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Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 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 »

Kids Still Locked Up for Life Despite SCOTUS Rulings…Youth Justice Grant $$ Cut from Federal Budget….Obama on Marijuana Policy…and the US Immigration Lock-Up Quota

January 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STATES’ RESPONSES TO SUPREME COURT RULINGS ON LIFE SENTENCES FOR JUVENILES

The United States Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life sentences for kids via the 2010 Graham v. Florida and the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decisions. In Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS ruled that juveniles cannot serve life without the possibility of parole where no murder was involved—kids must be given a chance to seek parole based on their level of rehabilitation. The Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for children was unconstitutional (but did not strike down LWOP for youth altogether).

Many states are dragging their feet, only partially complying with the landmark rulings. (See clip below for how California’s efforts rate.)

The NY Times’ Eric Eckholm has the story. Here are some clips:

In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.

But most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings, which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts…

Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in nonhomicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing…

The plaintiff in one of the Florida lawsuits, Shimeek Gridine, was 14 when he and a 12-year-old partner made a clumsy attempt to rob a man in 2009 here in Jacksonville. As the disbelieving victim turned away, Shimeek fired a shotgun, pelting the side of the man’s head and shoulder.

The man was not seriously wounded, but Shimeek was prosecuted as an adult. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery, hoping for leniency as a young offender with no record of violence. The judge called his conduct “heinous” and sentenced him to 70 years without parole.

Under Florida law, he cannot be released until he turns 77, at least, several years beyond the life expectancy for a black man his age, noted his public defender, who called the sentence “de facto life without parole” in an appeal to Florida’s high court.

[SNIP]

Among the handful of states with large numbers of juvenile offenders serving life terms, California is singled out by advocates for acting in the spirit of the Supreme Court rules.

“California has led the way in scaling back some of the extreme sentencing policies it imposed on children,” said Jody Kent Lavy, the director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which has campaigned against juvenile life sentences and called on states to reconsider mandatory terms dispensed before the Miller ruling. Too many states, she said, are “reacting with knee-jerk, narrow efforts at compliance.”

California is allowing juvenile offenders who were condemned to life without parole to seek a resentencing hearing. The State Supreme Court also addressed the issue of de facto life sentences, voiding a 110-year sentence that had been imposed for attempted murder.


SUBSTANTIAL FEDERAL JUVENILE JUSTICE GRANT CUT FROM BUDGET

Funding for the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JAGB) was cut from the 2014 budget Congress sent to the president’s desk late last week. The grant provided money for important programs across the country, including a restorative justice program in California that was successful in keeping kids out of the system. At the same time, the budget reserves $10M for building and expanding corrections facilities. Advocates are dismayed, saying the lost juvenile justice dollars indicate misplaced governmental priorities. (We agree.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Gary Gately has the story. Here’s a clip:

Juvenile offenders and their parents in California signed contracts agreeing to school attendance, curfews, drug testing and counseling – and the agreements prevented the youths from being incarcerated.

New York state funded programs in Syracuse and Utica to divert from arrest youths who had committed non-serious illegal acts at school.

Georgia made funds available to 159 county juvenile courts to find community-based services as alternatives to detention.

The efforts in the three states were funded in part by the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program, which gives states resources to improve juvenile justice systems.

But the JABG funding has been eliminated in a fiscal year 2014 spending bill released this week by House and Senate negotiators.

[SNIP]

[Executive Director of the Coalition for Youth Justice, Marie] Williams, told JJIE that the JABG funding “does a lot of really, really good things that I think states are going to be missing the funding for,” including prosecutors, drug courts, risk-assessment tools and school safety.

[SNIP]

While eliminating the JABG grant funding, the spending bill allows states to spend up to $10 million of the $55.5 million in Title II grants for “building, expanding, renovating, or operating temporary or permanent juvenile correction, detention or community corrections facilities.” (The Title II grants are based on formulas in which the federal government and states contribute to juvenile justice initiatives.)

Williams said singling out such facilities for funding reflects misplaced priorities on Capitol Hill.

“To us, it’s a clear indication they’re out step with the trend in juvenile justice, which is de-incarceration,” Williams said. “Why on the one hand is Congress defunding things like juvenile courts, restorative justice programs, improving juvenile justice systems, but making a point to include $10 million for juvenile corrections facilities?”


OBAMA ON MARIJUANA POLICY

In David Remnick’s interesting (and extensive) new profile of President Barack Obama for the New Yorker, the president shares his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana and the racial and social class sentencing disparity.

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion — the legalization of marijuana — he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked.

[SNIP]

Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.”


CONSEQUENCES OF THE US IMMIGRATION INCARCERATION QUOTA

For the last six years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been forced to fill a quota of 34,000 immigrants in lock-up at all times.

The NY Daily News’ Robert Morgenthau rightly points out that setting a numerical quotas when it comes to incarceration policy—for immigration or otherwise—-completely undermines the notion of justice in any court process. Here are some clips:

The detention quota is unprecedented and unique to the immigration context. As Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, explained to Bloomberg News in June 2013: “No other law enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people that they must keep in jail.”

But hard-liners in Congress fight tirelessly to keep it in place. Last year, when the prisoner population dipped to 30,773, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul wrote a pointed public letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, informing him that he was “in clear violation of the statute” and its 34,000 prisoner requirement.

Notice that’s not the number of immigrants Congress wants to deport; it’s the number Congress insists on incarcerating while they await their fate.

[SNIP]

Such a rigid number cannot help but have a corrupting influence on the entire process. Imagine trying to get a fair trial in criminal court if your state legislature mandated that judges had to fill a certain number of prison cells each day. It would be impossible.

How can lawyers representing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement do their job dispassionately — seeking incarceration only of those who truly represent a danger to society or a risk of flight — if they know their funding is dependent upon hitting a number?

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Obama, racial justice, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Talk Interim LA Sheriff, Majority of LASD Excessive Force Payouts Related to Patrol, Marijuana Offense Lifers, and the Empowerment Congress Summit

January 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS HOLD PRIVATE SESSION ON INTERIM SHERIFF

The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss and interview prospective candidates to take over as interim sheriff upon Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement at the end of this month. (The temporary sheriff will run the department until December, when the newly-elected sheriff will be sworn in.)

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

On Tuesday, L.A.’s county counsel is expected to brief the board on what certifications an interim sheriff is required to have, as well as any other specifics on who is eligible for the position. Members of the board have said [Terri] McDonald is a contender, along with other assistant sheriffs in the department.

One outstanding question is whether supervisors will choose an interim sheriff who does not plan to run for the job…

County counsel has already told the board they can choose an interim leader from outside of the department, leaving open the possibility the board will appoint an interim sheriff from a different law enforcement agency.


PATROL GENERATED MOST OF LASD’S EXCESSIVE FORCE LAWSUIT PAYOUTS…NOT THE JAILS

On Monday, we mentioned that, in 2013, the LASD spent $43M in litigation payouts—accounting for almost half of the county’s total legal costs. But while much focus has been on lawsuits pertaining to the jails, three-fourths of the $20M spent on excessive force payouts came from the patrol divisions, a county attorney told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The LA Daily News’ City News Service has more on the numbers. Here are some clips:

Nearly half of the $43 million the county spent last year on lawsuits involving the department related to claims of excessive force, though most of the incidents occurred in the field, said litigation cost manager Steven Estabrook.

Supervisor Gloria Molina and others have drawn attention to payouts related to jail abuse. And the December indictment of 18 current and former deputies and supervisors in a federal investigation related to the abuse of inmates and visitors nearly ensures that those costs will rise. But it was not the primary driver of higher costs this year.

[SNIP]

The year-over-year comparisons can be somewhat misleading, because they track dollars on a cash basis and ignore settlements agreed to and judgments ordered that have not yet been paid.

There will likely be more to come.


LOCKED UP FOR LIFE ON A MARIJUANA CHARGE

Indiana man, James Romans, is serving a life sentence for trafficking marijuana. There has been a steady movement toward marijuana legalization in a number of states, and last August, AG Eric Holder announced a reform package that included instructing federal prosecutors to stop seeking harsh mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders. There are at least 24 others like Romans across the US who are serving life behind bars for larger-scale marijuana trafficking.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

At least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade, according to The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group. Some played relatively small roles in larger distribution rings and got life sentences in part because they refused to plead guilty and testify against associates. Others held positions of power in major trafficking organizations.

James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana, says he belongs in the former category. But last year, a federal judge ruled differently, sentencing him to life based on evidence suggesting that he helped run a multimillion dollar operation.

Whatever his role, the case raises questions about the fairness of punishing marijuana offenders with the criminal justice system’s harshest penalty short of death.

“It doesn’t seem to me in this day and age, when states are debating whether marijuana should be legal, that people who traffic in it should be spending their lives behind bars,” said David Zlotnick, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and an expert on drug sentencing laws at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. “If we’re not sure whether this drug should even be an illegal narcotic, why are we sending people to jail for life for it?”

[SNIP]

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, it costs an average of $30,000 a year to keep someone confined in a high-security lockup, and as a person ages and requires more medical care, the cost increases. “We’re talking 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars a year to keep someone in a cell until they die, when they could be working and paying into their insurance,” Zlotnick said. “It’s insane.”


EMPOWERMENT CONGRESS AT USC THIS WEEKEND

The 22nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit will take place this Saturday, Jan. 18, at USC. The congress, started by LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will bring advocate groups together, and include discussions on the sex trafficking of kids, healthcare, racial justice, and other topics of high importance to Los Angeles and beyond.

Here’s a clip from the announcement from Supe MRT’s office:

The summit’s plenary session, which begins at 9 a.m. in Bovard Auditorium, will feature a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Nelson Mandela, and will have participation from an array of elected officials and community leaders. Participating will be: Compton Mayor Aja Brown; Lynwood Mayor Aide Castro, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke, surgeon, medical researcher, businessman and philanthropist Patrick Soon-Shiong, Dr. Robert K. Ross, CEO of the California Endowment, Irma Muñoz, founder of the environmental non-profit environmental justice group Mujeres de la Tierra and Laphonza Butler, president of Service Employees International Union–the United Long Term Care Workers’ Union.

Widely regarded as the forerunner to the neighborhood council movement, the Empowerment Congress was founded by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas when he was a Los Angeles City Councilman. Each year, the various committees of the organization come together to re-dedicate themselves to activism and advocacy. This year’s summit will honor the civil and human rights legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died last month. Both King and Mandela were enormously influential in the struggle to establish equal rights for all human beings and inspired generations of activists here in Los Angeles and around the world.

(You can learn more about the summit, and register, here.)

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 33 Comments »

Contra Costa County’s Awful Juvenile Hall…..Holder to Announce Sentencing Reform…….7 Shells = 15 Years….and More

August 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

IS CONTRA COSTA COUNTY “LOCKING UP YOUTH AND THROWING AWAY THEIR FUTURES?”

An alarming class action suit filed last Thursday accuses Contra Costa’s Juvenile Hall of taking kids as young as 13 with disabilites and locking them up in solitary for 23 hours a day, while dening them education….and other such abuses.

Here’s a clip from the statement put out by Public Counsel, which brought the lawsuit along with Disability Rights Advocates, and Paul Hastings LLP,:

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, like all juvenile halls in the State, exists “solely for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment,” according to the California Supreme Court. Education is supposed to be at the center of young people’s rehabilitation.

But students at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the size of a hand. Young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison.

By its own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. But youth with disabilities at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination: they do not receive critical special education and related services, and lacking such supports, they are locked in their cells for a variety of infractions.

Despite knowing that many students have a learning disability, mental illness, or other disabilities, Contra Costa County puts students in solitary confinement for behavior that is related to their disabilities, denies them general and special education services, and holds them in conditions that can make their disabilities worse.

Here are two examples of the kind of treatment of kids that the lawsuit alleges: :

**A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.

**W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.

Susan Ferris, the excellent juvenile justice reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, has more on the lawsuit and on the awful conditions that helped bring it about.


HOLDER SET TO ANNOUNCE FEDERAL SENTENCING REFORMS ON MONDAY

Sari Horowitz from the Washington Post has details on some of the extremely welcome changes in federal sentencing policy that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce on Monday. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

Justice Department lawyers have worked for months on the proposals, which Holder wants to make the cornerstone of the rest of his tenure.

“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder plans to say Monday, ­according to excerpts of his ­remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.

As we mentioned last week, Some of Holder’s proposed reforms will require legislative changes.

And, as we also mentioned previously, , let us hope that California follows the lead of the feds with some our own desperately-needed state sentencing reforms.


STUPID SENTENCING TRICKS

As Holder prepared to announce his list of reforms, Saturday’s essay by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof provided a perfect illustration of other excesses in federal sentencing that could also use some work. Here’s a clip:

IF you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

It should be noted that what Kristof does not explain is that Young was not altogether innocent, and that the police bust was righteous. (Sorry, but that was very sloppy, Mr. Kristof.)

It turns out that in 2011, Young had relapsed into old behavior, and had stolen tools, tires and weight lifting equipment from vehicles and a business warehouse—crimes to which he confessed when the police came knocking. Yet, for the burglaries he would have gotten a few years of Tennessee state time with the likelihood of early parole.

However, the federal charge for the seven shells means that Young will spend a full fifteen years in prison, away from his kids, not supporting his family, a punishment that is not remotely proportionate, all at a cost to the federal government of approximately $415,000.


AN EXCEPTIONALLY SANE LOOK AT REALIGNMENT, POSSIBLE EARLY RELEASES AND WHAT NEEDS TO COME NEXT

We wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the excellent LA Times editorial that talks sanely and factually about the possible early release of some prison inmates, what most desperately needs to be fixed in California’s incarceration policy…and more. Here’s a clip from the essay’s center:

…..It would be naive to consider the returning felons harmless; but it would be an act of wild self-deception to pretend that an early release order would make their homecoming any more dangerous than it would have been otherwise. The fact is, most of the prisoners in line for possible early release had been scheduled to return to the streets within the coming year anyway. The status quo in California has been, for years, the steady return of felons after two- to five-year terms who pose the same risk they did when they went in. Those returns are the chief product of our broken criminal justice system.

That’s the real point here — not that some prisoners will be moving to the post-incarceration portion of their sentences a few months early, but that California has done too little to fix a system under which we deem it normal that prisoners come out at least as dysfunctional as when they went in. Precisely because of crowding and foolish management of the inmate population, California prisons have not only fallen below a minimum constitutional level of medical and mental health care, but also have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes. One word that appears throughout various reports and federal court orders describes the state’s prison system as “criminogenic” — referring to its high propensity to make inmates more likely, not less, to offend again after their release.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A MENTALLY ILL MAN GETS HELP INSTEAD OF BEING LOCKED UP….AGAIN?

We’ve heard over and over again that the LA County Jail system is the largest mental health hospital in the nation, with approximately 2000 mentally ill inmates housed in the county’s lock ups at any one time.

But other than getting inmates (hopefully) the right meds, the jail system does little else to provide any kind of help for those who cycle in an out of its locked doors.

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about one such frequent return customer to the jails who contacted Lopez and described how he’d managed to get out of the cycle. Here’s a clip:

There is little in Andy’s appearance or manner that offers a clue as to what he’s been through. The arrests, the jailhouse beatings, the commitments. He’s soft-spoken and unassuming, so much so that the story of his life doesn’t seem to go with the man who tells it.

I ask how many times he’s been locked up, and now a hint of distress creeps into his eyes.

“Maybe 20,” he shrugs, adding that he’s been in mental institutions nearly as many times.

Andy emailed me after I wrote about a visit to L.A. County Jail, which houses about 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s a barbaric system, with many of those inmates repeatedly filing through the turnstiles at great public cost, with little or no chance of getting help that might break the cycle.

“Before 2004, I had spent MANY a time in the L.A. County Jail.” wrote Andy, explaining that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disease. “If you’d ever like some background on surviving … the jails, I’m available. I’ve been stable and productive since 2004, and living in sunny Santa Monica.”…

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in crime and punishment, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Marijuana Arrests by Race…..Mike Feuer Picks All Star Transition Team… and the DWP’s Brian D’Arcy Sends His Love

June 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


(click to enlarge)


NEW REPORT SHOWS CRAZY RACIAL DISPARITIES IN ARRESTS FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION

Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog reviews the ACLU’s very comprehensive report on the black/whire marijuana arrest discrepancy.

The results are startling.

Overall, over the last decade, blacks and whites use marijuana at around the same rates, with blacks edging out whites by a few percentage points, except among the 18-25 year olds, where the ratio flips and young whites smoke a few percentage points more weed than young blacks.

It likely won’t be a surprise for most of you to find out that blacks are arrested for marijuana possession more often than whites, despite the similar usage numbers of the two racial groups.

But how much more often? Take a look.

The ACLU report (and the diagrams at WaPo) also looked at cities and counties that had the greatest descrepancy. (Yes, in LA County the ratio is out of whack, but it’s nothing when compared to, say, Cook County, IL or New York, NY, or Clark County, NV.

Click here to see the rest of WaPo’s startling charts and here for the underlying ACLU report.

The New York Times’ Ian Urbina also reports well on the ACLU report. Here are some clips from Urbina’s story:

Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.

This disparity had grown steadily from a decade before, and in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, blacks were around eight times as likely to be arrested.

During the same period, public attitudes toward marijuana softened and a number of states decriminalized its use. But about half of all drug arrests in 2011 were on marijuana-related charges, roughly the same portion as in 2010.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana have criticized the Obama administration for having vocally opposed state legalization efforts and for taking a more aggressive approach than the Bush administration in closing medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting their owners in some states, especially Montana and California.

Time to legalize, people!


CITY ATTORNEY-ELECT MIKE FEUER PICKS AN ALLSTAR TRANSITION TEAM

On Tuesday, newly-elected City Attorney-to-be Mike Feuer announced his transition team. It’s a long, varied and very impressive list (which you can read in its entirety here: City Attorney-Elect Mike Feuer’s Transition Team)

Here are some quick examples of the kind of folks who’re on the team (three of whom were part of the Citizens Commission on Jails Violence):

Lourdes Baird, who served as U.S. District Court Judge and U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California (and was on the Jails Commission).
Erwin Chemerinsky, who is the Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California, Irvine School of Law and formerly served as Chair of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission.
Miriam Krinsky, The executive director of the Jails Commission, who is also a lecturer at the UCLA School of Public Policy and is the former President of the Los Angeles County Bar and former President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
Stewart Kwoh, who is the founding President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and is a past President of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission.
Jorja Leap is a Professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and also serves as the Director of the UCLA Health and Social Justice Partnership; known for her research and writing focuses on gangs, community health and social justice
Carlos Moreno, (another Jails Commission member) who served as California Supreme Court Justice and Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney.
Ira Reiner, who served as Los Angeles City Attorney and Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Connie Rice, who co-founded the Advancement Project and was the Co-Director of the Los Angeles office of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
John Van de Kamp, who served as California Attorney General, Los Angeles County District Attorney and Federal Public Defender.


THE DWP’S BRIAN D’ARCY TALKS TO LA TIMES’ PATT MORRISON ABOUT WHY HE FLIPPED OFF LA WEEKLY’S GENE MADDAUS AND OTHER WAYS THAT EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG & HE’S RIGHT

Interviews with utilities union guys aren’t usually part of our mission, but this one in which the stellar Patt Morrison corrals and questions DWP union powerbroker, Brian D’Arcy, is…. irresistible.

Here are two clips—one from the very beginning of the interview and one from the very end—to give you an idea of why you need to read the whole fabulous thing:

Sometimes L.A. politics seem like patty-cake, but when Brian D’Arcy gets in the game, the game gets serious. He’s a third-generation union man, and the union he heads, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, is the DWP’s biggest and a huge player at City Hall. In some quarters, the IBEW’s DWP contracts — worth as much as six figures — are a symbol of overweening union power. The political action committee he co-chairs and the IBEW supports, Working Californians, cobbled together the largest amount spent on behalf of Wendy Greuel’s mayoral bid, about $4 million. The IBEW isn’t crying “uncle.” D’Arcy has zest for the fray and one gear: forward.

First things first: John Shallman, Wendy Greuel’s campaign consultant, has said your union’s support became “damaging to the campaign.”

That doesn’t surprise me — the guy who’s directly responsible for the tone-deaf campaign she ran. What else would he say? The hit on her was, somehow, she was the DWP candidate. [Voters] merged the employer and the union. It could have been deflected. They never did, and they ran a crappy campaign. The larger message is that some people will do anything to get elected — the same people [Garcetti's camp] who wanted our endorsement all of a sudden turn it into a pejorative.

Why the antipathy toward public unions like yours?

If you sell the idea that if others are dragged down then somehow you are elevated — I find it offensive. Does it help somebody if my members make less? They are 22% of the [DWP] budget. DWP union workers could take zero [pay] and it isn’t going to fix the city budget. The right-wing apparatchik has decided workers are the enemy, and we represent them….

And our personal favorite of all the Q & A exchanges…

Did you really flip off LA Weekly writer Gene Maddaus from your office window?

[His expression says, "Of course."] My entire staff is out walking precincts, I’m here with the [staff] women downstairs, and he scared them. On most days I’d pick up my bat and walk downstairs and say, “Get out of here,” but that’s what he wanted. My assistant [told him], “You have to leave, this is not a public building.” He refused, like a jackass, so she called the police. I did flip him off — he was jumping up and down like my Labradoodle at the back door.

Posted in City Attorney, elections, Marijuana laws, race, racial justice | No Comments »

The Faces Behind the USC Party Arrests…and More

May 8th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE ALLEGED LAPD RACIAL PROFILING AND THE KIDS WHO WERE CUFFED

Tuesday night, there was an open forum at USC to discuss the break-up of an off campus party by more than six dozen LAPD officers, which has now become a high profile incident. Students, faculty, city and county officials and LAPD department members packed into a campus ballroom for the follow-up to several demonstrations and meetings this week regarding allegations of racial profiling by the LAPD against USC students of color.

If for some reason you missed the original story, last Friday night,, after responding to a simple noise complaint, seventy-nine officers, some in riot gear, made six arrests as they shut down a USC party attended predominantly by African Americans. Meanwhile, just across the street, LAPD officers handled a similar noise complaint against a group of mainly white party goers in what was reportedly a considerably more peaceful fashion.

Police maintain that the crowd at party two went inside and turned down the noise when asked, while many members of party one did not and an unspecified numbers threw objects at officers.

Among the students arrested was the first party’s host, Nate Howard, a bright and charismatic USC communications major who, in addition to being a student leader, is also a correspondent for mtvU, the creator of a production company called Brave Entrepreneurs, and has just shot a pilot for his own talk show. Several of the other kids arrested also turned out to be campus leaders.

Feeling unjustly profiled, amid the chaos, the party-goers began tweeting, Facebooking, and videotaping the LAPD encounter. Within hours, they had flooded various social media platforms, and organized a campus sit-in for the following day to raise awareness about what they characterized as unequal treatment by the LAPD that they insisted was not an isolated event.

Here’s a raw video of the 79 police officers (yes, the party-goers counted) taken by a student who had attended the party:

(NOTE: According to a source close to the department, there is an video, unreleased as yet, of officers in a radio car being hit by bottles and/or rocks.)

And another of an impassioned Nate Howard at the campus sit-in, at one point reciting what soon became the demonstrating students’ new call phrase: “We are scholars! Not criminals!”

During Tuesday night’s forum, attendees live-tweeted in a big way, and #USChangeMovement started trending. Here’s a link to the whole feed, but here are some of the tweets that stood out to us:

Frances Wang @FrancesWang_
Friday night,
I told an officer that he arrested USC scholars who will change the world. He laughed. Little did he know. #USChangeMovement

Evelina Weary ‏@evelinaweary
Alumni: “Why was DPS not the first responder
if this was a DPS registered party?” #uschangemovement #stopracialprofiling

Frances Wang ‏@FrancesWang_
Sarah, the host of the “white” party:
“These students weren’t treated with respect, my house was treated with respect.” #USChangeMovement

Neon Tommy ‏@neontommy
“This meeting is a waste of time if
you don’t go out to the community and engage your neighbors.” #USC #uschangemovement

Neon Tommy has an update from the forum. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles and campus police officials told dozens of students, who said they were victims of racial profiling by law enforcement, that authorities have concluded a strong response to a house party last weekend was not based on the race of students involved.

“We’ve looked at this really thoroughly, and there is no indication that it was race-based,” Los Angeles Police Capt. Paul Snell said Tuesday night. “Irrespective of what happened, what I would like to focus on is how we can move forward. Neither LAPD, neither DPS, neither the citizens of Los Angeles want this to happen again.”

And here’s another clip:

One was arrested on suspicion of interfering with police activity. The five others each face a misdemeanor charge. USC police chief John Thomas said he had previously been in contact with one of the students arrested, 20-year-old Rayven Vinson. He said seeing a photo of her being handcuffed hit him personally.

“This is about trust in the Department of Public Safety,” he said. “This is about you having trust in the department that’s providing protective services to you.”

L.A. Police Deputy Chief Bob Green called that first booking number devastating, saying there’s often little hope after that.

USC police chief Thomas said the university is working closely with police to make sure the students arrested are treated fairly. USC’s outgoing vice president of student affairs Michael Jackson said he’s advocating that the city attorney’s office drop the charges. Capt. Snell said the investigation is ongoing.

Here’s a short profile video of Rayven Vinson, one of the students arrested:

This next one is a first-hand account of yet another bright and well-spoken student from Santa Monica College, Anthony Stewart, who was detained Friday night:

We have a feeling this story isn’t going to go away soon. We’ll be keeping an eye on it.


MANY LATINOS AFRAID TO REPORT CRIMES, SURVEY SAYS

Latinos in LA and other cities are less likely to report crimes due to amped up immigration law enforcement and the threat of deportation, according to a new survey by the Lake Research Partners.

LA Times’ Brian Bennett has the story. Here’s a clip:

About 44% of Latinos surveyed said they were less likely now to contact police if they were victims of a crime because they fear officers will inquire about their immigration status or the status of people they know. The figure jumps to 70% among Latinos who are in the country unlawfully.

“There is fear that is really widespread,” said Nik Theodore, an associate professor of urban planning and policy at University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of the study.

The report, “Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement,” is based on a telephone survey of 2,004 Latinos in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix. The results are scheduled to be released Tuesday.


CA SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS LOCAL RIGHT TO BAN POT DISPENSARIES

The CA Supreme Court ruled Monday that state law cannot stop cities and counties from banning medical marijuana dispensaries.

Here’s a clip from the AP story:

In a unanimous opinion, the court held that California’s medical marijuana laws — the nation’s first and most liberal — neither prevent local governments from using their land-use powers to zone dispensaries out of existence nor grant authorized users convenient access to the drug.

“While some counties and cities might consider themselves well-suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the seven-member court.


MCJ MAKES IT ONTO WORST LOCKUPS LIST

In other news (and not all that surprisingly), Men’s Central Jail takes the number five spot on Mother Jones’ list of America’s ten worst lockups.



Photo used with permission from Twitter user and USC forum attendee @RiniSampath.

Posted in immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, Marijuana laws, race | 2 Comments »

The LASD Moves to Fire 7 “Jump Out Boys”….No More Posturing About Realignment Please…..Close to a Ruling on Banning Pot Dispensaries….and More

February 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FIRING THE JUMP OUT BOYS

According to LASD spokesman, Steve Whitmore, the Sheriff’s Department intends to fire seven members of the newest deputy gang-like clique to become notorious, the so-called Jump Out Boys—a move that perhaps was in part stimulated by the grand jury action on the department’s deputy gangs.

The members of the Jump out boys are part of OSS—Operation Safe Streets—the gang investigation unit within the department.

Evidently there were two particular qualities that distinguished this deputy gang from the department’s other deputy gangs (like the Regulators, the 2000 Boys, the 3000 Boys, the Grim Reapers, the Vikings and so on). One is the fact that it’s members had the bad sense to write and print out a Jump Out Boys pamphlet laying out the mission and rules of said clique.

The other is that reportedly after a clique-member engages in a deputy-involved-shooting, he (or, one presumes, she) is entitled to have smoke coming from the gun in his Jump Out Boys tattoo. (The Jump Out Boys insignia—and tattoo design— is a skull holding a large revolver with the two playing cards behind it, one half of the famous aces-and-eights “dead man’s hand.”)

The LA Times Robert Faturechi broke the story about the Jump Out Boy’s existence, last year, and he has more on the matter of this firing. Here’s a clip:

The seven worked on an elite gang-enforcement team that patrols neighborhoods where violence is high. The team makes a priority of taking guns off the street, officials said.

The Sheriff’s Department has a long history of secret cliques with members of the groups having reached high-ranking positions within the agency. Sheriff officials have sought to crack down on the groups, fearing that they tarnished the department’s reputation and encouraged unethical conduct.

In the case of the Jump Out Boys, sheriff’s investigators did not uncover any criminal behavior. But, sources said, the group clashed with department policies and image.

Their tattoos, for instance, depicted an oversize skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna with the unit’s acronym is wrapped around the skull. A bony hand clasps a revolver. Smoke would be tattooed over the gun’s barrel for members who were involved in at least one shooting, officials said….


COULD WE STOP POSTURING ABOUT REALIGNMENT AND USE DATA-DRIVEN ANALYSIS TO LOOK AT CRIME AND RECIDIVISM INSTEAD?

With all else that’s been going on this week, we don’t want you to miss this excellent unsigned LA Times editorial (which happens to be written by my extremely smart friend, Robert Green). It analyses the findings of two reports—one of which we wrote about last month, released by the Council for State Governments Justice Center, which talked about who was getting arrested within a given period in LA County. Then last week there was another important study by the Vera Institute, which looks at mental illness, drug addition and incarceration in California.

Here’s a quick clip from Rob’s essay about what the two reports together suggest:

On Monday, in a separate study, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that a large proportion of county jail inmates from two study areas — Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles — preparing to reenter society have drug or mental health problems.

More research is needed, but the figures from both the Council for State Governments and the Vera Institute suggest that many people who wind up in jail or prison got into trouble at least in part because of clinical conditions, and that many of them come out with the same problems they had when they went in.

If public resources are to be spent effectively, California must cut its recidivism rate, and to do that, it must use data to slice through the posturing of those in politics and law enforcement who claim to “know,” without facts or figures, what people, policies or laws to blame for crime. If drug and mental health problems play a large role in landing people behind bars, it stands to reason that focusing more on diagnosis and treatment could save taxpayers money, reduce the criminal burden on neighborhoods and, by the way, address some of the misery and hopelessness of those caught in the revolving jailhouse door.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES TAKE A CRITICAL LOOKS AT THE CDCR’S NEW CHIEF

While new CDCR head, Jeffery Beard, is generally viewed with optimism by most prison watchers, criminal justice reformers say there are also areas of concern. George Lavender for The East Bay Express has the story.

(I didn’t clip it as it lists a bunch of pros and cons, thus it’s better to look at the whole thing.)


CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT LOOKS READY TO OKAY LOCAL BANS ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA CLINICS

Law.com has the latest on this story. Here’s a clip of Scott Graham’s wonderfully blow-by-blow account:

Medical marijuana dispensaries are in danger of getting zoned out.

The California Supreme Court strongly hinted Tuesday that municipalities have the right to ban dispensaries via local zoning laws.

Tackling an issue that has vexed state appellate courts, the justices indicated that state laws blessing marijuana cooperatives shield them only from criminal prosecution under California law, and do not interfere with municipalities’ traditional power to regulate them as a local business.

An attorney for a cooperative argued that the city of Riverside has abused that power by adopting an ordinance that bans pot dispensaries anywhere in the city. “If you were to allow these dispensaries to be banned county by county, city by city, that would be the exact opposite of what the Legislature intended” when enacting the state’s Medical Marijuana Program in 2003, said J. David Nick.

But the justices sounded largely unmoved by Nick’s appeals to legislative purpose. “The purposes by themselves are not operative,” said Justice Goodwin Liu. They “don’t require or prohibit anybody from doing anything.”

“Don’t we start with a presumption that the ordinance is valid?” asked Justice Ming Chin.

“Why do we even have to indulge in a presumption?” asked Liu.

Nick argued in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Welfare Center that California’s 1996 medical marijuana initiative and the 2003 legislative amendments establish the right to operate dispensaries in at least one location in a city. The goals of the 2003 legislation included enhancing “access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects” and shielded such projects “from state criminal sanctions” under various specified laws. Those laws include Health & Safety Code §11570, a public nuisance law directed at drug houses.

Nick says in his briefs that jurisdictions all over the state, including San Jose, the city of Los Angeles and Sacramento County, are pursuing ordinances similar to Riverside’s, putting state marijuana laws “in a complete state of chaos.”


YES, WE’VE BEEN FOLLOWING THE SCARY AND TRAGIC STORY OF FIRED LAPD OFFICER CHRISTOPHER DORMER WHO HAS REVENGE-KILLED TWO PEOPLE AND IS THREATENING TO KILL MORE.

Here’s the Daily Breeze’s version of the painfully scary story of a very disturbed and very dangerous former LAPD officer who, as I type, is still at large.

Better yet, read the Wednesday night coverage by LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero, who live-blogged the unfolding of the story of Christopher Jordan Dormer, the disgraced and dangerous former LAPD cop on a tragic revenge rampage.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, Gangs, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Realignment | 16 Comments »

Will TX Hold a Prosecutor Accountable? …..Can Local CA Gov’ts Legally Ban Med Pot Dispensaries? ….and a Look at Mental Illness & Lock-Up

February 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



TEXAS USES AN ARCANE LAW TO POSSIBLY—JUST POSSIBLY—HOLD ACCOUNTABLE A PROMINENT FORMER PROSECUTOR, NOW A JUDGE, FOR OBSCURING AND WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE THAT LIKELY WOULD HAVE KEPT AN INNOCENT MAN FROM GOING TO PRISON FOR 25 YEARS

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fiske drew our attention to this story with her write-up
that runs on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:

In emotional testimony Monday, a Texas man told a judge how it felt spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

“Brutal,” Michael Morton said. “But after a couple decades, I got used to it.”

Morton, 58, who grew up in Los Angeles, was convicted in the 1986 beating death of his wife, Christine, at their home. He was exonerated and released almost a year and a half ago after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Another man has since been charged in connection with the killing.

Now the man who prosecuted Morton, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, faces an unprecedented “court of inquiry” about 30 miles north of Austin in which a judge will decide whether the then-district attorney lied and concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton.

It is the first time the state has convened such a hearing for prosecutorial misconduct. Although part of Texas law since 1965, the court of inquiry has typically been used to consider allegations against elected officials. Some hope this week’s hearing will lead to a greater examination of alleged misconduct by prosecutors not just in Texas, but nationwide.

However, it is Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff whose reporting we must follow on this story. Last fall, Colloff wrote a stunning two-part series on Morton and his case.

Now she is following the unusual court proceedings examining the actions of former prosecutor Ken Anderson.

She writes:

Starting on Monday, Anderson will be the subject of a “court of inquiry,” an arcane legal procedure unique to Texas that can be used to investigate wrongdoing, most often on the part of state officials. It has never been used before to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The unprecedented legal proceeding will try to determine whether Anderson withheld critical evidence from Michael’s defense attorneys which would have helped Michael prove his innocence more than a quarter-century ago.

Anderson is now a state district judge. That a former prosecutor, much less a sitting judge, will face such intense scrutiny is remarkable. Prosecutorial misconduct rarely results in even disciplinary action from the Texas bar. But if the presiding judge in the court of inquiry finds probable cause to believe that Anderson broke the law, he will face criminal charges and a warrant will be issued for his arrest….

It is not just that prosecutors are rarely held accountable in Texas; they are rarely held accountable anywhere. If a surgeon is careless in an operation and thus paralyzes you, there are legal remedies. But if a prosecutor deliberately withholds crucial evidence that would almost certainly have cleared you, and instead your family is shattered, your young son is raised by someone else, and you go to prison for life, lose 25 years, then by wonderful luck you are released through work by the Innocence Project —there is no legal way to hold the prosecutor to answer.

However, this week in Texas, perhaps there is a way. If so, perhaps, as Molly Hennessy-Fiske suggested, it will have resonance beyond the lone star state’s boundaries.


IS IT LEGAL FOR CALIFORNIA’S LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES TO BAN MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES? THE CALIFORNIA SUPREMES WILL DECIDE

This article by the always excellent Howard Mintz, Legal Affairs guy for the San Jose Mercury News, lays out this interesting issue in lively and informative terms. Here’s a big clip from the story’s opening:

California’s experiment with medical marijuana has sparked a hazy version of the old Not-in-My-Backyard syndrome.

From Hollister to Antioch, from Scotts Valley to Petaluma, from Seaside to Moraga, city after city has banned medical marijuana dispensaries, sending a message that even the sickest of patients must go elsewhere for that state-permitted dose of prescribed medical weed.

But on Tuesday, this fear-and-loathing approach to outlawing medical pot providers will face an unprecedented test in the California Supreme Court. The seven justices are to hear arguments on whether local governments can ban the dispensaries in view of the state’s 1996 voter-approved law legalizing pot for medical use.

The case involves the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which more than two years ago sued to block Riverside’s dispensary ban, arguing that cities and counties cannot bar activities legal in California. A state appeals court sided with Riverside, and now the Supreme Court, faced with similar legal tangles across the state, has jumped into the fray.

The stakes are high in California’s ongoing struggle pitting medical marijuana advocates against cities worried about problems associated with some of the dispensaries, such as lax control over the distribution of a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

“The Riverside case is a fascinating example of our ‘laboratories of democracy’ in action,” said Julie Nice, a aw professor at the University of San Francisco, where the Supreme Court will hear the arguments. “It illustrates the difficulties created when each level of government … stakes out a different regulatory position on a controversial subject….”

Read more here. And naturally, we’ll be keeping an eye out for the Cal Supremes’ ruling on this question.


TOO MANY MENTALLY ILL IN STATE AND COUNTY LOCK-UPS

One topic on which justice reform advocates, custody experts and county sheriffs tend to agree, is that a large portion of those incarcerated in California’s jails and prisons are mentally ill, and that this is not a good thing. Put more plainly, in most cases, jails and prisons are the most costly and the least effective places for the mentally ill to be.

As we look at reforming our budget-draining and problem-plagued incarceration systems in ways that balance public safety and basic justice, one of the areas that requires a hard look is the intersection between jails and prisons and mental illness.

Monday’s Huffington Post’s Alana Horowitz has a good overview of the issue. Here are some clips from her story:

….A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.

“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable,” says Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment for reasons that shouldn’t occur and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.”

Bernstein blames these high rates on a lack of community mental health services. In the past three years, $4.35 billion in funding for mental health services has been cut from state budgets across the nation, according to a recent report. Because of the cuts, treatment centers have had to trim services and turn away patients.

State hospitals have also been forced to reduce services. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.

[SNIP]

Once people with mental illness are incarcerated, Bazleon’s Bernstein says, it becomes a tough cycle to break.

“Most people are there for minor crimes but then they deteriorate,” he explains. “They can’t follow the rules there and so they stay a long time, and they become difficult to release.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, most inmates with mental illness don’t receive treatment while in prison.

Patti Jones’ nephew Tony Lester was sent to state prison in Tucson, Ariz., for aggravated assault. Like Armando Cruz, Lester heard voices. He told his aunt that before he was incarcerated, he had only heard two voices. After he was admitted, there were seven.

Lester was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was prescribed medication but didn’t always take it while in prison, Jones said. Lester was placed among the general prison population with little treatment available.

His symptoms grew worse….


Posted in How Appealing, Innocence, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | No Comments »

Baca Says No More Political Donations, The CDCR’s New Guy…and 4 More States May Reform Pot Laws – UPDATED

February 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



Sheriff Lee Baca has announced to the rank and file of the department
that the troubling habit of accepting campaign donations from underlings is no longer acceptable.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the departmental memo that went out to this effect.


UPDATE: WLA has now obtained the Sheriff’s memo. To read it, click the link below.

LM003-Transparency and Accountability are Hallmarks of Leadership


As anyone reading WLA for any length of time knows, Matt Fleischer’s investigative stories for us have been hammering away at this issue for well over a year, outlining what has appeared to be a pay-to-play system run primarily by the undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, where loyalty and quid pro quo campaign donations and the like were rewarded over competence. (Not that there aren’t wonderfully competent people in some areas of command staff; there are. So please don’t start shouting about that, dear LASD boosters.)

In any case, here’s a clip from Faturechi’s story:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told his deputies Thursday that he would no longer accept campaign contributions from department employees, according to an internal memo obtained by The Times.

Baca also said other sheriff’s managers who run for an elected office would be barred from making employment decisions affecting employees who have donated to their campaigns.

Baca’s announcement comes amid concerns that campaign contributions to sheriff’s brass by department employees created potential conflicts of interest in promotions and other personnel decisions.

“It is the responsibility of every member [of the department] to avoid any situation which may pose a conflict of interest,” the sheriff wrote in his memo.

Baca and his second in command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is also mayor of Gardena, have over the years accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from department employees.

For years, allegations of favoritism based on political contributions have dogged the Sheriff’s Department….

EDITOR’S NOTE: A big thank you to Robert Faturechi for his shout-out to WLA in his story. With Matt Fleischer’s reporting, WitnessLa indeed broke this story and continued to point the way for the Jails Commission and others to investigate the matter further. In any case, we appreciated the shout out.


TALKING TO CALIFORNIA’S NEW PRISON CHIEF, JEFFREY BEARD

The LA Times corrections reporter, Paige St. John, talks to the man who replaced Matt Cate as the head of the CDCR.

I’ve heard good things about this guy, but I have yet to meet him. In the interim, let’s take a look at what St. John found her in her conversations. Here’s a clip:

Jeffrey Beard’s expert testimony was cited 39 times in the federal court order that capped California’s prison population in 2009. He said the state’s prisons were severely overcrowded, unsafe and unable to deliver adequate care to inmates.

At the time, he was Pennsylvania’s prisons chief. Now, he’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s new corrections secretary, and his first order of business is to persuade the same judges to lift the cap, as well as to end the court’s longtime hold on prison mental health care.

“I agree with what I said back then,” Beard said Tuesday in one of his first interviews as the new head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “On the flip side,” he said, “things have changed.”

California has 35,000 fewer inmates than when Beard testified in U.S. District Court in 2008, though that has not been enough to satisfy the judges, who want the population reduced by thousands more. On Tuesday, they gave the state until the end of this year — an extra six months — to meet their cap.

Beard said inmate medical care is better now, and he has more understanding of California’s sprawling prison system. When he testified, he had only been to the historic prison in Folsom. His comments then about overcrowding, unsafe conditions and inadequate care came from the reports of other experts and from his work on a 2006 state task force examining recidivism.

“I’ve now been in about 20 of the institutions,” he said Tuesday.

Beard said his perspective started to change in 2011, when he retired from his Pennsylvania post and began to do consulting work for California.


4 MORE STATES MAY HELP THE MARIJUANA REFORM MOVEMENT PICK UP SPEED

Mike Riggs at Reason Magazine (a publication which is repeatedly good on criminal justice issues) predicts that four states may be next up for marijuana reform, namely New Hampshire, Kentucky, Illinois and Vermont.

Here’s a clip;

It’s been only two months since Washington and Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana, but the advocates who raised millions to pass Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 aren’t wasting time celebrating. In addition to helping craft the rules and regulations in the Centennial and Evergreen states, they’re also providing support to state legislators who will introduce marijuana bills—more than 20 altogether—in 2013.

“While not all of them will pass,” says Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the debates around them will be different than in years past. “What I’m hearing is that a dam broke,” says Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Before Colorado and Washington, the idea of legal marijuana existed in the realm of fantasy. But after Colorado and Washington, we can have a more serious conversation.”

With the start of the 2013 legislative session, that conversation has officially begun. Incremental reforms are going to happen in the next 12 months, even if the next state to fully legalize marijuana doesn’t do so until 2014 or (more likely) 2016. We asked the folks at MPP, which was instrumental in the passage of Amendment 64, and DPA, which led the charge in Washington, which state legislatures could make big changes to their marijuana laws in 2013. These are the four they told us about.

Read the rest.

Posted in CDCR, LASD, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

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