Saturday, August 23, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

mental health


LA’s Central Crumbling Juvenile Hall, Pepper Spray in San Diego’s Juvenile Facilities, Mental Health Diversion Vote Postponed…and More

July 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHAT WILL LA COUNTY DO WITH THE DILAPIDATED CENTRAL JUVENILE HALL

As LA County is planning to rebuild Men’s Central Jail and Camp Kilpatrick, and to replace a women’s jail, another facility, the county’s Central Juvenile Hall, is in a state of woeful disrepair. Kids housed at “the Hall,” as it is sometimes referred to, endure broken pipes, dry-rot, mold, and structures that are outdated and not conducive to the current movement toward treatment and rehabilitation.

The LA County Supervisors, other county officials, and advocates don’t all agree on one solution.

The facility is predominantly used to hold kids awaiting trial at the central court, so relocating the kids away from the court would create a transportation obstacle. While the Supes are not sure if there is adequate funding for replacing the juvenile hall (an estimated $50M), the county is pumping millions into holding the facility together.

While it’s obvious that something must be done to remedy the conditions these kids are living in, it’s not clear exactly what the right answer is.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…absent from the public discussions has been any long-term plan to improve or replace the 22-acre Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, which the county’s watchdog grand jury recently criticized for being in “severe disrepair,” a continuing financial drain on taxpayers and in need of a complete replacement. The facility, which mostly houses minors awaiting trials, is plagued by leaking pipes, dry-rotted support beams, decaying facades and peeling paint, the panel wrote.

“Bath towels and duct tape were used in a futile attempt to repair broken pipes and prevent seepage” in one housing unit, the grand jury reported after members inspected the hall. “There was an indistinct foul odor in the hallway suggesting that sewage or stagnant water was present.” They found a “dilapidated” modular building used to house foster youth facing criminal charges was “totally isolated from the main facility and surrounded by barbed wire fencing which gives the appearance of an adult prison, not a youth facility.”

Several high-level county officials echoed the grand jury’s concerns. Trying to repair and modernize the existing buildings “is like putting a jet engine on a Model T,” Probation Department chief Jerry Powers said in an interview.

“It’s been a horrible facility for a long time,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the hall. “We’ve tried to clean it up and rehab it and everything, but it needs to be rebuilt.”

Advocacy groups, including the Youth Justice Coalition, say the aging central hall is no longer needed and should be torn down and not replaced.

At this point, however, no detailed study of the facility or its future has been conducted. It’s unclear whether county officials will back what Powers estimated would be a $50-million replacement price tag for the hall, when so many other costly projects are underway.

“If I had my choice and had all the money I needed, I would support blowing the whole thing up and starting over again,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the southern part of the county. But funding a new central juvenile facility could be difficult, he added. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents northern areas, agreed that the hall needs to be replaced but said through a spokesman that the supervisors would have to look later this year at what funding is available for that and other projects.

In the meantime, the county board has been pouring millions into repairing and keeping open the hall’s labyrinth of buildings behind the Eastlake Juvenile Court. Supervisors allocated $5 million this year to alleviate water damage and plumbing issues.


YOUTH LAW CENTER FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST SAN DIEGO PROBATION FOR PEPPER SPRAY USE ON LOCKED UP KIDS

The San Francisco nonprofit Youth Law Center filed a 34-page complaint against the San Diego County Dept. of Probation, co-signed by nine other advocacy groups, citing excessive pepper spray use at San Diego’s East Mesa and Kearny Mesa juvenile facilities after finding that officers shot kids with pepper spray 461 times in 2012.

While 70% of juvenile facilities across the nation ban the use of pepper spray, the Youth Law Center investigation found that officers were spraying kids indiscriminately, “as an all-purpose behavioral management tool.”

A number of girls were reportedly sprayed for refusing to strip in front of male officers. Officers sprayed kids as young as twelve, for things like failure to follow instructions, or refusal to leave their cells. Kids with skin, respiratory, heart, and mental health problems were also sprayed.

San Diego CityBeat’s Dave Maass and Kelly Davis have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

The girl sat on the bunk in her cell in one of San Diego County’s female juvenile-detention units as staff members explained that she was being placed on suicide watch. They told her she had to strip naked in front of them—including in front of a male staff member.

She refused, twice. So, they sprayed her in the face with pepper spray, then shut the door to her cell.

Two minutes later, they asked if she was going to cooperate. She refused, and they sprayed her a second time and again shut the door.

Minutes later, they opened the door and sprayed her again. She vomited. They then sprayed her yet once more.

After the fourth blast of pepper spray, the girl finally submitted. Probation staff ordered her to crawl out of the cell, where they handcuffed her, forcibly removed her clothing, cut off her shirt and bra, strip-searched her, put her in a gown and placed her in solitary confinement for 48 hours.

This account is one of dozens of abuses of pepper spray by the San Diego County Probation Department at its East Mesa and Kearny Mesa juvenile facilities revealed today by the Youth Law Center (YLC), a San Francisco legal advocacy nonprofit. In a 34-page formal complaint supported by more than 170 individual exhibits, YLC has asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the probation department and order it to end the use of pepper spray and other practices that YLC says violate youths’ constitutional rights. Nine groups co-signed the complaint, including California Rural Legal Assistance, El Grupo, the San Diego branch of the NAACP, Border Angels, Latinos Organizing for Action, Alliance San Diego, CSA San Diego, American Friends Service Committee San Diego and the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association….

According to the complaint, YLC and El Grupo initiated an investigation of pepper-spray use in San Diego County juvenile facilities in 2012 after San Diego CityBeat, in collaboration with TheCrimeReport.org, reported that pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum, or OC spray, had been used on juveniles 461 times in a single year. As we noted then, and is noted in the complaint, only a handful of states allow juvenile-detention staff to carry pepper spray. More than 70 percent of facilities nationwide ban its use entirely. Many jurisdictions, including Los Angeles County, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice and the Texas Youth Commission have been forced to reduce pepper-spray usage after legal pressure from civil rights groups and youth advocates.

In San Diego juvenile facilities, probation officers have wide discretion to use pepper spray, whether it’s the small bottles they carry or the large canisters, nicknamed “Big Berthas,” designed to quell riots. Before deploying pepper spray, officers call out the “Cover” command; every youth within earshot is required to assume a crouch position, with hands clasped over their head to avoid getting sprayed.

[SNIP]

YLC identified dozens upon dozens of cases of improper use of pepper spray. Probation staff sprayed youth at risk of suicide; youth who simply were disobedient; youth with respiratory, cardiovascular and skin problems; and youth being treated with psychotropic medication.

They used it to gas-out detainees who refused to leave their cells. They sprayed detainees as young as 12 years old. They sprayed multiple girls who refused to strip at the request of male staff.

YLC documented evidence of 147 youths who weren’t doing anything wrong but were nonetheless exposed to pepper spray because staff had used too much on other detainees. In five separate incidents, staff used at least a pound of pepper spray.


SUPES PUSH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION VOTE TO NEXT TUESDAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors has postponed voting on a motion (made by Mark Ridley-Thomas) that would earmark at least $20 million for the upcoming fiscal year to a mental health diversion program. (Backstory here.)

Rina Palta was at Tuesday’s board meeting and has this update. Here’s a clip:

“I don’t think this is ready for primetime,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who noted that the supervisors may want to spend more than $20 million for such purposes once Lacey’s plan is complete.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsy and Don Knabe also expressed support for funding diversion through the supplemental budget process in the fall — but not yet.

The board did agree to request a report from various county agencies on where diversion funds might come from and what sorts of programs are needed.

Next week, the board is expected to vote on funding contracts for architectural plans and an environmental impact report for jail construction in L.A. County. The $14.5 million combined contracts would be a next step in building, among other projects in the county’s comprehensive jail plan, a downtown jail to house inmates with mental illness.

Despite the nay-sayers who want to wait till the fall, Ridley-Thomas told Rina Palta, “We need to match our rhetoric with evidence of commitment.”


THE HISTORY OF MARIJUANA PROHIBITION

The latest in the NY Times’ editorial series advocating marijuana legalization (more here, and here) lays down the historical context of the federal marijuana ban, from its racist roots, to propaganda and sensational news coverage, to taxation, to outright prohibition. Here’s how it opens:

The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that is it almost impervious to reason.

The cannabis plant, also known as hemp, was widely grown in the United States for use in fabric during the mid-19th century. The practice of smoking it appeared in Texas border towns around 1900, brought by Mexican immigrants who cultivated cannabis as an intoxicant and for medicinal purposes as they had done at home.

Within 15 years or so, it was plentiful along the Texas border and was advertised openly at grocery markets and drugstores, some of which shipped small packets by mail to customers in other states.

The law enforcement view of marijuana was indelibly shaped by the fact that it was initially connected to brown people from Mexico and subsequently with black and poor communities in this country. Police in Texas border towns demonized the plant in racial terms as the drug of “immoral” populations who were promptly labeled “fiends.”

As the legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread explain in their authoritative history, “The Marihuana Conviction,” the drug’s popularity among minorities and other groups practically ensured that it would be classified as a “narcotic,” attributed with addictive qualities it did not have, and set alongside far more dangerous drugs like heroin and morphine.

By the early 1930s, more than 30 states had prohibited the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. The federal push was yet to come…

Read the rest of the latest offering from this interesting (and enjoyable) series.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Probation | 8 Comments »

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 »

Double Charged: CA’s Unlimited Juvie Restitution…Supes Votes Put Off On LASD Citizens Commission & Mental Health Diversion…John Oliver on America’s Prisons….& More

July 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

The Cost of Court Involvement


WHEN KIDS ARE DOUBLE CHARGED: SHOULD RESTITUTION CHARGES FOR KIDS HAVE A CEILING?

In an investigative series called Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice, Youth Radio has looked into some of these suprise costs that suddenly are levied against a kid and his or her parent when that kid finds himself caught up in the juvenile justice system, as the infograpic above shows. (We highlighted an earlier segment here.)

The newest Youth Radio show segment, written and produced by Sayre Quevedo, and co-published by the Huffington Post, looks at how, for many kids in California, in addition to the myriad court and lock-up charges, there is restitution, which can be staggaringly high priced.

Here’s the story:

It is generally agreed that restitution is, in principle anyway, a good and healthy idea for both victims and lawbreakers. For victims, restitution makes up, at least in part, for whatever damage was done them. For lawbreakers it is a tangible reminder that their actions did harm to an actual person or people, and provides them an opportunity to take real world responsibility for their acts.

The principle holds true for juvenile lawbreakers as well as a adults. But when it comes to kids, should there be a limit? States like New York and Missouri say yes. In Missouri caps restitution for juveniles at $4000. New York sets the limit at $1500.

In California, there is no limit—a policy that many juvenile justice activists contend can result in unpayable amounts that do far more harm than good.

Here are some clips:

Ricky Brum stood with one of my producers in an alleyway behind a furniture store in Manteca, California, and to be honest, it was a little awkward. He didn’t really want to be there. Last February, Brum set some cardboard boxes on fire just a few feet away.

“Just that right there,” he said, pointing to a black spot on the pavement. “Just a little burn mark on the floor.”

One match did the trick, said Brum. “Like I just sat there and was like ‘Bam!’”

That “bam” changed Ricky Brum’s life. He was 15 when he set the fire. It was his first time getting in trouble with the law. He was lucky: his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Brum went on probation, and didn’t serve any time in juvenile hall.

Brum, and his mom Leanne, thought the worst was behind them. But then, while meeting with their public defender, they found out about restitution.

“We thought it was a joke,” said Leanne Brum.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Ricky Brum flipped through the restitution claim. Even though the fire department report said there was no damage to anything in the furniture store, the owner claimed his entire inventory of nearly 1400 items was smoke damaged.

The bill came out to $221,000….

[SNIP]

Payment is rare. There are no statewide statistics on juvenile restitution, but Youth Radio collected numbers from three of California’s largest counties and found that less than 30% of restitution amounts are paid.

“I think that people recognize there are certain dollar amounts that are not going to be paid at all, ever,” said Roger Chan, who runs the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland. Juvenile law, said Chan, is about reform, giving young people a chance to start over. However, Chan argues that restitution too often gets in the way because it saddles kids with unreasonably high debt.

“If you order such a huge amount of restitution to a young person who has no ability to pay it, how meaningful is that as a consequence,” asked Chan. “Is that really an effective way for the young person to be rehabilitated and is that really beneficial to victims?”

Chan is trying to change California’s law to let judges consider a kid’s ability to pay. It’s not just for the benefit of young offenders. Chan says it’s for victims too, because when restitution sums are realistic, he says victims are more likely to get paid.


BOARD OF SUPERVISORS’ VOTES PUT OFF BOTH ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION…AND A CITIZENS COMMISSION TO OVERSEE THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The members of the LA County Board of Supervisors were originally scheduled to vote on two closely watched motions, but both votes have now been postponed:

First of all there was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s motion of last week, which would cause the Supes to allocate at least the beginning sum of $20 million to launch a “coordinated and comprehensive” mental health diversion program in the county. It has been postponed until next Tuesday, July 29. (You can read the motion here.)

The motion has already attracted letters of support from such organizations as the National Alliance for Mental Illness Los Angeles County Council, and others, urging the board to commit the funds necessary to the kind of diversion programming that has been shown to save money—and suffering—in other counties, most notably Miami-Dade.

(We’ll update you on how the vote is looking as we get closer to next Tuesday.)

At the same time, the vote on the motion to create a citizens commission to provide community oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—which is co-sponsored by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina—has been put off until August 5.

This column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton looks at topic of the citizens commission, whether is a good idea or not, and whether the motion has a chance of passing.

Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:

The board is split: Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina have expressed support for the commission; supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich have indicated their opposition. (Jim McDonnell, leading candidate for sheriff, announced his support for the commission this month; Ridley-Thomas endorsed McDonnell a few days later.)

That leaves Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. When we spoke last week, he said he was still pondering the matter, but he’s clearly leaning against it. “I’m reluctant to create structures that have no power and no authority,” he said, adding that such a commission “will ultimately disappoint.”

That may be enough to scotch the idea for the moment, but perhaps not for long. Yaroslavsky is termed out, as is Molina. Molina’s replacement, Hilda Solis, has indicated she supports establishing a commission, so one supporter will arrive as another leaves. More important, the two challengers in a runoff for Yaroslavsky’s seat, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and former state legislator Sheila Kuehl, both told me last week that they too support a citizens commission. So even if Ridley-Thomas falls short this time, his third vote may well be on the way.


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM

Almost certainly the year’s best 17 minutes of news and information on the American prison situation was contained in a segment shown on Sunday night on….a comedy show, specifically John Oliver’s new-this-spring Last Week Tonight, on HBO.

Oliver hit nearly all the important points brilliantly and hard—using humor to carry all his sharpest points:

“We have more prisoners than China. China. We don’t have more of anything than China, except of course debt to China.”

“Our prison population has expanded 8 fold since 1970. The only thing that has grown at that rate since the ’70′s is varieties of Cheerios!”

And why has it grown? For a number of reasons, he says.

“…From the dismantling of our mental health system, to mandatory minimum sentencing laws….to, of course, drugs. Half the people in federal prison are there on drug charges. And it counts for a quarter of the admissions to state prisons. And, of course, it’s tricky to know how to feel about this because, on the one hand, the war on drugs has completely solved our nation’s drug problem, so that’s good!

“But on the other hand, our drug laws do seem to be a little draconian and a lot racist. Because while white people and African Americans use drug about the same amount, a study has found that african Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses up to 10 times the amount—-for some utterly known reason.

From there Oliver brought up the prison system’s reluctance to deal with prison rape, the tidy profit made by prison venders—many of whom have been found to boost their bottom line by horrific cuts to basic services, like…um. food—to the inherent unholy conflict of interest that occurs with prison privatization—and more.

In short, the segment is filled with excellent reporting and commentary combined with excellent comedy, all of which serves to illuminate some crucial issues that many of us are unfortunately too content to ignore. Watch and you won’t be sorry.


NEW WEBSITE URGES LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS TO GIVE $$$ SUPPORT TO LASD 6 CONVICTED BY FEDS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

A new website called Support Our 6 has appeared in the past few days, urging LASD members to give monetary support to the six members of the LA Sheriff department who were convicted earlier this month.

(Although the website mentions Deputy James Sexton, whose trial ended with a hung jury but who is being retried by the government in September, it isn’t clear if he is included in the fundraising efforts.)

The site’s organizers contend that the 2 deputies, 2 sergeants and 2 lieutenants were following lawful orders, which was not at all what the jury concluded.

We don’t yet know who is behind the website, but we’ll let you know when we know more.

In the meantime, the organizers’ POV is presented here.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 14 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Mark Ridley-Thomas Asks for $20 Million for Mental Health Diversion & Jackie Lacey Lays Out the Issue

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome
and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.

“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”

(Um. Ya think?)

Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA 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.”

It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.

Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.

For example, there was this:

“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. 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…”

And then later:

“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”

And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”

Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.

In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.

“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”

Indeed.

Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Vote on Laura’s Law… as Sheriff Candidate McDonnell Commits Strong Support for Mental Health Diversion

July 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EXPANDING LAURA’S LAW IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider the issue of how best to help LA County’s mentally ill from two different perspectives.

First of all the supervisors are expected to vote to expand and fund something called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Demonstration Project Act of 2002—more commonly known as Laura’s Law.

Although Laura’s Law was passed by the California legislature in 2002, the statute was controversial, thus the state gave counties the option of adopting it or not.

In brief, Laura’s Law allows a family member, roommate, mental health provider, police officer or probation officer to ask the court to order a seriously mentally ill person into outpatient treatment. The law only applies to a narrow subset of people—namely the mentally ill who have landed in jail or in hospitals, or who appear to be a danger to themselves or others, but who don’t qualify for a “5150,” which mandates a psych hold. Moreover, the court can issue such an order for treatment only after an extensive and multi-layered review process.

Los Angeles and Yolo Counties already have pilot programs. Orange County has adopted the whole thing, as has Nevada County, which was where the law originated.

San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.

If the LA supervisors approve the expansion of the Laura’s Law pilot,—as they are expected to do—the county is expected to do approximately 500 evaluations for the program per year (up from around 50 evaluations per year during the pilot period). The expanded program would allow for around 300 people to be enrolled in outpatient treatment any given time (up from 20), plus 60 crisis residential beds.

Some mental health advocates have been adamantly opposed to Laura’s Law maintaining that it not only violates the rights of the mentally ill, it also compromises any therapeutic relationship by forcing people into treatment.

However, a similar law enacted in New York in 1999, called Kendra’s law, featured few of the feared problems and showed a range of improved outcomes for the mentally ill involved.

Some of the main supporters of Laura’s Law have been family members who say they need better tools to keep their loved ones out of jail, and off the street when they are too ill to realize they need treatment.

Supervisor Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the board’s lead supporter for Laura’s Law.


NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?

The second important discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding mental health will be centered on a board-requested status report from District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in which she is expected to present recommendations for “the next interim steps to be taken for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.”

Although most of the board members seem to be, at least in general theory, for the notion of diverting some of LA County’s non-violent mentally ill away from the jails and into community treatment, the supes have been short on action on the matter. A couple of months ago, however, after voting to go ahead with a giant jail expansion plan, the board did pass a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to ask DA Lacey to produce a 60-day progress report about what might be done with this whole diversion matter—hence Tuesday’s presentation. Yet, since the board has since showed no interest in factoring diversion into their calculations when ordering up a new jail, it was hard to view their commitment to the matter as full-throated.

Thus it was heartening when, on Monday, Long Beach Chief of Police and candidate for LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, put out a strong policy statement supporting Lacey’s work and calling in no-nonsense terms for LA 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.”

In other words, it’s time for a firm commitment by the county.

“Our Sheriff’s Department currently runs what amounts to the largest mental health institution in the nation,” wrote McDonnell, “yet our jails are not a place for those who are suffering from mental illness and who would be better served by community-based treatment options that can address the underlying problems, while still maintaining community safety. I applaud District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her leadership and her vision in developing a comprehensive plan for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.

McDonnell also praised the recent report released by the ACLU and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health,—which provided research showing why diversion works far better for non-violent inmates, and outlined the success of diversion programs in Miami-Dade and San Francisco. (Note: The ACLU report has already drawn support from organizations and individuals such as Chairman of the LA Police Commission, Steve Soboroff.)

As for the nuts and bolts of how he would aid in getting a comprehensive diversion program funded if he is elected to head the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said that the position of sheriff offers the “influence and the ability” to help “create priorities in the county.” He also stressed that all funding need not come from the county alone, that he’d seek out other sources—noting that once those sources saw that formerly siloed groups like the sheriff’s department, the DA’s office and the board of supervisors were able to “talk to each other” and work “collaboratively and strategically” on the issue, funds were far more likely to be forthcoming.

“I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country,” said McDonnell.

We think so too.

All the more reason to get going sooner rather than later.


PS: IF WE NEED ONE MORE REASON TO PUSH HARD AND SOON for a robust mental health diversion program, let us not forget that, in June, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies in its jails. The DOJ also encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: BRUTAL ATTACKS BY STAFF ON MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN NY’S RIKER’S ISLAND “COMMON OCCURRENCES”

As the LA County Board of Supervisors considers the above issues pertaining to LA County’s mentally ill, the results of a 4-month investigation into violence by staff against the mentally ill of Riker’s Island (the nation’s second largest jail) seemed perfectly—and painfully—timed to demonstrate the problem with using jails as default mental health facilities.

Here’s a clip from the opening of the alarming NY Times report, written by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz:

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis….

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 19 Comments »

Realignment and Untapped Solutions to Overcrowding at the Local and State Levels, Federal Sentencing Reforms Stalled, and More

June 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT THREE YEARS IN: STILL OVERCROWDED WITH MINIMAL SAVINGS

California prison realignment, AB 109, (which diverts lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision) was supposed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding while saving the state money. Three years into the implementation of AB 109, however, California is spending $2 billion more per year locking people up, jails are overcrowded, and the state prison population is on the rise, once again.

Through realignment, counties were allotted money to spend on things like community-based alternatives to incarceration, but some counties (Los Angeles, for instance) have failed to use available methods like split-sentencing and other programs to lower recidivism.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the realignment issue. Here are some clips:

Nearly 15 months after launching what he called the “boldest move in criminal justice in decades,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades.

Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation.

“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said in early 2013.

The numbers tell a different story.

Today, California is spending nearly $2 billion a year more on incarceration than when Brown introduced his strategy in 2011. The prisons are still overcrowded, and the state has been forced to release inmates early to satisfy federal judges overseeing the system.

Counties, given custody of more than 142,000 felons so far, complain that the state isn’t paying full freight for their supervision. Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more.

“The charts are sobering,” Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said at a hearing this year on crime, prison costs and inmate numbers.

Still, Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. “It is not going to create miracles overnight,” he said as he returned to his office from a Capitol rally for crime victims earlier this spring.

The governor’s office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state.

Putting prisoners back in local hands “is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives,” he said.

[SNIP]

The prison population fell sharply at first, dropping from 162,400 to 133,000, but it is rising again. There now are 135,400 inmates in state custody, a number expected to grow to 147,000 in 2019.

The state Finance Department originally projected that realignment would reduce prison spending by $1.4 billion this fiscal year and that about two-thirds of that savings would be passed on to counties to cover the costs of their new charges.

Instead, the state’s increased costs for private prison space and the compensation it pays out for county jails, prosecutors and probation departments adds up to about $2 billion a year more for corrections than when Brown regained office.

Without stemming the flow of prisoners into the system, the problems created by crowding continue. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state agency that investigates government operations, said in a May report that realignment simply “changed the place where the sentence is served.”


OVERCROWDING AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, AND WHAT LOS ANGELES COULD BE DOING ABOUT IT

Los Angeles County is facing A $1.7 billion (or more) plan to tear down and replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail. Currently, 4,000 more men are crammed into the facility than allowed by the government. There is no question that the aging and grossly overcrowded facility needs to be replaced, but there are ways to fix the population problem.

Before we get to that, LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story on the overpopulated jail. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Dyer, commanding officer of the downtown Men’s Central Jail, couldn’t help but grimace during a recent inspection of Dorm 9500.

More than 200 low-security inmates were crammed inside the room, every now and then tripping over each other’s bunks spaced a foot apart.

The space was not originally intended to serve as living quarters, so toilets were an afterthought, installed haphazardly in the middle of a row of bunks in the 1980s. They’re exposed to the room with no stall walls and only a few feet from the nearest bunk.

“That’s just wrong,” Dyer said, gesturing toward the inmates who have to eat and sleep next to the toilets.

[SNIP]

“We are at serious risk of litigation,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald warned. “If the courts take over, we’ll end up spending a lot of money which could have gone toward rehabilitation and treatment.”

County Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop said Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 decision to ease overcrowding in state prisons by diverting inmates to county jails created a crisis.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” he said. “Something must be done.”

Alsop called for additional funding support to ensure inmates’ “appropriate and effective supervision and rehabilitation.”

[SNIP]

The jail population peaked at about 23,000 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sheriff’s Lt. Sergio Murillo recalled, “We used to have inmates all over the place — they were on the roof, in the chapel, on the floors of the cells.”

The number dropped to about 15,000 three years ago, but AB 109 pushed it up to 19,000 currently. That’s 4,000 more than government regulations allow.

“That’s horrific, horrendous and unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a court-appointed monitor of the jails.

“It raises very significant questions as to whether this is an unconstitutional level of overcrowding, especially when they have space they are not utilizing,” he added.

Dyer admitted the East Facility at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic has room for 1,500 inmates but isn’t being used because of budget problems.

SoCal ACLU Director Peter Eliasberg told WLA that if LA County is worried about getting sued by the federal government, we might want to find a way to use those 1500 beds in Pitchess.

Eliasberg also shared three ways to further lower the jail population, including amping up the county’s currently minimal use of split-sentencing (dividing sentences into part jail time, part probation):

1. Have the Board of Supervisors authorize the Sheriff to do risk-based pretrial release, rather than having the county rely on the bail system, which is not risk-based and leaves lots of poor low risk individuals in jail awaiting disposition of their cases. If the Sheriff were to use a sound risk assessment tool to do non-bail pretrial release, it would likely lower the average daily jail population by about 1,000.

3. If the proposed state criminal justice trailer bill (AB 1468) passes, it will likely increase the amount of split sentencing in LA County significantly because it contains the presumption that an N3 [a non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender] will receive a split sentence “Unless the court finds, in the interest of justice, that it [a split sentence] is not appropriate in a particular case…”

Los Angeles has one of the lowest, if not the lowest rates of split sentencing in California at about 3%. By contrast, 87% of the N3s in Contra Costa receive split sentences; the figure is 67% in Riverside and 39% in Orange County. The best estimates are that if LA raised its rate of split sentencing to 30%, it would lower the average daily jail population by about 900 a night.

If the District Attorney achieves her goal of cutting the number of inmates with mental illness by about 1,000 through a diversion program, the Board of Supervisors gives the Sheriff pretrial release authority, and LA raises its level of split sentencing to 30%, the County would be looking at a reduction of the average daily jail population of about 2,900 below the projections that were used to justify the jail plan the BOS voted to move forward on in May.


BIPARTISAN SENTENCING REFORM BILLS DELAYED IN CONGRESS

Over the last few years, there has been a significant bipartisan push to reduce incarceration. Unfortunately, two promising and far-reaching criminal justice reform bills have stalled in Congress.

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.


An NY Times editorial explains why the bills have stalled,
and calls on Congress to “do its job” and fix the defective laws feeding our over-stuffed prison system. Here’s a clip:

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal inmates — many of whom have already served years of unjustly long drug sentences — continue to sit in overstuffed prisons, wasting both their lives and taxpayer dollars at no demonstrable benefit to public safety.

The slowdown is all the more frustrating because there is mounting evidence that criminal justice reform works. States from South Carolina to Ohio to Rhode Island have cut back on mandatory minimums, improved rehabilitation services and reduced their prison populations while seeing crime rates go down, or at least not go up.

So why the delay? One major factor has been resistance from members of the old guard, who refuse to let go of their tough-on-crime mind-set. In May, three senior Republican senators — Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama — came out against the sentencing reductions, arguing that mandatory minimums are only used for the highest-level drug traffickers. This assertion is contradicted by data from the United States Sentencing Commission, which found that 40 percent of federal drug defendants were couriers or low-level dealers.

Another factor was the Obama administration’s April announcement that it would consider clemency for hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates currently serving time under older, harsher drug laws. Republicans complained that this — along with other executive actions on criminal justice by Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. — took the wind out of reform’s sails.

But with the exception of some old-line prosecutors and resistant lawmakers, everyone still agrees on the need for extensive reform…


LA PROGRAM HELPS PARENTS COMBAT EFFECTS OF TRAUMA IN BABIES AND TODDLERS

A Children’s Hospital Los Angeles program is targeting trauma and toxic stress experienced by babies, in hopes of averting mental health problems as they get older. The program provides in-home therapy and coaching for parents of babies and toddlers exhibiting signs of toxic stress. (For more WLA posts about trauma and toxic stress in children, go here and here.)

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Through its “early childhood mental health program,” the hospital sends therapists into the homes of hundreds of kids who are showing signs of anxiety, trauma and stress that can pile up causing what experts call “toxic stress.”

…counselors in this program teach parents how to diffuse stress in the home and to understand and meet their children’s emotional needs. About 400 families are served every year.

Among them are Shantoya Byrd and her toddler, Anmarie Paz.

When Anmarie was just weeks old, her aunt committed suicide in the home they shared.

“I was so, so, sad,” Byrd said. “And then you feel really bad because you’re like, now I have a baby, and the baby sees you so sad.”

Byrd was also living with her mother, who was struggling with drug addiction. When Anmarie was six months old, social workers found the home unfit and removed her. She was reunited with her mother a few days later, when Byrd moved out on her own.

“When I got her back, I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without her like following behind me screaming,” she said. “If she could not like touch me, she would scream, she would cry.”

Anmarie was suffering from severe anxiety. She cried and yelled nonstop. Byrd didn’t understand why or how to deal with it.

[SNIP]

Child welfare workers referred Byrd to the program, which sent psychotherapist Lorena Samora to her Los Angeles apartment.

During weekly visits, Samora was able to coach the young mother on techniques for helping her toddler to self-soothe and lessen anxiety.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health, prison, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

LAUSD Questionable Budgetary Choices…School Discipline…Mental Health in Schools…and Considering Chief Beck for 2nd Term

June 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGE NASH SAYS LAUSD MONEY FOR DISADVANTAGED KIDS SHOULD NOT BE SHIFTED TO SCHOOL COPS

Head LA Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash has sent a letter to the LAUSD opposing a plan to use $13 million in funding earmarked for disadvantaged kids to beef up the school police force.

Nash’s letter says that increasing police presence on campus does not fall under the umbrella of providing better learning experiences and outcomes to kids in low-income families, foster kids, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students, which is what the money is set aside for.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here are some clips:

An unprecedented new California funding plan is poised to distribute billions across the Golden State, which has long been beleaguered by inequities in educational support in low-income communities and waves of budget cuts in more recent years. Earmarked funds are supposed to be slated specifically for low-income and foster-care kids, as well as students classified as still learning English as a second language.

In a June 6 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the L.A. district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.

Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”

“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.

“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.

[SNIP]

In another letter to the district in April, a group of legal aid and community groups involved in school-discipline reform in California praised the L.A. district for proposing to direct $37 million of the new supplemental funds to 37 of the district’s most troubled middle and high schools.

But the groups also objected to the idea of diverting more than $13 million to L.A. school police, for the same reasons as Nash. The groups additionally protested that the district’s draft proposal initially allocates only $2.6 million for certain methods of managing student clashes and misbehavior known as “restorative justice” counseling.

Restorative justice methods are key to the L.A. district’s own adopted “School Climate Bill of Rights,” the groups noted. That bill of rights aims to reduce suspensions and referrals of students to police for fights or misbehavior. The relatively modest proposed spending to hire a relative handful of counselors to lead this effort is “extremely disturbing,” the letter says.

The groups asked for many millions more to be invested in such counseling, including all the $13 million slated for police. But no additional money for restorative justice appears in the latest version of the plan.


SANTA ROSA SCHOOLS SAVE MONEY AND KEEP KIDS IN SCHOOL WITH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

While the LAUSD is only earmarking $2.6M for restorative justice next year, there are plenty of examples across the state (and country) of schools using restorative justice to lower suspensions and expulsions, keeping kids in class and saving money.

The Santa Rosa City Schools District spent $125,000 implementing restorative justice practices at two schools during the 2013-14 year. With a small investment and a citywide push for more effective school discipline, Santa Rosa Schools cut total suspensions and expulsions nearly in half and saved $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The Press-Democrat’s Susan Kinder has the story. Here are some clips:

Santa Rosa schools were suspending and expelling students at a much higher rate than most schools in the state. In fact, in the 2011-12 year, Santa Rosa schools had the fourth highest rate of suspensions per capita in the state.

Eager to find a different approach to school discipline, the Santa Rosa school board did its research and wanted to implement restorative justice, a nationally recognized method of conflict resolution that often involves meeting in restorative circles — with victims, offenders, students, teachers, parents and administrators — in an effort to repair the harm, make amends and get to the very core of the problem.

[SNIP]

In the 2013-14 school year, Restorative Resources served 219 students in suspension diversion program and 188 students in expulsion diversion programs.

At Elsie Allen High School, suspensions were down 60 percent, with 25 suspensions this year compared to 62 suspensions in 2012-13…

At Cook Middle School, suspensions were down 67 percent, with 27 suspensions in 2013-14 compared to 82 suspensions in 2012-13.

But the reduction in suspensions and expulsions was not limited to these two schools. It was part of a districtwide trend that added up to huge suspension and expulsion reductions this year and a total savings of more than $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The savings in suspension diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $340,976. This school year, 1,863 students were suspended for 3,558 days at a cost of $304,173 in lost ADA money. In the 2012-13 school year, 3,206 students were suspended for 7,546.5 days at cost of $645,150.

The savings from expulsion diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $213,840. This year, only three students were expelled at a cost of $40,920. In the 2012-13 school year, 53 students were expelled at cost of $254,760.


STUDY: CALIFORNIA A LEADER IN THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE CONVERSATION

Although many California schools still lag behind in reforming harsh discipline policies, overall, California is high on the list of states swapping out zero tolerance policies and narrowing the racial gap, according to an important new report released Thursday by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Susan Frey of EdSource has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Research and data on school discipline is clear,” according to a synopsis of the 400-page report, School Discipline Consensus Report: Key Findings, Recommendations and Examples of Action. “Millions of students are being removed from their classrooms each year, overwhelmingly for minor misconduct. Students experiencing suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately nonwhite, disabled and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

Suspending students, particularly for minor offenses, is a serious issue because it “substantially increases the likelihood they will fall behind academically, drop out and enter the juvenile justice system,” according to the report.

California’s recent efforts to reduce suspensions and encourage more positive approaches to discipline puts the state “at the top of the list together with a handful of other states” in promoting a healthy school climate, said Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center.

“California has become a real leader in this conversation,” Thompson said. “Top policy makers and school officials have made a positive school climate a priority.”

At the unveiling of the report in Los Angeles on Thursday, one of the policy makers who has been leading efforts to reform school discipline policies, Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said the report is important because it represents a consensus-based approach “for all of those who have an investment in making sure young people stay in school.”

The report involved more than 100 advisers representing policy makers, school administrators, teachers, behavioral health professionals, police, court leaders, probation officials, juvenile correctional leaders, parents and youth across the country. Another 600 individuals shared examples of promising practices that are outlined in the report, which took three years to complete.

In conjunction with the release of the national report, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies on Thursday provided an analysis of state data that showed that 500 out of 745 California school districts reduced out-of-school suspensions between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Although African American students were still over-represented, the racial gap is narrowing, the center reported. The results included only the 745 districts that had discipline data for both years and excluded county offices of education, according to the center, which is part of the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles.

The center also reported an overall reduction in suspensions by 14 percent and a 24 percent reduction in suspensions for willful defiance, which has been criticized as being too subjective and for being used disproportionately with African American students. Dickinson has introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 420, this legislative session to limit the use of willful defiance suspensions. A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dickinson said he is working with the governor to get his support of the current bill.


…BACK TO THE LAUSD BUDGETARY ISSUES

While the LAUSD plans to increase the $57 million school police budget to $70 million, still another subset of students are being underserved. A recent study found that 8 in 10 kids attending LA’s high-poverty schools had experienced three or more traumatic events during the previous year, yet the mental health budget allows for just one counselor per 2,200 LAUSD students.

This means that nearly the only kids actually receiving school counseling are the those whose circumstances are so extreme the district is required to treat them under federal law.

The new California funding plan will allow LA to hire 97 new counselors (but almost all of them are going to a few schools to settle a lawsuit and increase services for foster kids).

The state will also be spending an extra $50 million on “wellness centers” to provide a number of mental and physical health services to students both on and off campus.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue in part two of her series on poverty in LA schools. Here’s a clip:

The district currently employs about 300 psychiatric social workers to serve roughly 800 schools — a ratio of about 2,200 students to one counselor.

As researchers work to solve one of the most persistent problems in public education – why kids in poor neighborhoods fail so much more often than their upper-income peers – more and more they’re pointing the finger at what happens outside the classroom.

Shootings. Food insecurity. Sirens and fights in the night. Experts are finding that those stressors build up, creating emotional problems and changes in the brain that can undermine even the clearest lessons.

In a recent study at high-poverty schools, L.A. Unified officials found that eight in 10 kids had suffered three or more traumatic events in the preceding year alone.

One solution cropping up at a smattering of schools across the country: school-based therapy.

“These children need to feel empowered to be able to feel like they are agents of their own change,” said Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor and psychiatrist at UC Berkeley who’s working on interventions for kids suffering from what’s become known as toxic stress.

“They are going to have themselves for the rest of their life,” he added, “so the best thing they can have is to be equipped to manage traumatic stressors later in life.”

But at the Los Angeles Unified School District, counseling services have been in decline for years.

The issue is money.

Between 2008 and 2013, L.A. Unified lost $2.8 billion in overall funding from the state. School board member Steve Zimmer said it was a battle just holding on to teachers.

“We had a cataclysmic experience in the district with the budget. Everything that was, is no more,” Zimmer said.

A lot of people lost jobs: teachers, librarians, custodians. And counselors.

During those recession-era cuts, prevention and early intervention funds for mental health services all but disappeared said Pia Escudero, director of school mental health at L.A. Unified.

Now, she said, her staff’s caseload consists almost entirely of students whose problems are so severe the district is required to treat them under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Students…aren’t likely to see a school counselor unless they get so sick a psychiatrist diagnoses them as emotionally disturbed.

“You are always summoned to put out fires versus really embedding programs,” Escudero said.

The financial tide is only now starting to turn at L.A. Unified.

California is sending more money to schools to help the neediest students. L.A. Unified will see its budget increase by $332 million next year for a total of about $6.8 billion. But that still leaves the district – and California – near the bottom of school funding in the nation.

Even with the influx of cash, very few students will see a counselor.

The district is adding 97 counselors, but they’re going to a select group of schools to settle a lawsuit, and to help foster kids stay on track.

Yet Escudero said the need across the district is overwhelming…

Read on.


EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION ON KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS

Having an incarcerated parent is one significant source of trauma for kids in Los Angeles and across the nation, but is largely under-researched. A recent National Academy of Sciences study on the rise of the national incarceration rate takes a look at the effects incarceration has on kids (and families) with a locked up parent.

NPR’s All Things Considered has more on the report. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story.

Jeremy Travis, one of the authors of the National Academy of Sciences report, says despite the rate of incarceration quadrupling over the past four decades, no one has really studied its effects on the family — especially kids — before.

“This is an important social question which is not getting enough attention from the research community — not because there is not enough interest, but because we’ve not been willing to pay for it,” Travis says.

Travis says the numbers of kids with an incarcerated parent is “staggering.” He says in the 1970s there were about 350,000 minors with a parent in prison; now, it’s well over 2 million.

“That simply tracks [with] the fact that we’re putting more people in prison,” he says. “And the consequences of that are pretty profound, we think, although they’re not as well documented as they should be.”

What we do know, he says, is that there are higher rates of homelessness among families when the father is in prison, poor developmental outcomes for the children in those families, and that there’s greater family instability in those families.

Travis says the children in those families often end up in foster care and have difficulties in school forming attachments with their peers. All of those difficulties, he says, present challenges for the communities, social workers, educators and family members who want to support that child through such a difficult time.

The first step, he says, is that we should have fewer people in prison, but it is more complicated than that.

“We will always have people in prison, and we should pay attention to the collateral consequences of incarcerating … parents,” Travis says.


EDITORIALS: REAPPOINTING LAPD CHIEF BECK SEEMS OBVIOUS, BUT COMMISSION SHOULD STILL CONDUCT THOROUGH REVIEW

Starting this week, public hearings will be held throughout the month on whether or not LAPD Chief Charlie Beck should serve another five-year term. The Police Commission will then have until August 20 to decide to reappoint Beck or end his term.

Two LA Times editorials take a look at how Beck has served the department and the city and give suggestions on what the civilian commission should consider as it goes about making its decision.

The first editorial says that while Beck appears to be a “shoo-in,” the commission should not skim over the process, but should still examine the statistics, including crime rates over the last five years, complaints against the department, and arrests. Here’s a clip:

Beck is seeking reappointment at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department is free of major controversy and scandal. When he became chief, the LAPD was still under a consent decree the city had agreed to to avoid a lawsuit that would have dredged up the department’s sometimes sordid record of brutality and racism. Chief William J. Bratton embraced the requirements of that decree, and when Beck took over, he steered the department through the final reforms needed to end federal oversight. Crime has continued to decline under his leadership, with gang crime reduced by half. Community relations appear strong — the seething antipathy toward the department that was a fact of life just a decade or two ago no longer dominates the city’s concerns. To Beck’s credit, the LAPD has managed this despite budget constraints, including a cost-cutting policy that keeps some 400 officers home each day rather than pay them overtime.

Given all that, Beck would seem to be a shoo-in for reappointment. It would, however, be wrong for the commissioners to skip through this process. This is an opportunity for the commission to take stock of its chief and imagine the future of the department. It should start by looking at the numbers.

Crime. Last year marked the 11th in a row that crime decreased in the city. Crime has declined in good economic times and bad, and those who deny the role of police in this revolutionary trend are arguing against facts. Los Angeles added officers in those years, and tailored policing strategies to address crime. The result: The number of serious and violent crimes in 2008, the year before Beck took office, was 127,374. The number last year was 100,521. That means that 27,000 Angelenos were spared a misery last year. No one should be cavalier about how much that affects the life of a city.

Yes, it’s true that other forces influence crime, and yes, crime was declining before Beck’s tenure, but the number of violent crimes and major property crimes has continued to drop each year. There are some on the City Council and elsewhere who continue to question whether the police played a significant role in those numbers, and thus whether the city could allow the department to shrink. They’re wrong. Some cities — Chicago, for instance — have seen a resurgence in violence of late, while smart policing has made Los Angeles safer. Indeed, the LAPD’s achievements in this area are all the more noteworthy given the overtime cuts. Beck deserves credit for balancing the department’s budget without sacrificing safety…

Read the rest.

The second editorial says that although there are no strong guidelines for the commission must follow in its decision-making process, it should take cues from the history of the process and the reasons recent chiefs—Williams, Parks, and Bratton—were either reappointed or replaced at the end of their first five years. Here’s a clip:

The current system for naming, retaining and replacing chiefs grows out of the breakdown of civilian oversight of the department in the early 1990s. In those days, Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley feuded nastily, and their mutual dislike was stoked by the controversy that engulfed Los Angeles after the release of a videotape showing LAPD officers beating Rodney G. King in 1991. By the time of the riots in 1992, the two had not spoken for more than a year.

The Christopher Commission, named for Los Angeles attorney (and future U.S. secretary of State) Warren Christopher, concluded that the chief was too unaccountable to the city’s civilian Police Commission, which was supposed to set policy for the LAPD and to supervise its chief. Partly to blame, the Christopher Commission concluded, were civil service protections that in effect created a “chief for life.” Instead, the commission recommended that chiefs be limited to 10 years in office, with a midpoint review. Voters approved that change as a charter amendment over Gates’ furious objections — indeed, on the night that the riots broke out in 1992, Gates was attending a fundraiser to defeat the amendment.

At the same time that the Christopher Commission was trying to put limits on a chief’s tenure, it also wisely suggested that it should be the norm for chiefs to serve the full 10 years. Its final report described the structure as a single term broken into “two five-year increments.” And though the Police Commission was given broad authority to get rid of a chief who had lost its confidence, the midpoint review was intended as an opportunity for a course correction when something was going wrong, not as a routine opportunity to make a switch. That was meant to strike the balance between accountability and stability, both important for leading an organization as complex and powerful as the LAPD.

Since then, three chiefs have applied for renewal. Two, Willie L. Williams and Bernard C. Parks, were denied the additional five years; one, William J. Bratton, was given the extra time. Their experiences are instructive and should guide the commission.

By 1997, with Williams approaching the end of his first five years, there was a strong consensus among the city’s political leadership that he had failed. Though he had helped patch up the LAPD’s relations with parts of the city, notably among blacks, the department’s performance measures were mixed and its leadership was demoralized. Most significant, Williams lost the commission’s confidence when he lied about accepting free accommodations from a Las Vegas hotel.

Parks’ case was more difficult…

Posted in Education, LAPD, LAUSD, mental health, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

New Video Breaks Down “Zero-Tolerance” with Sitcoms…Realignment Study Part 2…Trauma Lingers Long After Release from Solitary…Supes to Interview Contenders for IG over LASD

November 12th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE AS TOLD BY WILL SMITH, FERRIS BUELLER, ZACK MORRIS

On Monday, the Advancement Project’s program, “Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” released a video (along with some complementary animated GIFs) using clips from TV shows like the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Saved By the Bell” to illustrate the absurdity of harsh “zero-tolerance” discipline in schools. (You can check out some of our previous posts on “zero-tolerance” policies and the “school-to-prison-pipeline” here.)


MORE ON STANFORD’S REALIGNMENT STUDY

The San Jose Mercury’s Tracey Kaplan has a worthwhile and informative take on the recent realignment report by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (see post above).

Here are a few of the meaningful takeaways Kaplan pointed out:

More than 100,000 felons have been diverted to counties for punishment and post-release supervision since October 2011, when the state began a hurried retreat from its costly, tough-on-crime, approach.

[SNIP]

Jail conditions could well turn out to be the ”dark side” of realignment — and not just in the more than 30 counties with overcrowded lockups. Jails across the state weren’t designed for long-term stays so other problems crop up: they offer substandard health care that might spawn another wave of prisoner-rights litigation. Yet such problems may prompt counties to eventually adopt more rehabilitative sentencing structures, including the use of post-release supervision, services and programming.

In the meantime, as jails fill up with more serious offenders who would have gone to prison under the old system, some counties have stopped prosecuting people for low-level crimes. In Sacramento, for instance, suspects who commit certain theft crimes and low-level drug offenses aren’t charged, raising concerns about public safety. But in Santa Clara County, a new diversion program run by the District Attorney’s Office still aims to hold low-level offenders accountable. Instead of facing charges, they pay a program fee and restitution, perform community service and attend rehabilitative classes.

In a “perverse” effect of realignment, many offenders actually manage to dodge drug treatment and other rehabilitation programs by choosing to do “straight time” behind bars. That’s because unlike the old prison/parole system, the new system doesn’t require a period of post-release supervision and the new rehabilitation programs and services that often come along with it. Now, everyone who opts only for jail, serves a maximum of half their sentence. Others are released even sooner because of overcrowding, particularly in Los Angeles County. Without post-release supervision, there are fewer opportunities for the authorities to detect new crime, including the loss of the ability to conduct warrantless searches and seizures of former inmates.


FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO UC BERKELEY, BUT NOT WITHOUT RESIDUAL PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS

Here’s something from Friday that we didn’t want you to miss…

LA Times’ Geoffrey Mohan has an excellent narrative piece about Steven Czifra, a former Pelican Bay inmate who spent eight years in isolation units. Czifra is now a student at UC Berkeley, and has his life on track, but says he struggles to shake the psychological damage caused by prolonged solitary confinement.

Here are some clips:

Czifra is 38. He has spent more time in prison than the typical undergraduate of English 45C has spent in school. He was in juvenile hall before many of his fellow students were born…

A little more than a decade ago, Czifra was dubbed “the worst of the worst,” a moniker reserved for the 1,200 or so inmates isolated in the Security Housing Unit of Pelican Bay State Prison, a concrete and wire compound in the redwood forests near the Oregon border.

Today, he carries anxiety, fear and vigilance into the lecture halls of UC Berkeley.

“I was aware of everybody that was sitting around me and all of their facial features,” Czifra said as he strolled off campus after class. “I know that nothing bad is going to happen … but I still feel like there is an imminent threat to my safety and security.”

Even on a campus noted for its tolerance and tranquility, Czifra can’t bridle a sense of doom: He will lose his scholarship, jeopardize his partner and their 5-year-old son, lapse from sobriety. Sometimes, his heart races and he is sure he’s going to die. Right here. Right now.

His short-term memory is weak. Those 12 lines of Yeats? Czifra had to read them over and over. James Joyce’s “The Dead” will bog him down for days. On this particular day, he’ll forget two appointments.

The fear, anxiety and memory loss are some of the symptoms commonly found among people kept in extreme isolation. They lie at the heart of a policy and scientific debate that was renewed this summer after prisoners statewide went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in high-security lockups. State legislators have begun to question whether a system primarily designed to isolate gang members is standing in the way of rehabilitation.

Czifra, who traveled to Sacramento last month to give his view from inside the isolation cells, called them torture chambers that left him “a fractured human being.”

Yet Czifra is at peace with the past. He is amiable, voluble — a man making up for lost connection. On Center Street, he chats with a fellow student he knew from Folsom Lake College, where he earned good enough grades to get accepted last year to UC Berkeley…

Czifra had a complicated childhood, including a drug-addicted father who beat the left-handedness out of him. He had his first brush with the law at age 7, for burglarizing a garage. He smoked crack at age 10.

He soon graduated to carjacking. He wasn’t very good at it. His life became a blur of juvenile hall, prison camps, group homes and, eventually, the adult state prison system. Four times, he was sentenced to isolation, serving a total of eight years at four institutions.

Czifra is sure some of his symptoms come from the corrosive, sometimes terrifying boredom of having no meaningful human contact during those years of isolation. Science appears to be on his side, though not unanimously…

(Go read the rest.)


BY THE WAY…

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will have a closed-session meeting to interview candidates for the independent Inspector General for oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. (We will be reporting on it as we know more.)

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary | No Comments »

Issues with DCFS Stopping Family Services, Voluntary Isolation, and a SCOTUS DNA Swabbing Update

June 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(Scroll down to the second section for the corresponding story.)



FOSTER CARE SERVICE PROVIDERS PUT THE HEAT ON DCFS

A community meeting was held in South LA last week to discuss the ramifications of the decision by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to drop what are known as “family preservation services” meant to keep kids out of the foster care system while providing troubled families help through various programs that allow them to get control of their lives while keeping kids safe.

Kelly Vassar has the story for Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

The coalition, angered by recent cuts of $14 million in cuts to family preservation services set to take effect in July, addressed three primary issues with the DCFS’ policies in SPA 6: detention strategies, dismantling the safety net, and the dismantling of partnerships that had been developed during a county-wide effort to bring down the numbers of children entering foster care.

“At our last snap shot, which was through April, we had 27,188 children under our courts’ jurisdiction,” stated Judge Nash, while reading from a report for the county’s judges. “Are there any services that will allow the child to safely remain in the home? We must force DCFS to answer this question in each and every case.”

[SNIP]

The $14 million cut to the family preservation fund for high-risk DCFS families also concerns the SPA 6 coalition, because reduced funding for family prevention strategies means the number of child detentions in South L.A. might escalate.

Indeed, as Nash pointed out, it already has.

David Green, president of the local 721 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), discussed ways to best serve the children of South L.A., he observed the “detain first, ask questions later mentality” was the not the best way to move forward.

Proponents of family preservation policies argue that reuniting families is a much more suitable priority than foster care, considering the poor life outcomes experienced by many foster children.

Obviously, family reunification requires rigorous risk assessment. We don’t want more dead kids at the hands of their families. Nor do we want more kids yanked away from parents that could’ve been helped to nurture their children. (And we don’t want them sent to frightening places like Teens Happy Homes, for that matter.)


“JUVENILE IN-JUSTICE” PHOTOGRAPHER’S 24 HOURS IN SOLITARY

Juvenile In-Justice Project photographer and advocate Richard Ross was given the opportunity to spend a day in an isolation cell at a juvenile detention facility last month. He documented his stay with a digital camera that snapped a photo every seven seconds during his twenty-four hour voluntary solitary confinement.

Wired’s Jakob Schiller has the story and photos. Here are some clips:

His incarceration started at 4:30 p.m. on May 3 and lasted until 5:00 p.m. the following day. During the entire time he had a digital camera and an intervalometer set up in the corner of the cell that took a picture every seven seconds as a way to record his stay.

Ross chose 24 hours because that’s the typical amount of time a juvenile offender spends in isolation at the facility when they’re first admitted. It’s not punishment for some aggressive or egregious behavior, just a matter of procedure while the bureaucracy “evaluates” them. Sometimes children are put in isolation because they are low-level offenders and should not be housed with the more serious offenders in the general population. Isolation can also be used for disciplinary action, however, and Ross has interviewed many kids who have spent weeks alone.

It was unbelievably dehumanizing [in the cell], and I’m an adult and I knew that I had 24 hours,” he says. “Then you have these kids who are used to sleeping in their beds, some of whom have never been away from home.”

[SNIP]

“Humane” would not be how Ross described his experience in the cell. Instead, he says it was cold and designed to take away any sense of control. There was no clock in the room and someone else decided when the lights were on or off. The food was predictably terrible, the bed was unforgiving, and the only thing he was allowed to read was the Bible. To stay sane he sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” because it reminded him of his wife.

As difficult as the experience was for Ross, he had it easy. It was on his terms. He knew when he was getting out. He had a nice hotel and dinner to go back to. He spoke with many kids who were scheduled for 24 hours but spent many days. One child in California had spent eight weeks.


SCOTUS UPDATE: BOTH SIDES MISSED THE BOTTOM LINE ON DNA SWABBING AND 4TH AMENDMENT

In a delightfully smart essay for Slate, law professor Barry Friedman explains why both the majority and the dissenting justices are wrong about Maryland v. King, Monday’s ruling on the constitutionality of DNA swabbing upon arrest for serious crimes.

Here’s an unusually large clip (and we hope Slate will forgive us), but we wanted to show you how great Friedman’s reasoning is (and definitely go read the whole thing):

What the justices seem to see only through a glass darkly is that there are two very different kinds of searches, reflecting two different kinds of policing. There are investigative searches, and there are regulatory searches. The first kind are what you see on television, like on The Closer when Brenda Leigh Johnson tries to catch a bad guy who has committed or is about to commit a crime. The second kind includes airport security or drunk driving roadblocks—or even searching arrested people for weapons. These searches aim not to catch criminals, but to deter bad things from happening in the first place. Sure, we want to find the person getting on a plane with a gun. But the real reason for airport security is to deter people from bringing weapons to airports in the first place.

The categories matter because until you see them you can’t understand what the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure offers in each situation. Justice Scalia was right that the Fourth Amendment is categorical in requiring that the police must have a good reason before conducting investigative searches. These searches target a specific person for a specific crime, and before the government can single you out from the crowd for its special, loving attention, it has to have reason to believe you deserve to be the lucky winner. That’s probable cause.

If you think about it for all of a nanosecond, though, it makes zero sense to talk about “probable cause” as a protection against regulatory, deterrent searches. We don’t have any reason to think anyone in the airport security line did anything wrong. But does that mean airport security is unconstitutional? Surely not!

The Constitution does offer protection from invalid regulatory searches, though, in two ways. The first is generality: Search everyone, and there is a good chance the courts should uphold it. If Congress decided that everyone in the country, members of Congress included, should be in the DNA databank, lawmakers are more likely to have a good reason than if they only go after a politically vulnerable group like people who are arrested. (And yes, the chance of universal DNA collection actually getting adopted by Congress resembles that of the proverbial snowball surviving in Hades, demonstrating how general applicability is a good political check on government intrusiveness.)

The second protection is “cause,” but of a specific and heightened sort: The rule should be that the government must have a really, really good reason to subject a particular group to a regulatory search—for example to collect DNA from arrestees rather than from everyone.

Posted in DCFS, DNA, Foster Care, juvenile justice, mental health, Supreme Court | No Comments »

« Previous Entries