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LAPD Lets Kids Be Superheros, Ghouls, Princesses and More….Zev’s New Mental Health Diversion Program…The Madness of 10-Year-Olds Tried as Adults…& Ben Bradlee R.I.P.

October 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday afternoon, members of the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department
handed out dreams and fantasies to several hundred local kids in the form of free Halloween costumes.

Both the LAPD and the LA County Sheriff’s Department do gift giveaways for needy families at Christmas, but handing out free Halloween outfits to kids from surrounding low income neighborhoods is a bit more unusual.

However, the department’s Pacific Division was offered a huge stash of children’s costumes by a long-time costume emporium owner named Bonnie Mihalic, who was retiring and said she wanted to do something for the community. So the LAPD folks grabbed the opportunity.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 pm when a whole lot of kids ranging in age from toddlers to 14-year-olds showed up with their parents at one of the two giveaway locations for the chance to pick out their very own fantasy get-ups—and maybe a nice scary mask.

LAPD Officer Marcela Garcia was one of the dozen department members who, together with a cluster of police cadets (plus the staffs of the Mar Vista Family Center and the Mar Vista Gardens Boys and Girls Club, where the giveaways took place) helped kids find the ensembles of their dreams.

“It was unbelievable,” said Garcia when we spoke just after the two events had wrapped up. “We had 300 children at the Mar Vista Family Center alone!”

And each of the kids at both locations got a costume, she said—with some left over to be further distributed before Oct. 31. Kids could chose from Disney and fairy tale figures, super heroes, ninjas, film and TV characters, princesses, monsters, famous wrestlers, and lots, lots more.

“The pre-teen boys really liked the scary costumes,” Garcia said. “Things like the ghost in the movie Scream. When they’d find what they wanted and try on their masks, they’d turn to us and make roaring or growling sounds. It was great!”

The fact that each kid got to wander around and select exactly the costume that he or she wanted–without worrying about monetary considerations— seemed to be particularly exhilarating for all concerned.

The officer remembered one four-year-old who was over-the moon about finding the right Cinderella costume. “She was so excited. She said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be a princess!’”

Garcia, who has been a Senior Lead Officer at Pacific Division for the past four years, said she grew up in East LA in a low-income neighborhood where most parents didn’t have the budget for frivolities like costume buying. As a consequence, she understood the kids’ delight in a personal way.

So what kind of costume would Officer Garcia have wanted out of Tuesday’s array, if she had come to a similar event as a child?

Garcia didn’t need to think at all before answering. “If I could go back in time, there was an Alice in Wonderland costume here that would have been the one. I was a big fan of both that book and the movie as a child. I loved the adventures that Alice had.”

Garcia also confided that she’d known she wanted to be in law enforcement since she was seven-years-old. That was the year a female LAPD police officer came in uniform to her elementary school’s career day. “From that day on I knew…”

The recollection points to why Garcia is strongly in favor of department-sponsored community events like this one. “When we get to engage with community members on a completely different level and get a look into their lives and concerns…When we see each other just as people…It can make a big difference.”

Yep. We think so too.


ON HIS WAY OFF THE (SUPERVISORIAL) STAGE, ZEV YAROSLAVSKY INSTITUTES A PROMISING PILOT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PROGRAM

As his tenure as an LA County Supervisor is drawing to a close, Zev Yaroslavsky has put into place a promising pilot program that will allow mentally ill and/or homeless lawbreakers who commit certain non-serious crimes to be diverted into a residential treatment program rather than jail.

When it begins, up to 50 adults in Zev’s 3rd District who agree to participate in the program will be released to San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center. The idea is that the participants will get treatment and other forms of support, which will in turn help them eventually transition back to a more stable life in their communities—rather than merely cycle in and out of confinement in the LA County jail system.

Stephanie Stephens of California Healthline has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

That cycle so familiar to many Californians with mental illnesses may soon be interrupted thanks to the new Third District Diversion and Alternative Sentencing Program in Los Angeles County.

Designed for adults who are chronically homeless, seriously mentally ill, and who commit specific misdemeanor and low-level felony crimes, the demonstration project could help reduce recidivism by as much as two-thirds, Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Similar diversion programs have produced promising results in other metropolitan areas — Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas and Miami-Dade County in Florida, for example — fueling hopes for change here, according to L.A. program supporters.

“Clearly, treating mental illness in jail does not produce the best results,” Yaroslavsky said. “At present we put offenders into the mental health unit of the jail — it’s the largest mental health facility in the state. We provide mental health treatment and custodial care for approximately 3,500 people each day.”

Various county government officials, as well as judges and attorneys, signed a 38-page memorandum of understanding to outline the program on Sept. 14.

“We have involved all the agencies in the community that intersect around this problem, and we’ve spelled out all their responsibilities,” Yaroslavsky said.

This is all very, very good news. Next, of course, we need to institute a countywide program—preferably as soon as possible. But it’s a start.


ABOUT THAT 10-YEAR OLD WHO IS BEING TRIED FOR MURDER AS AN ADULT

Okay, we consciously avoided reporting on this story because, we reasoned, it was merely one more horrible tale—among many such horrible tales—of a kid being tried as an adult, and it wasn’t happening in California.

But frankly it is impossible to ignore the matter of the 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy who is being charged with adult murder after he confessed to slugging 90-year old Helen Novak multiple times and then choking her with a cane—all because she yelled at him. (The victim, Ms. Novak, was being cared for by the 10-year-old’s grandfather.)

It deserves our attention because it demonstrates so starkly how dysfunctional our system has become when it deals with juveniles who commit serious crimes. We treat children as children in every other legal instance—except in the criminal justice system.

The rural Pennsylvania 10-year-old is one of the youngest in the U.S. ever to face an adult criminal homicide conviction.

In their most recent update on the story, CBS News consulted juvenile justice expert, Marsha Levick, who had scathing things to say about what PA is doing. Here’s a clip:

(Note: CBS refers to the boy as TK to avoid revealing his identity since he’s a minor, although many other news outlets have used his name.)

“It’s ridiculous. …The idea of prescribing criminal responsibility to a 10-year-old defies all logic,” Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, a public interest law firm, told 48 Hours’ Crimesider.

“The Supreme Court has recognized that teens and adolescents hold lesser culpability. Their brains are obviously still developing and they’re developmentally immature. Multiply that for a 10-year-old.”

[SNIP]

The boy’s attorney, Bernard Brown, says his client doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation.

Brown told CBS affiliate WYOU that when he visited the boy at the Wayne County Correctional Facility last week, the boy compared his prison jumpsuit to “a Halloween costume he would probably never wear.”

Brown declined to request bail for the 10-year-old last week, saying his family isn’t ready to have him released into their custody.

Brown said the boy’s family believes he is being treated well at the county prison, where he is being housed alone in a cell and kept away from the general population. He said the boy was being provided coloring books.

But Levick, of the Juvenile Law Center, says the last place T.K. belongs is in a county jail.

“He’s effectively in isolation. He’s being denied the opportunity for regular interaction, denied education, denied the opportunity for reasonable activity. That, in of itself, will be harmful to him,” Levick says.

And last week, one of the better articles on the boy and his charges was by Christopher Moraff writing for the Daily Beast, who pointed to some of the psychological limitations of a child of TK’s age. Here’s a clip:

Legal experts say trying children as adults is not only bad policy, but it raises serious competency and due process issues. Research sponsored in 2003 by the MacArthur Foundation found that more than a third of incarcerated juveniles between the ages of 11 and 13 exhibited poor reasoning about trial-related matters, and children under 14 are less likely to focus on the long-term consequences of their decisions.

“Deficiencies in risk perception and future orientation, as well as immature attitudes toward authority figures, may undermine competent decision-making in ways that standard assessments of competence to stand trial do not capture,” the authors conclude.

A new study published in the journal Law and Human Behavior finds that juvenile criminal suspects either incriminate themselves or give full confessions in two-thirds of all interrogations.

Often a suspect’s parent is their only advocate. And usually, they are ill-equipped to provide sound legal guidance.

“Parents throw away their kids’ rights too easily, not realizing that kids will often not tell the truth when adults are questioning,” said Schwartz.

Indeed, court documents show that Kurilla was brought to the Pennsylvania State Police barracks by his mother, who pretty much confessed for him. Then, after informing police that he had mental difficulties and “lied a lot,” she waived his right to an attorney and requested that troopers interview him alone.

It was then, during private questioning, that the boy reportedly said: “I killed that lady.” Still later, during a joint interview with his mother, the officer in charge of the interrogation notes that Kurilla “appeared to be having trouble answering the questions.”

According to Terrie Morgan-Besecker—a reporter for The Scranton Times Tribune who has been closely following the case— Kurilla’s attorney, Bernard Brown, called the manner in which the boy was questioned “concerning” and is planning to challenge the confession.

This child, who turned 10 this summer, is indeed in dire need of help. But if he has any hope of getting it, he must be treated as child, not as an adult. That the law says otherwise simply demonstrates the how disastrously broken our juvenile justice system has become.


AND HERE’S TO LEGENDARY EDITOR BEN BRADLEE… R.I.P.

Ben Bradlee, who died Tuesday at 93, transformed the Washington Post and, with his stewardship of the paper’s Watergate coverage and the publication of information contained in the Pentagon Papers, changed journalism and arguably the direction of the nation.

Here’s a clip from the story that appeared on the Post’s front page on Wednesday morning.

Benjamin C. Bradlee, who presided over The Washington Post newsroom for 26 years and guided The Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers, died Oct. 21 at his home in Washington of natural causes. He was 93.

From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily. He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.

The most compelling story of Mr. Bradlee’s tenure, almost certainly the one of greatest consequence, was Watergate, a political scandal touched off by The Post’s reporting that ended in the only resignation of a president in U.S. history.

But Mr. Bradlee’s most important decision, made with Katharine Graham, The Post’s publisher, may have been to print stories based on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration went to court to try to quash those stories, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the New York Times and The Post to publish them.

President Obama recalled Mr. Bradlee’s legacy on Tuesday night in a statement that said: “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told — stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better. The standard he set — a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting — encouraged so many others to enter the profession. And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.”

[SNIP]

Mr. Bradlee’s patrician good looks, gravelly voice, profane vocabulary and zest for journalism and for life all contributed to the charismatic personality that dominated and shaped The Post. Modern American newspaper editors rarely achieve much fame, but Mr. Bradlee became a celebrity and loved the status. Jason Robards played him in the movie “All the President’s Men,” based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book about Watergate. Two books Mr. Bradlee wrote — “Conversations With Kennedy” and his memoir, “A Good Life” — were bestsellers. His craggy face became a familiar sight on television. In public and in private, he always played his part with theatrical enthusiasm.

“He was a presence, a force,” Woodward recalled of Mr. Bradlee’s role during the Watergate period, 1972 to 1974. “And he was a doubter, a skeptic — ‘Do we have it yet?’ ‘Have we proved it?’ ” Decades later, Woodward remembered the words that he most hated to hear from Mr. Bradlee then: “You don’t have it yet, kid.”

Mr. Bradlee loved the Watergate story, not least because it gave the newspaper “impact,” his favorite word in his first years as editor. He wanted the paper to be noticed. In his personal vernacular — a vivid, blasphemous argot that combined the swearwords he mastered in the Navy during World War II with the impeccable enunciation of a blue-blooded Bostonian — a great story was “a real tube-ripper.”

This meant a story was so hot that Post readers would rip the paper out of the tubes into which the paperboy delivered it. A bad story was “mego” — the acronym for “my eyes glaze over” — applied to anything that bored him. Maximizing the number of tube-rippers and minimizing mego was the Bradlee strategy.

Mr. Bradlee’s tactics were also simple: “Hire people smarter than you are” and encourage them to bloom. His energy and his mystique were infectious….

Read on. It’s a long and rich and compelling story about a long and rich and compelling life.

Posted in American voices, Board of Supervisors, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, mental health, Mental Illness | No Comments »

ABC 7 Obtains Evidence From LASD Obstruction Trial…In Depth on California’s Sex Trafficked Children…3 Roads Out of Foster Care….& More

October 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


ABC7 SHOWS WHAT THE JURY HEARD & SAWA IN LASD OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIALS

The video that shows Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long confronting FBI Special Agent Leah Marx outside her home and threatening her with arrest in September 2011, (even though they never intended to arrest her) was one of the pieces of evidence that resulted in felony convictions for the two sergeants and for four other former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (All six are expected to surrender for their respective prison terms on January 4.)

ABC7 News has obtained that video plus various other recordings and documents that were considered crucial to the jury’s guilty verdict.

Here are a couple of clips from the excellent expanded web version of Tuesday night’s story by investigative producer Lisa Bartley.

By late September 2011, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “Special Operations Group” had FBI Agent Leah Marx under surveillance for more than two weeks. Her partner, FBI Agent David Lam, was under surveillance as well.

“Locate target and establish lifestyle,” reads the surveillance order for Agent Lam.

Surveillance logs on Agent Marx turned up nothing more nefarious than the young agent picking up after her medium-sized brown and white dog. The surveillance team notes in its report that the dog went “#2″.

It’s highly unusual for a local law enforcement agency to investigate and conduct surveillance on FBI agents, but this is an incredibly unusual case. Seven former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants stand convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their roles in trying to block a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in L.A. County Jails.

[LARGE SNIP]

Lying to the FBI is a crime, as Sgt. Craig would soon find out. Marx was not “a named suspect in a felony complaint” and Craig knew he could not arrest the FBI agent for her role in the FBI’s undercover operation at Men’s Central Jail. The FBI sting included smuggling a contraband cell phone into inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown through a corrupt sheriff’s deputy who accepted a cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent.

Craig did not have probable cause to arrest Marx because the contraband phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI investigation. No less than the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office had told then-Sheriff Lee Baca that himself more than a month before the threat to arrest Agent Marx.

The federal judge who oversaw all three trials delivered a harsh rebuke to six of the defendants at their sentencing last month.

Judge Percy Anderson: “Perhaps it’s a symptom of the corrupt culture within the Sheriff’s Department, but one of the most striking things aside from the brazenness of threatening to arrest an FBI agent for a crime of simply doing her job and videotaping yourself doing it, is that none of you have shown even the slightest remorse.”

The story also features other evidence such as the audio of Sgt. Long lying to Agent Marx’s FBI supervisor, Special Agent Carlos Narro, when he called to inquire about the arrest threat. (Then, after hanging up, Long appears to laugh with a sort of gloating amusement at Narro’s reaction, as the recorder was still rolling.)

In addition, there are examples of former Lt. Stephen Leavins and Sgt. Craig attempting to convince various witnesses not to cooperate with the FBI—AKA witness tampering.

For the jury—as those of us sitting in the courtroom who heard these and other recording snippets played over and over—the evidence could not help but be very potent.

ABC7′s Bartley has still more, which you can find here.


GONE GIRLS: LA MAG LOOKS AT SEX TRAFFICKING OF CALIFORNIA’S CHILDREN

In the US, California has become a tragic growth area for sex trafficking of children. Out of the nation’s thirteen high intensity child prostitution areas, as identified by the FBI, three of those thirteen are located in California—namely in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas.

In the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, Mike Kessler has a terrific, in depth, and very painful story about those who are fighting to help the young victims of repeated rape for the profit of others.

We’ve excerpted Kessler’s important story below.

The sex trafficking of minors, we’ve come—or maybe want—to believe, is limited to developing nations, where wretched poverty leaves girls with few options. But too many children in Los Angeles County know that the sex trade has no borders. They can be runaways fresh off the Greyhound, immigrants from places like Southeast Asia and eastern Europe, aspiring “models” whose “managers” have them convinced that sexual favors are standard operating procedure. Uncovering the sale of children is difficult at best. While some authorities suspect that boys are sexually exploited as often as girls, nobody knows for sure. Boys are rarely pimped, which isn’t the case for girls. And what little law enforcement agencies can track usually happens on the street, at the behest of pimps, albeit in areas that society tends to ignore. In L.A. County that means poor black and Latino neighborhoods such as Watts, Lynwood, Compton, and parts of Long Beach, along with Van Nuys and Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. “This is the demographic that’s most afflicted,” Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Marymount University’s law school, a member of L.A.’s police commission, and an expert on human trafficking, told me. “It’s a problem among marginalized children.” According to the district attorney’s office, 29 confirmed cases of child sex trafficking were reported in L.A. County in the first quarter of this year. That’s roughly 120 minors sold for sex annually, but, authorities agree, the statistics fall short of reality when there are so many ways to hide the crime.

LAPD Lieutenant Andre Dawson is a 32-year department veteran who, for the past four years, has run an eight-person team dedicated to slowing the commercial sexual exploitation of children, whom he once thought of us prostitutes. Now he sees the kids as the victims they are.

Fifty-six and a year away from retirement, Dawson is six feet three inches, bald, and handsome, with a graying mustache. When I met him on a recent Friday evening, he was sharply dressed in a black Kangol cap, chunky glasses, a collarless white shirt, and dark designer jeans. In his cubicle he keeps binders documenting the lengths to which pimps go to lay claim to the children they sell. There’s a photo of a girl’s chest, the words “King Snipe’s Bitch” tattooed on it. King Snipe, or Leroy Bragg, is in prison now. Girls are stamped in dark ink with their pimp’s nickname, “Cream,” an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” One bears his name on her cheek. The girl was 14 and pregnant at the time she was branded. The burn mark on a different young woman’s back was from an iron applied by her pimp, Dawson said. He brought out a twist of lime-colored wires that was two feet long and as thick as three fingers, duct tape binding them together. “We call this ‘the green monster,’ ” he said. “It’s what one of these pimps used to discipline his girls. He beat one of them so bad, he pulled the skin off of her back.”

Once the sun went down, Dawson draped a Kevlar vest over my torso and drove me through “the tracks,” stretches of city streets where money is exchanged for sex. They’re also known collectively as “the blade,” owing to the risks one takes when walking them. Threading his SUV through the crush of downtown traffic, he recounted how he used to regard the kids he arrested as willing participants. They were defiant toward police, he said. Invariably the girls protected their pimps and went back to the streets. But as he talked to child advocates, he came to the realization that most of the kids lacked the emotional maturity to know they were being abused. “The chain is around the brain,” he said, passing the big airplane by the science museum at Fig and Expo. “The more I work with this population, the more I understand that 12- and 13-year-old girls don’t just call each other up and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out prostituting.’ They’re not just using bad judgment. They’re doing it because they’re desperate for love or money or both. They think they’re getting what they can’t get somewhere else.” Even more tragic, Dawson said, is that “these girls think the pimp hasn’t done anything wrong.”

While poverty, parentlessness, and crushingly low self-esteem are all factors, there’s another reason so many kids wind up in “the game,” or, as some call it, “the life”: Dawson estimates “nine-and-a-half or ten out of ten” of the girls he encounters were victims of sexual abuse that began long before they turned their first trick. I asked him how many adult prostitutes he encounters started when they were underage. “Ninety-nine percent,” he said. “It’s all they’ve known.”

Kessler met up with LA County Supervisor Don Knabe in Washington D.C. when Knabe—who says he has grandchildren the age of some of the sex trafficking victims—was working to shake loose federal dollars to fund some of LA County’s programs, like LA’s STAR Court (that WLA posted about here), that prevent underage girls from being bought and sold for sex. The supervisor brought with him a trafficking survivor, who predictably had more of an affect on the D.C. crowd at a press conference on the topic, than the gathered politicians.

Knabe has been a vocal supporter of California legislation introduced by Republican state senator Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar, and Democrat Ted Lieu, of Torrance. Their “War on Child Sex Trafficking” package consists of bills that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain wiretap warrants on suspected pimps and list pimping as an official gang activity, since pimps often have gang affiliations and sentences can be stiffened for crimes committed by members. Consequently Governor Jerry Brown this year created a CSEC budget of $5 million, which will go toward training and services; next year that budget will jump to $14 million. At the federal level Knabe has been a point man for Democratic Representative Karen Bass, whose district encompasses several South L.A. County neighborhoods, and for Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe, both of whom are pushing tough-on-trafficking legislation.

Knabe had brought Jessica Midkiff, the survivor I’d met at the diner in L.A., to D.C. for the press conference. After the supervisor spoke, she took the microphone and addressed the 30 or so reporters in the room. Choking back her nervousness, she said, “I was exploited beginning at the age of 11 and was arrested several times across the United States before the age of 21. For a lot of young women like me, trauma began at an early age. Before the commercial sexual exploitation, abuse was a major factor in most of our childhoods. In my case, I was raped, beaten, and mentally abused from 3 to 11 years old by a number of men.” She made no effort to conceal the blot of ink on her neck, the indecipherable result of one pimp’s tattoo being covered by another’s over the course of a decade. She spoke of the violence and coercion, the desperation and loneliness that victims suffer, the cruelty of pimps and the ubiquity of johns. “Our buyers can be members of law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, and business owners,” Jessica said. “Why would anybody believe us?” One of her johns, she added, was an administrator at a school she attended “who followed, stalked, and harassed me to get into his car” when he was “in his forties and I was only 14 years old.”

During the Q&A afterward, a reporter asked what Jessica or her pimps charged for their services. She demurred at first. Asked again a few minutes later, she reluctantly said, “It starts at 50 dollars and moves its way up to a couple hundred and even thousands. The younger the child, the higher the cost.”

There’s lots more to the story, so be sure to read on.


THREE BROTHERS & THREE VERY DIFFERENT TALES OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On a Sunday in 2006, three brothers escaped from the home of their alcoholic, abusive grandmother. (Their mother was a drug addict so they no longer lived with her.) A month later, social services showed up at their sister’s door and took the three boys—Matt, 14, Terrick, 12, and Joseph, 11—into the foster care system. A social worker told them they would not be separated. The promise turned out not to be true.

Brian Rinker of the Chronicle of Social Change looks at the experiences and subsequent paths of each of the three boys, and what those paths say about the foster care system in California.

Here’s a clip:

They stashed a black plastic garbage bag full of clothes next to a dumpster outside their grandmother’s apartment in Whittier, California, and wore extra socks, shirts and pants underneath their church outfits. Their older sister, 23, would pick them up at a nearby Burger King. From there, according to the brothers, she would whisk them away and raise them as her own.

So instead of stepping onto that church bus as they had done every week past, the Bakhit brothers walked to Burger King praying that whatever lay ahead was better than what they left behind.

Matt, the eldest, was the mastermind. At 14, a wrestler and high school freshman, Matt said living in the strict, abusive home stifled his maturity. How could he grow into a man?

“My grandma, over any little thing, would pull my pants down and whoop me with a belt,” Matt, now 22, said in an interview.

But freedom from his abusive grandmother didn’t mean an end to his and his brothers’ hardships.

Child protection intervened less than a month later at their sister’s San Diego home. The brothers remember a social worker telling them they would not be separated. They packed their belongings once again into plastic bags and piled into the social worker’s car. The brothers cried.

Despite the promise, 20 minutes later the social worker dropped Matt off at a foster home. Terrick and Joseph were taken to the Polinsky Children’s Center, a 24-hour emergency shelter in San Diego for kids without a home, or as Joseph calls it, “purgatory.”

[BIG SNIP]

The tale of the brothers Bakhit exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of a foster care system struggling to care for thousands of abused and neglected children. The same system that nurtured Joseph also alienated Matt, and lost Terrick to the juvenile justice system, which cut him from foster care and cast him out on the streets: broke, hungry and with nowhere to go.

[SNIP]

Despite a traumatic childhood, Joseph, the youngest, now 19, grew up a success by most standards. He graduated as valedictorian from San Pasqual Academy, a residential school for foster youth. The academy gave him a car: a black 2008 Toyota Scion XD.

When he got accepted to UC Berkeley, scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth paid his full ride. And because of a 2010 law extending foster care to age 21, he gets a $838 check every month until age 21.

Now in his second year of college, Joseph works at a dorm cafeteria and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.

Terrick and Matt’s experience was totally different.

By the time Joseph graduated from high school, Terrick and Matt were homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego….

Read on.


AZ PRISONS & JAILS CAN NO LONGER PEPPER SPRAY SCHIZOPHRENICS FOR ANY OLD REASON…AND OTHER SETTLEMENT TERMS

Across the nation, 45 percent of those in solitary confinement are mentally ill, notes Shane Bauer, of Mother Jones Magazine in a story about a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and by inmates at 10 of Arizona’s state prisons, which reached a settlement Tuesday with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care—including mental health care—and solitary confinement conditions in Arizona’s prisons.

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story about the settlement:

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—–the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—–are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country’s three largest mental health care providers are jails.

Tim Hull of the Courthouse News also has a story on Tuesday’s settlement that even requires Arizona to pay $5 million in attorneys’ fees.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, crime and punishment, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 39 Comments »

Racial Bias Produces More Punitive Laws, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, LA Clinics Keeping Mentally Ill Out of Jail…and More

September 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHITE PEOPLE’S RACIALLY BIASED PERCEPTIONS LEAD TO HARSHER CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAWS AND HARM PUBLIC SAFETY

A new publication from the Sentencing Project takes a look at how racially biased perceptions of crime beget harsher criminal justice laws and policies.

According to a 2010 survey, white people overestimate by 20-30% the percentage of crime committed by blacks and Latinos.

The study found that although white Americans are less frequently victims of crime than blacks or Latinos, they are more likely to favor more punitive laws (like the death penalty, “three strikes” laws, and trying kids as adults). And those that associate higher crime rates to minorities favor those aforementioned punitive laws more than white people who don’t attribute a higher percentage of crime to minorities.

These perceptions, which negatively affect public safety, are also perpetuated by the media and policymakers. Here are some clips from the findings:

Media crime coverage fuels racial perceptions of crime. Many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites – both quantitatively and qualitatively. Television news programs and newspapers over-represent racial minorities as crime suspects and whites as crime victims. Black and Latino suspects are also more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way – unnamed and in police custody.

Policymakers’ actions and statements amplify the public’s racial associations of crime. Whether acting on their own implicit biases or bowing to political exigency, policymakers have fused crime and race in their policy initiatives and statements. They have crafted harsh sentencing laws that impact all Americans and disproportionately incarcerate people of color. Through public statements, some have stoked the public’s heightened concern about crime and exaggerated associations of crime with racial minorities.

Criminal justice practitioners also operate with and reinforce racial perceptions of crime. Disparities in police stops, in prosecutorial charging, and in bail and sentencing decisions reveal that implicit racial bias has penetrated all corners of the criminal justice system. Moreover, policies that are race- neutral on their surface – such as “hot spot” policing and certain risk assessment instruments – have targeted low-income people of color for heightened surveillance and punishment.

Racial perceptions of crime have distorted the criminal justice system. By increasing support for punitive policies, racial perceptions of crime have made sentencing more severe for all Americans. The United States now has the world’s highest imprisonment rate, with one in nine prisoners serving life sentences. Racial perceptions of crime, combined with other factors, have led to the disparate punishment of people of color. Although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30% of the general population, they account for 58% of the prison population.

Racial perceptions of crime have undermined public safety. By increasing the scale of criminal sanctions and disproportionately directing penalties toward people of color, racial perceptions of crime have been counterproductive for public safety. Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials. In 2013, over two-thirds of African Americans saw the criminal justice system as biased against blacks, in contrast to one-quarter of whites. Crime policies that disproportionately target people of color can increase crime rates by concentrating the effects of criminal labeling and collateral consequences on racial minorities and by fostering a sense of legal immunity among whites. Finally, racial perceptions of crime have even led to the deaths of innocent people of color at the hands of fearful civilians and police officers.


PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck shares his thoughts on Ferguson and LA’s Ezell Ford shooting, police militarization, “broken window” vs. “community policing,” his reappointment, and a lot more. It’s worth reading the whole thing for yourself, but here are some clips:

There’s community anger about the fatal shooting of a mentally ill South L.A. man, Ezell Ford. Incidents like these make people afraid that L.A. could tip over into violence again.

Of course we’re afraid. I’m worried too. They don’t pay me not to worry! We’ve built relationships and put money in the bank of trust, and we’re more open and transparent than we’ve ever been, and we try to be as open and transparent as we can within the parameters of public safety and the law. If you do those things, you should be able to get through an Ezell Ford.

[SNIP]

In Ferguson, Michael Brown was stopped by police for jaywalking, a minor violation that might be prosecuted under the “broken windows” policing practice. Is there a contradiction between “broken windows,” which some people might regard as harassment, and “community policing”?

Everybody interprets “broken windows” and “community policing” in their own way. There are people who believe they contradict each other. I’m not one of those. I think they complement each other. But it doesn’t mean enforcing all minor crimes; it means enforcing the ones that are precursors to more serious crimes. It’s about working to eliminate an obvious prostitution stroll because it’s a magnet for violent crime and it leads to human trafficking and the degradation of women and the breakdown of families.

I want to make sure people understand this is a department that believes in community policing and building trust. Are we a perfect department? There’s no such thing. Do we strive to be that? I think we do.

[SNIP]

Is a national database for violent police-civilian encounters a good idea?

We would have no problem doing that. Those are part of the statistics that I read weekly to the Police Commission. I say how many categorical uses of force we’ve had this year, how many officer-involved shootings, assaults on police officers… The real discussion: Why are some communities more susceptible to violence than others?

Violence between the police and public occurs [where] there’s also a huge amount of general violence. I’m not excusing police violence; I’m saying it’s more than that. You bring down general violence, you bring down violence between the police and the community too. A lot of that has to do with things that are far outside the control of the police and maybe outside the control of government, but I wish we had that discussion as vigorously as we do about violence toward and by the police.

The Defense Department provides police with military-grade equipment. In Ferguson, it seemed to heighten the tensions.

These things have an application but must be limited. You see what the LAPD does for crowd control — our primary line of crowd control is our bike officers. We may have the equipment, but we certainly don’t brandish it; we don’t show it when it’s not needed because it just escalates. You have to have strong rules. Nobody wants a police state, certainly not me, and nobody wants a militarized police department.

[Recently] a suspect was firing an assault weapon with dozens and dozens of rounds at his disposal, and he shot one of my SWAT officers. If we hadn’t had an armored vehicle and were able to approach him, we’d have had many more injured. But in a crowd-control situation, absolutely not.

Be sure to read the rest.


LA MENTAL HEALTH CLINICS WORK TO KEEP THE THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS OUT OF LOCK-UP AND EMERGENCY ROOMS

A string of clinics in Los Angeles are successfully keeping people with mental health emergencies out of jail and emergency rooms. The four county-run clinics (with a fifth on the horizon) are all open 24-hours-a-day and predominantly serve the poor and homeless. As well as providing immediate services to people experiencing psychological crisis, they connect patients with more long term outpatient care and rehab centers. Data from the past few years shows that nearly everyone who visits one of these clinics stay out of jail and the emergency room during the month after a visit.

KPCC’s Rebecca Plevin has more on the clinics. Here’s a clip:

One of the clinics, Exodus Eastside Urgent Care Center, sits across the street from the L.A. County/USC Medical Center. Patients are referred from other hospitals, rehab programs, social service agencies, and law enforcement. Roughly one in five is homeless, and most are poor.

The clinic is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Patients come with a range of mental health needs. Some need a refill of their psychiatric medications. Others have been placed on involuntary psychiatric holds, and can remain at the clinic up to 23 hours.

“The emergency rooms aren’t really a great place for treating people who are in psychiatric crisis,” says Marvin Southard, director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, noting that ERs are chaotic, overcrowded with medical patients and expensive.

There are currently four mental health urgent care clinics, which together serve about 23,000 patients a year. A fifth is scheduled to open on Thursday on the campus of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.

The clinics are more than emergency rooms for the mentally ill. They’re better understood as service hubs, stabilizing people in the short-term, and connecting them to outpatient mental health care and longer term alcohol and drug treatment, Southard says.

Establishing those links between patients and services is challenging but critical, says Kathy Shoemaker, vice president of clinical services for Exodus Recovery Inc., the nonprofit agency that runs Eastside Urgent Care Center for the county.

“Every individual that comes to see us will leave here with a very definitive plan as to how to continue with mental health services,” Shoemaker says.

That “warm hand-off,” as the center’s team calls it, allows patients to continue to recover – instead of ending up back on the streets, in the ER, or possibly in jail.


GROUP REPRESENTING 69 CA MAYORS BACKS GUN RESTRAINING ORDER BILL

Late last week, the California Gun Restraining Order bill, AB 1014, landed on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The bill, which would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals displaying certain warning signs from possessing firearms. (Read WLA’s previous post on the issue, here.)

Now, the California coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group representing 69 mayors throughout the state, has sent Gov. Brown a letter urging him to sign the bill. Here’s a clip from their letter:

We watched with horror on May 23, 2014 as a young man murdered six people in Isla Vista, CA. The killer’s parents had contacted police after he made suicidal and homicidal statements. But police decided he did not meet the standard for emergency commitment—and no one could act in time to keep guns out of his hands. AB 1014 would empower law enforcement and family members who see troubling warning signs in cases like these to petition a court and temporarily prohibit a dangerous person from having guns.

Gun violence restraining orders (GVROs) would create an opportunity to stop gun violence in real life-or-death situations while still protecting the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners. Under current federal and California state law, a person is only prohibited from buying or possessing guns if they have been convicted of a prohibiting crime, have been adjudicated as mentally ill or hospitalized to a mental institution, or else is subject to a restraining order protecting a particular individual. Other dangerous people may display significant and serious warning signs of violence, but will still be able to buy guns. GVROs would allow family members and law enforcement—often the first to see these warning signs—to present evidence of such danger to a judge, who could temporarily prohibit a person from gun possession and order them to temporarily turn in their guns if they were able to meet the high burden of proof the law requires.

(The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has more on the issue.)

Posted in Charlie Beck, guns, LAPD, mental health, race | 3 Comments »

More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | 7 Comments »

How LA County’s Pricey Jail Plan Fails the Mentally Ill, LA’s LGBTQ Foster Kids Report Mistreatment by DCFS, Medical Board Investigating Doctors Giving Foster Kids Psych Drugs, and Willful Defiance

August 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA WEEKLY QUESTIONS RUSHED $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN AND ABSENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

Phillip Cho, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for attempted commercial burglary after trying to purchase a $2,000 case of cigars while in the midst of an elaborate delusion regarding newly acquired wealth. Cho was jailed in Twin Towers for three months, causing his mental health to further deteriorate. Cho’s caseworker assured him that he would be moved out of jail to a residential treatment facility within two weeks, but the waiting list turned out to be months long.

Instead of receiving the therapeutic care he needed, Cho says he suffered abuse at the hands of Twin Towers jailers, as well as psychologically damaging solitary confinement in a silent, padded room. Cho has been released and re-incarcerated several times, not unlike many mentally ill offenders in LA. Cho has written a book about his encounters with the criminal justice system, and his time in the Towers.

Twin Towers jail was built in 1997 specifically as an upgraded facility to better address the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sound familiar? In May, LA County Board of Supervisors hastily approved a $2 billion plan to replace the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail. A staggering 3,200 out of 4,860 beds are reserved for the mentally ill.

In a crucial investigative story, the LA Weekly’s Chris Walker brings up some very important questions about the jail-replacement plan and why Los Angeles seems to be bent on warehousing people with mental illnesses instead of diverting them into treatment.

While the board was gearing up to vote on the $2 billion replacement plan, it was also working out the plans for a women’s facility in Mira Loma, for which the state’s funding of $100,000 was about to expire.

The Supervisors rushed into a vote on Men’s Central Jail plans, it seems, with the idea that they were working against the clock to secure the Mira Loma money. While the money for the women’s facility had nothing to do with the men’s facility, the Supervisors had the construction consulting firm lump the two plans together.

Here’s a clip from Walker’s assessment of the situation:

Could the vote by the Board of Supervisors — which some critics call a nod to the past that could negatively affect tens of thousands of lives — have been forced by an obscure fiscal deadline?

The Weekly’s request for public records concerning the vote and events leading up to it, made to the office of outgoing County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, shows that the five supervisors faced a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to secure $100 million in state funding for a women’s detention center in Mira Loma — which has nothing to do with Men’s Central Jail.

The state money, made available through Assembly Bill 900, is set to expire later this year. County officials didn’t want to lose the huge sum. For reasons that remain murky, the far more complicated proposals to replace Men’s Central Jail were lumped together with the Mira Loma facility plan in the documents prepared by Vanir Construction.

In a March 18 memo to the Board of Supervisors obtained by the Weekly, CEO Fujioka told the supervisors they had to pass one of the five Vanir proposals for replacing Men’s Central Jail in order to secure the state money for Mira Loma.

Were there other reasons for rushing the vote? At the time, all but one candidate for sheriff urged the board to wait to make a decision until after a new sheriff was in place. And Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey had launched a task force of 70 mental health professionals to look into alternatives to locking up the mentally ill. Lacey was informed of the particulars of the jail plan the day before the vote was to happen. She put together and presented to the board an early report, explaining that her task force had found better ways to work with the mentally ill and bring down the recidivism rate. Apparently, the neither the board nor Lacey were informed of the other’s work until it was too late. Neither were the Supes briefed on a trip LASD officials took to Miami to see the county’s hugely successful mental health diversion program in action.

The die was already cast, and the board voted in favor of a massive and costly new jail.

Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Nashville, all in the same boat as LA County at one time, are now seeing major success with mental health diversion programs. Miami-Dade cut their recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates down to 20%, compared with LA County, where 75% of mentally ill offenders return to jail.

Why were the Supes not informed of the Miami trip—one in which LASD attendees received actual “how-to” guides for replicating mental health diversion in their own county?

It…raises serious questions about an $18,000 trip taken last October by a group of L.A. County law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Cmdr. David Fender, who flew to Miami and saw firsthand its success in diverting mentally ill arrestees into treatment — part of the group’s “best practices” tour around the nation. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that L.A. Sheriff’s officials met with Miami’s top brass and received detailed “how-to” guides explaining the steps required to establish a comprehensive mental health diversion program from the ground up.

Yet nothing came of what the group learned in the other cities.

Assistant DA Bill Hodgman, who was on that fact-finding trip, delivered the how-to reports to his boss, Lacey, galvanizing her mental health task force to push for change in Los Angeles.

Yet the Board of Supervisors never received the documents from the DA or the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who voted against the new jail, complained about not being briefed. “I think I have been, as a member of this board, somewhat shortchanged by not having that information available to me as I’m being asked to make a decision — a $2 billion decision.”

This fall, DA Lacey will present another task force report, at which time the Supes are expected to vote on allocating $20 million for mental health diversion. But that doesn’t change the $2 billion jail rebuild.

Steve Fields of San Francisco’s Progress Foundation, whose diversion program treats the mentally ill for a fraction of the price of jailing them, asks what’s holding LA back:

According to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the yearly cost to support an individual with mental illness in a housing program in Los Angeles is $20,412.

It costs about $60,000 a year to jail him.

“I don’t know what is taking [Los Angeles] so long,” Fields says. “Counties that wanted to do this in California have had access to state funding for a long time.”


LA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS (20% OF FOSTER POPULATION) MORE LIKELY TO REPORT MISTREATMENT BY THE SYSTEM

LGBTQ kids in Los Angeles County’s foster care system are twice as likely to report being mistreated by the system, a new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study found that one in five foster kids (1,400) identify as LGBTQ, twice that of kids in LA’s general population, and that 86% of LGBTQ-identifying kids were a racial minority.

Researchers also found that, on average, LGBTQ kids had more placements than other foster kids, were more than twice as likely to live in a group home, and three times as likely to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.

This is the first study to put a number on LGBTQ foster population in any child welfare system—let alone Los Angeles, which houses the largest foster care system in the nation. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and funded by a federal grant.

The LA Times’ Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study.

“We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them,” she said.

In any given month, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has about 7,400 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 in out-of-home care, according to the study. Of those, about 1,400 identify as LGBTQ.

The study, funded by a federal grant, is the first of its kind quantifying sexual orientation and gender identity of youths in any foster system, its authors say.

Despite their large numbers in the foster care system, LGBTQ youths have been “relatively invisible,” the study said. Many do not feel safe telling their foster families or social workers about having same-sex attractions or questioning their gender identity.

[SNIP]

“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” [the executive director of the Children's Law Center of California, Leslie Starr] Heimov said. One recent case involved a child who was adopted and kicked out after her parents learned she was a lesbian.

The Williams Institute study noted that most of the LGBTQ foster youths in L.A. County were, like their straight counterparts, racial minorities. The study found that 83% of LGBTQ youths in foster care were Latino or black.

Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, said many of these youths can face added discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”

The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, Bianca Wilson, who said:

“We found that LGBTQ…were moved around more, were more likely to be in group homes, experiencing emotional distress. And these are all seen as barriers to finding permanent homes.”


CA MEDICAL BOARD INVESTIGATING DOCTORS PRESCRIBING PSYCH MEDICATIONS TO FOSTER KIDS

Earlier this week, Karen de Sá’s alarming investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. It has spurred state lawmakers into planning legislation to curb the over-medication.

And now, at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request, the state medical board says it has launched an investigation into whether doctors are prescribing medication to change behavior, rather than treat mental illness, and thus, “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

Karen De Sá has the update. Here’s how it opens:

With pressure on California’s foster care system to curb the rampant use of powerful psych meds on children, concern is mounting about the doctors behind the questionable prescribing.

For months, the state has adamantly refused to release data that this newspaper sought to expose which physicians are most responsible. Now, in response to a request from state Sen. Ted Lieu, California’s medical board is investigating whether some doctors are “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

The action comes after this newspaper’s investigation “Drugging Our Kids” revealed doctors often prescribe risky psychotropic drugs — with little or no scientific evidence that they are safe or effective for children — to control behavior, not treat serious mental illness. Many of these drugs are approved only for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other relatively rare mental illnesses.

To examine the problem, the newspaper spent nine months negotiating with the state Department of Health Care Services to release a decade of prescribing data that did not identify individual patients.

The numbers the state finally provided showed that almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychotropic medications over the past decade. Of the children on medications, almost 60 percent are being prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs with serious side effects.


ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE DISCUSSES CALIFORNIA BILL TO END “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” EXPULSIONS

Earlier this month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 420, that would eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion in any grade, and suspension in grades K-3. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, is now headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

On Thursday’s AirTalk, host Larry Mantle talked about the legislation with Brad Strong, Senior Director of Education at Children Now, the organization co-sponsoring the bill, as well as Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers (which took a neutral stance on the measure).

Take a listen.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LGBT, mental health, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 7 Comments »

Drugging California’s Foster Kids, Suspect Asking for Help Dies in LAPD Custody, “Reasonable Fear,” and a Bill to Seal Juvenile Records

August 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRESCRIBING PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO CALIFORNIA’S FOSTER KIDS

The San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has an excellent investigative longread exploring the issue of the high rates at which foster kids are prescribed psychotropic drugs (often a cocktail of several different pills), why they are prescribed, and the lasting negative effects the drugs are having on kids.

An investigation by the Mercury found that one-in-four of California’s foster kids are receiving psychotropic drugs—a number more than three times that of all kids across the nation. The study also revealed that kids are receiving questionable prescriptions for drugs that are not approved for children.

The story is the first in a five-part series. Subsequent installments will explore topics like group homes’ excessive use of drugs to manage kids, how young kids are being medicated, and the cost to taxpayers and kids.

Here’s how it opens:

They are wrenched from abusive homes, uprooted again and again, often with their life’s belongings stuffed into a trash bag.

Abandoned and alone, they are among California’s most powerless children. But instead of providing a stable home and caring family, the state’s foster care system gives them a pill.

With alarming frequency, foster and health care providers are turning to a risky but convenient remedy to control the behavior of thousands of troubled kids: numbing them with psychiatric drugs that are untested on and often not approved for children.

An investigation by this newspaper found that nearly 1 out of every 4 adolescents in California’s foster care system is receiving these drugs — 3 times the rate for all adolescents nationwide. Over the last decade, almost 15 percent of the state’s foster children of all ages were prescribed the medications, known as psychotropics, part of a national treatment trend that is only beginning to receive broad scrutiny.

“We’re experimenting on our children,” said Los Angeles County Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the nation’s largest juvenile court.

A year of interviews with foster youth, caregivers, doctors, researchers and legal advocates uncovered how the largest foster care system in the U.S. has grown dependent on quick-fix, taxpayer-funded, big-profit pharmaceuticals — and how the state has done little to stop it.

“To be prescribing these medications so extensively and so, I think, thoughtlessly, with so little evidence supporting their use, it’s just malpractice,” said George Stewart, a Berkeley child psychiatrist who has treated the neediest foster children in the Bay Area for the past four decades. “It really is drugging them.”

The state official who oversees foster care, Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne, concedes drugs are overused, but insists his department is wrapping its arms around the problem: “There’s a lot of work to be done here to make sure we do things right.”

No one doubts that foster children generally have greater mental health needs because of the trauma they have suffered, and the temptation for caregivers to fulfill those needs with drugs can be strong. In the short term, psychotropics can calm volatile moods and make aggressive children more docile.

But there is substantial evidence of many of the drugs’ dramatic side effects: rapid-onset obesity, diabetes and a lethargy so profound that foster kids describe dozing through school and much of their young lives. Long-term effects, particularly on children, have received little study, but for some psychotropics there is evidence of persistent tics, increased risk of suicide, even brain shrinkage.

Sade Daniels, of Hayward, became so overweight in her teens, that at age 26 her bathroom mirror still taunts and embarrasses her. Mark Estrada, a 21-year-old from Anaheim, said he felt too “zoned out” to focus on high school and so groggy he was cut from his varsity basketball team.

And Rochelle Trochtenberg, now 31 and living in Eureka, still struggles to bring a glass to her lips because her hands are so shaky from the years she spent on a shifting mix of lithium, Depakote, Zyprexa, Haldol and Prozac, among others. When people ask, she tries to cover it up with remarks about a possible hereditary condition.

The truth is too painful to explain, she said. “I don’t want to tell people I have a tremor because I was drugged for my whole adolescence.”

The interactive longread is full of great videos and photos by Dai Sugano, so be sure to click over to the Mercury for the rest of the story.


MAN DIES OF ASTHMA IN LAPD CUSTODY AFTER REPEATEDLY ASKING OFFICERS FOR HELP

Last September, Jorge Azucena died in police custody after reportedly requesting help numerous times from LAPD officers because he was having trouble breathing.

Azucena led police on a car chase for a few miles before getting out of his vehicle and fleeing on foot. Azucena gave himself up to officers at an apartment complex nearby. Audio recordings from the officers’ microphones indicated that Azucena then complied with officers’ commands to lie down on the ground. The microphones also recorded Azucena telling the officers that he could not breathe.

A new report by the Inspector General says that microphones picked up Azucena telling officers he was having a hard time breathing at least five times. The IG’s report shows that officers dismissed Azucena’s pleas for help, telling him that if he was able to talk, he was able to breathe.

Azucena continued to beg officers for help after arriving at the station. He was left in a holding cell until an officer noticed that he appeared to have stopped breathing. Forty minutes after he was brought into the station, paramedics arrived, tried to revive him, and transported him to a hospital where he was declared dead a few hours later.

While blood tests showed meth in Azucena’s system, his autopsy suggested that he died of his asthma attack.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

…as he was lying handcuffed on the ground, Azucena said again that he was struggling to breathe and told the officers he had asthma. Officers had to help him to his feet and hold him by the arms as he walked to a patrol car. One officer recalled to investigators that Azucena was “walking wobbly” and seemed “fatigued,” Beck’s report said.

Over the next 10 minutes, as various officers and sergeants watched over him, Azucena is heard on the recordings complaining about his trouble breathing at least five times, the reports showed. In one exchange, he told officers he was on drugs and believed he was having a seizure. At another point, he began yelling to onlookers.

“Help me, help me, help me,” he shouted, according to the inspector general’s report. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.”

In response, a sergeant ordered officers to place him in the back seat of a patrol car, believing he was trying to incite the crowd watching, the report said.

The patrol car’s camera recorded Azucena as he tried to lie down in the back seat. When an officer ordered him to sit up, Azucena kicked the car door and said, “I can’t breathe. Help me, help me. I can’t breathe,” according to the reports.

Several officers and sergeants told investigators afterward they did not see any indications that Azucena was in serious distress. One recalled that Azucena seemed to be trying to catch his breath as he sat in the patrol car waiting to be brought to the station but nonetheless appeared to be fine.

The inspector general’s report highlights several exchanges in which police dismiss Azucena’s complaints and tell him that he is fine because he is talking. Several officers told investigators they noticed that Azucena was sweating but believed the humid weather and his attempt to flee were responsible, the report said.

Steve Soboroff, president of the civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said it was “troubling” that so many officers ignored Azucena. The case, he said, underscored the need to better train officers on department policies that require them to call for an ambulance whenever a suspect complains of breathing problems.

“I don’t think this points to a culture of officers who don’t care about people,” Soboroff said. “But it’s important that we make sure officers know they can follow their own moral compass and can feel comfortable speaking up in any situation if they have questions about what is going on.”

Read the rest.


“REASONABLE FEAR” MOST CRUCIAL FACTOR IN DETERMINING FATE OF OFFICER WHO SHOT MICHAEL BROWN

The NY Times’ Michael Wines and Frances Robles talk with a number of criminal justice experts about what factors will go into a grand jury’s determination of whether Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, earlier this month. Experts point out that while there are pages and pages of rules on officer use of force, in split-second, life-or-death decisions, “reasonable fear” of a suspect causing grave injury or death to an officer or civilian is enough cause for deadly use of force. The question of whether Wilson had an “objectively reasonable” fear will be crucial in deciding whether the shooting was within the law.

Here’s how it opens:

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

But as sweeping as restrictions on the use of weapons may be, deciding whether an officer acted correctly in firing at a suspect is not cut and dried. A host of outside factors, from the officer’s perception of a threat to the suspect’s behavior and even his size, can emerge as mitigating or damning.

The police, the courts and experts say some leeway is necessary in situations where officers under crushing stress must make split-second decisions with life-or-death consequences. A large majority of officers never use their weapons. A handful of officers may be rogue killers, researchers say, but laboratory simulations of armed confrontations show that many more officers — much like ordinary civilians — can make honest mistakes in the pressure cooker of an armed encounter.

“It’s a difficult job for coppers out there,” Timothy Maher, a former officer and a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said in an interview. “In the heat of the moment, things are happening so quickly. If they were role-playing, they could say, ‘Time out.’ But in real life, it’s, ‘Wow — in my training, this guy stopped, but here, he didn’t.’ ”

Some citizens who read witnesses’ accounts of police shootings or view cellphone videos of them see the shootings as brutal and unjustified, which underscores a frequent gap between public perceptions and official views.

The rules dictate when an officer may move from mild coercion, such as issuing an order or grabbing a suspect’s arm, to stronger or even deadly action. In general, officers are allowed to respond with greater force after a suspect does so, and the type of response — from a gentle push to a tight grip, a baton strike to a stun gun shock to a bullet — rises as the threat grows.

Every step, however, is overshadowed by a single imperative: If an officer believes he or someone else is in imminent danger of grievous injury or death, he is allowed to shoot first, and ask questions later. The same is true, the courts have ruled, in cases where a suspect believed to have killed or gravely injured someone is fleeing and can only be halted with deadly force.

Read on.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO AUTOMATICALLY SEAL JUVENILE RECORDS AND GIVE KIDS A CHANCE TO START OVER FRESH

Late last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, SB 1038, that will automatically seal kids’ non-violent juvenile records from the public upon completion of probation. Current law allows kids to seal their records, but only through petitioning the court, which can be costly and time-consuming.

You can read more about the bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), on Sen. Leno’s website. Here’s a clip:

“This important legislation helps ensure that young people who have been in trouble and have paid their debt to society are given the chance to turn their lives around before it’s too late,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Without a fresh start, a young offender could be prevented from pursuing higher education or entering the workforce, two of the best ways to keep youth from entering a life of crime as adults. I thank Governor Brown for his leadership in signing this measure.”

SB 1038 provides for the automatic sealing of juvenile records in cases where the youthful offender successfully completes all court-imposed sanctions. Existing law already allows for the sealing of non-violent juvenile records, but requires a young person to petition the court. Many young people never file a petition because it can be a lengthy process and have significant costs. Others are unaware of their right to petition, move away, or assume their record is automatically sealed when they turn 18.

The bill does not apply to serious, violent crimes, which remain un-sealable under all circumstances.

“Today California has taken a significant step to help non-violent juvenile offenders move past mistakes they made in their young lives,” said Maureen Pacheco, legislative committee member with the California Public Defenders Association (CPDA). “We are redoubling our focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders back into society, an objective that is nearly impossible to attain when that person is forever stigmatized by a past crime.”

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LAPD, mental health | 5 Comments »

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

July 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHAT WILL LA COUNTY DO WITH THE DILAPIDATED CENTRAL JUVENILE HALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


SUPES PUSH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION VOTE TO NEXT TUESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE HISTORY OF MARIJUANA PROHIBITION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A story in USC News explains how this works:

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

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

Here’s more from USC News.

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

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

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

The Cost of Court Involvement


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

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

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

Here’s the story:

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

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

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

Here are some clips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill came out to $221,000….

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:

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

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

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


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

They wrote:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

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

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

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

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

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

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

Leifman said the results were striking.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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