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LA County’s Proposed Budget…Feds Investigate SF Jail Abuse Allegations…CA Bill to Reduce Drivers License Suspensions…and Criminal Justice Questions for Presidential Candidates

April 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S REFORM-MINDED BUDGET PROPOSAL ALLOCATES MORE $$ TO MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION, JAIL SERVICES, FOSTER CARE

In a press conference Monday morning, the office of LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai released the 2015-16 budget proposal.

A spokesman for the CEO emphasized that the new budget is focused on “major programatic reforms, with new positions and funding” going toward “improvements in the criminal justice system, child protection, and improvements in health care delivery.”

Out of $26,923 billion, only an additional 10.2 million is going to mental health diversion, but it’s a big step in the right direction. In June, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is expected to present to the Board of Supervisors her task force’s report on creating a comprehensive mental health diversion plan for the county.

An even larger step is the $66.9 million to fund 542 additional child protection positions, in order to lighten social workers’ cases loads, a crucial move in the name of child safety. Over-stressed social workers are more likely to miss things.

Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that the proposed budget “provides critically needed resources to support ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to ensure the compassionate treatment of inmates in the nation’s largest jail system, while also continuing to develop smarter justice system approaches to those in our community suffering from mental illness.”

Public budget hearings are slated to begin in mid-May.

The LA County Supervisors are also scheduled to vote today on a motion to institute some additional oversight for probation in the form of an audit.


FBI JOINS THE GROUP OF AGENCIES PROBING REPORTS OF SF DEPUTIES FORCING INMATES TO FIGHT AND BETTING ON THEM

The FBI has initiated an investigation into allegations that four San Francisco deputies forced jail inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. SF District Attorney George Gascon, the SF Police Department, and the sheriff’s department have also launched investigations into the matter. (WLA will continue to track this story.)

KQED’s Alex Emslie has the updated story. Here are some clips:

The four deputies named at the center of an independent investigation initiated by [San Francisco Public Defender] Jeff Adachi remain on paid leave, [SF Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said. Their names are Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely. The law firm representing the deputies did not return a call seeking comment.

The federal inquiry officially started April 3. Special Agent Greg Wuthrich said the FBI investigation is at a very early stage.

“Civil rights allegations are definitely huge for the bureau,” Wuthrich said. “These kind of things, we take very seriously.”

[SNIP]

Adachi said in a statement that he is pleased with the FBI’s involvement and commended Mirkarimi for taking the unusual step of inviting the federal probe.

“Eliminating this sort of brutal and sadistic conduct starts by leading an investigation that isn’t tainted by conflict of interest or misplaced loyalty,” Adachi said. “I look forward to a thorough and fair investigation that includes determining whether additional deputies were aware of the abuse and complicit in their silence. To ensure this never happens again, there must be accountability — not only for the perpetrators, but for those who fail to speak up.”


CA BILL WOULD CUT DOWN ON ALL-TOO-COMMON LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR NON-VIOLENT TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

A new bill by CA Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) aims to reduce the number of drivers whose licenses are suspended after failing to pay (often exorbitant) fines for non-violent traffic offenses.

SB 405 follows closely behind a report condemning California’s policing-for-profit system as not unlike the situation in Ferguson, MO. In both places, fines pile on top of fines when a driver is unable to pay a ticket, burying the person (often poor to begin with) under a mountain of debt. And often failure to pay these fines results in a suspended license, which prevents the person from driving to a job to earn money to pay the fines. One in six California drivers have had their licenses suspended, and according to a separate report, nearly half of people whose licenses are suspended lose their jobs.

The bill would reinstate drivers licenses lost due to non-violent traffic infractions, as long as the licensee then paid back the debt through the state’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program.

A New Way of Life Reentry Project, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children cosponsored the bill.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Hertzberg’s website:

Hertzberg said suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their license without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license.

“This is a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty,” Hertzberg said, pointing to a recent New Jersey study that found that when a license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept their job, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

In California, the number of licenses suspended during an 8-year period from 2006 to 2013 exceeded 4.2 million. In that same timespan, only 71,000 driver licenses were reinstated.

Under existing law, it is virtually impossible for the driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments are completely paid. This jeopardizes economic stability in the state, limits the available workforce, and forces employers to bear the cost of replacing workers and finding qualified replacement workers with valid licenses.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, the sheer number of suspended licenses poses a threat to public safety. Evidence suggests that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take the suspensions less seriously. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving – often without insurance.


RADLEY BALKO: CRUCIAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE QUESTIONS WE SHOULD ASK ALL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has a “quick and dirty” list of important criminal justice reform questions for all presidential candidates.

If you are wondering who has thrown their hat in, thus far, the NY Times has a nice little chart (updated as of yesterday, April 13).

Here are four from Balko’s list, but there are … more where these came from:

The Obama administration has made heavy use of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate patterns of abuse and civil rights violations by local police departments. Would you continue this policy in your administration? To what extent is the federal government obligated to step in when local police and prosecutors are either habitually violating or failing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens in their jurisdiction?

[SNIP]

Several media reports, advocacy groups and judicial opinions (including a recent opinion by Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit) have described an epidemic of prosecutor misconduct across the country. Do you believe there is a widespread problem of prosecutor misconduct in America? Do you believe the federal government has a responsibility to address it?

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.


Posted in Board of Supervisors, DCFS, District Attorney, FBI, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, Public Defender | No Comments »

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

April 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That 51% figure is deeply concerning..

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

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

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

But that’s a discussion for another day.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some clips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

They weren’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE SHOOTING OF WALTER SCOTT

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

On Tuesday, Officer Slager was charged with murder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feds Investigate Rampant Drugging of Poor Children with Antipsychotics

April 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

ALARMING NEW FEDERAL REPORT ON DOCS OVER-PRESCRIBING POWERFUL ANTIPSYCHOTIC DRUGS TO CHILDREN ON MEDICAID

A new report from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General shines some light on the excessive use of antipsychotic drugs to treat poor children (many of them in foster care) on Medicaid.

Researchers requested records from 2011 on 687 claims in five states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. They received information on 485 of the requests (many of the other records were incomplete or nonexistent). These particular states were chosen because they comprised 39% of all Medicaid payments for antipsychotics.

These “second-generation antipsychotics” (SGAs) are often used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism-related irritability. Because minimal clinical research has been completed on how the SGAs affect kids, and there are very specific age-ranges approved for use of the antipsychotics, many doctors prescribe these medications for conditions that are not considered medically accepted.

Thus, kids often receive the wrong treatment, are given a dangerous cocktail of psychotropic drugs, and experience severe side-effects (like suicidal thoughts, paranoia, and hallucinations) and other potentially problematic effects like weight gain, none of which are properly monitored.

In 67% of the claims, the researchers found what they call quality-of-care concerns. Just under half of claims showed two or more of these particular concerns.

A whopping 53% of cases were poorly monitored. Kids vital signs and blood pressure were not regularly tracked, they were not checked for involuntary movements, height and weight were not monitored, and doctors did not run lab work to check for liver and blood issues.

In 41% of kids’ records, there was either no explanation as to why the antipsychotics were prescribed, or they were prescribed for an inappropriate reason. In over one-third of cases, these drugs were prescribed to treat conditions listed on the medication’s FDA boxed warning. (An example of this would be prescribing an antipsychotic medication to a child with major depressive disorder, despite an FDA warning label that says the drug may cause suicidal thoughts in children with major depressive disorders).

Other distressing patterns included prescribing kids too many drugs at once (37%), keeping kids on the antipsychotics for too long (34%), giving the wrong dose (23%), prescribing to kids too young (17%), and negative side-effects (7%).

In one particular case, a child diagnosed with bipolar disorder was prescribed six psychotropic drugs at once. Three were antipsychotics. A vague mention of hallucinations was the only explanation for the heavy drugging. The 16-year-old suffered through insomnia, “paranoia, hostility, unstable mood, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts” as well as significant weight gain, and swelling of the hands and feet. When the teen was taken off these drugs, the originally reported hallucinations vanished.

Only in 8% of the cases were kids’ prescribed these drugs for any of the medically accepted reasons. And of the five states, only New York restricted Medicaid coverage for these drugs outside of medically accepted reasons (unfortunately, 3,366 prescriptions were covered in violation of New York’s policy).

According to the report’s lead investigator, Michala Walker, antipsychotics “should only be used for a medically appropriate reason and, when they’re used, they must be very carefully managed to ensure safety and quality care.”

The report urges the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to partner with state medicaid programs to review how antipsychotics are prescribed to children, and to conduct regular reviews of the medical records of medicaid-covered kids prescribed the drugs, and to work with states to come up with ways to boost oversight. CMS has agreed with these three recommendations.

Karen de Sa, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on how and why California’s foster kids are so heavily medicated, also reported on this new data.

Posted in children and adolescents, Foster Care, health care, mental health, The Feds | 1 Comment »

DOJ Picks Stockton for Community Policing Pilot, Dorsey Nunn, Pasadena Police Misconduct Audit, and Fullerton’s Homeless Liaison Unit

March 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STOCKTON, CA ONE OF SIX CITIES TO PILOT DOJ’S COMMUNITY POLICING INITIATIVE

Hours after the shooting of two Ferguson officers late last week, the Department of Justice announced the first six pilot cities to take part in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a program meant to help build better relationships between cops and the communities they serve.

The pilot cities included Stockton, California, as well as Minneapolis, MN, Birmingham, AL, Fort Worth, TX, Gary, IN, and Pittsburgh, PA.

Each city will assess their current police-community relations, and apply strategies focusing on implicit bias, procedural justice, and racial reconciliation.

The process will be guided by a panel of criminal justice professionals, experts, and faith-based groups, and advocates, and includes a three-year grant to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as Yale Law School, UCLA’s Center for Policing Equity, and the Urban Institute.

The Stockton Record’s Jason Anderson has more on the initiative as it relates to Stockton. Here’s a clip:

“The Stockton Police Department is excited that we have been selected as one of six cities to be part of this national initiative,” Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said. “The men and women of the Stockton Police Department are very committed to building police/community trust within our community.”

City Manager Kurt Wilson lauded Stockton’s selection as a pilot site and praised Jones, who has created a number of community outreach initiatives aimed at easing tensions following a rash of officer-involved shootings in recent years.

“Chief Eric Jones is one of the most respected law enforcement leaders in the country,” Wilson said. “He has been fully engaged locally, statewide and nationally. We are thankful for his leadership, and by his team joining this initiative, we feel it will boost these leading-edge efforts, because some of his evidence-based strategies that are already under way fit into this model.”

[SNIP]

…the program will highlight three areas that hold great promise for concrete, rapid progress: racial reconciliation, procedural justice and implicit bias.

The racial reconciliation component is described as the facilitation of frank conversations between minority communities and law enforcement that allow them to address historic tensions, grievances and misconceptions between them.

The procedural justice element will focus on how the characteristics of law enforcement interactions with the public shape the public’s views of the police, their willingness to obey the law and actual crime rates.

The implicit bias aspect of the initiative will focus on how largely unconscious psychological processes can shape authorities’ actions and lead to racially disparate outcomes even where actual racism is not present.

Pilot sites were chosen based on a list of factors such as geographic diversity, jurisdiction size, ethnic and religious composition, and population density. Also considered were each site’s history of social tensions, level of violence, economic conditions, police department size and historical strategies for addressing procedural justice, implicit bias and racial reconciliation at the local level.


A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH: DORSEY NUNN, FROM INMATE TO A CRIMINAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE

Once drug-addicted and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for being involved in a fatal armed robbery, Dorsey Nunn, is now the co-founder of All of Us or None and executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children in San Francisco. Through these platforms Dorsey takes on monumental projects like fighting jail expansions, solitary confinement, and (successfully) pushing for “ban-the-box” legislation.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has Dorsey’s remarkable story. Here are some clips:

A decade ago, All of Us or None scored its first victory when Nunn and dozens of others filled the chambers of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to demand that the box on city employment applications that asks about felony convictions be removed and the question saved for later in the hiring process.

San Francisco’s successful “ban the box” ordinance was the first in the nation, cementing the city’s ultra-left reputation and changing Nunn’s life.

He now had a voice in a debate upon which public safety and billions of taxpayer dollars hinged — one that ignites emotions over such primal questions as retribution versus redemption.

All we wanted was to have a job, be skilled, be trained and be ethical.

Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life, which provides housing to formerly incarcerated women
The California District Attorneys Assn. was among opponents of statewide ban-the-box legislation in 2013, saying “all this bill will do is ensure that local agencies waste public time and resources” screening applicants who “will almost certainly be rejected” once their criminal histories are known.

But the statewide ban also passed, and Nunn is now regularly consulted by national civil rights groups and policymakers. Ban-the-box legislation has been passed in 96 cities and counties and in 13 states led by Republicans and Democrats alike, according to the National Employment Law Project. (Applications for jobs where criminal history is relevant — such as child care or law enforcement — are exempted.)

The voices of those who know the criminal-justice system from the inside have been “absolutely essential,” said Michelle Rodriguez, a senior staff attorney with the employment law project.

The movement dates to March 2003, when Nunn helped convene a crowd of about 40 formerly incarcerated men and women at Oakland’s Center for Third World Development.

They spoke for many: 70 million Americans have an arrest or conviction record, and 725,000 are released yearly from prison to communities where laws, regulations and private sector practices curtail their access to employment, housing, education and even the vote.

“All we wanted was to have a job, be skilled, be trained and be ethical,” recalled Susan Burton, 63, executive director of Los Angeles-based A New Way of Life, which provides housing to formerly incarcerated women and oversees a Southland All of Us or None chapter.

Priorities were listed on butcher paper: jobs, housing, family reunification. “Ban the box” came first.

The group would take its name from a Bertolt Brecht poem.

Slave, who is it who shall free you?/Those in deepest darkness lying,/Comrade, these alone shall see you,/They alone can hear you crying./Comrade only slaves can free you./Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Thanks in part to All of Us or None’s amateur lobbyists, bills recently signed into law in Sacramento forbid the shackling of pregnant women, remove the prohibition on food stamps for California recipients with drug felonies, and ban the box from all state and local government applications. San Francisco extended ban-the-box practices to private employers and affordable housing, and efforts are underway to expand the ban in Los Angeles and Long Beach.


AUDIT FINDS MISCONDUCT IN PASADENA POLICE DEPARTMENT, NOT ENOUGH TRAINING, OVERSIGHT

An independent audit of the Pasadena Police Department from 2005-2009 found that homicide detectives at the Pasadena Police Department were undertrained and under-supervised, and used questionable interrogation tactics among other misdeeds.

The city requested the audit after the dismissal of a 2007 homicide case during which detectives allegedly threatened and coerced witnesses and withheld evidence.

The audit will be presented to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee today (Monday).

Pasadena-Star News’ Sarah Favot has more on the audit. Here’s a clip:

“Some officers were allowed to operate extremely close to the line of legality with little or no visible oversight from supervisors who either knew or clearly should have been aware of their subordinates’ actions,” the audit said. “These supervisors had a responsibility to the department, their subordinates and the people of Pasadena to correct theses deficiencies, but they did not. Equally important, their managers did not hold them accountable.”

[SNIP]

The Pasadena Police Department has been under heightened scrutiny since the police shooting of Kendrec McDade, an unarmed black teen who officers shot to death on March 24, 2012.

The slaying resulted in city officials paying a $1 million settlement to Anya Slaughter and Kenneth McDade, the boy’s parents.

Local defense attorneys said the department was dirty and pointed to several instances were officers withheld evidence, beat suspects and threatened witnesses.

One of those attorneys, Andrew Stein, said Friday members of the Pasadena Police Department were no better than the gang members they sought to imprison.

“They shouldn’t have a police department,” Stein said. “It’s a farce. It’s a joke. The sheriff’s department should take over the city of Pasadena. … This conduct is not tolerable. It’s wrong and it’s only going to change when some rich, white person in Pasadena has something bad happen to them by these cowboys and then it’ll matter.”

And here’s a handful of other findings:

• When interrogations weren’t recorded, no reason was given and a supervisor wasn’t involved;

• A lack of consistent training in basic detective skills for both detectives and their supervisors;

• Supervisors weren’t involved before cases were brought before a prosecutor or before a search warrant was filed;

• When juvenile informants were used, there was no evidence the Police Department received court approval;

•The Police Department has no signage explaining to members of the public the process of making a personnel complaint;

• Detectives bargained with informants offering to charge lesser crimes for cooperation without supervisory approval…


COMMUNITY POLICING AT WORK: FULLERTON’S HOMELESS LIAISON UNIT BUILDS BETTER RELATIONS BETWEEN COPS AND HOMELESS

In 2011, Fullerton police officers beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death while he screamed for his father.

Since then, the Fullerton Police Department have made considerable strides, boosting mental health training for officers and increasing their Homeless Liaison Unit from a one-man-show to a team of four. The unit works with a mental health care professional, connects people they meet on the streets with much-needed services, and meets with advocates and other agencies to discuss issues related to homelessness.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

On a warm afternoon at a Fullerton park, a homeless mentally ill man, rolling his head from side to side, carelessly revealed to a pair of officers that he might have a warrant out for his arrest. But he wasn’t sure.

“Can you check for me?” the man asked.

Fullerton police Cpl. Michael McCaskill held back.

“If I check, it might be bad for you,” he warned. “So I’m going to give you a number where you can check.”

This is the type of work four Fullerton police officers assigned to the department’s Homeless Liaison Unit are doing: building relationships with the homeless and mentally ill people in the city and guiding them to services.

Nearly four years after the brutal police beating death of Kelly Thomas — which sparked a national debate on the treatment by police of the homeless and mentally ill — police here have forged partnerships with homeless advocacy groups to connect the people officers meet on the street with service providers. They also participate in regional meetings with other law enforcement and advocacy groups on homelessness.

The reforms came after a series of reviews and reports — both internal and external — about what happened that night in October 2011.

But Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes said Thomas’s death isn’t the only reason the agency has increased its focus on the this vulnerable population.

As Orange County has become more urban, its homeless population has swelled. Hughes said the number of calls police get regarding homelessness in Fullerton has increased from about 1,400 in 2010 to more than 4,000 calls last year. That’s something no police agency could ignore.

“Even though, I don’t believe it is necessarily a police issue, it has been put on our shoulders to deal with,” said Hughes. “And so we’re trying to do that as effectively as we possible can.”

Posted in Department of Justice, Homelessness, law enforcement, mental health, race | 1 Comment »

LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit a National Model, Oakland Policing Turnaround, Early Trauma-informed Healthcare…and More

March 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAPD’S MENTAL EVALUATION UNIT A MODEL TO BE REPLICATED IN LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES NATIONWIDE

The Los Angeles Police Department’s nationally celebrated Mental Evaluation Unit pairs police officers with mental health care professionals into “System-wide Mental Assessment Response Teams” (SMART) to respond to people in the midst of a mental health crisis. The goal is to cut down on police use-of-force incidents and to refer people suffering from mental illness to intervention programs and other services instead of just locking them up.

Altogether, there are 61 officers and detectives and 28 clinicians in the MEU.

The “Case Assessment Management Program,” (CAMP) division of the Mental Evaluation Unit takes on the most challenging cases and has likely saved the LA city and county millions of dollars by diverting the mentally ill from lock-up (with just six two-man teams), according to MEU detective Charles Dempsey.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The unit, which is the largest and among the oldest mental health policing programs in the nation, is highly regarded by law enforcement and by mental health and civil rights advocates. A 2009 report by the LAPD’s independent federal monitor [who oversaw the consent decree] praised the operation, saying the department “now has the recognized best practice in law enforcement for this subject area,” and is “in the national forefront of this important policing issue.”

“They’re setting a great example for other departments to emulate,” says Jerry Murphy, a criminal justice mental health policy specialist at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. In 2010, that nonprofit organization designated the LAPD one of six national training sites for specialized mental health policing. Since then, the unit has shared its approach with nearly 60 law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and with 10 agencies in five other countries.

The Burbank Police Department is among those that have sought training here.

“As it evolved, it got more and more comprehensive,” Michael Albanese, captain of Burbank PD’s patrol division, says of the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit. Albanese says he considers the operation to be “on the leading edge as far as how to manage incidents and/or individuals with mental health disorders.”

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he, too, is open to considering the LAPD program as model for his department, which has a spotty record when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. Last month, McDonnell told the 21st Century Policing Task Force in Washington D.C. that in 2013, nearly 40 percent of all use of force incidents “involved individuals suffering from mental illness and in too many cases we arrest our way out of these encounters rather than diverting individuals to the community treatment and care they need.”

For more on the how the program works, read the rest.


THE OAKLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT’S INCREDIBLE (AND LENGTHY) REFORM JOURNEY

Scott Johnson has a not-to-be-missed essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine about the Oakland Police Department’s complete about-face from what many called one of the worst departments in the country, to a complete overhaul resulting in dramatic declines in use-of-force incidents and officer-involved shootings.

It has been a hard-won fight. The department officials and officers (including a group of corrupt officers called the Rough Riders) spent years digging their heels in as lawyers John Burris and James Chanin, costly lawsuits, and a consent decree dragged them slowly toward reform.

Very little progress was made for more than a decade until complete federal oversight was on the horizon. The police union settled with Chanin and Burris, allowing the city to appoint a compliance director with the ability to fire officers and officials, including the chief. The compliance director did just that.

Now, with the help of a new chief and steady pressure from Chanin and Burris and the compliance director4`, the OPD has implemented body cameras and taken up community policing. Officers garnered roughly 40% fewer complaints in 2014 over 2013, and greatly reduced their officer-involved shootings.

Here are some clips:

Before Ferguson, there was Oakland. In the fall of 2011, as the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the country from New York’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Oakland quickly became one of the biggest protest sites. By early October, demonstrators had set up an encampment in front of City Hall and named the site after Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who in 2009 had been shot in the back and killed by an officer for BART, the local rail transit system.

Oakland, with a population of roughly 400,000, may sit just across the bay from increasingly glitzy San Francisco, but it can sometimes seem a world away in poverty and race relations. The city had long been known as a stomping ground for radical activists, matched in their aggression by one of the most brutal police forces in the country…

[SNIP]

Although the situation deteriorated steadily in the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t until early in this century that a series of disturbing allegations against the police shocked the system into action. The most serious legal troubles began in 2000, when a 21-year-old named Delphine Allen alleged that police brought him to a remote location and beat him while he was in handcuffs; he described being dragged under a freeway overpass and hit repeatedly on the soles of his feet with police batons. The Rough Riders case, as it came to be known, grew to include at least 119 plaintiffs—the vast majority of whom were people of color—all with similar complaints and stories of abuse.

The Riders case eventually resulted in two extensive trials during which four OPD officers were charged with kidnapping, planting evidence and beating witnesses. Of the four, three were acquitted. A fourth officer, Francisco Vasquez, fled the country and is now believed to be in hiding in Mexico; the FBI is searching for him. The more lasting impact of the Riders case, however, is a legal and judicial marathon now in its 12th year that has required the intervention of a district court judge, two outside monitoring teams, a compliance director, six police chiefs, four mayors and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. The goal of it all has been to reinvent the police department—to prevent another Rough Riders case from ever happening again.

[SNIP]

Chanin and Burris had had enough. In October 2012, the two lawyers filed the necessary papers to put the police department into full federal receivership with Judge Henderson. But before he had a chance to rule, Chanin and Burris finally reached a compromise with the powerful police union, allowing stronger oversight powers. In the settlement, the lawyers agreed to limit their disciplinary action to the top brass of the police department, and in exchange, the union—which represented the rank and file—agreed not to oppose them. The city could now hire a compliance director with the power to fire the chief and his deputies.

Change finally arrived at the top of the Oakland police in the unexpected form of a baby-faced young internal affairs officer named Sean Whent. In May 2013, Chief Howard Jordan had taken early retirement, and all but one person on his command staff was demoted. Then, in early 2014, the judge overseeing the consent decree fired Thomas Frazier, the compliance director he had hired the year before, and gave monitor Robert Warshaw full control over the department. That set the stage for the new chief, 39-year-old Whent, who quickly made it clear that compliance with the consent decree was going to be a priority.

[SNIP]

The new leadership helped, but Chanin and Burris also finally started playing hardball. The department had owned lapel cameras for years but never used them much. Now Chanin said that unless cops began using them more, and more effectively, he would talk to Henderson about “creating a scenario where if you didn’t use a camera, the presumption was that you did what the complainant said you did.” In other words, the cops would be guilty until proven innocent.

Lapel camera usage quickly shot up—exactly the kind of critical reform that President Barack Obama would mention months later in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. There were other changes, too. New training procedures, both in the academy and on the job, stress de-escalation of potentially violent interactions. There are more frontline supervisors deployed in the field, and many officers have started attending a procedural justice course in which community members and police can interact. “It took a few years to adjust and get everybody doing the right thing,” Whent told me. “Now it’s more of an organizational philosophy, and we’ve made it one of the highest priorities.”

Chanin and Burris now say they’ve seen confidential data indicating that complaints against the police have fallen at least 40 percent in the past year. What’s more, the department went nearly two years without an officer-involved shooting from May 2013 until early in February this year. There were no shootings at all in 2014, whereas from 2000 to 2012, there was an average of eight such shootings a year. Two shootings occurred this February. In one, early on the morning of February 7, two Oakland officers responded to a call about a psychiatric crisis and encountered a man who tried to strike them with two golf clubs; the officers fired at him—but didn’t end up injuring the suspect. He was successfully restrained, the officers’ body cameras were on and functioning correctly, and police leaders quickly released detailed information to the public. It really did seem like a corner had been turned.

Despite major policing breakthroughs, the OPD is not quite out of the woods, yet, still turning up data that is indicative of persistent racial bias with regard to who cops stop and who they arrest:

The intersection of race and policing remains tense—even in a city focused closely on reform. On the long list of compliance tasks, only one now remains, and it concerns racial bias: “test 34,” which refers to the “stop data” that police gather after traffic stops, arrests and detentions. Late last year, a study revealed that African-Americans, who make up roughly 28 percent of Oakland’s population, account for about 62 percent of police stops. But the “yield” from those stops—the amount of contraband—was no higher for African-Americans than any other group. “It means a large number of African-Americans are being stopped and searched without any recovery,” Burris says. “We’re trying to get to the roots of that because the mandate is to reduce racial profiling.”


A PEDIATRICIAN AND A PRENATAL CARE PROGRAM TAKING THEIR PATIENTS’ ACES INTO CONSIDERATION TO PROVIDE TRAUMA-INFORMED CARE

As part of an NPR health series, Laura Starecheski tells of a pediatrician and a community clinic in Philadelphia that are successfully incorporating trauma-informed healthcare into their practices. (We pointed to Starecheski’s previous, related story as well as an ACEs test you can take, here.)

At Cobbs Creek Clinic in West Philly, Dr. Roy Wade measures his young patients’ Adverse Childhood Experiences to see the broader picture, trauma and toxic stress, at home and elsewhere, adversely affecting kids health and well-being.

And the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center in North Philly has expecting parents answer an ACE questionnaire to better help parents end the trauma cycle.

Here are some clips:

Wade is working on his own screening tool, a short list of questions that would give every young patient at the clinic an “adversity score.” The list will include indicators of abuse and neglect (which pediatricians already are on the lookout for) and also check for signs of poverty, racial discrimination or bullying.

Wade wants to take action because research suggests that the stress of a tough childhood can raise the risk for later disease, mental illness and addiction. The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a call in 2011 to doctors to address what the Academy characterizes as “toxic stress” among young patients.

Of course, not every kid with a rough childhood will suffer long-term effects. But asking every patient (or their parents) about adversity in their lives, Wade says, could help identify the kids who are at higher risk.

If a patient has a high adversity score, Wade says, he’s likely to track the child’s development more closely. “That’ll be the kid where I’ll say, ‘Come back to me in three months, or two months,’ ” he says. ” ‘Let’s see how you’re doing. Let’s check in.’ ”

Take 11-year-old Tavestsiar Fullard. When I met Tavestsiar at the Cobbs Creek Clinic last summer, he smiled with shy excitement about starting middle school, and told stories about his new puppy, Midnight. But just a few years ago, he was a very different kid.

“He wouldn’t talk,” says Tavestsiar’s dad, Silvester Fullard. “He didn’t want to be around other kids. If you’d just say something, he’d go into a little shell.”…

[SNIP]

It’s easy from that launching pad to start talking with the adults about their own smoking, or drinking, Wade says. “Instead of looking at the parent, you say, ‘Well, these are the impacts that [your smoking or drinking] could have on your kid.’ It helps you address an array of different problems within a family.”

So how early can you start? At Tavestsiar’s age? Or even earlier — age 5 or 6?

Across town, at a community clinic in North Philly — the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center — the staff is determined to start even earlier than that…


SAN DIEGO #1 IN TEN BIGGEST CITIES FOR FEWEST MURDERS PER CAPITA

In 2014, San Diego had the lowest homicide rate—2.4 murders per 100,000 residents—out of the ten biggest cities in the United States. This is the fourth year San Diego has claimed the title.

(Los Angeles is number four with 6.7 homicides per 100,000, trailing after San Jose and New York with 3.2 and 4.0 respectively.)

The San Diego Police Department’s community policing efforts have been named as having the largest effect on the low murder rate, in addition to better medical care, advanced policing methods, and less gang violence.

U-T San Diego’s Lyndsay Winkley and Michelle Gilchrist have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

The department investigated 32 homicides, down from 39, giving San Diego, the eighth largest city in the nation, a murder rate of 2.4 killings per 100,000 residents, according to data compiled by U-T San Diego.

By comparison, Phoenix, which has a slightly larger population than San Diego, had a murder rate of 7.7 per 100,000, while San Antonio, another city of similar size, had a rate of 7.3. Philadelphia had the highest rate of the nation’s ten top cities, with 16 killings for every 100,000 residents.

Those closest to the department’s homicide investigations credit a continued drop in gang violence for fewer slayings, but no factor gets more credit than community policing.

San Diego police homicide Lt. Paul Rorrison said it is contributor No. 1 to the city’s low count.

“It’s directly related to the fact that homicides are down so low,” he said. “… It’s been huge.”

Community policing hinges on departments forging close relationships with the communities they serve. It took hold in San Diego in the early ’90s, around the time homicides across the nation started to decline…

Posted in ACEs, LAPD, law enforcement, mental health, Trauma | 2 Comments »

The Trauma Files: You Too Can Take the ACEs Test…Now That We’re Finally Having a Serious Conversation About the Effects of Childhood Trauma

March 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



Several times a year, I am asked to speak about juvenile justice issues at classrooms
full of graduate students studying public policy, or some similar subject. These days when I talk about criminal justice–juvenile or otherwise—I always bring up the issue of trauma.

I trot out the results of research showing that kids in the juvenile justice system are 8 times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder—PTSD—than non-incarcerated kids in the community.

I note that the prevalence of PTSD is higher among girls in the justice system (49%) than among boys in the system (32%).

I explain that for school age kids, PTSD can look a lot like attention-deficit disorder, with the accompanying lack of concentration, resulting poor grades, plus the kind of inability to sit still that often leads to school discipline.

Then I tell the students that there is a newer way to look at the kind of extreme stress and trauma that can cause PTSD in kids—along with related difficulties in school performance, behavior and so on.

It is called Adverse Childhood Experiences—OR ACEs.

(We’ve written about ACEs in the past here and here and here.)


THE ORIGINAL ACEs STUDY

In the late 1990s, Vincent Felitti, founder of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, and Robert Anda of the US Centers for Disease Control, conducted a landmark study that examined the effects of what they termed adverse childhood experiences–ACEs—things like abuse, neglect, domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction and catastrophe.

Felitti and Anda studied around 17,000 people in all, the majority of whom were white, well-educated, and middle class or above. Each subject was asked to answer a series of questions about highly stressful events or conditions in their childhood, along with another basic set of questions about physical and emotional issues in their adulthood.

When the researchers analyzed the resulting data, they found find a powerful connection between the level of adversity faced and the incidence of many health and social problems. The two also discovered that ACEs were more common than they had expected. About 40 percent of Felitti and Anda’s respondents reported two or more ACEs, and 25 percent reported three or more.

Since then, similar studies and surveys have been conducted in several states, with findings that are either consistent, or more dramatic.

It is at around this point in my lecture that I ask the class members if they’d like to take an ACEs test themselves.

It isn’t the full test that Felitti and Anda gave, only a 10-question quiz, but it will still give them a good idea of what we’re talking about.


YOU TOO CAN TAKE THE ACES QUIZ

If you click the link below you can take it yourselves.

ACES 10 Q QUIZ

Of course there are other significant forms of childhood trauma that are not listed in the quiz: having a friend killed, repeated exposure to community violence, surviving and recovering from a severe accident, being the subject of severe bullying or violence by a friend or acquaintance….and so on.

Moreover, the test doesn’t measure traumatic events occurring in young adulthood, or adulthood, which can compound the effects of earlier trauma, or cause it’s own after effects.

Yet it’s a good place to start.


SCORING TRAUMA

After everyone has finished and privately noted their personal scores, we talk further about how trauma is the unacknowledged elephant in the room when it comes to the subjects of school discipline, justice policy, prisoner reentry, etc., and also, as it turns out, when it comes to physical health.

I tell stories about the young men and women I got to know during my first few years of gang reporting in the early 1990′s, and how their ACEs scores were off the charts. And now, 20 years later, many of them are struggling with the physical and emotional issues that the first ACEs study described.

When we talk about criminal justice policy reform, juvenile justice reform, school discipline reform, prisoner reentry, we also have to have the conversation about trauma, I say.

When the class is over, there is inevitably a cluster of students who want to talk more. Once we’ve chatted a little, I ask those who have lingered behind if they’d be willing to reveal their own ACE scores; what they tell me no longer surprises: ….5….6…7….

And in the last class at which I lectured, one obviously bright woman took a breath and said… “10.”

(Her story is an interesting one and I hope to persuade her to write about it for WLA)


BRINGING ACES INTO THE LIGHT

I bring all this up because this week NPR’s Laura Starecheski produced an excellent three part series for All Things Considered about the world of ACEs, which will further explain why this topic is something we should all know more about.

Part 1 is titled Can Family Secrets Make You Sick and it talks about the Felitti/Anda study, and how it was received—when it first came out, and now.

Here a clip.

In the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, now director of the California Institute of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, discovered something potentially revolutionary about the ripple effects of child sexual abuse. He discovered it while trying to solve a very different health problem: helping severely obese people lose weight.

Felitti, a specialist in preventive medicine, was trying out a new liquid diet treatment among patients at a Kaiser Permanente clinic. And it worked really well. The severely obese patients who stuck to it lost as much as 300 pounds in a year.

“Oh yeah, this was really quite extraordinary,” recalls Felitti.

But then, some of the patients who’d lost the most weight quit the treatment and gained back all the weight — faster than they’d lost it. Felitti couldn’t figure out why. So he started asking questions.

First, one person told him she’d been sexually abused as a kid. Then another.

“You know, I remember thinking, ‘Well, my God, this is the second incest case I’ve seen in [then] 23 years of practice,’ ” Felitti says. “And so I started routinely inquiring about childhood sexual abuse, and I was really floored.”

More than half of the 300 or so patients said yes, they too had been abused.

Felitti wondered if he’d discovered one of the keys to some cases of obesity and all the health problems that go along with it.


THE FIFTEEN YEAR GAP

In Part 2, NPR and Starecheski offered their own interactive ACEs test and what the scores mean.

Part 3 is titled 10 Questions Some Doctors are Afraid to Ask

I met Felitti last fall and he said that when he and Anda first published their results in the late 1990s, they expected an overwhelming response from the medical community.

Instead for the next fifteen years they got….crickets.

Here’s what the CDC’s Anda told Starecheski:

“I thought that people would flock to this information,” Anda says, “and be knocking on our doors, saying, ‘Tell us more. We want to use it.’ And the initial reaction was really — silence.”

In fact, it took a long time to even get the study published. A number of top medical journals rejected the article, Anda says, “because there was intense skepticism.”

Here are some clips from the rest of the story:

For one thing, doctors aren’t taught about ACE scores in medical school. Some physicians wonder what the point would be, as the past can’t be undone. There also is no way to bill for the test, and no standard protocol for what a doctor should do with the results.

But Felitti thinks there’s an even bigger reason why the screening tool largely has been ignored by American medicine: “personal discomfort on the part of physicians.”

Some doctors think the ACE questions are too invasive, Felitti says. They worry that asking such questions will lead to tears and relived trauma … emotions and experiences that are hard to deal with in a typically time-crunched office visit.

[SNIP]

According to Dr. Jeff Brenner, a family doctor and MacArthur Fellows award-winner in Camden, N.J., getting these rough measures of adversity from patients potentially could help the whole health care system understand patients better.

The ACE score, Brenner says, is “still really the best predictor we’ve found for health spending, health utilization; for smoking, alcoholism, substance abuse. It’s a pretty remarkable set of activities that health care talks about all the time.”

Brenner won his MacArthur fellowship in 2013 for his work on how to treat the most complicated, expensive patients in his city — people who often have high ACE scores, he found.

“I can’t imagine, 10, 15 years from now, a health care system that doesn’t routinely use the ACE scores,” he says. “I just can’t imagine that.”

Brenner only learned about ACE scores a few years ago, and says he regrets not integrating the tool into his practice sooner. But like most doctors, he says, he was taught in medical school to not “pull the lid off something you don’t have the training, time or ability to handle.”

In theory, Brenner says, talking to patients about adverse childhood experiences shouldn’t be any different than asking them about domestic violence or their drinking — awkward topics that doctors routinely broach now.


KANSAS CITY TRIES “TRAUMA INFORMED” CARE FOR KIDS

The good news is that there are some promising programs popping up all around the nation, including a number in California, which make use of what we know about the effects of childhood trauma.

For instance, we’ve talked several times about Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and her remarkable pediatric practice in San Francisco. And there is this pediatric program in Kansas City, profiled by Eric Adler for the Kansas City Star. Here’s a clip:

Never mind the little girl’s name. What’s important is that she was about 10 years old and all the doctors she had seen month after month had failed to ease her pain.

The girl’s stomach wrenched. Her chest tightened. Her skull seared with lightning-bolt headaches.

Then at Children’s Mercy Hospital, pediatrician Lisa Spector decided to probe with a different set of questions. Instead of asking what was wrong physically, Spector asked the girl what had happened to her in her young life. Quickly, the crux of her pain became clear:

Trauma.

“It was impacting her physical and mental health,” Spector said.

At school, she was bullied. At home, she witnessed repeated domestic violence. She talked of her dad belittling and abusing her emotionally. She recently had been a victim of an attempted carjacking; the thief fled after seeing her in the back seat.

Day to day, she was living a tense and unsure existence that was translating itself into hobbling pain.

That the child’s troubles ultimately eased not with medication but with counseling can be credited to a serious effort by Children’s Mercy to focus on “trauma-informed” care.

For a growing number of children across the country, the approach has become the key to their emotional and mental health, “the most important thing we can do for people,” said Marsha Morgan, chief operating officer for behavioral health at Truman Medical Center.

Trauma-informed care focuses on the notion that a traumatic event in childhood, either experienced or witnessed, can alter the biology of the brain. A trauma-informed strategy works on multiple fronts — using counseling and changes to one’s personal interactions and environment — to lessen or bypass those negative associations while forming new and more positive associative pathways in the brain.

“I’ve worked in this field for over 42 years, and this is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” Dr. Morgan told Adler as they talked about the hospital’s trauma work.

We’ll be talking more about trauma, its effects,. and what can be done to prevent and address them, as we profile more of important programs over the coming weeks and months

Posted in ACEs, Community Health, juvenile justice, mental health, prison policy, PTSD, Public Health, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Inmates Write their Own Obits, Community Policing, Ferguson Reports, and #Cut50

March 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SAN QUENTIN INMATES COMPOSE THEIR OWN OBITUARIES IN WRITING CLASS

In this exceptional multimedia Column One story by the LA Time’s Chris Megerian, San Quentin State Prison inmates share obituaries they’ve written for themselves as part of a writing assignment. The inmates designed their own demise (several chose to die protecting others) and for what they wanted to be remembered.

Here’s a clip, but definitely go over to Megerian’s story and read and watch for yourself:

Since Julian Glenn Padgett arrived in 2006, he’s enrolled in academic classes and played Shylock in a prison production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Even while sitting in a cramped storage closet during a break from his work at the inmate-run newspaper, he spoke with the intensity of an actor on stage. Asked about committing murder, he cited a Walt Whitman poem.

Padgett stabbed and killed a man he believed was a romantic rival. Therefore, his victim cannot “contribute a verse” in “the powerful play” of life.

“I don’t want to be remembered as the man to do that,” he said. Like You, he doesn’t mention his crime in his fictional obituary.

Padgett, a 51-year-old Ethiopian Jew who wears a knit kippa over his dreadlocks, was convicted in 1997 in Sacramento and isn’t eligible for parole until 2023.

His obituary is brimming with passion for outdoor activities that are out of reach.

“Julian loved everything to do with nature,” he writes, “and often took trips with many of his friends on the weekends where they would go camping, horse back riding, snow and water skiing and his favorite mountain climbing.”

Padgett describes an epic death from an earthquake striking the Bay Area. It was the first thing that came to mind, he said.

“Earthquakes are memorable. They’re forces of nature,” he said. “To take me out, it would take something like that.”


THE 21ST CENTURY POLICING REPORT AND COMMUNITY POLICING IN LOS ANGELES

The day after Sunday’s LAPD Skid Row shooting of an unarmed homeless man, the White House released an interim report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (established after the controversial deaths in Ferguson, New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland at the hands of officers). The report lauded the LAPD’s Watts and East LA community policing teams as well as its civilian oversight commission.

However, the shooting highlights how important it is that Los Angeles law enforcement agencies continue working toward better community relations through training, new programs, and policy changes.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to rule and control the community,” the report states.

The task force was formed in December in response to the national debate on policing after officers in Ferguson, Los Angeles, New York and Cleveland killed young African-American men.

In the federal report, the Los Angeles Police department’s community policing teams in Watts and East Los Angeles were highlighted for building on-the-ground relationships with public housing residents. Officers there are assigned to community policing teams for five years and are offered more pay, according to the federal report.

Los Angeles also earned a mention for its civilian oversight board.

But shootings like the one on Skid Row expose the remaining rifts between police and communities.

Criminology professor Elliot Currie of the University of California, Irvine said having multiple policing programs is a good start, but the goal is for police departments to implement relationship-based policing across the board.

“What we want is for these not to be considered as scattered programs that we implement within a police department that’s otherwise unchanged,” Currie said. “But that we slowly shift the whole conception of what a police department is.”

Here is a clip from Los Angele Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s statement to the task force late last month about the challenges the sheriff’s department faces with regard to ensuring better interactions with the mentally ill:

We are…ill equipped to address the challenges of this population in patrol. Patrol personnel lack the requisite mental health training and we have a dearth of Mental Evaluation (or ”MET”) Teams and community supports to help deputies properly handle and deescalate contacts with mentally ill persons. In 2013, nearly 40% of all use of force incidents involved individuals suffering from mental illness and in too many cases we “arrest” our way out of these encounters rather than diverting individuals to the community treatment and care they need.

The strategies that can enable us to change this paradigm exist and are in place in pieces around the nation, but have yet to be brought to scale throughout the country. We need:

1. Resources to support crisis intervention (“CIT”) training so deputies working the streets (as well as within Custody) know how to identify and respond to individuals with mental disorders and, wherever possible, divert entry into the justice system.

2. Support for MET teams where we pair deputies with mental health clinicians and create a comprehensive response to those in crisis. In LA these teams are few and far between – often they operate only during business hours and can be as much as an hour away from a critical incident.

3. Support for community-based resource centers with multidisciplinary treatment in a therapeutic environment that avoids incarceration. These models exist elsewhere and, in the long run, result in improved outcomes as well as fiscal savings.

4. A new paradigm with strategies that focus on alternatives to incarceration – including mental health courts and other diversion strategies.


THE DOJ’S FERGUSON FINDINGS

In an 86-page report released Wednesday, the US Department of Justice cleared Ferguson officer Darren Wilson of “prosecutable [civil rights] violations” in the death of Michael Brown.

A separate DOJ investigation found systemic racial bias and policing-for-profit within Ferguson’s police force and court system. Among other findings in the scathing 100-page report, black residents accounted for 85% of FPD’s traffic stops, 90% of citations, and 93% percent of arrests. The report calls for….

The Washington Post’s Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery have a helpful cliff-notes list of the report’s highlights.

(And here’s a WaPo list of alarming statistics from the report.)


WHAT CUTTING THE US PRISON POPULATION BY 50% WOULD LOOK LIKE

The Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein explores what it would take to fulfill the goal of the #Cut50 movement to reduce the nation’s jail population by 50% within 10 years. That would mean more than a million fewer people would be locked up, through things like changing sentencing laws, bolstering diversion and reentry programs, and split-sentencing.

This figure is not attainable even by giving up the war on drugs and completely eradicating incarceration for non-serious/non-violent/non-sex offenses. Those convicted of violent crimes would have to be part of the population reduction equation.

This has criminal justice reform advocates on both sides of party lines disagreeing about the 50% goal, whether it’s feasible and inline with public safety, and what it would take to get there.

Goldstein’s story includes an interactive section that allows you to move sliders for offender groups and make your own 50%. (Go try it.) Here’s a clip:

Vikrant Reddy, coordinator of the Right on Crime campaign, agreed. “The focus among conservatives is the low-level nonviolent offenders.” As for Cut50, “I just don’t like the name of this organization. The reason is because I see this issue, and most conservatives see this issue, in terms of public safety. If I felt confident the levels of incarceration we have in the United States made us a safer society, I would begrudgingly say, ‘So be it.’”

“I really admire what Cut50 is trying to do, but I am concerned that people are going to misunderstand it,” Reddy added. “The bottom line is not just getting the levels of incarceration down. The end point is that crime rates are still too high.” (Crime is currently at a four-decade low, although rates remain high in segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods.)

Civil rights activist Van Jones is co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, the organization promoting the “Cut50” tagline. Jones and Gingrich are co-hosting a March 26 conference in Washington, D.C. to bring criminal justice reformers together across party lines. Jones acknowledges that conservatives have not signed onto the Cut50 goal. But he points out that many people convicted of violent crimes have, in fact, not hurt anyone physically, such as offenders picked up for theft or burglary and discovered to have a gun on them.

“We might want to look at whether someone who had a gun but didn’t use it should be considered violent,” Jones said. “People will say that’s gun crime and you can’t talk about them. Well, I think that’s ridiculous.”

That might discomfit some liberals who favor stricter gun controls. Meanwhile, the idea of the home as a castle has been popular on the right, resulting in laws that rank burglary alongside violent bodily assault. So on both sides of the political spectrum there is lingering support for the tough sentences that would have to be reduced in order to cut the prison population by 50 percent.

Jones and other reformers, both progressive and conservative, say it is not yet time to focus on the hot-button question of whether to redefine violent crime. “We’re not heavily leaning into that part of the conversation yet, because there is so much common ground on the nonviolent offenders, the indigent population, and the mental health population. We think we can get some momentum going,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, some scholars point out just how modest — by international and historic standards — a 50 percent reduction in the prison population would be.

“When does mass incarceration become regular incarceration?” asked Michael Jacobson, a former New York City corrections and probation commissioner and director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance. To bring the United States to a prison incarceration rate equal to that of European nations — or to our own rate in the early 1970s — we would have to slash our incarceration rate from 623 per every 100,000 adults to about 150 per 100,000. That would be a reduction of approximately 80 percent.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, journalism, LAPD, LASD, mental health, prison, racial justice, Sentencing, War on Drugs, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

Fighting Child Sex Trafficking, Planting Informants, LA County Settles Another High Ticket Lawsuit…and LAPD’s Mental Health Training

March 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TO BLOCK CHILD TRAFFICKING IN HOMELESS MOTELS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to step up the county’s regulations on emergency shelter motels in an effort to combat child sex trafficking.

These facilities receive money from the county to provide short term housing to the homeless, but have also become easy hubs for sex trafficking.

The motion directs the Department of Public and Social Services to work out how the county can increase funding to the General Relief Emergency Housing Program to boost the amount of money paid to the motels, and identify alternative housing options for the homeless population.

The motion also directs DPSS and County Counsel to report back in 30 days with a feasibility analysis regarding changing the current motel participation free-for-all to a competitive bid process. The approved motels would sign a contract saying they would allow no sex trafficking on their property. They would also have to take an anti-trafficking training session, as well as hang up posters with hotline numbers in visible places. In addition, law enforcement inspections could occur at any time without warning (they are usually conducted during regular business hours, currently).

Here’s a clip from the motion by Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe:

Throughout Los Angeles County (County), children as young as nine are being exploited sexually for commercial purposes. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a trafficker may earn as much as $650,000 in a year by selling as few as four children. Often, motels and hotels are used by traffickers and buyers of sex with children as the venue for exploitation. According to The Polaris Project, an international anti-human trafficking organization named after the North Star which guided slaves to freedom in the United States, victims may be forced to stay at a hotel or motel where customers come to them or they are required to go to rooms rented out by the customers or traffickers. Additionally, sex trafficking victims often stay in hotels and motels with their traffickers while moving to different cities or states.

Approximately 45 motels/hotels are used Countywide to house homeless individuals through the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) General Relief (GR) Emergency Housing program, which was developed to provide temporary shelter for homeless GR applicants while their application financial assistance is pending. An estimated 22 of these motels are located in the 2nd District, by far the highest percentage in the County. Of those 22 in the 2nd District, at least half are located on well-known prostitution tracks.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell fully supports the Supes’ decision. Here’s a clip from his statement on the Supes decision:

As your Sheriff, I, along with the more than 18,000 men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, remain committed to protecting the victims of this horrific emerging crime. We will continue our active engagement of – and partnership with — local, state and national leaders to obtain the necessary tools and resources to fight these criminal enterprises. I am also committed to work with local, state and federal partners to bring awareness to the need for enhanced penalties against the traffickers who sell these girls and the men who create the demand that sustains this criminal enterprise.

We must also work to address those in commercial ventures, including motel owners, who are creating a vehicle for these crimes to occur in our community. Our detectives routinely respond to the illicit narcotics and sex trade business, often gang-related, operating in and around motels throughout the County. This illegal business is often conducted during all hours of the day and night, in open view of residences and in the presence of children walking to school.

McDonnell has also been hammering away at this issue. Here’s a clip from his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on human sex trafficking late last month:

For the larger counties such as Los Angeles, child sex trafficking is a problem that is not going away. In Los Angeles, our County departments and law enforcement agencies are endeavoring to work together to respond to the growing problem of trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. We are crafting new approaches that better address the unique challenges these offenses pose.

One of our primary areas of focus has been on rehabilitating rather than punishing and detaining CSEC victims. We are helping sexually exploited children through a multi-agency team approach in a specialized juvenile court – called the “STAR” Court (Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience) – that avoids the typically adversarial nature of delinquency proceedings. County staff work to quickly move victims out of the juvenile justice system and coordinate with providers to offer needed services as well as increasing awareness and the identification of CSEC victims. Initiatives such as the STAR court have been funded through two grants awarded to the County’s Juvenile Court and Probation Department by the State of California from its Federal Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Grant allocation. Yet this is only a single court that impacts a limited number of young trafficking victims.

What is really needed at the local level is enhanced funding. Several pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act enacted in 2013, authorized grants for local initiatives to combat trafficking. But funds are seldom appropriated for this purpose.

For example, in Fiscal Year 2015, Congress tripled the appropriation of Department of Justice (DOJ) funding for trafficking victim services programs from $14.25 million to $42.25 million, but there is currently no assurance that DOJ will provide any of this funding to local governments. At a minimum, we would request that DOJ set aside at least $8 million of this funding for grants for local government initiatives that could be used to support more specialized courts such as the one in Los Angeles or for victim services provided by law enforcement, child welfare, or probation agencies. Funding could also be used to establish a Sex Trafficking Block Grant as authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended….

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has more on the important move. Here’s a clip:

Also of concern is that vendors appear to under-report criminal activity on their premises to law enforcement, and that DPSS only makes a single monthly visit to each vendor, which takes place during regular business hours.

A spokesperson for DPSS said during today’s board meeting that the agency is committed to working with the board to ensure it does not contract with entities who allow sex trafficking at their facilities. DPSS also plans to collaborate with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to establish a reporting protocol in order to capture criminal activity taking place at hotels and motels under contract with the county.

One of many community-based nonprofit organizations supporting the motion is Saving Innocence, which works to rescue children from sexual trafficking.

“One-hundred percent of the children we serve were held captive or sold in these hotels and motels,” said Kim Biddle, executive director, during the meeting. “I would say we also need to look into criminalizing owners and managers of these hotels, but at the very least we need to increase their accountability.”


A PEAK INTO THE PRACTICE OF PLACING INFORMANTS WITH SUSPECTS TO GET INCRIMINATING

JAIL SUPERVISOR SEZ INFORMANTS WERE REGULARLY PLANTED TO GET SUSPECTS TO SELF-INCRIMINATE

A retired Santa Clara County Jail official, Lt. Frank Dixon, says he housed jailhouse informants with suspects to question them at the request of other cops and prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office, in violation of their civil rights.

A US Supreme Court ruling in 1986 says that informants may only be used for listening purposes; they are not to question suspects without the presence of their attorneys or coerce them into incriminating themselves.

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has the story. Here are some clips:

“This has been happening everywhere nearly forever,” Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders said. “How many wrongful convictions are there in this state behind these types of actions? Thousands, certainly. It is scary.”

[SNIP]

Former Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, who was first elected in 1990 and served four terms, said prosecutors “infrequently” did ask that inmates be housed in particular jail units, but only “in the most important matters” to learn such things as an accused killer’s motive or the location of a corpse. But he said they didn’t violate the inmates’ rights.

“Inmate-colleagues transferred for such purpose were not acting as questioning law-enforcement agents, but rather as persons given opportunities to listen,” Kennedy said.

In the Bains case, the informant, who claimed he just happened to be placed in the same unit as the accused killer, peppered him and other inmates with questions, according to testimony during the trial.

Dixon does not recall specifically planting the informant in Bains’ case. But he says that housing the suspected killer with informant Raymond Delgado, who had testified two weeks earlier in a different case and should have been in protective custody, was so “highly unusual” that it probably was intentional. He also clearly recalls “routinely” planting other informants in his capacity from the late 1980s through the late 1990s as one of two lieutenants who ran the classification unit, which assigns inmates to cells. He also said others in the classifications unit did the same thing.

[SNIP]

In his declaration, Dixon also said law enforcement agencies “upon occasion” would book an informant on “made-up charges” to gather information. He called the practice “849-ing,” referring to the penal code section that requires the release of inmates who are not charged with a crime within 48 hours. Dixon also said in the interview that he would make arrangements for a jail informant and a defendant who did not have to appear in court on a particular day to be bused to the courthouse so they would be forced to spend all day together in a cramped holding cell, where the informant would have plenty of time to tease out information from the other inmate.


LA COUNTY TO SETTLE JUVENILE CAMP BEATING CASE FOR $1.2 MIL

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement to the tune of $1.2 million in a lawsuit alleging that in 2008, juvenile detention camp staff neglected to address and subdue known racial tension that lead to a riot and the severe beating of Nathaniel Marshall. Marshall, who is black, sustained life-long injuries when he was pulled from his bunk and beaten by other teenagers during the riot at Camp Miller in Malibu.

Marshall suffered strokes during the incident, and now has epilepsy.

County attorneys only recommended a settlement after spending over $730,000 in legal fees and other expenses.

After the riot, the probation department lowered the number of kids placed at Miller to boost the staff-to-kid ratio, and implemented new safety policies.

The Santa Monica Mirror has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

“This was a systematic breakdown that amounted to deliberate indifference,” Goldstein said last summer. “These kids at that camp were entitled to be protected.”

A summary prepared by the Probation Department claimed that staffers were able to quickly control the situation.

“Staff worked to contain the situation quickly and effectively and the fight was stopped within seconds by giving verbal commands and making use of safe crisis management techniques,” according to the report….

Attorney Tomas Guterres, representing the county, told jurors that fights in detention camps cannot be eliminated. “It’s the nature of the population,” he said.

Goldstein said staffers and his client warned camp personnel that a race riot was about to break out, but no action was taken to prevent it. The complaint alleged the county failed to properly train and supervise the staff to make sure they reacted properly to the warnings.

In the wake of the brawl, the Probation Department cut the number of juvenile offenders housed at Camp Miller to create a better staffing ratio and also updated and expanded safety and security procedures, according to a “corrective action plan” submitted to the board for approval.


A QUICK-GUIDE ON THE LAPD’S MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING PRACTICES

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted in Monday’s press conference that two of the officers involved with Sunday’s Skid Row shooting had received specialized mental health training.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has a helpful rundown on what the LAPD’s mental health training looks like, how many officers receive it, and how the Mental Evaluation Unit works. Here’s a clip:

What kind of training did the officers have?

Chief Beck says the officers involved in the shooting were assigned to the department’s Safer Cities Initiative, which launched in 2005 to deal with issues of crime on Skid Row. As part of that program, he says, all were “specially trained on dealing with homeless people and mental illness issues.”

In that unit, officers are trained in a 2 1/2-hour course that updates the six hours of training all cadets get in the police academy. What’s more, officers in that program are given priority to attend the LAPD”s week-long Mental Health Evaluation Training (MHIT).

What kind of training does MHIT provide to officers?

The course is a 36-hour intensive that covers all aspects of mental illness and crisis intervention. The training includes role playing exercises in which clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health act out common scenarios that officers are likely to come across in the field.

Those role plays include talking a jumper off a ledge; dealing with a person suffering from active delusions and helping families deal with a loved one in crisis.

Another exercise teaches officers what it’s like for someone with paranoid delusions. One officer sits down while two people talk into each of his ears. While that’s happening, another person stands in front of the seated officer and gives him orders. The officer must then write down what he’s able to hear. The exercise is intended to show the police how hard it is for someone who might be hearing voices to follow their commands, and why many in the throes of delusions aren’t able to follow their orders.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

Skid Row Shooting Points to Larger Problems…..Attica Dramas, Past & Present…CA Supremes Overturn Sex Offender Housing Law…..Holder’s To Do List

March 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

TWO BODY CAMERAS IN SKID ROW SHOOTING REPORTEDLY OFFER TELLING INFO, AS DEADLY INCIDENT POINTS TO LARGER PROBLEMS, EXPERTS SAY

The above video of Sunday’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill Skid Row man by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department is the original one shot by a bystander that’s gone viral on YouTube, not one of the body cam videos that are expected to play a role in determining what actually happened, and if use of deadly force could have been avoided.

The shooting, which has inevitably sparked controversy, was covered by at least two amateur videos as well as the security camera of the Union Rescue Mission, and two body cameras worn by LAPD officers who activated their devices prior to the action.

While the LAPD has not yet released the body cam videos, LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton talked to police sources who have reviewed the videos. Here is a clip from the story outlining what Winton and Mather learned:

Footage from body cameras worn by an LAPD officer and a sergeant involved in Sunday’s deadly shooting in downtown’s skid row does not show whether the man reached for an officer’s gun, law enforcement sources said.

But three sources who reviewed the footage from the chest-mounted cameras said the video was still consistent with accounts that the man did grab an officer’s holstered pistol.

One source said an officer is heard on the video shouting “He’s got my gun” multiple times. The footage then shows the officers pulling away from the man as though his actions posed a threat, the sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

The new information comes a day after an LAPD sergeant and two officers shot and killed a man in downtown’s skid row, an area heavily populated by homeless people.

The LAPD has said the officers were responding to a 911 call about a robbery and that the man tried to fight the officers after they approached him. During the struggle, the LAPD said, the man reached for a probationary officer’s holstered pistol, prompting police to open fire.

In a press conference on Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed a still photo from the bystander’s video that appears to show the homeless man reaching for an officer’s weapon. Beck also said that two of the officers involved were among those had received extensive training in dealing with the mentally ill.

Reverend Andy Bales, the highly respected executive director of the nearby Union Rescue Mission, who said he knew the homeless man shot by officers, who called himself “Africa, told reporters that Skid Row is becoming an increasingly difficult area to police due to the influx of homeless from elsewhere in LA County where officials, rather than deal with their own homeless residents, send them to Skid Row. Bales called current conditions the worst he’s seen.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who has been widely praised for his own longterm work on Skid Row, echoed many of Bales’ observations on his Facebook page on Monday regarding the about the newly dire nature of conditions for LA’s homeless. (Joseph was not present at the shooting on Sunday.) The current system “is failing the mentally ill,” he wrote, “it is failing the community they live in, as well as the officers who serve them.”

URM’s Bales went further and strongly recommended far more training for law enforcement, and that the specially trained officers be allowed to take the lead in approaching homeless who are likely mentally ill, while armed officers wait nearby.

The veteran homeless expert told the LA Times columnist Sandy Banks that he’s frequently seen encounters similar to Sunday’s go wrong, “because the officers are all using one hand to protect their guns.”


A BEATDOWN OF AN INMATE INSIDE ATTICA PRISON BY GUARDS WAKES OLD GHOSTS AND RESULTS IN NEW CHARGES—AND A VERY UNEXPECTED SETTLEMENT

Built in the 1930′s, the supermax prison located in Attica, New York, seems to have more than the usual number of ghosts—vivid collective memories that still haunt nearly everyone locked up in or working at the place.

Attica Correctional Facility entered the national lexicon in September 9, 1971 when, after weeks of tension, the inmates rioted and took over the facility, beating a guard fatally in the process. Although guards took most of the prison back within hours, 1,281 convicts retained control of an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. When negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an uncontrolled storm of bullets.

A total of 43 people died. That number included the original guard killed by inmates, William Quinn, and three inmates who were beaten to death by other prisoners. The extensive investigation that followed showed that the rest were killed by gunfire, and that the inmates never had access to firearms.

The terrible riot happened nearly 45 years ago. But now a new case of a brutal inmate beatomg by guards has resurrected many of the old ghosts.

A story by Tom Robbins, for both the Marshall Project and the New York Times, investigates the more recent incident, and also looks at it’s psychological resonance with the past.

The story concerns an inmate named George Williams, a 29-year-old African American man from New Jersey who was doing two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan. What happened to Williams occurred around 30 minutes after a noisy verbal exchange between a guard and an inmate, in which the guard swore, and the inmate swore back, then added a disrespectful and obscene suggestion, after the swearing.

Here are some clips detailing what happened next:

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

[SNIP]

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica…

[SNIP]

After the beating ended, an inmate who was across from the dayroom, Maurice Mayfield, watched as an officer stepped on a plastic safety razor and pried out the blade. “We got the weapon,” Mr. Mayfield heard the guard yell.

Mr. Williams was handcuffed and pulled to the top of a staircase. “Walk down or we’ll push you down,” he heard someone say. He could not walk, he answered. His ankle was broken. As he spoke, he was shoved from behind. He plunged down the stairs, crashing onto his shoulder at the bottom. When guards picked him up again, he said, one of them grabbed his head and smashed his face into the wall. He was left there, staring at the splatter of his own blood on the wall in front of him.

An extensive investigation resulted. And on December 13, 2011, a New York state grand jury handed down criminal indictments against four Attica guards.

Inmates at Attica were stunned by the indictments as well. To them, the remarkable thing about the beating Mr. Williams endured that August night was not the cynical way in which it seemed to have been planned, or even the horrific extent of his injuries. What was truly notable was that the story got out, and that officers had been arrested and charged.

“What they did? How they jumped that guy? That was normal,” said a prisoner who has spent more than 20 years inside Attica. “It happens all the time,” he said. That view was echoed in interviews with more than three dozen current and former Attica inmates, many of whom made the rounds of the state’s toughest prisons during their incarceration. They cited Attica as the most fearsome place they had been held, a facility where a small group of correction officers dole out harsh punishment largely with impunity. Those still confined there talked about it with trepidation. If quoted by name, retaliation was certain, they said.

Those now beyond the reach of the batons described life at Attica in detail. Antonio Yarbough, 39, spent 20 years in the prison after being convicted of a multiple murder of which he was exonerated in 2014. Unlike Mr. Williams, Mr. Yarbough could go head-to-head with the biggest of Attica’s guards: He is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. But he said that fear of those in charge was a constant. “You’re scared to go to the yard, scared to go to chow. You just stay in your house,” he said, using prison slang for a cell.

That fear was palpable to Soffiyah Elijah when she visited Attica a few months before the beating of Mr. Williams as the Correctional Association’s newly appointed executive director. The organization holds a unique right under state law that allows it to inspect state prisons. “What struck me when I walked the tiers of Attica was that every person, bar none, talked about how the guards were brutalizing them,” Ms. Elijah said. “There are atrocities as well at Clinton and Auburn, but the problem is systemic at Attica.” In 2012, the association began calling for Attica to be shut down. “I believe it’s beyond repair,” Ms. Elijah said.

On Monday, a day after the publication of the above story, the case was unexpectedly settled when three of the guards accused of beating Williams so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg, each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. Tom Robbins and Lauren D’Avolio report for the New York Times about the last-minute plea deal that spared the three any jail or prison time in exchange for quitting their jobs.


CALIFORNIA STATE SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST LAW SEVERELY RESTRICTING WHERE SEX OFFENDERS CAN LIVE

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that the residence restrictions imposed by the the 2006 voter approved Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act—AKA Jessica’s Law—violate the constitutional protections laid out in the 14th Amendment.

Jessica’s Law prevents registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or park where children gather, regardless of whether or not the offenders’ crimes involved children, or if the offender’s crimes suggested he or she posed any kind of credible future threat.

The law was challenged by four sex offender parolees in San Diego County who contended that the restrictions made it nearly impossible to find a place to live, thus undermining public safety by often forcing offenders into homelessness.

Jacob Sullum writing for Reason Magazine has more. Here’s a clip:

The state Supreme Court agreed, noting that the 2,000-foot rule excludes 97 percent of the land zoned for multifamily housing in San Diego County. Writing for the court, Justice Marvin Baxter said such an onerous burden, imposed without individual evaluation, cannot be justified even under the highly deferential “rational basis” test, which requires only that a law be rationally related to a legitimate government interest:

Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has severely restricted their ability to find housing in compliance with the statute, greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them, and hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative social services available to all parolees, while further hampering the efforts of parole authorities and law enforcement officials to monitor, supervise, and rehabilitate them in the interests of public safety. It thus has infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators, and has violated their basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive official action.

The court said residence restrictions are still permissible as a condition of parole, “as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee.”

The ruling technically only affects San Diego County, but opens up challenges for other California counties, especially those containing large cities.


NEW US AG LYNCH UNLIKELY TO BE CONFIRMED ‘TILL NEXT WEEK, BUT HOLDER HAS A TO DO LIST

While according to Politico, it appears that U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch will not be confirmed until next week. (She was nominated by President Obama in November to replace outgoing AG Eric Holder.) In the meantime, however, in the Washington Post, Holder has put forth a four point To Do list of “unfinished business” in the realm of criminal justice. Here are Holder’s big four:

1. RETROACTIVITY ON THE CRACK/POWDER FAIR SENTENCING ACT “First, although Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act to eliminate a discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, thousands of individuals who committed crimes before 2010 are still serving sentences based on the old ratio. This is unfair. Congress should pass legislation to apply that statute retroactively…”

2. PASS A LAW RESTRICTING MANDATORY MINIMUMS “Second, while the Justice Department has declined to seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences in cases where they are not warranted, we need to codify this approach…”

3. ONCE YOU DO YOUR TIME, YOUR VOTING RIGHTS SHOULD BE RESTORED: “Third, in individual states, legislatures should eliminate statutes that prevent an estimated 5.8 million U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote because of felony convictions….”

4. OPERATIONAL DRUG COURTS IN EVERY FEDERAL DISTRICT: Finally, we should seek to expand the use of federal drug courts throughout the country for low-level drug offenses. These programs provide proven alternatives to incarceration for men and women who are willing to do the hard work of recovery…

Posted in Homelessness, How Appealing, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Sentencing, Skid Row | No Comments »

Prop 47 Report, Laptops in Lock-up, Prison Rape, and Training Teachers to Identify Abuse

February 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

EARLY ASSESSMENT OF PROP 47 IN LA, AND WHERE COUNTY AGENCIES THINK THE $$ SHOULD GO

At a county public safety meeting on Wednesday, LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented a draft report assessing the county’s implementation of Proposition 47. (Prop 47 reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.)

At the behest of the Board of Supervisors, the CEO’s office worked with other county agencies—District Attorney, Sheriff’s Dept., Courts, Public Defender, and Alternate Public Defender—to pinpoint the programs and efforts that could qualify for and benefit from Prop 47 funding, and to gauge the effects of the legislation, thus far.

Of the state money saved by Prop 47, 65% is to go to mental health and drug programs for criminal justice system-involved people, 25% will be spent on reducing truancy and helping at-risk students, and 10% will go to trauma recovery centers for crime victims. But it is still not clear how that money will get portioned out to counties, or if there will be restrictions on what the counties want to do with their money.

Some of the efforts county agencies flagged as deserving of grant dollars included victim services and restitution, community-based mental health programs for Prop-47ers, urgent care centers, the New Direction diversion pilot program to keep kids in school, and a reentry program for kids in probation camps.

The report says that it is still too early to tell what long-term effects Prop 47 will have in Los Angeles. However, county agencies shared some short-term effects, including courts clogged with people seeking downgrade their felonies, and a fewer number of offenders signing up for mental health and drug rehab programs.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Cindy Chang have more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By the end of January, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the decrease in narcotics arrests was even greater, 48% from a year ago.

Local criminal courts will process between 4,000 and 14,000 applications from pre-trial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now petition to have their charges changed to misdemeanors, the report said. Another 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.

Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felony on their criminal records to a misdemeanor. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.

The report quantifies an expected impact on court-ordered drug and mental health treatment programs: a decrease in enrollment because defendants are no longer threatened with jail time. Sign-ups for the programs decreased from 110 defendants a year ago to 53 in the first three months after Proposition 47 passed.


TECH IN JUVENILE LOCK-UP PART 2: SAN DIEGO INVESTS IN COMPUTERS, TECH EDUCATION FOR KIDS BEHIND BARS

On Tuesday, we shared the first of Adriene Hill’s two stories for NPR’s Marketplace about correctional facilities that have taken meaningful steps toward bringing education up to par for kids behind bars by incorporating educational technology into the curriculum.

Hill’s second story takes place in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, where every kid has a laptop to use in class.

In San Diego County, the Office of Education has spent $900,000 on computers and accessories for kids in juvenile corrections facilities. Teachers are being trained on how to use the computers to help teach lessons, and tech instruction is now on the docket. And with the added technology, lessons can be tailored to kids’ individual needs.

Here are some clips from Hill’s second story:

Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities. Soon every one of the 200 kids here will have access to a Chromebook in class. All the teachers are being trained to run a digital classroom and add tech to the curriculum.

But getting to this point took more than a big investment. It took a significant culture shift.

“At first, we were a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” says Mindy McCartney, supervising probation officer, who is charged with keeping the youth here under control.

“Everybody thinks they are going to use [the laptop] as a Frisbee, or attack somebody, or they are going to tag it and break it,” she says. “And it simply hasn’t happened.”

There was also anxiety about turning on the internet, even though there were firewalls and monitoring systems in place.

“We hear ‘internet’ and ‘access’ and we automatically get very paranoid and think the worst-case scenarios,” McCartney says.

But, so far, McCartney says there have not been significant problems. Kids aren’t using laptops as weapons. They’re not sneaking messages to gang members on the outside. In fact, teachers say the technology has made their students here more engaged in what they’re learning. That’s exactly the type of progress experts say the juvenile justice system desperately needs to make.

[SNIP]

In many ways, educational technology is perfectly suited to kids in custody. Students who have committed crimes are constantly being yanked in and out of class. They have court hearings and meetings with probation officers.

“We do have a population that moves around a lot,” says teacher Yolanda Collier. She says when students have their own computers and some lessons are online, they don’t have to fall behind.

Say there are some supplementary stories, an interview…videos…and such, if I want.


TEENAGERS HOUSED WITH ADULTS, PRISON RAPE, AND WHAT MUST HAPPEN BEFORE INMATES ARE SAFE

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has an excellent longread chronicling the failures of the justice system to protect inmates from rape, and the gaps in the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Chammah focuses, in particular, on the sexual violence inflicted on vulnerable teenage boys who are placed in adult detention facilities.

Chammah tells the harrowing story of “John Doe 1,” a 17-year-old repeatedly brutalized by adult men in multiple prisons. John’s experiences are all-too-common, especially in states where 16 and 17-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. Here are some clips:

The second time David raped him, John says David held a homemade weapon to his throat. It was a toothbrush, wired up with four or five shaving razors.

The third and fourth times, David just left the weapon on his desk, in clear view, and relied on John’s fear to keep him passive.

Then, one morning around 6 a.m., while out on the yard for recreation, John says he saw David receive a mesh laundry bag from a prisoner he didn’t know. He could see that it contained meat sticks and bags of chips. These kinds of exchanges were common; he figured the other prisoner might be trading the food for the use of his cell as a quiet place for tattooing or some other illicit activity. (Official policy forbade prisoners from visiting other cells, but officers frequently looked the other way.)

That afternoon, John returned to his “house,” as prisoners call their cells, and saw his cellmate’s key—in this prison, every inmate had a key to his own cell—sitting on the desk. His cellmate was in bed. Feeling greasy after his kitchen shift, John started to undress so he could take a shower. As he took off his pants, he saw the mesh bag of food. He looked over and realized the man in the bed was not David. It was the prisoner who had handed over the bag of food. The man rose from the bed, grabbed David’s toothbrush weapon, held it to John’s cheek, and forced him down. This prisoner had a jar of Vaseline, but it did not do much; after he left, John found blood on his clothes.

John says he was raped several more times by both his cellmate and strangers. He was forced to perform oral sex, and he still remembers brushing his teeth twice to get the taste out of his mouth. He never told medical staff about his anal bleeding because he felt embarrassed, though because of a foot injury he was able to get painkillers.

John would later be asked why he did not tell correctional staff, since in theory they could have taken steps to protect him. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. He assumed the staff knew what was happening. From their station at the end of the hall, the officers would see men going in and out of his cell and they would not intervene. The rapists would put a towel over the cell door’s window, which was not allowed but must have been noticed by officers making their rounds. John says some of the officers would even make jokes, calling him a “fag,” a “girl,” and a “bust-down.”

Two months after his arrival, John finally reached a breaking point. Around 2 p.m. one day, David tried to touch the middle of his back. John pushed his hands away. David forced him up against a locker and wrapped his hands around John’s neck. John wrestled his way out, and emerged from the cell barefoot. Hanging a left, he ran to the guard station, and begged them to assign him to a different cell. He didn’t mention the rapes, only his cellmate’s attempt to choke him. The officers allowed John to grab his few possessions and move down the hall, closer to their station.

His new cellmate was not a predator, but by then John had been tagged as easy prey. Two days after he was moved, another prisoner cornered him in his cell and raped him. It seemed like other prisoners had figured out his schedule—when he would be alone in his cell, or in the shower. He was called a “fuckboy,” a term for the men who are “gay for pay,” trading sex for food or other favors, even though John said he never did.

[SNIP]

It is impossible to know how many of the teenagers sent to adult prisons in recent years have been sexually assaulted, in part because so many of them have been afraid to report. (Rape outside of prison is known to be under-reported, and the same is true within prison walls, especially because prisoners face the possibility of retaliation by both correctional staff and other prisoners.)

Some corrections officials have pointed out that sexual assaults regularly occur in juvenile facilities as well as in adult ones. But many non-violent crimes lead to probation, rather than incarceration, when they’re handled by the juvenile system, and a 1989 study found that prisoners under 18 in adult prisons reported being “sexually attacked” five times more often than their peers in juvenile institutions.


CALIFORNIA TEACHERS WILL NOW BE TRAINED TO IDENTIFY CHILD ABUSE

Thanks to a new state law, California teachers and other school employees are now required to take an online training course on how to identify child abuse and neglect, and how to report it.

KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Torlakson said in a written statement. “The new online training lessons will help school employees carry out their responsibilities to protect children and take action if they suspect abuse or neglect.”

[SNIP]

[Stephanie] Papas, who helped create the new two-hour online training, said the course will help employees tell if a child has been hurt from abuse or from an accident, for example.

“We have photos that are examples of, say, a welt that is in the shape of a belt buckle or a slap on a child’s cheek that’s left a hand imprint,” she said.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, prison, Public Defender, Rape | No Comments »

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