SCHOOL PROF

We at WitnessLA are often critical of prosecutorial overreach and misconduct, in which winning seems all important, and seeking justice falls by the wayside.

Yet this Op Ed for Politico by Lara Bazelon—associate clinical professor of law at Loyola Law School and director of the school’s Project for the Innocent—is an important reminder that, like journalists and cops, the majority of prosecutors are doing their damnedest to use their profession to make things better.

Here’s a clip:

….It is a misconception that prosecutors simply take the job to put people behind bars. Yes, there are bad apples, but they are a minority whose misdeeds attract a disproportionate share of media attention. The vast majority of prosecutors go into this line of work to ensure that citizens get justice—and, in a growing number of cases, that means helping to free wrongly convicted felons.

Last year, 125 men and women were released from prison because they were wrongfully convicted, according to a report by the National Registry of Exonerations. That is more than two people per week and a record number of exonerations for a given year. More than half of these cases—or 67— were overturned because of prosecutors like Mark Larson either cooperated or led the charge to set the record straight and ensure that justice was done.

The irony of my writing this essay is not lost on me. Before directing the innocence project at Loyola Law School, I spent seven years working as a deputy federal public defender where my role in the system was to vigorously defend the criminally accused regardless of whether they “did it” or not. My job description emphatically did not include singing the praises of prosecutors. But it is important to do that. We should call out bad prosecutors and punish their misconduct, of course. Just as importantly, we should make sure that honorable prosecutors get the attention and respect they deserve.

Many exonerations receive extensive media coverage, searing into the national consciousness the image of the prisoner’s emotional reaction at the moment of freedom as we learn about the long road from hopeless, unmitigated suffering to sudden and complete redemption.

Afterwards come the recriminations. Prosecutors lied and withheld evidence. Witnesses who claimed to be 100 percent positive were in fact 100 percent wrong, coaxed or coerced into finger-pointing by overzealous police officers. Our system of justice, we are told over and over again, is irretrievably broken.

What receives less discussion is the powerful, positive narrative behind the recent statistics: the story of the good prosecutor. The National Registry of Exonerations records not only the number of exonerations, but their cause.

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Sentencing | No Comments »

Scott Budnick, For-profit Foster Care, the Youth Welcome Center, and Reentry Employment

March 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SCOTT BUDNICK: FROM PRODUCING THE HANGOVER MOVIES TO FOUNDING THE ANTI-RECIDIVISM COALITION

Jesse Katz has an excellent longread profile for the California Sunday Magazine on Scott Budnick and his journey from pre-med student to Hollywood producer to full-time criminal justice reform champion.

Budnick began mentoring kids in Sylmar’s juvenile detention center more than a decade ago through the Inside Out Writers program.

Budnick, executive producer of the Hangover series, left Hollywood behind in 2013 in order to take on criminal justice activism full-time. Budnick says he has Dede Gardner, producer of 12 Years a Slave, to thank for his decision.

After the split, Budnick founded the Anti-Recidivism Coalition with a $400,000 grant from California Endowment. While ARC was in its earliest stages, Budnick was instrumental in pushing SB 260 (a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who were convicted of murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole) through legislature and into Governor Jerry Brown’s hands. Budnick also used ARC as a platform to campaign for the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014.

Here are some clips from Katz’s profile:

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems.

[SNIP]

The break was unlikely, though, only if you did not know Budnick and his growing distaste for a business rife, he says, with “ego and selfishness and people that make every decision out of fear.” It was no coincidence, either, that he took his leave the same year that both The Hangover Part III and 12 Years a Slave hit theaters, the fierce moral compass of one making the other look even more aimless. After a day of guiding Dede Gardner, one of 12 Years’s Oscar-winning producers, around juvenile hall, Budnick credits her as the person “who changed my life, who made the movie that kicked me out of the business.”

Forgoing a paycheck at first and, he says, tapping much of his savings, Budnick began 2014 as a full-time activist, putting everything into the Anti-Recidivism Coalition — arc — a support and advocacy nonprofit he had begun in his garage. arc now has a $1.2 million budget, a paid staff of six, and an office in the downtown L.A. building that houses the rooftop lounge Perch. Instead of clients, arc has what Budnick calls “members” — 160 formerly incarcerated men and women, murderers and carjackers and tweakers — nearly all of whom he met and mentored while they were locked up.

“He is kind of an oddity,” says Robert Downey Jr., the onetime recidivist turned world’s highest-paid actor, who serves on arc’s board of directors. “In politics, usually, you try to align yourself with things that make you look as good as possible and disconnect with anything that’s the least bit tainted.”

Befitting a veteran of broad commercial entertainment, Budnick has chosen his moment shrewdly. After decades of throw-away-the-key policies, the nation is again considering the philosophy of second chances. With a growing number of conservatives daunted by the cost of mass incarceration, libertarians dismayed by the broad license to police that drug laws give the government, evangelicals committed to the promise of personal transformation, and the most crime-ravaged communities also the most crippled by tough-on-crime tactics, the movement defies easy labels.

California, a pioneer of three-strike sentencing laws, is now at a different forefront. In recent years, through ballot initiatives and legislative measures, the state has given breaks once unthinkable to thousands of felons: parole dates, sentence reductions, educational alternatives, employment opportunities. Budnick, campaigner and noodge, has had a hand in it all.

“When I first heard about him, I have to be honest with you: A white Hollywood guy? He can’t be real,” says Robert K. Ross, president and ceo of the California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation. Then Budnick invited him to visit Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A., where Ross was so moved by Budnick’s rapport with the inmates, he helped launch arc with a $400,000 grant. “Scott Budnick,” Ross says, “is the most extraordinary force in the state of California on badly needed incarceration and justice reform.”

[SNIP]

In the long run, Budnick dreams of removing every young person, 18 to 25, from the adult prison system and placing them on a campus with educational and therapeutic programs. He has been sketching plans for what he calls the California Leadership Academy for more than a decade — a Warner Bros. set designer helped with the earliest diagrams — and since his recent appointments to both the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the Board of State and Community Corrections, he now has more platforms for making it happen. While still years away, the project just received an $865,000 endorsement in Governor Brown’s budget. This sweeping proposal, with all of its promise and uncertainty, is not rooted in an especially religious perspective, nor is it particularly ideological. If pressed, Budnick will repeat the axiom “hurt people hurt” — and its corollary, “healed people heal.”

We’ve written about Budnick before (and, full disclosure: he is a pal of WLA’s).


THE DEATH OF ALEXANDRIA HILL…AND THE PROBLEM OF PRIVATIZED FOSTER CARE

In July of 2013, two-year-old Alexandria Hill was murdered by her foster mother, a woman screened and supervised by Mentor Network, a huge for-profit foster care agency.

After Alexandria’s death, Mother Jones’ Brian Joseph dove into an 18-month investigation into the world of privatized foster care.

Overloaded and understaffed child welfare departments across the US turn to private foster care companies to pick up the slack. These for-profit companies receive a bunch of tax dollars to vet potential foster families, train them, place kids in their care, and supervise them.

And there’s not much oversight.

Joseph found that very few states are even keeping a record of how many kids are in private foster care. No states are collecting data on how many kids involved in private foster care are being abused. And no one is running the numbers on the cost difference between privately-run and government-run foster care.

Here are some clips from Joseph’s investigation:

With blond hair and blue eyes, Alexandria stood 32 inches tall and weighed just 30 pounds. She liked kitties and the color purple….

At about a quarter to seven that evening, Clemon Small woke from a nap and left for a meeting at a nearby restaurant, leaving Sherill alone with Alexandria and the infant. About 15 minutes later, Sherill dialed his number, then 911.

First at the scene was Ward Roddam, the chief of the Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department, who was so surprised to find no one in the front yard waving him down that he called dispatch to make sure he had the right address. Inside, he encountered what he would describe as one of the strangest scenes in his 25-year career: Alexandria’s limp body lay on the floor while Clemon sat on the couch and Sherill talked to 911. Roddam found mucus on Alexandria’s mouth, suggesting that CPR, which foster parents are trained to administer, had never been attempted.

On the witness stand 15 months later, Roddam was asked if the Smalls seemed panicked. “‘Panic’ does not describe it at all,” he said. They seemed “very calm.”

What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities.

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

Nationally, no one tracks how many children are in private foster homes, or how these homes perform compared to those vetted directly by the government. As part of an 18-month investigation, I asked every state whether it at least knew how many children in its foster system had been placed in privately screened homes. Very few could tell me. For the eight states that did, the total came to at least 72,000 children in 2011. Not one of the states had a statistically valid dataset comparing costs, or rates of abuse or neglect, in privately versus publicly vetted homes.

[SNIP]

The bottom line for private foster care agencies—whether large, for-profit corporations or small, local nonprofits—is tied to the number of foster parents on their roster, and thus their ability to place children quickly. Given that every foster parent represents potential revenue, Zullo says, an agency may be more likely to overlook sketchy personal histories or potential safety hazards. There’s little incentive, he adds, to seek out reasons to reject a family, to investigate problems after children are placed, or to do anything else that could result in a child leaving the agency’s program. And as tough as the margins are for nonprofit agencies, the perverse incentives are exacerbated at for-profit agencies that need to make money for owners or shareholders.

“What happens,” Zullo says, “is the lives of these children become commodities.”

In 2013, the California spent $308 million on private foster care. Joseph was given a glimpse inside Positive Option, a small Sacramento set-up that is in charge of 70 kids. Here’s a clip from what he found there:

Kovill, the cofounder, is an energetic 82-year-old with a white beard who continues to manage the organization on a day-to-day basis. Kovill feels a special kinship with the foster children he serves: He says he was abandoned by his father when he was about seven and given to a shoemaker as a laborer. “Foster care is a good system,” Kovill said. “I wish it had been there when I was a kid.” (Kovill told me he changed his name long ago to break from the family that abandoned him. He wouldn’t tell me what his old name was.)

Kovill told me the margins are tight in private foster care, especially if child welfare is your top priority. He said he once had to sell land he owned in Arizona to keep Positive Option, which has annual revenues of about $1.2 million, afloat. Some of his employees report taking 10 percent pay cuts several years ago for the same reason, cuts that remain in effect today. “I’m still a businessman, and I still try to stay in the black as best I can,” Kovill told me one day in the cramped office he shares with his wife, Luan, who works at the agency for free. “But if it meant a car seat for a baby, if it meant diapers for a baby, if it meant safety for a child, the bottom line is gone.”

Kovill took responsibility for Positive Option’s problems, saying they came about in part because he was distracted by the agency’s financial struggles during the recession. “I just trusted everybody to do what I do—I work hard,” Kovill said, referring to some former employees he eventually fired. “I figured they did too. Well, you can’t do that.”


WHERE DISPLACED FOSTER KIDS GO TO WAIT

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf visited LA County’s Youth Welcome Center, the original purpose of which was to house kids new to the system while social workers placed them with foster parents or in group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like kids in their late teens, LGBTQ kids, and kids suffering from mental illness.

Here are some clips from Therolf’s story:

The center — outfitted with couches and televisions — was designed as a comfortable waiting room for children newly removed from their families; it was intended to house them for just one night while the staff tried to place them with a foster home.

Instead, the center has evolved into a holding facility for the most difficult to place youths who have been thrown out of foster homes. No one is turned away.

The facility is the last stop for some of the most desperate and extreme cases, a stark window on the difficulties of a child protection system that is burdened with maddening bureaucracy, a shortage of foster homes and crushing demands from a growing number of troubled children.

The youths who end up here are often older teenagers, sexual minorities, mentally ill or medically fragile. A significant number are involved in prostitution.

They stay here for nights, sometimes weeks, because there are so few homes willing to take them. Sometimes, the children refuse the homes offered to them and leave to live on their own. They come back sporadically to the center for a shower and a night’s rest — a respite from a life on the streets.

[SNIP]

Two of the system’s most debilitating pressures — the desperate shortage of foster homes and the swelling ranks of foster youths involved in prostitution — have conspired here to make this a place where social workers feel as though they are on a never-ending chase to find lasting foster homes for the children.

On this night, out of nearly 30 youths, only one has just entered foster care for the first time: Ruben, a small 13-year-old boy swimming in an oversized T-shirt….

Ashley spent her days in the department’s Torrance office to be near the social worker who was assigned to find her a new home. The worker was too busy to see her, however, and each night, she returned in a van to the Youth Welcome Center, where social workers take over the search on nights and weekends.

“When are you guys going to finally take me back to school?” Ashley asked the employees at the door.

“That’s not our job here at the YWC,” the woman with the clipboard replied.

“That’s not fair,” said Ashley, who was two grades behind in school.

She hoped to become a choreographer or child psychologist. She said, “I want to get my education.”


OP-ED: GOV. JOBS PROGRAM FOR RELEASED (AND SOON TO BE RELEASED) INMATES WOULD BE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

Boston saw a record-breaking “snowpocalypse” in February that is on track to break an even larger record: the snowiest season in Boston’s recorded history. All that snow buried streets, train tracks, cars, and even turned Nantucket waves into slush.

In addition to union workers and the National Guard, Boston has put county jail inmates to work shoveling the city out from under the snow. The inmates provide the labor for pennies on the hour.

In an op-ed for the Atlantic, Bruce Western and Linda Forman Naval say that local municipalities, taxpayers, and inmates would be better served if the government created a reentry job program—one that pays more than $.20 per hour and employs both incarcerated and newly released inmates.

The public maintenance jobs program would give those locked-up and recently released inmates a chance to make the money necessary for successfully transitioning back into life on the outside: for food, shelter, and paying back their debts. It would also fill a need on the city and county levels by building a public maintenance workforce, and on the individual taxpayer level by targeting recidivism.

Here’s a clip from the op-ed:

A regular government jobs program for formerly-incarcerated people could play a valuable role in maintaining public areas and infrastructure while assisting the transition from the prison to the community. Such a program would also provide a readily available workforce that could respond in moments of catastrophe.

Better yet, extending the program to provide real jobs to those who are about to be released would help them build a nest-egg to transition back into society. Pay all these workers the prevailing wage, and they will be able to afford rent and other necessities for successful reentry. And set up a payment plan so that former prisoners can pay back their debts, such as fines owed to the courts, once they are back up on their feet.

Such a payment plan for fees and fines would represent a big upgrade over the usual work-release programs. Financial obligations are usually deducted from the paycheck up front, and debt can follow formerly incarcerated people around for years. This erodes their incentive to work, makes crime more tempting, and absorbs money that might otherwise procure stable housing and other basic necessities.

People who have been incarcerated—mostly minority men with low-incomes and little schooling —continue to pay a price long after they have left prison. They often enter prison with close to nothing and return to society with little money to get established after incarceration.

Compounding the problem, they also face significant barriers to finding employment upon release.

Bruce Western is a sociology professor and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Harvard University, and the director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Linda Forman Naval is Deputy Director of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Reentry | No Comments »

Does California Need an Innocence Commission?…ABA Sez No More LWOP 4 KIDS….Confronting Lynching…MacArthur Puts Up $$$ to Reform U.S. Jails

February 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


DOES CALIFORNIA NEED AN INNOCENCE COMMISSION?

North Carolina is the only state in the union that has an innocence commission, a neutral government agency that investigates claims of wrongful convictions.

The rest of the 49 states, California included, depend on the work of nonprofits, like the Innocence Project, along with certain activist lawyers who give a percentage of their time to working on innocence cases.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations compiled by the University of Michigan, since 1989, there have been 1,543 exonerations in the U.S. In 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since ’89. In 2013, Texas moved into first place, and remained in the top spot for 2014.

But whether or not we win first prize for exonerees in any given year, our populous state—with its massive criminal justice system–continues to make its share of tragic legal mistakes.

So do we need our own innocence commission?

The Atlantic’s Matt Ford writes about Joseph Sledge who spent 39 years in a North Carolina prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The state’s innocence commission got him set free at the end of last month, on January 23, 2015.

“In 49 other states, Joseph Sledge would still be in prison,” Ford writes.

Here are some clips from Ford’s story.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is the first full-time state agency dedicated to investigating post-conviction claims of actual innocence. “The innocence commission is the only one of its kind in the nation,” the executive director, Kendra Montgomery, told me. Other states have nonprofit organizations like the Innocence Project or think tanks with similar names, “but we’re the only state that has a government agency that is neutral to investigate these cases,” she said. 1,642 claims have been submitted to the commission since its creation in 2006; Sledge’s case marked the eighth exoneration.

Because it is a state agency, the commission has powers that other institutions lack. Investigators can compel testimony with subpoenas, for example, and gather other kinds of evidence for their cases. “The commission has the unique power, because we are a neutral, fact-finding state agency by statute, to collect and test physical evidence in criminal cases,” said Sharon Stellato, who led the commission’s investigation of Sledge. This ability can be decisive: In at least 18 cases, commission investigators were able to locate evidence that had been officially declared lost or missing by other state agencies. Three of those cases resulted in exonerations, while some others confirmed the convictions.

[SNIP]

Exonerations, which were once exceedingly rare, have become regular features of the American justice system. The National Registry of Exonerations tallied 125 cases in 2014, the highest annual total so far. The group records 1,535 exonerations nationwide since records began in 1989. Of the 125 wrongful convictions thrown out in 2014, 33 came from Harris County, Texas after faulty testing procedures were uncovered there. Even without Harris County, however, the number of exonerations last year still outnumbered those in preceding years.

125 exonerations might seem paltry compared to the estimated 1 million felony convictions per year, but the number of wrongful convictions is likely far higher. Many jurisdictions don’t devote the same level of resources towards exonerations that North Carolina does, and even then, the process can be achingly slow. For a justice system that exalts due process and the presumption of innocence, any wrongful conviction represents a serious breakdown of justice. Even a handful of high-profile wrongful convictions can ripple throughout the public consciousness, undermining confidence in the system. “The country is having to psychically cope with conclusive evidence that we make, with some regularity, errors in criminal trial outcomes,” Tate said.

Investigating possible wrongful convictions, especially those that don’t involve DNA evidence, is a difficult and time-consuming matter. Even so, exonerations, as Ford writes above, are becoming a regular feature of our justice system.

But how many innocent people are still locked up who, for one reason or another, have not been able to get the attention of a willing lawyer, or non-profit?

The question becomes even more pressing when those convicted have been sentenced to die by the state’s hand.

According to a 2014 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, since 1973, when the first death penalty laws now in effect in the United States were enacted, 143 death-sentenced defendants have been exonerated.

To put it another way, since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1978, for every ten whom we executed there was one death row exoneration. Not a comforting set of numbers.

Oh, and the great majority of those death row innocence cases—78—were black men.

PS: One of the arguments against a state commission is the expense. However proponents of an innocence commission counter that keeping innocent people locked up indefinitely is also a very high cost endeavor, both fiscally and morally.


AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION VOTES TO END TO LIFE-WITHOUT-PAROLE FOR CHILDREN

On Monday, the American Bar Association, passed a strongly-worded resolution calling for an end to the practice of sentencing children to life-in-prison-without-parole and urging “meaningful periodic opportunities for release.”

The ABA is the nation’s largest membership organization for lawyers, representing 400,000 prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, litigators and others.

“With the adoption of Resolution 107C, the American Bar Association has sent a clear message to the legal community and policymakers across the country that children should never be sentenced to die in prison,” said ABA President, William C. Hubbard.

Hubbard called the practice of juvie LWOP “a severe violation of human rights.” He added, “The ABA applauds those states that have already taken steps to reform their laws and urges other states to pass similar reforms as soon as practicable.”

The text of the resolution itself uses even more forceful language. Here’s an excerpt:

The United States stands alone in permitting life without parole for juveniles. It is the only country other than Somalia that has not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life without parole sentences for youth. The legal developments in [Supreme Court rulings] Graham and Miller, along with the advances in brain and behavioral development science showing how children are fundamentally different from adults… support a conclusion that it is inappropriate to decide at the time of sentencing that life without parole is an appropriate sentence for a juvenile offender. This resolution encourages jurisdictions to go one step further than Miller and to join the policy position of the rest of the world by eliminating mandatory life without parole sentences for youthful offenders.


THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LYNCHING IN AMERICA

There were 3959 lynchings of black people in 12 southern states between the end of reconstruction in 1877, and 1950, according to a report released this week by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the non-profit law and advocacy firm founded by attorney, Bryan Stevenson. (We’ve reported on Stevenson several times in the past.)

That number is at least 700 more lynchings than previous research has reported.

EJI and Stevenson maintain that in order to begin to cure the racial inequality that exists in the American criminal justice system, it is essential to have a conversation about the racial ills and profound trauma of the past, lynching included.

This is from the introduction to the report:

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in America and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administra- tion of criminal justice especially is tangled with the history of lynching in profound ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.

This report begins a necessary conversation to confront the injustice, inequality, anguish, and suffering that racial terror and violence created.

As Stevenson notes, Germany and South Africa has have each had their versions of truth and reconciliation in order to heal. The U.S. has not.

The NY Times’ Campbell Robertson also has a story on the release of the report, which you can find here.


MAC ARTHUR FOUNDATION LAUNCHES $75 MILLION INITIATIVE TO REDUCE USE OF AMERICA’S JAILS

On Tuesday, the MacArthur foundation MacArthur announced a five-year, $75 million investment that “seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.” (The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations.)

The plan that MacArthur is calling its “Safety and Justice Challenge” hopes to support and reward cities and counties across the country “seeking to create fairer, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and lead to better social outcomes.”

The new initiative is based on a MacArthur-supported report released Wednesday by the Vera Institute, called Incarceration’s Front Door: the Misuse of Jails in America.

[More on the Vera report tomorrow.]

Julia Stasch, MacArthur’s President summed up the foundation’s thinking: “For too long America has incarcerated too many people unnecessarily, spending too much money without improving public safety,” she said. “Jails are where our nation’s incarceration problem begins…”

Okay, MacArthur, how about starting in Los Angeles, the city with the nation’s largest jail system, thus the ideal test case.

Posted in Innocence, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, race, race and class, racial justice | No Comments »

LASD Civilian Oversight Rejected, Thousands of Clemency Candidates Have No Right to Counsel, LAUSD Supt. Deasy Urges Staff to Reduce Dropouts…and More

August 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES VOTE AGAINST LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT

With a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors rejected a motion to form a civilian panel to oversee the sheriff’s department. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that such a commission would have no real authority over the department, and that the access of the Inspector General should be figured out before the Supes create more oversight. It should be noted that both candidates to replace Yaroslavsky in November have said they are in favor of establishing a citizen’s commission.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who along with Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed a civilian commission, said rejecting the idea was tantamount to accepting the “status quo.”

The board itself, as one of the primary bodies that has some power and a pulpit to bring issues at the sheriff’s department to light, “cannot pay enough attention” to the department, Ridley-Thomas said.

“We need help,” he said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the board should make the time. He also said the newly created Office of the Inspector General — whose powers the board considered in an ordinance Tuesday — should have time to take shape before the county creates a whole new commission.

“When everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge,” Yaroslavsky said.

Yaroslavsky further predicted that the U.S. Department of Justice, which brought criminal indictments against 21 current and former sheriff’s employees over the past two years, may end up seeking court oversight of the department.

“It’s becoming abundantly clear that the justice department will compel the sheriff’s department and this county to be accountable for constitutional policing, either through a consent decree or a memorandum of agreement,” Yaroslavsky said.

Unlike a civilian commission — which would lack formal authority — such an intervention would have real teeth, he said.


THOUSANDS OF FEDERAL PRISONERS FITTING NEW CLEMENCY CRITERIA HAVE NO RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

In April, the Department of Justice announced new clemency criteria that widened the pool of federal prisoners that could apply for a presidential pardon—namely non-violent drug offenders sentenced under outdated laws.

Late last week, the Administrative Office of the Courts issued a memo saying that federal prisoners seeking clemency in non-capital cases do not have a constitutional right to counsel from a public defenders or court-appointed attorneys. The original initiative announced by the Justice Department affects thousands of inmates.

Aljazeera America’s Alia Malek and Evan Hill have the story. Here’s a clip:

In a memo circulated to federal defenders and the chief judges of all U.S. district and appellate courts on Thursday, General Counsel Robert Loesche wrote: “There is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel for purposes of seeking executive clemency and no statutory right, except in capital cases … there is no authority under the CJA [Criminal Justice Act] or other law to appoint counsel in non-capital clemency proceedings.”

Under that interpretation, federal defenders, whose salaries are paid by the government, and court-appointed private attorneys, who receive federal reimbursement when they are called in for service, could not legally be paid for representing clemency candidates.

The decision is a considerable setback for a coalition of legal and advocacy groups that has stepped in at the Justice Department’s behest to lead the clemency effort, which the department has heralded as a cornerstone of the administration’s criminal justice reform agenda.

It would sideline many lawyers who have come to know their clients’ cases intimately over years of work, requiring them to turn over the task of filing clemency petitions — which draw on a prisoner’s personal and legal history — to new attorneys.


LAUSD SUPT. DEASY ASKS SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS TO PUSH TO END DROP OUTS, ASSIGNS THEM EACH A STRUGGLING STUDENT

During a speech to kick off the new school year, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy called upon school administrators to make a personal effort to lower the drop out rate. Deasy distributed 1,500 names of struggling students entering the 10th grade across the district. Deasy asked each administrator to reach out to one kid at risk of dropping out, and help them graduate in three years.

The LA Times Howard Blume has the story. Here’s a clip:

Much of Deasy’s talk at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles celebrated progress in the nation’s second-largest school system, including rising graduation rates. The most recent rate was 82%, Deasy said, including students who stayed enrolled longer than four years.

He quickly turned to another figure: 6,950, the number of dropouts from that same class. Deasy said that number could be brought down to zero and implored his audience to “reach out to one youth at a time, every single one of us.”

To that end, 1,500 sealed envelopes, each containing a student’s name, were placed on seats in the recently rebuilt Garfield High auditorium. The superintendent asked administrators to reach out to the students — all were freshmen last year who are at risk of dropping out. They had problems with attendance, discipline, failed classes or low test scores — or a variety of these, district spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said. Some are in foster care, some are learning English and some are disabled.


RECOMMENDED WATCHING: PBS’ “15 TO LIFE”

On Monday, PBS aired a documentary, “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story,” about Kenneth Young, a man who was sentenced as a teenager whose armed robbery landed him four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. (We linked to it here.) You can now watch the entire documentary on the PBS website for the next month, in case you missed it.

Posted in Education, Inspector General, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LWOP Kids, Public Defender, School to Prison Pipeline | 2 Comments »

Juvenile Lifers and What They Face in the System….”My Brother’s Keeper” Leaves out the Girls….CA Bill Would Bring “Religious Freedom” into Child Welfare…and More

July 31st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE REALITIES OF SENTENCING KIDS TO DIE IN PRISON

Data and discussions about the causal effects of childhood traumatic stress in minors who commit crimes is replacing the “superpredator” fear-mongering of the 90′s. Still, more than 2000 people in the United States have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors—300 of them in California. And when kids sentenced as adults reach lockup, they are treated worse than adults. often placed in solitary confinement, or worse, in the name of keeping them safe—despite opposition from the UN and research showing how prolonged isolation exacerbates existing trauma and can lead to mental illness.

Joshua Rofé has more on the issue for LA Weekly. Here’s a clip:

The extreme violence of the early 1990s in places such as Compton, South Los Angeles and the Eastside helped spawn public fear of the juvenile super-predator and the thrill killer.

But, as psychologist and juvenile justice consultant Marty Beyer showed in her study of juvenile intent, most of these youths were marred by severe trauma long before they pulled the trigger or plunged the knife.

Such experts say that juvenile lifers experience a culminating day in which the effects of trauma, violence and youth boil over into the communities or households that wittingly or unwittingly turned a blind eye.

In Jasmine’s case, the streets raised her, not her parents.

“My dad wasn’t really never in the picture,” she recalls. “I was yearning for my mom and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there. She worked double shifts, like, 16 hours a day. This is not an excuse, this is just the way it was for me coming up.”

At 14, she’d acquitted herself well during gang initiation. “I had to fight all the girls in my neighborhood. All at the same time. I come from three brothers, so I really knew how to fight. So it wasn’t that easy to get me down.”

Two years later, she shot a girl she didn’t know. Her court-appointed public defender assured her that she’d be tried as a juvenile and then placed in a California Youth Authority facility for seven years.

Instead, Jasmine was sent into the much tougher adult court system.

“I really did not even understand what was going on,” she says. “The lawyer just kept telling me, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ Next thing I know, I’m pleading guilty and there’s no trial. They give me a life sentence.”

In the United States, more than 2,000 children have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger.

Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law giving California’s 300 lifer children a chance at parole after 15 years — if they did not kill a cop or torture their victim. Now, often having reached middle age in prison, like Jasmine, some have been freed.

Beyond this, child advocates say it’s past the time to offer serious help to children who kill.

Katharine C. Staley, associate director of the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, says children develop traumatic stress, a cousin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “when either the stressor is huge and just completely unexpected, and overwhelms any ability to cope with it, like a school shooting, for example; or, as is much more often the case, when the stressor is significant, unpredictable — frequently repeated.”

Some children kill an adult tormentor who raped or tortured them — often a parent, relative or family friend. Others are set off by “being exposed to ongoing violence between parents or gang members.”

Jasmine’s initial week in an adult prison set the stage for her horrifying life there. Juveniles often are placed in solitary confinement, also known as “segregated housing” — for their own safety, according to prison officials.

But at age 17, when Jasmine was processed and admitted, all the solitary confinement cells at California Institute for Women in San Bernardino County were occupied. A quick decision was reached: This girl would be housed on Death Row.

You can watch Joshua Rofé’s documentary “Lost for Life,” (trailer above) on iTunes.


GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR EXCLUDED BY OBAMA’S “MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” INITIATIVE

President Barack Obama launched a $200 million initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia University and UCLA, and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, points out that My Brother’s Keeper overlooks girls and young women of color, who face similar disparities and hardships and need just as much support.

Black girls are suspended more than any other girls. They are also more likely than other girls to be sex-trafficked or die violently.

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Crenshaw calls the initiative an “abandonment of women of color” by Obama. Here’s a clip:

Gender exclusivity isn’t new, but it hasn’t been so starkly articulated as public policy in generations. It arises from the common belief that black men are exceptionally endangered by racism, occupying the bottom of every metric: especially school performance, work force participation and involvement with the criminal justice system. Black women are better off, the argument goes, and are thus less in need of targeted efforts to improve their lives. The White House is not the author of this myth, but is now its most influential promoter.

The evidence supporting these claims is often illogical, selective or just plain wrong. In February, when Mr. Obama announced the initiative — which is principally financed by philanthropic foundations, and did not require federal appropriations — he noted that boys who grew up without a father were more likely to be poor. More likely than whom? Certainly not their sisters, who are growing up in the same households, attending the same underfunded schools and living in the same neighborhoods.

The question “compared with whom?” often focuses on racial disparities among boys and men while overlooking similar disparities among girls and women. Yet, like their male counterparts, black and Hispanic girls are at or near the bottom level of reading and math scores. Black girls have the highest levels of school suspension of any girls. They also face gender-specific risks: They are more likely than other girls to be victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, more likely to be involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and more likely to die violently. The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.

Proponents of My Brother’s Keeper — and similar programs, like the Young Men’s Initiative, begun by Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011 when he was mayor of New York — point incessantly to mass incarceration to explain their focus on men. Is their point that females of color must pull even with males in a race to the bottom before they deserve interventions on their behalf?

Women of color earn less than both white men and their male counterparts from the same ethnic or racial groups, across the spectrum. Even more disturbing: the median wealth of single black and Hispanic women is $100 and $120, respectively — compared with almost $7,900 for black men, $9,730 for Hispanic men and $41,500 for white women.

Read on.


BILL WOULD ALLOW CALIFORNIA’S RELIGIOUS CHILD WELFARE PROVIDERS TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST GAYS, UNMARRIED COUPLES

A California bill introduced Wednesday would protect religious child welfare providers from losing government funding and contracts for discriminating against gays or unmarried heterosexual couples or anyone else who conflicts “with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014 is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Brian Rinker has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Many private providers of adoption and foster care services are faith-based organizations, which contract with the state to recruit adoptive/foster parents. Some religious providers only recruit married men and women to be foster parents, refusing to serve same sex or unmarried couples because of their religious beliefs.

A handful of states have enacted civil union and same-sex marriage policies that strip the funding and contracts from faith-based organizations that refuse to incorporate those practices in their adoption and foster care services.

“Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” said Enzi in a press release. “This legislation will help make sure faith-based providers and individuals can continue to work alongside other agencies and organizations, and that adoptive and foster parents have access to providers of their choice.”


VIRGINIA’S BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL

On Monday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The ruling is a far-reaching one, as the Appeals Court has jurisdiction over North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, as well.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has more on the ruling.

Posted in LGBT, LWOP Kids, racial justice, Sentencing, solitary, Trauma, women's issues | 7 Comments »

PBS Documentary on Juvenile Life Without Parole…NY Times Supports Marijuana Legalization….Paul Tanaka’s Retirement Take-home Pay….and More

July 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PBS’ “POINT OF VIEW” LOOKS AT LOCKING KIDS UP FOR LIFE WITHOUT A CHANCE OF PAROLE

Next Monday, August 4, PBS will air “15 to Life,” the story of Kenneth Young, who received four consecutive life sentences for committing several armed robberies as a teenager. Kenneth thought he would never make it out of prison alive, until the US Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that kids could not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes.


NY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD CALLS FOR END TO FEDERAL BAN ON MARIJUANA

On Sunday, the NY Times editorial board officially came out in support of repealing the federal marijuana ban, which is something of a big deal. The editorial was also the starting point for a six-part opinion series on legalizing marijuana. (In part one, NYT’s David Firestone argues in favor of the feds stepping back and letting states decide.)

Here’s a clip from the editorial board’s significant endorsement:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.


PAUL TANAKA’S 2013 FINAL PAY WAS NEARLY $600,000

Between seven months of salary pay and 339 days of unused paid leave accrued over his 31-year career, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka took home $591,000 as final pay in 2013. This number was only surpassed by one county employee, the chief neurosurgeon at the biggest county-run hospital.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has the story. Here’s a clip:

Including his seven months of wages and benefits, the county paid $591,000 for Tanaka in 2013, according to payroll records provided to the Bay Area News Group, part of the Daily News’ parent company. This made him the second-highest compensated employee, next to the chief neurosurgeon at the largest county-administered hospital.

A certified public accountant (whose license is inactive), Tanaka did not violate any rules, county officials said.

Nor did he “spike” his pension. None of the 339 days leave he cashed out applied toward his retirement income, officials say. The county code limits that widely criticized practice of boosting one’s final salary.

Six-figure payouts aren’t rare at the Sheriff’s Department, though Tanaka topped the 2013 list. There were 500 other sheriff’s employees — more than at all other county departments combined — who received one-time payments in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 data. For some county employees, those checks may have included bonuses or other taxable cash payments in addition to leave time.

Tanaka, who did not respond to requests for comment, was pushed out of the department by Sheriff Lee Baca following a series of scandals. Federal authorities are investigating whether high-level sheriff’s officials were involved in witness tampering. During recent testimony, Tanaka told a prosecutor he was aware he’s a subject of the probe, and denied any wrongdoing. He is facing Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election.

An employee with McDonnell’s standing would be eligible to cash out a maximum of 60 days vacation and holiday time upon retirement, Long Beach administrators said. Also, when he left the Los Angeles Police Department in 2010, after 28 years, McDonnell cashed out his unused sick time, vacation and overtime hours for $90,825, according to the City Controller’s office.

Some argue that such payouts unnecessarily strain local government finances.

“They earned the benefits, and they’re entitled to it, but there’s no reason the benefits should be inflated to the top rate,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They should be paid based on the value of the benefit they earned, at the time they earned it.”

While we’re on the subject of LASD retirement packages, a number of the department’s scandal-plagued supervisors have been able to retire ahead of being demoted or terminated.

This, for example, is what we wrote a year and a half ago about Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram’s sudden retirements—and their estimated yearly retirement pay.


BREAKING FREE OF THE “INCARCERATION ONLY” APPROACH

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Timothy P. Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, says our warped criminal justice system should be remodeled into a system that bosts public safety while turning lives around. In his essay (inspired by Shaka Senghor’s powerful TED talk, above), Silard says we must keep pushing for sentencing reform—reducing the number of low-level drug offenders and mentally ill in prison—and reinvest money saved through lowering incarceration rates back into programs that rehabilitate and help former offenders successfully return to their communities. Here’s how it opens:

I got a first-hand look at how our criminal justice system could be used to transform lives — not just punish — while serving as a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

In one case, an 18-year-old young woman was arrested for selling drugs on a San Francisco street corner. She normally would have ended up behind bars for a felony conviction that would have followed her for the rest of her life. Instead, she pled guilty, accepted responsibility and entered an innovative re-entry program for nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. During the program, she was closely supervised and provided the resources and support she needed to turn her life around. Among the requirements: enrolling in school, performing community service and getting a full-time job. She thrived in the program. After graduating, she received a full scholarship to attend a university and finished her first semester with a 3.8 GPA.

The program, called Back on Track, was one of the first re-entry programs in a District Attorney’s Office. It would go on to become a national model, reducing re-offense rates from 53 percent to less than 10 percent while saving tax dollars — the program cost about $5,000 per person, compared to more than $50,000 to spend a year county jail. Perhaps even more importantly, it helped save lives and strengthen families and communities. The power of second chances was never more evident than at the yearly Back on Track graduation ceremonies. There, smartly dressed mothers, fathers, siblings, children and community members celebrated the young graduates as they prepared to embark on much more hopeful futures.

For far too long, our criminal justice system has been stuck using one gear – the incarceration gear. We lock up too many people for far too long, for no good reason, and we’re doing so at great economic, human and moral cost. As a prosecutor, I saw the same offenders arrested, prosecuted and locked up, only to come back time and time again. I saw low-level, nonviolent offenders return from prison and jails more hardened and posing a greater threat to our communities than when they went in. And I saw African Americans and Latinos arrested and jailed at egregiously greater rates than whites.

Posted in LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 15 Comments »

CA Supreme Court Eases Three Strikes Law….Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Kids….the Case for Creating an LASD Citizens Commission Immediately…and More

July 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

IMPORTANT CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT RULING LOOSENS INTERPRETATION OF THREE-STRIKES LAW

Late last week, the California Supreme Court eased the interpretation of the Three Strikes law, ruling that two strikes cannot come from a single offense carrying two felony convictions. In this particular case, a woman received her first and second (of three) strikes for stealing a car, for which she was convicted of carjacking and robbery.

Reuters has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The judges made their ruling in the case of a woman who had been charged with two felonies – carjacking and robbery – for the same offense of stealing a car, saying that the legislature and the voters clearly intended for defendants to have three chances to redeem themselves before they are put away for life.

“The voting public would reasonably have understood the ‘Three Strikes’ baseball metaphor to mean that a person would have three chances – three swings of the bat if you will – before the harshest penalty could be imposed,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the court’s opinion, released late on Thursday. “The public also would have understood that no one can be called for two strikes on just one swing.”

The ruling is a significant one, as it has the potential to change the fate of other third-striker inmates who are locked up for life after having picked up multiple strikes for the same offense.

Melanie Dorian, the criminal defense lawyer who represented defendant Darlene A. Vargas in the case, said the ruling could lead to the release of numerous inmates convicted of more than one felony for the same act.

“This is a great case because it clarifies what the ‘Three Strikes’ law means,” Dorian said. “A single criminal act that can technically violate two statutes of the penal code cannot later be used as two strikes.”


CALIFORNIA TO TRACK FOSTER STUDENTS ATTENDANCE AND PROGRESS FOR DISTRICT FUNDING FORMULA

Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, California school districts will count and track foster and low-income students (as well as those learning English as a second language), as part of a new budget formula to give school districts funds to provide better learning experiences to disadvantaged kids. Schools will begin reporting foster kids’ attendance, test scores, and graduation progress—a crucial step toward improving outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable population.

The Associated Press’ Lisa Leff has the story. Here’s a clip:

Until now, no state has attempted to identify every foster child in its public schools or to systematically track their progress, much less funnel funds toward those students or require school districts to show they are spending the money effectively.

That changed in California this month as part of a new school funding formula that will direct billions of extra dollars to districts based on how many students they have with low family incomes, learning to speak English or in foster care.

The state’s 1,043 school systems had to submit plans by July 1 for how they intend to use the funds, a pot projected to reach at least $9.3 billion by 2021, to increase or improve services for those specific student groups.

During the next school year, districts also will have to report on their foster children’s absences, progress toward graduation, standardized test scores and other measures they already maintain for the other two target groups.

The moves are significant for an estimated 42,000 school-age foster children, less than 1 percent of the state’s 6.2 million public school students, said Molly Dunn, a lawyer with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

It means educators and elected officials have recognized the group is facing unique educational hardships from abuse or neglect, frequent moves and experiences in foster or group homes, Dunn said.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a heartening story about Jamilah Sims and her sisters, three resilient foster children who are all heading to college in the fall, and United Friends of the Children, the nonprofit that is helping the Sims sisters and other foster kids go to (and finish) college. Here’s how it opens:

Jamilah Sims became a mother at 14 — just as she was entering foster care for the third time, because of her own mother’s instability.

She and two sisters — the girls are triplets — have grown accustomed to packing up, moving in with strangers, leaving friends, changing schools. They lived in five different foster homes over the years.

But they’re also growing accustomed to a measure of success that’s absent in the typical narrative of foster system teens.

All three graduated from high school last month and are headed for college, with advice, support and financial help from United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that’s been helping foster children complete college for more than 25 years.

One sister will attend New Mexico State University to study communications. Another will begin working toward a business degree at Santa Monica City College. And Jamilah will be toting her 3-year-old son Carter to Cal State Bakersfield, where she will study to become an anesthesiologist.

The girls were among 187 high school grads from the foster care system whose hard work and good grades were celebrated last month at a ceremony at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dozens received college scholarships from a pot that totaled more than $1 million.

The graduates’ personal stories reflect parental stumbles, teenage resilience and the collective efforts of families, friends and foster parents, who helped them battle their demons, nurture their talents and endure whatever hardships they could not outrun.

One young woman spent part of her adolescence squatting in abandoned houses; she’s attending Yale this fall. Another was abused by her stepfather and wound up addicted to drugs; she’ll be majoring in psychology at UC Santa Cruz. A young man who never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother will be moving to Spain to study dance at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona.

Their scholarships will pay for the sorts of things most freshmen take for granted: a suitcase for a student who has never traveled, clothes warm enough for a winter at a Snow Belt college, and, for Jamilah, college textbooks and her very first computer.

No more rushing through homework on the library computer, so she could race to day care in time to pick up her son…


WHY A CITIZENS COMMISSION SHOULD BE CREATED RIGHT AWAY, AND WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE

In November, the LA County Board of Supervisors chose Max Huntsman to fill the new role of Inspector General for the sheriff’s department. The Supes haven’t yet figured out what kind of access to confidential department documents Hunstman will have. (More about that here.)

At the same time, the Supervisors are considering forming a separate citizens commission to watch over the department. Both IG Huntsman and interim Sheriff John Scott have advised the board against forming the commission before a new sheriff takes control of the sheriff’s dept. in November. (We at WLA are glad that sheriff-frontrunner Jim McDonnell is in favor of establishing a citizen’s commission.)

An LA Times editorial says the commission should be created immediately, in combination with the Office of Inspector General—not as an “afterthought,” so that the two work together to oversee the department. Here are some clips:

…in creating the IG position, the supervisors withheld two vital features: a set term of office and protection from being fired without good cause.

It is now clear that the board should set up the commission right away, even as it completes the build-out of the inspector general’s office. To do otherwise — to determine the inspector general’s scope of access to internal sheriff’s department documents and to decide whether the IG will have something tantamount to an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, the board or the county — would be senseless without first knowing whether the IG will report to an oversight body. A commission would become an afterthought to an inspector general who already would have established protocols and privileges. Those properly should be hammered out in cooperation with the commission.

The board should make it clear now that it will establish a citizens oversight commission to work in tandem with the inspector general, with both parts and the Board of Supervisors being interlinked gears in an integrated oversight mechanism.

[SNIP]

The citizens oversight commission should instead have nine members, with five board appointees supplemented by four either picked by the first five from a pool of names assembled, perhaps, by Superior Court judges or mayors from the county’s contract cities in consultation with community advocates, or directly appointed by authorities outside the ambit of either the sheriff or the Board of Supervisors.

Members should serve staggered, non-renewable terms, much like the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. They should be exempt from removal — and therefore from political pressure — by the appointing authority or anyone else absent a showing of good cause. The number of appointees, the diversity of the appointing authorities and restrictions on tenure and removal would allow the commission to operate with necessary independence without becoming a runaway jury. It would keep commissioners from being either puppets or persecutors.

Read the rest.


HAWAII PASSES JUVENILE ANTI-RECIDIVISM BILL, IS ALREADY REINVESTING EXPECTED SAVINGS ON REHABILITATION

Earlier this month, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed two meaningful juvenile justice bills into law. One bill ended life without parole sentences for kids. The other is an anti-recidivism bill that will require corrections officers to write “reentry plans” before releasing incarcerated kids, and also changes juvenile probation requirements.

The state is so optimistic that the legislation will successfully lower recidivism, that it has already begun spending a portion of estimated savings on rehabilitative programs.

The Washington Post’s Hunter Schwarz has the story. Here’s a clip:

Hawaii, where 75 percent of youths released from the state’s juvenile correctional facility are sentenced or convicted again within three years, is trying to crack down on recidivism.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing the state’s juvenile facility population by over half in five years. HB2490 calls for justice system officials to write “reentry plans” before juveniles are released from correctional facilities and revises probation requirements.

Should the plan successfully lower recidivism rates, Hawaii could save an estimated $11 million, the governor’s office said. The state is already betting on it, investing $1.26 million from its anticipated savings in “proven programs” like mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Posted in Education, Foster Care, Inspector General, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LWOP Kids, Reentry | No Comments »

Pre-Primary Election LASD News, Some LA Schools May be Using “Off-the-Books” Suspensions, and Pope Francis on Juvenile Life Without Parole

June 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LASD NEWS ROUNDUP BEFORE THE JUNE PRIMARY ELECTION (TOMORROW, JUNE 3)

Throughout the campaign season, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has had good coverage of the sheriff debates and fundraising numbers, along with helpful profiles on (most of) the candidates.

With the June 3 primary nearly upon us, Stoltze asked the sheriff hopefuls three jail-related questions. All but Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Patrick Gomez responded. Here is the first question:

Question: The Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence said one of the problems with inmate abuse is that deputies trained to patrol the streets are assigned to serve as jail guards in their first few years on the job. The panel recommended that the next Sheriff adopt a “dual track” system whereby deputies are recruited and trained specifically as jail guards for careers inside the jails. Do you support this recommendation – why or why not? How would you overcome objections from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which has vowed to fight the change?

This may have been the easiest question for Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who wrote: “Not only do I support the recommendation for a ‘dual track’ system, I helped craft it as a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.”

But as the only person running who’s never served in the department, McDonnell would have to deal with the powerful labor union that represents deputies for the first time. “I have experience working successfully with police unions at the LAPD and in Long Beach and am confident that I could work with the deputy union,” he wrote.

Only former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka refused to commit to the dual track system. “I believe that we must explore the options available to us,” he wrote. “I do believe that we should make sure that those assigned to the jails and want to move on to patrol, should be able to do so – we need those individuals keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, former Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince all committed to a dual track system for deputies.

Hellmold said all deputies should receive the same training, however, in case jail guards must also end up working in the field during emergencies. He also said he’d limit street deputies to serving no more than two years in the jails.

“I have already been involved with communicating my vision with [the deputies' union] leadership and members and confident my vision reflects that of our members,” Hellmold wrote.

Olmsted included this in his response: “Although the dual-track is one method to resolving the problems in the jail, however, the primary concern is the lack of good leadership and adequate managerial oversight.” He noted he reduced use of force at Men’s Central Jail by 25 percent when he ran the facility.

Vince, a former Sheriff’s Department reserve officer, said he would convince the deputies’ labor union to accept any changes by offering perks: “I would also ‘sweeten’ the deal by seeking to implement organization-wide compressed work schedules and returning ‘gym time’ (they would get 15-20 minutes for on duty physical fitness),” Vince wrote.

Read the remaining questions and responses.

(Here are Stoltze’s profiles on Todd Rogers, James Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka, and Jim McDonnell. They are worth reading, if you haven’t yet had the chance.)

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has an interesting profile on Paul Tanaka, and what both his supporters and opponents have to say about his tenure at the Sheriff’s Dept. Here are some clips:

A county commission concluded that he helped foster problems with brutality inside the jails. And the FBI is investigating allegations that he played a role in obstructing their investigation into the abuse.

Supporters say his reputation has been unfairly tarred by former subordinates whom Tanaka cracked down on for being lazy or inept. They describe him as hard-working, good at managing budgets and hyper-focused on lowering crime.

“If you’ve worked hard, he liked you…. If you were lazy, didn’t do your job, he didn’t give you the time of day,” said sheriff’s Capt. Louie Duran.

[SNIP]

In 2003, Tanaka drew federal scrutiny for helping funnel hundreds of sheriff’s bulletproof vests to Cambodia through Gardena without declaring them to customs officials. The odd transaction, which did not become publicly known until 2013, did not result in charges.

Eventually, Baca’s loyalty to Tanaka eroded.

After a sergeant pointed a gun at another sergeant at the sheriff’s Compton station, Tanaka and other top officials ignored a recommendation to demote the supervisor, instead giving him a 15-day suspension. Baca was upset, stripping Tanaka of his role in making discipline decisions.

Their relationship continued to strain after a blue-ribbon commission created by the county to examine inmate abuse found in 2012 that Tanaka had helped foster a culture of misconduct. The commission recommended that Tanaka be stripped of most of his authorities. Baca listened, and months later took it a step further, pushing his undersheriff to step down.

Tanaka has since gone on the offensive, saying that the sheriff’s officials who spoke out against him were former subordinates he had cracked down on for subpar work.

In his interview with federal agents, Tanaka gave an example. He recalled making a surprise visit to a sheriff’s station. There, in the middle of the work day, he found the lieutenant in charge not in uniform, but rather in shorts, T-shirt and sneakers.

According to Tanaka, the lieutenant greeted him, then said: “I was just getting ready to go to softball practice. You need me?”

“He gets in his car like an idiot and drives away,” Tanaka recalled. “I call his chief and I say, ‘I want him gone.’”

That lieutenant later spoke before the jail commission and accused Tanaka of mismanagement.

LASD UNION POLL RESULTS

The Professional Peace Officers Association, one of two LASD unions, polled 1,374 active and retired members on who they thought should be the next sheriff. After considering the results, the PPOA board of directors chose not to endorse any one candidate. Here are the numbers:

Jim McDonnell — 507

Bob Olmsted — 450

Jim Hellmold — 184

Todd Rogers — 170

Paul Tanaka — 54

Lou Vince — 9

(Paul Tanaka and Pat Gomez were not on the ballot because they did not participate in the PPOA debate (which was a requirement). Tanaka’s votes are write-ins.)


LA UNIFIED’S SUSPENSIONS ARE DOWN, BUT SOME SCHOOLS MAY BE USING “WORK-AROUNDS” TO LOWER THEIR NUMBERS

Statewide, and at the LAUSD-level, suspension and expulsion rates are on the decline.

A growing number of Los Angeles schools (Gompers Middle School in Watts, for instance) are lowering their suspension rates by resolving conflicts through “restorative justice” practices. There are reports, however, that some LAUSD schools are sending kids home without officially suspending them, in order to appear in compliance with the local, state, and federal push against harsh school discipline.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the heart of Watts, where violence in nearby housing projects can spill over onto campuses, two of the city’s toughest middle schools have long dealt with fights, drugs and even weapons.

Administrators typically have handled these problems by suspending students. But this year Markham and Gompers middle schools have reported marked reductions in that form of discipline — as has the L.A. Unified School District overall, where the suspension rate dropped to 1.5% last year from 8% in 2008.

The drop came after the Los Angeles Board of Education and L.A. schools chief John Deasy called for fewer suspensions as concern grew nationwide that removing students from school imperils their academic achievement and disproportionately harms minorities, particularly African Americans.

But have suspensions really become rarer?

Several African American parents at Markham recently alleged that administrators were sending their children home without officially suspending them. Markham Principal Paul Hernandez flatly denied that practice, known as “off-the-books” suspending.

Similar charges have been made elsewhere in L.A. Unified. The principal at Manchester Elementary in South Los Angeles was removed earlier this year following allegations that he sent at least 20 students home while directing staff not to mark them absent or suspended, according to two knowledgeable sources who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation. A district official confirmed Gregory Hooker’s removal “pending the outcome of an investigation” but declined to provide further details.

A confidential report by two community organizations in 2012 found that some principals were using “work-arounds” to district mandates to reduce suspensions. Maisie Chin, executive director of CADRE, a South Los Angeles nonprofit that has long worked on the discipline issue, declined to release the report but said it showed that some students were being sent home, sometimes with no given reason, depriving them of the due process rights in the formal suspension process.

“We do think the pressure to reduce suspensions is probably causing a lot of unintended consequences,” Chin said.

[SNIP]

Last year, the L.A. school board became the first in the state to ban defiance as grounds for suspension; legislation would expand that ban statewide.

But those in the trenches say it hasn’t been easy to comply with the mandates — especially since years of tight budgets have left limited funding for the extra staff and training they say are critical.

At Gompers, Principal Traci Gholar said she readily suspended disruptive students in 2011-12, her first year at the helm, to drive home to families that she was intent on building a safe, orderly and positive school climate.

When superiors questioned her high suspension rate, Gholar asked for new resources that would support alternative disciplinary approaches: a conflict resolution specialist, a restorative justice coordinator, more campus aides, performing arts events and other activities.

The extra help appears to have made a difference. According to school data, incidents involving student misbehavior declined from 1,035 in the last school year to 663 as of May of this year. And although most of the misbehavior was serious enough to warrant suspensions, Gompers made a greater effort to address it in alternative ways, reducing the suspension rate to 3% from 30% last year.


POPE FRANCIS’ ANSWER TO 500 LETTERS FROM PEOPLE SERVING JUVENILE LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE IN UNITED STATES

Pope Francis responded to a group of 500 letters written by young people across the US who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole.

Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, coordinated the project and collected the letters, and Father Mike Kennedy, chaplain at Sylmar Juvenile Hall, sent the letters to the pope.

Writing for America Magazine, Kennedy shared Pope Francis’ response, along with his own thoughts on the issue of juvie LWOP. First, here’s a clip from the pope’s letter:

Dear Father Kennedy,

I have read the letters which you kindly sent to me from hundreds of young people throughout the United States sentenced as juveniles to life imprisonment without parole. Their stories and their plea that this form of sentencing be reviewed in the light of justice and the possibility of reform and rehabilitation moved me deeply. I would ask you kindly to assure them that the Lord knows and loves each of them, and that the Pope remembers them with affection in his prayers…

Read the rest here.

Now, a clip from Father Kennedy:

Jody Kent in Washington, D.C., the leader of the national campaign to end LWOP and insure that no children ever get sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, collected 500 letters in many states from incarcerated youth who received a sentence of LWOP. These letters were addressed to Pope Francis because they had faith that this world leader would advocate for them. Some Jesuits and I helped forward them to the pope three weeks ago.

The pope answered these letters by writing me acknowledging receipt of them and to give hope to those who now have no hope. The pope’s letter is strong and clear. He believes our youth deserve a second chance. Each prisoner who wrote a letter will be receiving a copy of the pope’s letter.

As we know, a youth’s brain has not developed to the level of an adult at the ages when they commit these crimes. They should be tried in juvenile courts not adult courts. It is very clear that Pope Francis understands this and has taken this issue of youth locked up as a personal concern.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, LWOP Kids, Paul Tanaka, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 16 Comments »

Other Los Angeles Jail Plan-Related Stories, an Inmate Suicide at Twin Towers, More Discretionary Power for California Judges Sentencing Teens, and Arts Return to State Prisons

May 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE VANIR LOS ANGELES JAIL PROPOSAL, LA’S HANDLING OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES (AND AN ARGUABLY PREVENTABLE INMATE SUICIDE AT TWIN TOWERS)

Yesterday we reported on the latest Los Angeles sheriff candidate debate as it related to plans being considered by the Board of Supervisors to tear down Men’s Central Jail and replace it with a costly new facility. The main problems are as follows: the decision should wait until a new sheriff is elected, the proposed plans do not address the issue of how to provide better treatment for more than 3000 mentally ill inmates, and other counties are successfully diverting mentally ill inmates to community treatment (while LA County thus far has no plans to do so).

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze also had good coverage of the sheriff’s debate. Here’s a clip:

“I think the new sheriff needs to be consulted on what we’re going to do with our jail system,” said current assistant sheriff Todd Rogers during a candidates’ debate Sunday at the Westside Jewish Community Center. The primary election is June 3. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the top two face each other in November.

“I think we have plenty of jail beds,” Rogers added.

“We need to take a step back,” said another candidate, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “A new sheriff is a major stakeholder in this.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the expansion plan Tuesday.

McDonnell also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering suing L.A. County over its handling of mentally ill inmates, which could lead to new federally required reforms under a consent decree. “Part of that consent decree may be mandates as to what our jails look like,” McDonnell said.

And in a tragically timely illustration of why a building is not going to solve LA County’s problematic handling of the mentally ill…

A Twin Towers inmate, Li Zhu, placed on suicide watch strangled himself during a period of nearly three hours in which deputies reportedly failed to check on him. While deputies are required to look in on suicidal inmates every fifteen minutes, deputies allegedly last checked on Zhu at 6:46p.m. the evening after his arrest, and did not check again until he was found dead at 9:30p.m.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

An autopsy report by the L.A. County Coroner’s Department says Zhu, 68, was arrested on January 8 on suspicion of murdering his daughter-in-law, Xiaolin Li. The Arcadia police department arrested Li Zhu after finding Li Xiaolin stabbed to death, in an apartment where the two lived, along with a number of family members.

When he arrived in L.A. County’s jail system, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department placed Zhu on suicide watch in a Twin Towers cell due to having attempted “suicide in China during the late 1990’s by jumping off a building…and also telling family members that he did not want to live anymore after the assault on his daughter-in-law.”

Deputies are supposed to check on inmates on suicide watch every 15 minutes. The last reported check on Zhu, according to the coroner’s report, was at 6:46pm He was found dead at 9:30pm when a deputy attending to an inmate in a neighboring cell noticed Zhu sitting at an odd angle on the floor. A surveillance video viewed later showed him last walking around his cell at 8:18pm.

According to the coroner’s report, Zhu had torn off a strip of the side trim seam from his mattress, created a noose, and strangled himself by attaching the noose to the bed. There was blood on the floor and Zhu had an open bite mark and bruises on his arms. No suicide note was found.

Suicide watch protocols in L.A. County’s jails stem from an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice the county entered into in the late 1990’s, after federal inspectors found “constitutional deficiencies” in the jails. Allegations included use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates, inadequate mental health screening, and inadequate suicide prevention.

An LA Times editorial further explains why, although Men’s Central Jail needs to be torn down and replaced, a new jail facility is not going to end LA’s over-incarceration of a mentally ill inmate population that would experience better outcomes in community treatment. Here’s a clip:

Even with the Justice Department breathing down their necks over poor treatment of ill inmates, the supervisors asked for mental health treatment plans not from experts in recidivism or treatment but from a jail construction firm. The proposals naturally revolve around constructing jails.

Let’s be clear: Men’s Central does indeed need to be put out of its misery and replaced with a facility that includes treatment space for mentally ill offenders who are too dangerous to be diverted to community treatment. But any competent study must discuss protocols for distinguishing between those who could and those who could not be successfully and safely treated in community clinics. It would then project how many costly jail beds for the mentally ill will still be needed, and how much savings can instead be reaped by using a wiser non-jail diversion program. And it would be based on diversion programs already underway — if only the county would actually begin some. Other jurisdictions do it, and they save money and stop sick people from cycling in and out of jail. When will L.A. wise up?

Go read the rest.


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT GIVES JUDGES MORE DISCRETIONARY POWER IN SENTENCING JUVENILES

On Monday, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled to give judges more discretionary leeway in sentencing juveniles convicted of certain crimes for which judges would normally hand down a sentence of life-without-parole. The decision will give California judges more room to sentence teenagers to a lesser sentence of 25-to-life.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has more on the high court’s decision. Here are some clips:

Prior to the unanimous ruling, California law had been interpreted as requiring judges to lean toward life without parole for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds convicted of certain offenses. The decision overturned decades of lower-court rulings.

The court’s action gave two men who were 17 at the time they killed the opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by trial judges.

The court said the sentences should be reviewed because they were handed down before the court clarified state law and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that judges must consider a juvenile’s immaturity and capacity for change.

[SNIP]

Some juvenile offenders became subject to life without parole when voters passed Proposition 115, the 1990 “Crime Victims Justice Reform Act.”

State appeals’ courts ruled that the law required judges to favor imposing life without parole over a life sentence that allowed for release after 25 years.

For two decades, those rulings stood.

But Monday’s decision said the lower courts had erred in the interpretation of the law.

“Proposition 115 was intended to toughen penalties for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder by making them eligible for life without parole upon a finding of one or more special circumstances,” Liu wrote.

But he said neither the wording of the ballot measure nor any of the official analyses resolved whether “the initiative was intended to make life without parole the presumptive sentence.” The court concluded it was not.


ARTS IN CORRECTIONS TO RETURN TO CALIFORNIA PRISONS WITH RENEWED STATE FUNDING

Late last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made a welcome announcement that it would be spending $1 million on bringing art programs back to state prisons.

Here’s a clip from the CDCR announcement:

The Arts in Corrections programs will offer an array of performing, literary and visual arts disciplines, such as theater, music, creative writing, poetry, painting, drawing and sculpture.

“Research has shown that structured arts programs improve inmates’ problem-solving skills and self-discipline and increase their patience and their ability to work with others,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “These programs also direct inmates’ energy in a positive direction, promote positive social interaction and lower tension levels, resulting in a safer environment for inmates and staff.”

CDCR has a long history of providing arts programs, as institutions and community organizations have partnered to offer visual and performing arts programs to inmates. CDCR has committed $1 million funding to add structured, contracted Arts-in-Corrections programs in select state prisons. CDCR is also committed to a second year of support for fiscal year 2014-15. The funds will be administered by the California Arts Council. Use of funds is subject to review by state control agencies.

“This investment will help inmates develop skills that may help them get jobs when they are released, which would help reduce recidivism and victimization,” Beard added.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LWOP Kids, Mental Illness | 7 Comments »

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