Friday, October 9, 2015
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Protecting Foster Kids, Gov. Brown’s Veto Message, John Oliver on Mental Illness…and More

October 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a new center—a philanthropy liaison—within the still developing Office of Child Protection. The new liaison effort will fill in a problematic gap in the child welfare system: collaboration with philanthropic groups on initiatives to better protect and serve foster kids.

The new Center for Strategic Public-Private Partnerships will have three staff members who will be tasked with securing funding assistance from philanthropic groups. Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion with Supe Sheila Kuehl said she sees the money going toward keeping kids safe from abuse, addressing trauma in foster children, and other critical safety and wellbeing efforts.

“The power of public-private partnerships has been under-utilized within the County. This motion changes that unfortunate dynamic,” Supervisor Solis said. “With this new Center in place, we will be far better positioned to combine the best thinking and resources of government and philanthropy into programs that work for children. That is why this initiative is a priority for me.”

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the new center. Here’s a clip:

“We believe it will be a game-changer and lead to a more effective and collaborative relationship between government and philanthropy as we work together toward a better future for our children,” said Chris Essel, SCG’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Twelve philanthropic groups have already endorsed the center, according to a press release from Solis’ office: The Ahmanson Foundation; Annenberg Foundation; Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation/Pritzker Foster Care Initiative; Blue Shield of California Foundation; California Community Foundation; The California Endowment; David Bohnett Foundation; Hilton Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation; UniHealth Foundation; and Weingart Foundation.

“Improving our child welfare system requires the kind of innovative solutions that result from cross-sector collaboration. This is a very important example of government and philanthropy working together on behalf of our children and families,” said Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation, in a press release.

The board also passed a motion by Supe Kuehl to hire a consultant to focus specifically on the finding areas in which the county departments are failing LGBTQ foster kids, who are over-represented in the child welfare system. The consultant will gather data and present recommendations to the board on how to better care for the vulnerable LGBTQ foster population, including recommendations on training for those in contact with the kids (like social workers, mental health professionals, and foster parents).

“All the young people in our foster care system face incredible challenges, but the nearly 20% who identify as LGBTQ are in great need of targeted support to ensure they’re properly cared for, valued and respected, said Kuehl. “This is an important first step in improving outcomes for these kids and I’m proud to have the opportunity to champion them today.”

Here’s a clip from Kuehl’s website:

These youth face unique challenges and barriers to finding positive outcomes and permanent homes—challenges stemming from discrimination due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

Not only are LGBTQ youth over-represented in the foster care population, there are also significant disparities in experience between LGBTQ youth and their non-LGBTQ counterparts. These disparities could be mitigated if we develop and utilize accurate data and enhanced training efforts to more fully address their needs, including identifying and re-mediating the effects of bullying and trauma.

As part of a five-year, federal grant awarded to the LGBT Center in Los Angeles, the Williams Institute at UCLA and Holarchy Consulting conducted a landmark study of 786 randomly sampled foster youth ages 12 to 21. The findings show that 19 percent – nearly one in five – foster youth in Los Angeles County identify as LGBTQ. This means that there are almost four times more LGBTQ youth as a percentage of young people in foster care than those identifying as LGBTQ outside foster care.

Given this over-representation of LGBTQ youth among foster children, it is even more problematic that there has been very little focus on this population. According to the Williams-Holarchy study, LGBTQ youth have a higher than average number of foster care placements and a greater likelihood of being in a group home, hospitalized or homeless at some point in their lives. More stable placements and stronger reunification efforts could lead to improved educational and permanency outcomes.

Costly group home and hospital stays could be avoided with a more targeted approach in serving this unique population. While many of our departments have made very good efforts to develop specialized LGBTQ programs, now is the time for the County to systematically address the needs of LGBTQ youth in our child welfare system.

Also on Tuesday, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of three weakened, but still important, bills to curb doctors over-prescribing of dangerous psychotropic medications to vulnerable foster kids. San Jose Mercury News’ Karen De Sá has more on the three bills authored by Senators Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). (If you haven’t, be sure to read De Sá’s powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked over-drugging of California’s foster children.)


Over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a pile of bills that would have created new crimes (and put more people behind bars for longer). In his veto message the governor urged caution, pointing out that the state already has a whopping 5,000 criminal laws. “I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just, and more cost-effective,” said Brown.

An LA Times editorial lauds the governor’s message, and calls for a sentencing commission to review the criminal statutes and give meaningful reform recommendations to responsive lawmakers. Here’s a clip:

We take that statement not as merely a wise admonition but as a call to action. California needs a comprehensive review of its 5,000 criminal statutes. It needs a sentencing commission to provide a holistic view of crimes and penalties, to recommend needed changes — what to roll back, what to toughen up — and to critique legislative proposals. It needs lawmakers who take such recommendations seriously and are prepared to inject some sense into our criminal justice framework.

The Legislature too often proves itself inadequate to the task. Senators and Assembly members carry bills as one-offs that respond to current tragedies, outrages or headlines, or that cater to the needs of particular advocacy groups, even when there is little or no evidence that greater safety or savings will result. There is an entire crime bill industry that measures effectiveness by the number of infractions turned into misdemeanors and misdemeanors turned into felonies. Results have included, for example, more serious charges and stiffer criminal sanctions for the theft of avocados or crustaceans than other goods of similar value, and long sentences for relatively minor nonviolent crimes such as drug possession.


John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, continues to hammer away at important social and criminal justice issues. This week, Oliver takes on the issue of mental health in the United States, including the inadequate treatment, the never-ending cycle of fatal encounters between law enforcement and the mentally ill, and the horrifying fact that there are ten times more people with mental illness behind bars than in psychiatric hospitals. Watch the segment above.


FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik has a very helpful analysis of the major bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill announced last week. (Backstory here.)

Here’s a clip:

The crimes that would have new mandatory minimums produce few convictions. They are interstate domestic violence — involving travel across state lines by an offender or victim — resulting in death or serious injury, or committed with a dangerous weapon; and providing goods or services to terrorists or proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

Just 44 people were sentenced for interstate domestic violence last year, according to the Sentencing Commission’s 2014 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. And 162 people were sentenced for the category of crimes that includes arming or aiding terrorists.

The commission’s numbers include some people whose crimes wouldn’t have been covered by the new mandatory minimums proposed in the Senate bill. That’s because the legislation doesn’t cover everyone who has violated the relevant federal statutes; it covers only a subset of the most serious offenders. For instance, not all interstate domestic violence results in death or serious injury or is committed with a dangerous weapon.

For that reason, the number of people who would have been affected by the bill if it were in effect in 2014 is smaller — far smaller, according to Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports the bill but opposes the new mandatory minimums. She estimates that if the mandatory minimums were in place last year, they would have affected just 22 people for interstate domestic violence and just eight people for aiding or arming terrorists.

By contrast, thousands more people could benefit from a different provision of the bill. It retroactively applies the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the gap in sentencing guidelines between offenses involving crack cocaine and those involving powder cocaine. (Crack sentences, which disproportionately affect black prisoners, were significantly higher than those for powder.) Making the 2010 law retroactive would give approximately 6,500 people convicted of crack offenses who remain in prison the right to file a motion for a reduced sentence — although the bill doesn’t mandate that courts grant the motion and some of the prisoners already are near the end of their sentences.


And in the coming weeks, the US Department of Justice is scheduled to release around 6,000 drug offenders from federal prison, reducing prison overcrowding and shortening old, harsh drug-related sentences.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

The inmates from federal prisons nationwide will be set free by the department’s Bureau of Prisons between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. About two-thirds of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. About one-third are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported, officials said.

The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive.

The commission’s action is separate from an effort by President Obama to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders, an initiative that has resulted in the early release of 89 inmates.

The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 figure, which has not been reported previously, is the first tranche in that process.

“The number of people who will be affected is quite exceptional,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports sentencing reform.

The Sentencing Commission estimated that an additional 8,550 inmates would be eligible for release between this Nov. 1 and Nov. 1, 2016.

The releases are part of a shift in the nation’s approach to criminal justice and drug sentencing that has been driven by a bipartisan consensus that mass incarceration has failed and should be reversed.

Along with the commission’s action, the Justice Department has instructed its prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences.

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Trauma Lawsuit Against Compton School District, Drugging Foster Kids, the Brown Act-violating Jail Vote, and California’s New Resident Wolves

August 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald heard arguments in a potentially precedent-setting suit against Compton Unified School District for failing to help severely traumatized kids struggling with learning.

The lawsuit filed by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in May, alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law.

If Judge Fitzgerald grants the injunction, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.

A decision in favor of the young plaintiffs could also have a ripple effect on schools across the country.

Compton Unified’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the suit could have the effect giving all of Compton’s students a disability designation just because of where they live.

(Go here for WLA’s previous reporting on this lawsuit.)

NPR’s Cory Turner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them.

The LA Times’ Stephen Caesar also reported on this issue.


A California bill would have mandated oversight of the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, giving current public health nurses power to monitor the kids, and paying for 38 new public health nurses across CA’s 58 counties.

The bill likely would have been a meaningful step forward in addressing a serious breakdown in foster kids’ mental health care, (uncovered in Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids“) that is, until its author Senator Jim Beall had to strip it of nearly all of its power in the hopes of getting it past budget hawks.

Implementation would have cost $5 million in the first year, and up to $10 million per year, thereafter.

Because Sen. Beall cut the funding out of the bill to give it a chance in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, nurse oversight is no longer be mandatory: counties can choose to opt in (or not) and will have to cough up the money if they want to participate.

Unfortunately, according to National Center for Youth Law’s Anna Johnson, “If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it.”

Contra Costa Times’ Josh Richman has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Appropriations committees are usually the highest hurdle you have to jump over … second perhaps only to the governor’s signature,” Beall, D-San Jose, said later Wednesday. “We’re going to get the bill on the governor’s desk.”

Beall’s SB 319 is one of four pending bills inspired by the Bay Area News Group’s investigative series “Drugging Our Kids,” which revealed that nearly 1 in 4 foster care teens takes psychiatric drugs.

The drugs are often used to control behavior, not to treat mental illnesses. Most of those on the drugs are prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of medication that have the most harmful side effects.

The bill still would give public health nurses the authority to get foster youth’s medical records from social workers and prescribing doctors, Beall said, even though it won’t be required. Almost all of the state’s largest counties will do so, he predicted, and he can use his seats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees to revisit funding for more nurses and perhaps a statewide mandate in next year’s budget talks.

Still, foster-youth advocates were disappointed.

The Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law sponsored SB 319, and center policy analyst Anna Johnson testified on its behalf Wednesday. Afterward, she said the state’s refusal to spend any money on this is especially disappointing because the federal government would pay 75 percent of the bill.

“If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it” as many other states have, she said. Refusing to do so means “we’re happy with passing that cost on to foster children’s bodies” by “taking a big risk that children will continue to not be monitored on these medications, whether they’re medically necessary or not.”


Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a letter confronting the Board of Supervisors about violating the Ralph M. Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, the vote did not honor the public’s guaranteed right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

The LA Times’ editorial board says that even though the Supes remedied the improper vote by recalendaring it, the move doesn’t do anything to solve the public trust issue the first vote created. Here’s a clip:

Then, without prior notice, they proceeded to discuss and adopt a separate plan to downsize a facility to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to move ahead with construction of a women’s jail in the Antelope Valley. They offered this ludicrous explanation: The proper jail size depended on the number of people they could divert, so the agenda item on diversion programs and funding necessarily provided the public adequate notice that they would also take up and vote on the controversial multibillion-dollar public works projects.

The true reason for trying to shoehorn in the jails vote? It might be that they had just discovered that state officials were serious about a looming deadline to apply for construction funding, and that they were going to miss it because of their inattentiveness; or that properly calendaring the item for a later meeting would interfere with their vacation plans; or that providing legally adequate notice would raise too much of a public ruckus; or all of the above.

Some county officials also reasoned, after the fact, that anyone who cared about jails also cared about diversion, and therefore was already in the room and received their (very short) notice in real time.

But the purpose of public notice requirements isn’t solely to allow people to show up at board meetings to offer comments, especially in a county of 10 million residents. Only a small slice of the public weighs in that way. Others voice their opinions by calling, emailing, organizing, lobbying or arguing in advance of a major decision affecting them — if they know, as the law entitles them to know, when that decision is to be made. And when push comes to shove, taxpayers and other members of the public have every right to know what their elected representatives are doing, whether they plan to weigh in or not.


A new pack of gray wolves, called the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials, has appeared in California. The two adult wolves and five pups, captured on a trail camera, are the first resident pack in CA in decades.

In 2011, a lone gray wolf, OR-7, made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon. OR-7 now lives with his pack just over the Oregon border.

Here’s what the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has to say about the new pack:

Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.

In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.

CDFW is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick who has been following the California wolf saga for years has the story.

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Trauma, wolves | 7 Comments »

LA Jail Plan to be Reconsidered….Rebuilding Jordan Downs….and Bail

August 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors may have violated the Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday. The amendment, proposed by Supe. Michael Antonovich, was to launch construction on two new jails—one, a 3,885-bed replacement of Men’s Central Jail (to the tune of $2 billion), and the other, a women’s jail renovation at Mira Loma Detention Facility.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, advocates and others say the vote was illegal according to the Brown Act which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

Supe. Antonovich has since submitted a motion to reconsider the jail plans on September 1, but the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg is worried the new “ambiguous” motion also means the jail diversion plan it’s attached to will also be reconsidered, unnecessarily.

“The only thing that really needs to be recalendared and opened for comment is the board’s decision to go ahead with the jail plan,” said Eliasberg. “As far as I’m concerned, the diversion motion was properly noted and should be treated as properly passed.”

The Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We understood that there were members of the public concerned that there was not enough time to participate in the process,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said Monday. “We recalendared the item to make sure anyone who wanted to provide input on this item had that opportunity.”

The vote to continue construction of a $2 billion new jail in downtown L.A. to replace Men’s Central Jail and the renovation of a women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Facility was tacked onto a motion during last week’s meeting on the jail diversion plan.

Antonovich proposed an amendment to the jail diversion motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would authorize contractors to continue construction on the two jails and proposed that 4,600 beds be built in the downtown jail that would house mentally ill inmates, inmates who have substance abuse issues and those who require medical attention.

Kuehl proposed a change to Antonovich’s amendment that the new jail have 3,885 beds, which was approved by a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining.

The diversion plan was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed. Knabe said he wanted to have a flexible number of beds so that if the diversion efforts were successful, the number of beds in the jail could be reduced.

The agenda did not mention there would be discussion or a vote on the jail plan.

The jail plan was discussed at the Aug. 4 board meeting, but no vote was taken. At that meeting, the supervisors discussed a consultant’s report on the number of beds required at the new downtown jail facility.

During last week’s meeting, Peter Eliasberg, ACLU legal advisor, said the vote violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings for local government bodies. He said the board opened itself up to a lawsuit.

The problematic vote riled the LA Times’ Editorial Board. Here’s the first paragraph of the board’s response:

Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?

We’ll keep you updated.


Plans for major reconstruction of the once-notorious 700-unit Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been on hold for years.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) has been sitting on a $700 million plan to clean up the subsidized housing community, and add 700 more units, as well as restaurants and shops meant to provide jobs opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and the rest of the Watts community.

Jordan Downs has a history of gang violence, but is not as bad as it once was. The housing project went nearly four years without a homicide (until this April). Before that, from 2000-2011, 25 people were killed there.

Money has been spent on substance abuse treatment, community policing, child care, job training, and other programs including, Project Fatherhood. Through the Project Fatherhood program, men from Jordan Downs meet every week to teach each other, and younger men in the community, how to be fathers.

HACLA has lost out on federal funding, and is in the middle of cleaning up an adjacent toxic factory site on 21 acres, both of which are causing delays. But the LA Times’ Editorial Board says HACLA and city officials must make the Jordan Downs rebuild a priority, and get it built. Here’s a clip:

Numerous challenges lie ahead: There are commitments for some funding but hardly all of it, and the Housing Authority has twice lost out on federal grants for the project. Residents, meanwhile, are fearful of how the rethinking and reconstruction of their homes will change their lives.

The goal of public housing has long been to provide temporary shelter to families who need time to get on their feet before moving on, but Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.

Questions of ideology and pragmatism lurk in the background. Has traditional public housing failed? Will adding market-rate housing and retail better serve the people who live there? Will the new Jordan Downs be an alternative to old-style projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Gonzaque Village, or a model for them?

However those questions are answered, it’s crucial for current and future residents that Jordan Downs be rebuilt into a complex that could offer a way out of subsidized housing and up the economic ladder.


Plans for the new development have it maintaining 700 units of subsidized housing, and every resident in good standing at the old Jordan Downs is being promised a home there. An additional 700 units of market-rate and affordable housing would also be built. Ideally, subsidized residents would get jobs and earn more income and graduate to nonsubsidized housing, possibly in the same complex. The retail complex would also offer job opportunities for residents in Jordan Downs and throughout Watts.

But first, it has to get built.


The NY Times’ Nick Pinto takes a hard look at bail,the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.

More than half of the nearly 750,000 people locked in city and county jails nationwide have not been convicted of a crime. And many of them remain in jail awaiting trial because can’t pay the bail amount a judge has set, not because they are a threat to public safety or in danger of absconding.

Time spent in jail pretrial, solely because a poor person gets arrested and can’t afford bail, can be extremely counterproductive for all concerned, causing loss of the person’s job, removing a parent from his or her family unnecessarily, and contributing to the cycle of incarceration that keeps jails and prisons stuffed.

The broken bail system also pressures people to take plea deals they might otherwise refuse, so as not to have to spend weeks, months, or years, behind bars without a conviction. Sometimes, like in the case of Sandra Brown (link), victims of the bail system don’t even make it out alive.

In the case of Kalief Browder, an inability to post $3,000 bail led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of this year. He was 22-years-old.

Here’s how Pinto’s story opens:

On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.

The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’

Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.”

Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are “a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.” The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.

Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.

When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.

But the bail system wasn’t always this way.

When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Posted in ACLU, HACLA, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, pretrial detention/release, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

Gov. Brown Signing Bills, Hearing on Overmedication of Foster Kids, Defining Solitary, and the Folsom Riot

August 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


CA Governor Jerry Brown has signed several noteworthy bills, so far this week:

SB 411, the Right to Record Act, clarifies the First Amendment right to photograph and record video of law enforcement when officers are in a public place or where the recording citizen has a right to be.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, said, “With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reinforces our First Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians. At a time when cell phone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

And here’s why this bill is important, according to Sen. Lara’s website:

In California and beyond, members of the public have been arrested while recording or photographing police activity in public places. News accounts and videos have surfaced showing that some civilians have been arrested for recording officers in the cities of Los Angeles, Torrance, and San Diego, as well as the County of Orange. This conflict extends past police officers and civilians to professional photographers and media personnel. In Berkeley, CA a journalist was arrested after recording law enforcement officers in a public place. Last week, a bystander caught a police officer in North Charleston, S.C. in a shooting incident that has led to charges being filed against that officer.

In May, the ACLU of California launched a “Mobile Justice” app that allows users to take video (of an officer-involved incident, for instance) and immediately send it to the ACLU by pressing a button. According to the ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page, the app has been downloaded over 160,000 times as of this week.

Another bill, SB 227, bans the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases involving alleged fatal excessive use of force and fatal shootings by law enforcement officers.

The bill follows controversial secret grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson and Staten Island.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), SB 601, which aims to boost transparency and accountability by increasing the amount of required public data reporting from California prisons.

The data will be published quarterly online as a “data dashboard,” which will include inmate population numbers; rehabilitation program numbers, including enrollment and achievement statistics; the number and nature of deaths in the facility; use of force incidents; staff overtime, vacancies, pay, and positions; inmate appeals; solitary confinement population; budget and money spent; and information on lockdowns.


A three-hour joint oversight hearing between two CA Senate committees focused on a package of four California reform bills addressing the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsberg), chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, voiced frustration at the lack of data tracking and transparency to explain why foster kids are so heavily medicated.

Here’s a quick explanation of the bill package from California Healthline:

SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;

SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts’ process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;

SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and

SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 5/18).

The four bills are on their way to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week, and if passed there, will land on Gov. Brown’s desk.

(For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Seipel has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

The hearing was intended to look more closely at the standards and tools used by state and local governments in evaluating psychosocial services for foster care youth that minimize the need for the reliance on psychiatric drugs.

“You can imagine the challenges our vulnerable kids faced when they were trying to access care within the foster health care system,” McGuire said.

The senator said he was having trouble getting answers to basic questions, including: How many of the youths had been prescribed prescription drugs? How many were taking multiple prescribed drugs? How many doctors had the youths seen?

“How can we treat them if we don’t have their medical history?” McGuire asked, noting that much of this data is submitted to state departments on a voluntary, but not mandatory, basis.


On Tuesday, Hernandez told the panel that after this newspaper’s series brought the problem to his attention he wanted some answers.

“The questions I have are: Why is it that this population is being prescribed drugs at the rates they are being prescribed? Is that normal, standard protocol? How do we compare to other states?”

Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, told the senators that California lacks a system capable of tracking prescription practices about psychotropic medications for foster youth.

“Care coordination should be provided immediately upon entry into foster care,” Johnson said, noting that California can learn from states.


At a Senate hearing focusing on conditions in federal prisons, Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, insisted that solitary confinement is not used in federal detention facilities.

Samuels said that inmates are housed two to a cell. Because of this, even if the prisoners are held for 22 or more hours per day and experience every other aspect of isolation, the practice no longer qualifies as solitary confinement, according to Samuels.

(Read more about the Senate hearing: here.)

Vice’s Seth Ferranti and Robert Rosso gathered some reactions to Samuels’ statements from federal prisoners. Here are some clips:

“Reading what Samuels said was like watching Bill Clinton change the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ when he denied that Monica Lewinsky gave him head,” says Jay Martt, a federal inmate serving 14 years for robbery at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana. “He’s redefining what solitary confinement means in modern times.”…

“We do not, under any circumstances, nor have we ever had the practice of putting an individual in a cell alone,” while housed in the SHU, Samuels swore before members of the Senate.

“How can he get away with saying such a bald-face lie?” wonders Martt. ” Of course they put guys in single-cells in the SHU. All that one of these senators needs to do is subpoena any log-book from any SHU in the BOP and they could prosecute Director Samuels for lying to members of Congress.”…

“Prison officials like to tell the public and the courts that when we are put in the hole, or the ‘SHU,’ that we get one hour out of our cells every day for recreation. It’s a lie,” Martt, who gets released from prison next year, tells VICE. “Sometimes, when the staff feels like it, they might let us go from our cell into a cage that’s the size of two cells combined with up to six other people in it, and we stand around looking stupid. That’s what the BOP calls our ‘one hour’ out of the cell per day.”…

Troy Hockenberry, serving a ten-year sentence for a gun charge, says it’s the misuse of the special housing units that concerns him. “I know a guy who was sent to the hole for not tucking in his shirt. He stayed back there for over a month—for not tucking in his shirt! That’s absurd,” he said. Hockenberry argued that staff will target inmates that they don’t like and have them placed in the SHU for an “investigation.” According to BOP policy, an inmate can remain in the SHU under investigation for a period 90 days, at which time a decision must be made: Charge the inmate, or place them back into general population.

“But they’ve got a trick for that, too,” Hockenberry tells VICE. “They ask for an extension.” An officer investigating an alleged wrong doing can request three extensions, meaning that an inmate can be held in the SHU for nine months without ever being charged. “The bottom line is they can do whatever they want to us and nobody cares,” Hockenberry concludes.


On Wednesday, 71-year-old Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, one of the “San Quentin Six” inmates who attempted to break out of the state prison in 1971, was killed during a 70-inmate riot at New Folsom Prison in Sacramento.

Pinell and other inmates were reportedly stabbed with makeshift weapons. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals. No prison staff members were injured in the brawl.

Pinell was locked-up in 1965 for rape, and in 1971 was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after killing a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. That same year, Pinell was part of a prison break that resulted in the death of two guards and four inmates, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Richard Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.

Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, law enforcement, mental health | 11 Comments »

LA County Supervisors Choose a New Jail Plan & Vote Serious $$ to Fund Mental Health Diversion Strategy

August 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

The LA County Board of Supervisors made two significant decisions on Tuesday regarding LA’s troubled jail system.

In an historic move, the Supes approved a plan to establish an Office of Diversion to oversee the county’s nascent mental health diversion effort. More importantly, the board allocated $120 million to launch the plan to divert mentally ill people away from jail and into community treatment, with a minimum of $10 million a year to continue the program.

LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey, was ebullient. This day, she said, was something “that many of us have been dreaming of in terms of people acknowledging that the old way of doing things simply isn’t working.”

But as excited as she was, Lacey emphasized that, when it came to diversion, the devil would be in the details.

She had questions about the motion, she said, but she was confident that all concerned could work out those details in good faith.

Next the board voted to go ahead with the construction of a replacement for the old and awful Men’s central jail, and for a new women’s jail at Mira Loma, which would be partially funded by the state of California.

The sticking point was, as it has always been, the size of the MCJ replacement.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich moved that the new replacement facility should supply 4,600 new beds, which is still a lower number than the 4,900 beds that Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the county’s custody facilities, say are needed to appropriately house and treat the county’s mentally ill inmates—now and in the future—even with an aggressive diversion plan.

Supervisor Hilda Solis disagreed and proposed a far smaller 3,243-bed facility.

“In the light of the massive investment [in diversion] contemplated by a separate motion on the board’s agenda today,” said Solis, “it is clear that Los Angeles County intends to be at the forefront of efforts to develop safe and effective ways of reducing our society’s unsustainable and ineffective reliance on incarceration.”

Solis also name checked the MacArthur Foundation’s Challenge Grant, under which the county has agreed to be mentored to design and implement a plan to lower LA County’s jail population.

Finally, Sheila Kuehl offered a compromise plan for 3,885 beds.

“I think listening to this,” she said, “people probably feel a bit of whiplash. Everybody’s got a motion.” Her suggestion was a larger jail than she wanted, she said, and smaller than the sheriff and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald would like. But while she didn’t think incarceration was the answer for many people, she believed the compromise size was called for.

“…Over the next ten years,” Kuehl continued, “it seems unlikely to me that we will be able to divert every single person. And what will happen if we do not tear down that abomination, Men’s Central Jail, and put something in tis place that is truly a treatment facility…Then all that will happen is people who need mental health treatment…” will not get any treatment at all.

“We could imagine that everyone can be diverted, but the truth is, they cannot.”

Kuehl’s compromise passed 3/1 with Supervisor Don Knabe voting no, and Supervisor Solis abstaining.

Cindy Chang at the LA Times has more. Here’s a clip:

Men’s Central Jail currently houses about 4,000 inmates. Many of the inmates at the new jail would be moved from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, which is now used for mentally ill inmates. That would allow the department to move some inmates in Men’s Central Jail to Twin Towers, which was originally designed to house the general population rather than the mentally ill.

It’s unclear how much the compromise plan would cost.

The jail proposals were not listed on the public meeting agenda. Instead, during Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors tacked them onto the ambitious diversion plan for mentally ill offenders proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl.

Jail reform advocates praised the diversion plan but opposed the jail plan. They accused the board of violating open meeting laws by voting on the jail plan without written notice.

Anna Mouradian, a justice aide to Antonovich, said the county could have jeopardized $100 million in state money for the new women’s facility at Mira Loma if the board had not voted on the jail plan. The State Public Works Board is scheduled to consider the Mira Loma project on Monday.

Mouradian said the county was justified in voting on the jail plan on Tuesday because the diversion plan was on the meeting agenda, and the two issues “go hand in hand.”

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, threatened a lawsuit over the vote.

“This is an enormous construction project,” he told the board. “It should not be rushed ahead, no matter how much this board is afraid of losing money for Mira Loma.”

The MCJ replacement project will take six to eight years to complete and will do away with the crumbling and dangerous dungeon like structure that everyone agrees must be torn down. It is to be replaced with a state-of-the-art center geared toward providing treatment for inmates with mental and emotional health and substance abuse issues.

The new women’s jail to be built at the vacant Mira Loma Detention Center will provide a more dorm-like, rehabilitative environment that is designed toward women’s specific needs.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health | 1 Comment »

LA Supes to Vote on Mental Health Diversion, Differing Definitions of Solitary Confinement, Rancho Cielo, and HuffPost & WaPo Ferguson Reporters Facing Charges

August 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Today (Tuesday), the LA County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on increasing mental health diversion efforts in the county through creating and funding an Office of Diversion.

Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report full of recommendations on how to redirect LA’s mentally ill from county jails and into far more appropriate community treatment. Several of the most important pieces of DA Lacey’s report include implementation of major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, adding more urgent cares to which officers can bring people in crisis, and launching a specialized housing program.

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and in a report presented to the board last week, interim CEO Sachi Hamai estimated Lacey’s diversion plan would have a total implementation cost of $83,574,841. The necessary additional funding will come from realignment money, as well as money from SB 678, the Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act.

Today’s motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl would establish a Director of the Office of Diversion position under the Department of Health Services (DHS).

The director would work with five other Diversion staff members (experts in mental health, substance abuse treatment, housing, etc.) to oversee LA County’s efforts to divert the mentally ill, homeless, and those with substance abuse problems from lock-up. The Diversion office will coordinate closely with the Jail Care Transitions Director (whose job it is to ensure inmates have access to reentry services when they’re released).

The motion would also create a committee to push diversion recommendations and to keep cross-agency collaboration running smoothly. The Permanent Steering Committee would be comprised of one official from the Chief Executive Office, the Superior Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternative Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Probation, the Fire Department, the Department of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse Prevention and the Control division of the Department of Public Health, and DHS.

“We need the Office of Diversion Services to serve as a pipeline, bringing people from one resource to the next in an effective way so they do not commit more crimes once they are released,” said Supe. Ridley-Thomas. “In fact, we need to design a game plan so that they don’t enter the system in the first place.”

The SoCal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, said that if the motion passed, “it would be a major step forward in the diversion effort.”


During a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing that focused on conditions in federal prisons, including solitary confinement practices, criminal justice advocates and prison officials had a strange disagreement about whether the US Bureau of Prisons even uses solitary confinement.

Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, told US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) that isolation isn’t actually happening in federal facilities because in the overstuffed prisons, inmates are sharing cells in solitary confinement, and are only housed solo if they are determined to be a threat to others or if a health professional deems it necessary.

But according to the Department of Justice’s own definition of solitary confinement, if inmates are kept in their cells for 22 or more hours per day, in limited contact with other people, it doesn’t matter whether or not inmates are in their own cells or housed with others.

The ACLU’s Amy Fettig, called the confusing exchange “simply a word game to try to cover up a practice that harms people.”

The National Journal’s Emma Roller has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We do not practice solitary confinement,” Samuels told Booker at the hearing. “Our practice has always been to ensure that when individuals are placed in restrictive housing, we place them in a cell with another individual, to also include that our staff make periodic rounds to check on the individuals.”

“I’m sorry, I just really need to be clear on that,” Booker cut in, sounding baffled. “Your testimony to me right now is that the BOP does not practice solitary confinement of individuals singularly in a confined area?”

“You’re correct,” Samuels said. “We only place an individual in a cell alone if we have good evidence to believe that the individual could cause harm to another individual and/or if we have our medical or mental health staff given an evaluation that it would be a benefit to the individual to be placed in a cell alone. We do not under any circumstances, nor have we ever, had a practice of placing individuals in a cell alone.”

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said Samuels did not testify accurately.

“It’s patently untrue. The Bureau of Prisons does use solitary confinement,” Fettig said. “It is simply a word game to try to cover up a practice that harms people.”

So, what explains the two different stories? According to Fettig, the bureau has reckoned with a growing prison population by double-celling inmates in solitary confinement, then claiming that doesn’t qualify as solitary confinement.

In fact, this interpretation is at odds with the bureau’s parent organization, the Department of Justice. The DOJ defines solitary confinement as “the state of being confined to one’s cell for approximately 22 hours per day or more, alone or with other prisoners, that limits contact with others.”

Read on.


In an essay for the Washington Post, Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips tells the story of how he went from landing kids in detention facilities as a Monterey County prosecutor (and then as a superior court judge), to creating a camp to keep kids out of lock-up.

The 100-acre Rancho Cielo Youth Campus in Salinas, provides teens and young adults with opportunities to earn college credits, participate in job training, and other skills-building services.

Judges can recommend teens for placement at Rancho Cielo, but no one is “sentenced” to stay at the camp. Phillips said he wanted the kids to see it as a space to grow and succeed, rather than as a punishment facility.
(now a Monterey County Supervisor)

According to Phillips, around 200 kids have graduated from Rancho Cielo, and that 83% of participants are still employed or in college one year after their time in the program ends. And, all told, Rancho Cielo’s costs are around 10% that of incarceration.

Here’s a clip from Phillips’ story:

I gained firsthand knowledge of the cycle of violence here — first during a long tenure as a Monterey County prosecutor and later as a Superior Court judge. I devoted most of my 21 years on the bench to criminal cases. During my career, I was responsible for sending a lot of young people to prison. That was my job.

By the mid-1990s, California had gotten tough on crime (“Use a gun and go to prison” and the three strikes law), and the legislature was severely restricting judicial discretion. I found myself having to decide whether an 18-year-old kid would be sentenced to either 46 years to life or 52 years to life. Most of the young people who stood before me were men of color who, because of multiple factors, had never had the opportunities that are supposed to be afforded to all our kids in this great nation.

There was also a bit of economic irony. Very few services were provided for young people involved in criminal activity before they got in trouble. But once the trigger was pulled, all sorts of resources were directed to them — police, prosecutors, a defense attorney, the judge, the judicial system, probation officers, and of course, prison incarceration. After a while, I didn’t feel as good as I once did about my job; I didn’t feel as if I was making things better. So I decided to do something about it.

I had learned there was one strategy that actually worked to engage disenfranchised young people: the combination of education, job training and, eventually, employment. These critical three experiences allow youths to reconnect with communities from which they feel alienated and help build the self-esteem and self-confidence that many lack.

I knew of a county-owned, 100-acre, abandoned facility in Salinas called Natividad Boys Camp. The beautiful land and distance from the streets of Salinas made it the perfect location for programs to help struggling kids regain trust in themselves and in our community. I tried to convince our county to restore the facility as a site for youth programs, but was told it would take $20 to $30 million to reopen the doors. It took the help of some friends in the legal community to form a nonprofit and convince the county to lease me the property.

Initially, my board of directors consisted mainly of elected officials. Frankly, we didn’t accomplish much. I was able to raise enough grant money to fund a feasibility study of my idea, but that $26,000 study concluded that the Rancho Cielo project was totally impossible. I decided to change direction and replaced my board of directors with people in the business community — construction industry leaders, in particular, since they were willing to get to work revamping the old building along with the kids.

I had no money, but we moved forward anyway, commencing work on the property in 2003. When I arrived at 7 a.m. on that first Saturday, 75 pickup trucks already covered the hills; 22 dump trucks from various trucking companies lined the road. It was a beautiful sight to see. We never looked back. a beautiful sight to see. We never looked back.


The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly, who reported on the 2014 Ferguson protests, are now being charged in St. Louis with trespassing and interfering with a police officer.

According to officers, the journalists did not leave the McDonald’s they were working in quickly enough when they were ordered to pack up and go. Reilly reportedly had his head slammed against glass during the arrest, and Lowery said he was pushed into a soda fountain.

In a statement, the Washington Post’s executive director, Martin Baron said, “Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous.”

The Huffington Post, in a statement backing the reporters, said, “At least we know St. Louis County knows how to file charges. If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, solitary | 13 Comments »

Thousands of CA’s Disenfranchised Will Soon Gain Voting Rights, LA Supes Hear Reports on Mental Health Diversion and Jail Building, and 20-Year Interviews in Solitary

August 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, two days before the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that voting rights would be restored to thousands with felony convictions under county supervision through Realignment.

(If you need a refresher: California’s Public Safety Realignment Act, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration and supervision burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties.)

Sec. of State Padilla’s move is a reversal of a decision his predecessor, Debra Bowen, made to disenfranchise realignment probationers. Before Bowen’s move, only people with felonies who were still incarcerated or who were on state parole were barred from voting.

Last year, Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo ruled against Bowen’s 2011 removal of voting rights. By the time Bowen was leaving office she had appealed Grillo’s decision. Padilla, who inherited the appeal, chose to drop the challenge, saying, “Civic engagement and participation in the election process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society.”

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism,” Padilla continued, “We need to engage—not shun—former-offenders.”


On Tuesday, at the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report detailing a plan to divert mentally ill offenders from county jails into community treatment.

“We have some resources, we have some diversion occurring, but it’s simply not to the scale that we need to do it,” said DA Lacey.

The most imperative part of the plan is implementing major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, but Lacey also wants to add more urgent cares where officers can bring people in crisis, as well as launch a specialized housing program.

Too many of our low-level offenders leave jail in worse shape than if their behavior was addressed in treatment,” said LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “Our jails simply were not built as treatment centers or with long-term treatment in mind.”

Lacey also stressed the importance of interagency communication (for instance, between the Department of Mental Health and the sheriff’s department) through a central data system, and adding more co-deployed teams of officers and clinicians to better serve the needs of people in the midst of a mental health emergency.

WLA previously posted about Lacey’s diversion report. Read more about it here.

LA County’s interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented her own report to the board–a fiscal review of the DA’s mental health diversion plan. The report breaks down estimated costs for each of Lacey’s 29 recommendations

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and the CEO estimates a total implementation cost of $83,574,841.

According to the CEO’s report, the board should made a decision by at least August 17, so as not to lose state funding for a proposed $100 million renovation of a Mira Loma detention facility to accommodate female prisoners.


Another important issue before the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday came in the form of a report from Health Management Associates explaining to the board what kind of population needs to be accommodated by a new jail, while taking into consideration Prop. 47, mental health diversion, and other major factors.

The report recommends the Men’s Central Jail replacement have a 4,600 to 5,060 bed capacity, a range very similar to the capacity of a jail plan tabled by the Supes last month in order to explore the feasibility of a smaller jail. If the county does not move forward on the diversion initiatives, the jail will need to hold 6,773 inmates, according to the report.

HMA predicts jail population growth, from 17,000 to 21,599 in the next 10 years, despite successful efforts to lower the population via things like split-sentencing and the passage of Prop 47—which reclassified certain non-serious felony offenses as misdemeanors.

The LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By 2025, 4,600 to 5,060 beds will be needed in the new facility for inmates who require medical and mental health care if the county pursues its current diversion and community treatment initiatives. If the county does not dedicate those resources, 6,773 beds will be needed to house a mentally stressed population by 2025, the consultants from Health Management Associates projected.

Drastic measures are needed to avoid violating the civil rights of inmates, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

“The current state of the jails in the County of Los Angeles strikes a note of unconstitutionality and a violation of civil rights,” Ridley-Thomas said. “To the extent that this the case, the status quo cannot be and will not be tolerated. Therefore, what is before us is how to uphold public safety and make sure those who require incarceration are incarcerated without the violation of their rights.”

Finding other facilities outside of the jails to house mentally ill inmates could open space to treat high-risk inmates with substance abuse issues, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.

Based on county population projections and sentencing trends, the consultants estimated that the total jail population will grow to more than 21,000 by 2025. There are about 17,900 inmates currently within the county’s eight jail facilities, and about 3,500 of those inmates have some form of mental illness.

The percentage of inmates who require medical and mental health treatment is projected to grow from about 20 percent in 2015 to about 34 percent in 2035, the consultants said.

The supervisors will likely vote on the jail plan next week since the construction of the proposed jail is tied to the construction of a new women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Center. The county is applying for a $100 million state grant for the Mira Loma Detention Center plan, which has an Aug. 17 deadline, according to the county interim CEO.


In 1993, a social psychologist named Craig Haney conducted interviews with prisoners locked in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. Dr. Haney’s aim was to study the psychological effects of isolation.

When Dr. Haney came back two decades later for more interviews, he was shocked to find some of the same inmates still in solitary confinement. For more than 20 years, these prisoners had spent 23 hours per day in windowless boxes, separated from other humans.

As part of a report for a class action lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s use of solitary confinement, Haney interviewed dozens of inmates who had been locked in isolation for 10-28 years.

Because most researchers have used either test subjects or inmates who have not been in solitary for very long, Haney’s interviews provide a rare look into what happens to a person who experiences long-term isolation.

The New York Times’ Erica Goode has more on Dr. Haney’s interviews and findings. Here’s a clip:

…the inmates, Dr. Haney found, still had many of the same symptoms. “The passage of time had not significantly ameliorated their pain,” he wrote.

For comparison, Dr. Haney also interviewed 25 randomly selected maximum-security inmates at Pelican Bay who were not in solitary confinement.

While 63 percent of the men in solitary for more than 10 years said they felt close to an “impending breakdown,” only 4 percent of the maximum-security inmates reported feeling that way.

Similarly, among the prisoners in isolation, 73 percent reported chronic depression and 78 percent said they felt emotionally flat, compared with 48 percent and 36 percent among the maximum-security inmates.

In depositions prepared for the Pelican Bay lawsuit, the inmates in long-term solitary also described having anxiety, paranoia, perceptual disturbances and deep depression.

One plaintiff, Mr. Reyes,said he had severe insomnia and that in the silence of the isolation unit, he sometimes heard a voice calling his name and cell number. Other times, he said, “I just see spots, just little things move.”

Mr. Redd, said that his dreams were often violent but that they became that way only after coming to Pelican Bay.

“I didn’t even have dreams,” he said. “I didn’t even have thoughts of looking up at the top of my bunk and you see cracks on the bunk and say, ‘Hey, man, if they got a little earthquake, this wall, this top bunk is going to fall down on you.’ You know, you start getting a little nervous thing.”

Locked in his cell, Mr. Redd said, he often plunged into despair.

“It’s not to the point where you want to commit suicide,” he said, “but sometimes, I’m at the point that I’d be wanting to write the judge and say, ‘Just give me the death penalty. Just give me the death penalty, man.’ ”

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health | No Comments »

Incarcerated Kids 3 Times More Likely to Be Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues….New LASD Mental Heath Crisis Teams in Desert….Expanding Adelanto…and Sandra Bland

July 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Kids in CA juvenile detention facilities were hospitalized for mental health issues way more often (and for longer) than their non-justice-system-involved peers over a period of 15 years, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Stanford researchers analyzed data from nearly two million hospitalizations of kids and teens between 11-18 in California from 1997 to 2011. The findings surprised the study’s lead author, Dr. Arash Anoshiravani. A whopping 63% of juvenile detention hospitalizations were for mental health problems, compared with 19% for kids who were not locked-up.

“We know young people in the juvenile justice system have a disproportionate burden of mental illness,” said Anoshiravani, “But I was really surprised by the magnitude of the problem, because hospitalizations typically occur for very severe illness.”

Locked up patients were more likely to be older, boys, and black. And when you took boys out of the picture, detained girls’ hospitalizations were for mental illness 74% of the time.


The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has launched three new, much-needed Mental Evaluation Units for Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster. The teams are comprised of sheriff’s deputies and a Dept. of Mental Health clinician. The LASD has such teams already in place in other parts of the county, and in the jails, but, until now, hasn’t been able to fund units for Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, which account for more than a third of mental health-related calls to the LASD.

LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here’s a clip:

“We had been pushing for this for years, but we couldn’t get the funding,” said Lt. Carlos Marquez, who oversees the evaluation teams for the Sheriff’s Department. “When we got these three additional teams, the logical placement was in Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster,”

Of the 1,000 calls for service that have to do with mental health, a third come from the northern part of L.A. County, Marquez said.

Those people who require emergency psychiatric care will be taken to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, one of three facilities countywide with emergency psychiatric beds, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, director of community health and integrated programs at the county Department of Health Services.

There are about 130 emergency psychiatric beds throughout the county — not nearly enough, Ghaly said, noting there may be some relief later this year.

In 2011, county officials opened a $10 million mental health urgent-care center in Sylmar, next to Olive View, for walk-in patients suffering from anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and a range of other issues.


Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), along with 28 other legislators, sent a letter last week, urging the US Justice Dept. and the Dept. of Homeland Security to stop expanding the Adelanto Detention Center, a privately run prison for immigrants in San Bernardino County.

Last month, Adelanto, which is run by the scandal-plagued GEO Group, became the largest detention facility in the country for adult immigrants. Before the expansion, Adelanto was a men’s only facility, but has added 260 beds for women, in addition to 380 more beds for men.

GEO Group, the second largest for-profit prison operator, is often accused of medical neglect and abuse. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is beholden to a “lock-up quota”—a profit-boosting tactics penalize states for not filling prison beds—of 488 prisoners through May of 2016.

In an op-ed for The Hill, Christina Fialho, who is an attorney and co-founder of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), urges the feds to stop ignoring the medical neglect by GEO Group, and to stop the expansion, and instead defund the detention center altogether. Here’s a clip:

The Congressional letter highlights Gerardo Corrales, a nineteen-year-old who is paralyzed from the waist down. Corrales suffered a urinary tract infection because GEO Group was unwilling to provide him with a sufficient number of catheters. Doctors at a nearby hospital not affiliated with GEO told Corrales that his infection could have been fatal. Earlier this month, Corrales launched his own campaign along with three other men detained at Adelanto calling for the release of all people from the facility. Chu’s letter includes a link to Corrales’ oral testimony.

My organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), has been documenting medical neglect and other abuses at Adelanto since 2012 through the support of CIVIC volunteers who visit the facility weekly. Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tells us that people detained at Adelanto who request a medical visit are seen within 24 hours, the people in detention tell us otherwise. In fact, it is our understanding that sometimes it takes weeks for the men to see medical personnel, and they rarely meet with a doctor. The nurses often prescribe ibuprofen or “drink more water” for symptoms ranging from cataracts, to a slipped disk, to infections. One man was denied treatment for a serious hip infection because “it was too expensive,” according to a letter released in May by advocates. Unbelievably, nurses even deny sweaters to people detained at Adelanto who are cold.

Despite numerous complaints CIVIC has filed with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of the Inspector General about the facility, ICE decided to expand the Adelanto Detention Center to detain 640 more people, including up to 260 women. Currently, the Adelanto Detention Center is imprisoning eight women, and local ICE personnel are hopeful that the expansion will allow them to detain transgender women at the facility as well. This is very troubling because these vulnerable populations require specialized healthcare services, and GEO Group has already proven that it is incapable of providing adequate care to the men in detention at Adelanto. Meanwhile, at GEO Group’s only other California-based immigration detention facility in Bakersfield, a pregnant woman tripped and miscarried last month after GEO shackled her in violation of federal guidelines.


Recently released jail video and dash cam arrest footage further complicate the mystery of how Sandra Bland, a black woman on a road trip to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, ended up dead in a jail cell in Waller County.

The history of racial prejudice in Waller County does not prove anything—one way or the other—about Sandra Bland’s death. Yet, it should not be disregarded either.

The Atlantic’s David Graham has more on Sandra Bland’s death and racism in Waller County. Here’s a clip:

Statewide, stops and citations for black people in Texas are actually lower than their share of the overall population, and the same holds true for stops by the Waller County sheriff and police in the towns of Hempstead and Prairie View.

But this might be one of the few areas where there isn’t evidence of racially disparate outcomes in Waller County, a place with a grim history of discrimination and tension—“racism from the cradle to the grave,” as DeWayne Charleston, a former county judge, put it to The Guardian.

The history is especially painful because Waller County was for a time a beacon of black progress. During Reconstruction, an office of the Freedmen’s Bureau opened in the county seat of Hempstead, and federal troops—including, for a time, some commanded by George Custer—occupied to keep the peace. Not coincidentally, the Ku Klux Klan also set up shop. Nonetheless, Hempstead became a locus of black political activity and hosted the Republican Party’s statewide convention in 1875. In 1876, the predecessor of Prairie View A&M was established, and in the 1880 Census, the county was majority black.

But the last two decades of the century saw an influx of white immigrants from Eastern Europe, and that dilution of the black vote, along with the end of Reconstruction, reduced blacks to a minority and slashed their political power. After a 1903 law established “white primaries,” African Americans were effectively shut out of politics—such that in a county with some 8,000 black voters, only 144 Republican votes were cast in 1912, according to The Handbook of Texas. Waller County, as Leah Binkovitz notes, had among the highest numbers of lynchings in the state between 1877 and 1950, according to a comprehensive report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

This may seem like distant history, but it set something of a pattern for the county’s race relations through to the present—and as the events of the last year have made clear, a place’s history is often an effective predictor of how it treats its black residents, from St. Louis County to Cuyahoga County. In fact, the disenfranchisement of black voters in Waller County has continued to be a source of contention.

In 2004, students at Prairie View A&M fought and won a battle over their right to vote in the county…

Read on.

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LASD, mental health, race | 16 Comments »

President Obama – Pardons and Prisons….Feds Return Control of CA Prison Health Care at Folsom…Helping Out-of-County Foster Kids Retain Mental Health Care….and Solitary Confinement

July 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, President Barack Obama, who has previously faced criticism for seldom granting clemency, announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. This brings President Obama’s total number of approved clemency petitions up to 89. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton granted clemency to 61 offenders. There are still nearly 8,000 pending clemency petitions.

In a letter, Obama tells those given a second chance, “…it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change…but remember you have the capacity to make good choices.”

Neil Eggleston, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and criminal defense attorney, has more on Obama’s new push for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…federal sentencing practices can, in too many instances, lead nonviolent drug offenders to spend decades, if not life, in prison. Now, don’t get me wrong, many people are justly punished for causing harm and perpetuating violence in our communities. But, in some cases, the punishment required by law far exceeded the offense.

These unduly harsh sentences are one of the reasons the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system. Today, he is continuing this effort by granting clemency to 46 men and women, nearly all of whom would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today…

In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.

Obama will also become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he tours the El Reno prison in Oklahoma next week as part of a VICE special documentary for HBO on mass incarceration. The president, along with VICE founder Shane Smith, will tour the grounds and speak with prison staff, prisoners, and law enforcement officials. Here’s a clip from VICE’s announcement:

Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates convicted of violating federal law. It was home to Jason Hernandez, a prisoner convicted on drug charges who had his life sentence commuted by Obama in 2013.

The interviews will be part of a documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America’s approach to crime and imprisonment. The special is the latest in VICE’s ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.

“There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways,” Smith said. “Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one on one conversations with the men and women living this reality. It’s going to be fascinating.”

The President says he will also be discussing bipartisan-backed ideas for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia on Thursday. Stay tuned.


After nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system, the state will regain control in Folsom State Prison—the first from the federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso. Folsom is the first prison to be returned to state control.

Kelso says much progress has been made in Folsom and in other prisons, but U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson says federal oversight will only end after the state has had control of health care in all of its prisons for a full year.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re pleased and ready to start taking back control of medical care,” corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in a statement. “We know that other CDCR prisons are ready to step up in the months ahead and we will continue collaborating with the Receiver’s Office to ensure inmates at all of our facilities receive appropriate health care.”

Don Specter, director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office that represents inmates in the lawsuit, said it’s good that care has improved at Folsom, but attorneys will continue monitoring.

“One of the things I’m most concerned about is whether the state has reformed its processes so that all the improvements that the receiver has made over the last 10 or so years are sustained,” Specter said.

Kelso reported in March that conditions statewide have substantially improved, though some prisons are doing better than others and more work remains to be done statewide.

Under the judge’s rules, Kelso could retake control of a transferred prison if conditions decline, but the goal is for the receiver to eventually monitor rather than run the health care system.


When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.

A California bill, which would ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties, will be heard California Senate Health Services Committee today (Tuesday), after passing out of the Assembly.

The bill, authored by CA Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), aims to fix a serious lack of collaboration between departments serving foster kids between counties.

In LA County, 17% of foster kids are in out-of-county and out-of-state placements, in comparison to Alameda and San Francisco—59% and 60% respectively.

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

AB 1299, which was introduced by State Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), would require the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to create clear policies to guide the transfer of responsibility for mental health services to a child’s county of residence. The bill would also compel the Department of Finance to establish a system to ensure that counties are fully reimbursed for providing mental health services, during the fiscal year when the services are delivered, by May of 2016.

All California foster youth are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program. But under current law, when a foster youth moves to a different county, responsibility for providing mental health services—and any related funding—remains with the county of origin and its network of service providers

As a result, nearly 12,000 out-of-county foster youth—or about one in five of all youth in the state’s child welfare system—are routinely left in limbo, waiting for mental health services that often take months to begin.

A 2011 report from the state’s Child Welfare Council, which is responsible for improving collaboration among child-serving agencies, revealed disparities between children in and out of county who were receiving mental health services. An examination of the data for all 58 counties in California showed that out-of-county youth received fewer average days of mental health outpatient or day services when compared to children with in-county placements (2.3 days versus 2.9).

“Part of the issue is that the counties have been in control of the money up until this point, and the money has not been flowing as it needs to when these kids are moving from one county to another,” said Khaim Morton, chief of staff for Ridley-Thomas. “We want to get to the point where we can collaborate and reach a compromise that will enable more of the money to reach these kids and more swiftly.”

California may once again find itself back in court as part of a class-action lawsuit if there isn’t an agreement soon, according to mental health advocate Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project.

“If there isn’t a solution by the end of the year, either through negotiations under the auspices of the Child Welfare Council or through the work being done in the legislature, a judge is going to have to step in to fix this, because letting this continue is completely unacceptable,” said Gardner.


In 2011, California prisoners went on the first of three major hunger strikes over prison conditions and excessive and punitive use of solitary confinement.

Real efforts toward curbing solitary in state prisons began in late 2012. Prison officials reviewed the cases of prisoners in solitary, and released a modest number of long-isolated inmates back into the general population.

But the process has been slow and hard-fought.

In June, six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on California’s efforts toward limiting the use of solitary confinement. Here’s how it opens:

Even as it prepares for a courtroom showdown over the use of prolonged solitary confinement to keep order in its prisons, California has adopted emergency rules to dial down such isolation.

Inmates may no longer be put in isolation for refusing a cell assignment, for example, one of several prison infractions for which solitary confinement punishment has been reduced or dropped. And those being disciplined with segregation can cut that punishment in half with good behavior.

“This is part of an ongoing evolution in how we manage inmates in segregation,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. “There will be more changes.”

The new rules went into effect last month, ahead of public hearings scheduled for August. They come atop other changes that have cut the count of California prisoners held in near-constant lockdown from more than 9,800 in early 2014 to just under 8,700 last month.

The revisions also have been made amid an escalating debate over solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, of which California has the largest share.

Advocates for inmates are preparing to release research by a prominent corrections psychiatrist describing a malady he calls “SHU Post-Release Syndrome,” a reference to the Security Housing Unit, California’s name for long-term solitary confinement.

The study documents some of the same psychiatric effects raised last month by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in an unusual opinion in a California death penalty case. He essentially invited a constitutional challenge to long-term isolation and the “terrible price” it extracts.

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, mental health, Obama, prison, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds | No Comments »

Just in Time for Foster Youth….a Former Fed. Judge Sez Her Sentences Were Unfair….Fatal Encounters Between Cops and Mentally Ill….and Poor and Unrepresented in Civil Court

July 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


San Diego-based Just in Time for Foster Youth connects current and recently aged-out foster kids (between the ages of 18-26) with a network of volunteers to lean on, who will teach them and help them grow into self-sufficient young adults.

Foster youth aging out of the system face incredible challenges to finishing school and finding housing and employment. Many end up homeless. Within 18 months of emancipation, 40% of kids end up homeless, and within the first two years, 25% get locked up.

The majority of Just in Time’s volunteers are former foster kids. The hope is that the kids and their mentors form lifelong relationships. Volunteers go shopping with the kids, teach them about budgeting, and give them career advice and other help. The program pays to furnish participants’ first homes, and provides laptops and other important supplies for secondary education.

Leah Burdick founder of the Foster Coalition advocacy group, has more on the program for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

Since 2009, 35 percent of College Bound participants have graduated from college with many still enrolled; a significant achievement given only 1 to 3 percent of former foster youth graduate from college.

Just in Time’s relationship approach is coupled with comprehensive services and training programs to help youth overcome financial emergencies, get established at home and in school and learn valuable life and career skills.

“The need for tangible resources brings the youth to us, but we discovered that it’s the connections to multiple people that really enable self-sufficiency,” said Don Wells, executive director of Just in Time. “We would see kids get scholarships and graduate from college. They were considered success stories; however after they transitioned out of survival mode, past trauma would start coming up for them to deal with.”

Despite having an education, they’d either get a low-paying job or struggle to get a job, Wells said. “Before long they’d be on the verge of homelessness. These kids, like all of us, need multiple people to go to for ongoing advice, guidance, friendship and support.”

Jackie, who did not wish to provide her last name for this article, was placed in foster care at age 16 when social services discovered she was the only caregiver for her single father with advanced Alzheimer’s. After securing her GED, Jackie was accepted into college, but had no furnishings for her new college apartment.

Just in Time volunteers furnished her apartment, and today Jackie participates in their Career Horizons program. One of her mentors, an international marketer, has inspired Jackie to pursue a career in teaching abroad.

“Just in Time really provides a community for us. They get that ‘it takes a village’,” said Jackie.


On Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Nancy Gertner, a federal judge for 17 years, said that of the 500 decisions she handed down, she believed that 80% of them were “unfair and disproportionate.”

In her speech (video above) Gertner, who is now Harvard faculty, urges the US to treat the War on Drugs like World War II, and focus on the future and reconstruction, instead of punishment.

Conor Friedersdorf has Gertner’s story for the Atlantic. Here’s a clip:

“This is a war that I saw destroy lives,” she said. “It eliminated a generation of African American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums… and created an intergenerational problem––although I wasn’t on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble, and are in trouble with the criminal justice system.”

She added that the War on Drugs eliminated the political participation of its casualties. “We were not leveling cities as we did in WWII with bombs, but with prosecution, prison, and punishment,” she said, explaining that her life’s work is now focused on trying to reconstruct the lives that she undermined––as a general matter, by advocating for reform, and as a specific project: she is trying to go through the list of all the people she sentenced to see who deserves executive clemency.


According to an investigation by the Washington Post, so far this year, 124 of the 462 people shot and killed by law enforcement officers were in the middle of a mental health crisis.

Fifty percent of those shootings were by cops in departments that had not provided updated mental health training to their officers.

Fifty percent of the people shot were committing “suicide by cop.” Most of the shootings happened after officers responded to calls for help from family or neighbors who said the person was unstable, not calls about a crime being committed.

More than a fourth of the deaths occurred in California and Texas.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the video):

Although new recruits typically spend nearly 60 hours learning to handle a gun, according to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, they receive only eight hours of training to de-escalate tense situations and eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill.

Otherwise, police are taught to employ tactics that tend to be counterproductive in such encounters, experts said. For example, most officers are trained to seize control when dealing with an armed suspect, often through stern, shouted commands.

But yelling and pointing guns is “like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Sandy Jo MacArthur is an assistant chief who oversees “mental response teams” for the Los Angeles Police Department, a program considered to be a national model. MacArthur said her officers are trained to embrace tactics that may seem counterintuitive. Instead of rushing to take someone into custody, they try to slow things down and persuade the person to come with them. When possible, a psychologist or psychiatrist is on the scene.

The mentally ill “do not process what is happening like a normal criminal,” MacArthur said. “There’s a lot of white noise in their head.”


Mental health experts say most police departments need to quadruple the amount of training that recruits receive for dealing with the mentally ill, requiring as much time in the crisis-intervention classroom as police currently spend on the shooting range. But training is no panacea, experts caution.

The mentally ill are unpredictable. Moreover, police often have no way of knowing when they are dealing with a mentally ill person. Officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong. And in a handful of cases this year, police were prodded to shoot someone who wanted to die.

That was the case with Matthew Hoffman, a 32-year-old white man who had long struggled with mental illness, according to family members. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Hoffman walked up to San Francisco police officers in January outside a police station in the bustling Mission District. He pulled a gun from his waistband, pointed it at the officers and advanced in silence.

The startled officers fired 10 shots, three of which struck Hoffman. They later discovered that his weapon was a BB gun. And they found a note on his mobile phone, addressed to the officers who shot him.

“You did nothing wrong,” it said. “You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself.”

Grace Gatpandan, San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman, said the department offers crisis-intervention training. But those classes are designed primarily to teach officers to handle someone threatening to jump off a bridge, not someone pointing a gun in a crowded tourist area.

“When officers are faced with a deadly situation, when there is a gun pointed at a cop, there is no time to go into mental health measures,” Gatpandan said. “There was nothing we could have done. This is one of those tragedies.”


In the US criminal justice system, everyone charged with a crime has a right to free legal counsel. But that right does not extend to indigent defendants in civil matters like family court hearings, evictions, and protective orders.

There are not nearly enough legal aid lawyers to help all defendants in civil cases who qualify for legal aid. For every 8,893 poor Americans who qualify for assistance, there is only one lawyer to go around.

Part of the problem is that lawyers and law firms are not donating enough to their state and local legal aid programs. The Am Law 200—the two hundred top-grossing firms—donated less than a tenth of one percent of their revenue on legal aid donations, according to a new report from the American Lawyer. Here’s a clip:

A network of legal service providers who represent the poor for free has arisen to address some of this need, but a lack of adequate public funds and private donations means that, as in Cleveland, more than half of those who seek help are turned away. Put another way, there’s just one legal aid lawyer for every 8,893 low-income Americans who qualify for legal aid, according to the Justice Index, a project of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. That’s how, in a country with one of the highest concentrations of lawyers in the world, poor people often are forced to navigate the potential loss of their home, their children or their benefits on their own.

The crisis in legal aid isn’t new. What is new is that since the recession, profits and revenue at Am Law 200 firms are healthy again—in many cases, surging. Last year, the collective revenue of these firms passed the $100 billion mark for the first time. Many recorded all-time highs in revenues and profits, and profits per partner at a dozen firms exceeded $3 million. Yet in our analysis—the first time we’ve looked deeply at firms’ legal aid giving—it appears that the most generous firms contribute little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of their gross revenue to groups that provide basic legal services for the poor, and many fall far below that amount. This doesn’t include individual donations by firm lawyers, which isn’t feasible to track. While individual donations are important, institutional giving by law firms is crucial for legal aid groups, those organizations say.

We found that the bulk of firms’ charitable donations are directed to other causes, including clients’ pet charities and well-endowed law schools, records show. At the same time, the percentage of law firm pro bono work aimed at helping the poor is declining. Legal aid advocates, however, are largely reluctant to publicly criticize big firms, because they’re so dependent on the funds they do get from them.

Lawyers and firms, especially America’s biggest and most successful ones, have a special responsibility to do more, some observers say. “A big- firm lawyer ought to care that the justice system is working fairly for everyone,” says John Levi of Sidley Austin, chairman of the board of directors for the Legal Services Corporation, a federally funded nonprofit that is the single biggest source of legal aid funding in the United States. He senses that many big firms could dig deeper into their pockets to support legal aid. “I’m not sure they are,” he says.

David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit that solicits firms to underwrite fellowships for young lawyers to work at nonprofit legal aid groups, says he appreciates the support he gets from big firms, but believes most firms should do more. “When you look at how little they give, it’s pitiful,” he says about law firm giving as a whole. “I have been doing this work for more than 20 years, and I am always astounded by law firms talking about charitable giving from a position of scarcity while their partners are bringing home more than $1 million in profits per partner.”

Posted in Courts, Foster Care, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

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