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Mental Illness


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

October 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. We think so too.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Antonio’s Mental Health Diversion, Judge Michael Nash Seeks Child Welfare Czar Position, DEA Steals Woman’s Identity, and Combatting Child Sex Trafficking in LA

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SAN ANTONIO SETS EXAMPLE OF HOW TO TURN AROUND OVER-INCARCERATION OF MENTALLY ILL

LA County is facing a federal consent decree over jail conditions and treatment of the mentally ill, and at the state level, a US District Judge ordered California to improve policies regarding the handling of mentally ill inmates languishing in solitary confinement.

And the problem isn’t just here, it’s happening across the country (save for a few special cases): more than half of everyone behind bars in the US has mental health problems.

One of those exceptions is San Antonio, Texas, where 95% of officers have completed specialized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses help train officers on how to treat them. Officers take mentally ill people in crisis to treatment centers instead of jail. The program has saved the city a whopping $50 million.

ACLU Center for Justice Senior Counsel Kara Dansky has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Approximately 95 percent of police officers in San Antonio have gone through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program that teaches them how to spot the symptoms of mental illness and how to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental health crisis.

People with mental illnesses, including Michelle, work with the police officers to teach them how they should be treated. Michelle helps to train them. Even though it’s not the ideal solution, some people call the police when having a mental health crisis. Instead of putting people in handcuffs and taking them to jail, officers in San Antonio take them to a center staffed with mental health professionals.

In the new short film series, “OverCriminalized,” we interviewed several members of the San Antonio police force. They report that they are much more confident and comfortable dealing with mental health crises after going through the training. Most importantly, since the implementation, none of the CIT teams have used extreme force.

But it’s not just about how to police; it’s about the entire goal of these interactions. People struggling with mental illness are no longer taken to a jail cell by way of lengthy and expensive stops in the ER. This program has saved the city about $50 million dollars.

It’s good to celebrate what’s happened in San Antonio. But we need to step back and ask how the city got into this problem in the first place. The answer is that for decades, this county has been shoving social problems like mental illness and drug addiction into a criminal justice system ill equipped to solve them. This mass criminalization has led to way too many people behind bars, often for too long and for reasons that have no business being crimes in the first place. Communities of color have been hardest hit.


HEAD OF JUVENILE COURT JUDGE MICHAEL NASH WANTS TO BE APPOINTED LA’S NEW CHILD WELFARE CZAR

LA County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash says he wants to be LA’s new Child Welfare Czar. (We at WLA think this is a fantastic idea.)

During his time as head of the juvenile court system, Nash has worked to bring public accountability to the children’s court system and the Department of Children and Family Services.

It is yet unclear when the new czar will be named, but LA County’s transition team is working to give the new leader a head start when they are finally appointed.

Daniel Heimpel broke the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Nash told The Chronicle of Social Change that he had indeed thrown his hat in the ring, telling recruiters that he wanted the job.

He said that moving from the courts to a highly politicized office was like, “going from the frying pan into the fire.” But years of experience weighing the complexities of child maltreatment and foster care made it almost impossible for him to resist. “Sadly that’s the way it is,” he added with a chuckle.

Dilys Garcia, who heads Los Angeles County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and works out of Nash’s courthouse, was both sad to see Nash leave the court, and hopeful about his prospects for leading the new office.

“He has been an inspiration to people in the child welfare field,” Garcia said. “Even at the darkest moment he finds a beacon of light to point to. His leaving is going to be a big loss, but I think it would be terrific if he ended up in this new role as child protection czar.”


AN IDENTITY STOLEN “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” …AND THE DEHUMANIZATION OF DRUG OFFENDERS

Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby has an alarming story about a woman whose identity was stolen by the DEA in an attempt to communicate with other drug crime suspects with whom she was associated. A DEA agent used photos found on Sondra Arquiett’s cell phone, including a photo of her wearing only a bra and underwear, and another one with her young son and niece, to create a fake Facebook page while Arquiett was locked up awaiting trial.

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cellphone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.

The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page . . .

The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen.

Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this story points to the dehumanization of drug offenders (by law enforcement and politicians) that has been occurring for decades now.

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

The DOJ filing was in response to Arquiett’s lawsuit. Consider what the federal government is arguing here. It’s arguing that if you’re arrested for a drug crime, including a crime unserious enough to merit a sentence of probation, the government retains the power to (a) steal your identity, (b) use that identity for drug policing, thus making your name and face known to potentially dangerous criminals, (c) interact with those criminals while posing as you, which could subject you to reprisals from those criminals, (d) expose photos of your family, including children, to those criminals, and (e) do all of this without your consent, and with no regard for your safety or public reputation.

The mindset that would allow government officials to not only engage in this sort of behavior, but to then fight in court to preserve their power to continue it is the same mindset that, for example, allows drug cops to compel juveniles and young women to become drug informants, with little regard for their safety — and to then make no apologies when those informants are murdered.


COMMISSIONER CATHERINE PRATT’S EFFORTS TO HELP YOUNG GIRLS CAUGHT UP IN SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has an interesting story about Compton Juvenile Court Commissioner Catherine Pratt and the work she began three years ago to help teen girls involved in prostitution. Until recently, Los Angeles has treated these young girls as criminals, and locked them up, but Pratt and the Los Angeles County Supervisors are working to change that mindset, and instead treat young girls sold for sex as what they are—victims of child sex trafficking.

Pratt devotes Tuesdays to sex trafficking cases, and connects teens with education resources, mentor programs, and legal help. Pratt does her best to divert the girls in her court from juvenile detention and into foster care (the only alternative for these trafficked kids), but sometimes difficulties arise: girls run away from group homes, and return to the streets.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

The humble, affirming approach of Pratt’s Compton courtroom began as an experiment three years ago, when she applied for grant money to provide professional help for the young prostitutes and she set aside Tuesdays to focus exclusively on sex trafficking cases.

Advocates from at least three charities providing mentors, educational liaisons and lawyers sit in the jury box of Pratt’s courtroom to connect with youths as soon as the need arises.

Los Angeles County supervisors launched a plan this year that adopts Pratt’s ethos, and social workers, police officers and others are being trained to take a softer approach to the children involved in prostitution. They are instructed to treat these young prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators.

[SNIP]

“I used to lecture them,” Pratt said. ” ‘You’re making bad choices. This is dangerous.’ I tried to explain to them how short the life span for people in prostitution is. And they were not at all interested. It really didn’t resonate with them at all.”

A personal relationship and trust have to be developed first, she said, and she measures her progress in the pictures, emails and poems that some of the youths send her.

Still, there is risk.

More than 60% of Los Angeles County’s children arrested for prostitution had previously come to the attention of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, and the foster care system’s group homes have become one of most frequent gateways to the sex trade because the children there have fewer family ties and pimps target them for recruitment.

But the foster care system is currently the county’s only alternative to juvenile detention facilities.

Posted in DCFS, DEA, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

$20 Million to Mental Illness Diversion, Gov. Brown’s Veto of Prosecutorial Misconduct Bill, Too Few LASD Patrol Cars In Unincorporated LA, and Rikers’ Ban On Solitary for Kids

October 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPES SET ASIDE $20 TO KEEP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF JAIL AND IN TREATMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $20 million for keeping the mentally ill out of lock-up, and steering them into treatment and other tailored services, instead. The money is being earmarked for diversion programs pending LA DA Jackie Lacey’s upcoming recommendations for how to best divert mentally ill offenders.

The Supes made this decision earlier than expected, having previously said they would wait to vote on this issue until Lacey presented her report later in the fall. (Backstory on the issue—here.)

Supe. Ridley-Thomas has more about the board’s important decision on his website. Here’s a clip:

“Unnecessarily jailing people with mental illness is not only expensive, because they can be treated for a fraction of the cost using community-based programs, but it is also harsh and insensitive, and dare I say, inhumane,” [Ridley-Thomas] said. “Having an untreated mental illness should not be a crime.”

The County of Los Angeles has been under a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2002 and could face a consent decree because the jails were not designed to accommodate or deliver treatment to inmates with severe mental illnesses.

Today, the Board of Supervisors joined with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, County mental and public health departments and the Sheriff’s Department as a financial partner committed to diversion. In 2015, the board will vote on whether to build a $2 billion jail. By setting aside $20 million in a separate fund pending receipt of the District Attorney’s report, the Board has expressed a commitment to righting this wrong.


RADLEY BALKO ON GOV. BROWN’S VETO OF IMPORTANT BILL AGAINST PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

Yesterday, we linked to a number of good and important bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week, but the governor did also veto a significant criminal justice reform bill aimed at curbing prosecutorial misconduct, and thus, wrongful convictions.

AB 885 would have given judges the ability to tell juries when prosecutors intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. (While it is “arguably illegal,” as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko says, there is not much in the way of accountability to keep prosecutors from withholding evidence.) Some prosecutors had even supported the bill.

Balko has the rundown on why Brown’s veto was troubling. Here’s a clip:

This year, the state legislature again passed a bill aimed at reining in wrongful convictions, this time by allowing judges to inform juries when prosecutors have been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal. It was modest reform that even some state prosecutors supported. Yet Gov. Brown vetoed it. The watchdog site The Open File, picks apart Brown’s justification.

Brown based his veto on two claims: first, that “Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light at trial”, and, second, that the bill “would be a sharp departure from current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed.”

The first claim ignores the very problem that the bill was designed to remedy by suggesting that the present regime of prosecutorial accountability is perfectly sufficient, when the evidence, not only in California, but across the country continues to mount that too many prosecutors have for too long violated their constitutional and ethical duties as public officials.

The second claim is, if possible, even stranger. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking Brown’s office hadn’t read the bill. To say that an amendment to the penal code which vests discretion in judges is a “sharp departure” from the practice of allowing “the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed,” is, frankly, bizarre. But not arbitrary. It bespeaks a broader truth at work here: when unchecked authority detects even the hint that its prerogatives are being questioned, its reaction is frequently hysterical. It goes “ballistic” as Assemblyman Ammiano suggested. And when impunity is threatened, reason goes out the window. Minor reforms are seen as existential threats.

Which, of course, carries through into something broader still. A national, racialized hysteria over crime that has for decades now fogged the public mind to the enormous human cost of over prosecution and over sentencing.

Jerry Brown had an opportunity to take one baby step toward slowing the rate of this damage. Alas, the Democratic Governor of perhaps the most reliably Democratic state in the union couldn’t summon the courage. His party’s capitulation to the law-and-order agenda is apparently too deeply woven into his political identity. And so he has left it to others to start burning off some of that fog.

It isn’t as if prosecutor misconduct is nonexistent in California. A 2010 study by the Northern California Innocence Project found 707 instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California courts between 1997 and 2009. And those were merely cases where misconduct had been found by appellate courts. The study also found that over that same period, just 10 state prosecutors were disciplined by the California State Bar. A follow-up study the following year documented 102 cases of misconduct found by California judges in 2010 alone, including 31 in Los Angeles County. In a ruling last December, Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — which includes California — decried an “epidemic” of Brady violations in America. (“Brady” is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence.)

Balko goes on to give quite a few specific instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California, so do go read the rest.


LASD DOESN’T SEND ENOUGH PATROL CARS OUT TO UNINCORPORATED AREAS, SAYS SUPE. MOLINA

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office found that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. has been failing to send out the agreed upon number of patrol cars to unincorporated areas like East Los Angeles. The shortages were especially predominant on weekends, when there are generally more calls from people needing help. Molina’s office also found that the department sometimes increased the number of patrol cars during the week to offset the weekend deficit.

In light of the findings, the Supes have decided to hold $12 million in funding for new hires (to lower response times in unincorporated areas) until the department solves it’s scheduling problem.

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

“I just wanted to get what I was paying for,” Molina said in an interview. “You see the high crime rates in these areas, and the patrol cars weren’t there.”

At the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, a contrite Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans acknowledged that there was a problem with weekend staffing, which he said he had only learned about recently. But he said the department had taken measures to alter a scheduling practice that had put more deputies on patrol during quieter weekdays — a situation that he said stemmed in part from a freeze on overtime, which was lifted in July.

In an effort to improve response times, supervisors agreed to set aside $12.4 million to increase the number of deputies patrolling unincorporated areas. But they decided to hold the money until sheriff’s officials verify that they have fixed scheduling practices that have led to more deputies being deployed during weekdays than on busy weekend nights.

The additional funding would add 67 deputies to the unincorporated areas, as a move toward restoring staffing to pre-recession levels. An additional 56 positions could be added next year.

A study of sheriff’s response times around the county found that those for both routine and emergency calls had grown worse in some unincorporated areas from 2010 to 2013. In East Los Angeles, the average time to respond to emergency calls remained 4.3 minutes — one of the best in the county’s unincorporated areas — but response time for routine calls had increased from 58.4 to 68.4 minutes. In unincorporated areas around Malibu, emergency response times increased from 9.8 to 10.8 minutes and routine calls from 34.5 minutes to 42.2 minutes.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NYC DEPT. OF CORRECTION’S BAN ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR 16 AND 17-YEAR-OLDS

In August, a federal investigation found that teenagers at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York were subjected to excessive and unchecked use of force by guards, violence from other inmates, and overuse of solitary confinement as punishment.

This week, the New York City Dept. of Correction has announced it will eliminate the solitary confinement of juveniles at Rikers by the end of 2014.

The Center for Investigative Reporting Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan explain the importance of this reform and what it might mean for other jurisdictions that are still putting kids in isolation. Here are some clips:

We know little about how many young inmates get placed in solitary, why and for how long.

This is what Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, called “a chaos of information.” Juvenile solitary confinement is torture, he said, and no one knows how common it is.

Because most U.S. facilities are not required to track or report their use of isolation for juveniles, the practice has flourished in the shadows. And because no federal laws prohibit isolating teenagers indefinitely for 23 hours a day, young inmates can spend months alone in their cells without anyone outside their facilities noticing.

[SNIP]

Many facilities suppress information and close their doors to scrutiny.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored a recently passed bill requiring corrections officials to report detailed data about who is held in solitary, why and for how long, after officials refused to provide him with data he requested. His legislation could be a model for other jurisdictions seeking the access and information required to understand what is happening to teenagers in local facilities.

CIR made dozens of requests to visit the isolation units in facilities that hold juveniles across the country, but only one, in Santa Cruz, California, opened its doors and talked openly about efforts to reduce the use of solitary confinement. Officials at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall have kept isolation data for years, tracking a decline in the practice so drastic that officials from jurisdictions all over the country travel to California to see how they did it.

[SNIP]

Now that Rikers Island, the nation’s second-largest jail, is saying it will ban juvenile solitary confinement, it’s possible that other jurisdictions will follow suit.
A growing chorus of mental health experts claims that isolating teenagers makes them more violent, and more relationship-based and trauma-informed approaches to managing teens will lead to safer facilities and safer streets.

Although Rikers Island officials have been privy to such perspectives for years, it took months of media scrutiny and a federal investigation for them to acknowledge the damage their practices have caused and commit to changing them. The question now is whether others will voluntarily work to find new ways to manage troubled teens, like officials did in Santa Cruz, or whether they will wait for government probes and media attention.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Prosecutors, solitary | 2 Comments »

Gov. Brown Signs a Mountain of Bills, SFPD’s Problem of Lethal Use of Force Against Mentally Ill, Americans Ignoring Conditions in Prisons, and Paul Tanaka’s Campaign

October 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN SIGNS “GUN VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER” BILL AND MANY OTHER SIGNIFICANT BILLS

On Sunday and Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of important bills, including a piece of legislation that will give family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals from possessing firearms who are displaying certain warning signs that they may harm themselves or others.

Reuter’s Sharon Bernstein has more on the “Gun Violence Restraining Order” bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation – the first such measure in the United States - was introduced after police near Santa Barbara said they were unable to confiscate weapons from a man who later went on a rampage and killed six people, despite concern from his family he was in poor mental health and might become violent.

Under the so-called gun violence restraining order in the court system, immediate family members and law enforcement agencies could ask a judge to order guns temporarily removed from certain individuals.

The restraining order would last 21 days, and could be extended up to a year, after a notice and a hearing.

“The new ‘Gun Violence Restraining Order’ law will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to reduce the risk of mass shootings and gun violence both in the home and on our streets,” said Nick and Amanda Wilcox, legislative co-chairs of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gov. Brown also signed SB 1111, which will establish safeguards for kids involuntarily transferred (because of expulsion or probation referral) to community schools, making sure they are given schooling options that are “geographically accessible” to students. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has done excellent reporting on this particular issue.) The bill will also exempt homeless children and kids with certain probation referrals from having to transfer to a county community school.

Another newly signed bill, AB 2276, will ensure that kids exiting juvenile justice facilities are immediately enrolled in school. (We previously linked to this issue here.)

AB 2124, which will allow judges to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed, also made it past the governor’s desk this week.

Brown also approved a heap of bills to help and protect California’s foster children, including, SB 1252, which will extend housing for foster kids until they are 25 if they remain enrolled in school. (The rest of the list can be found here.)


MORE THAN HALF OF PEOPLE KILLED BY SFPD ARE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHAT THE DEPT. IS DOING TO ABOUT IT

Between 2005 and 2013 in San Francisco, 58% of people police officers had shot and killed had mental disabilities. While California does not mandate specialized training to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations with the mentally ill, most of the Bay Area police forces have implemented a program Called Crisis Intervention Training, which includes diverting the mentally ill from lock-up.

While the SFPD adopted CIT in 2011 after several years in which every person officers killed was mentally ill, it has been slow going. Only 18% of officers have received the specialized training (20-25% is ideal) more than three years into the program.

KQED’s Alex Emslie and Rachael Bale have the story. Here’s a clip:

The San Francisco Police Department adopted the Memphis Model of CIT in 2011, after three years in a row in which every person killed in a police shooting had a mental illness.

But it’s clear implementing the program hasn’t been fast or easy.

Three and a half years into the program, the department has trained about 18 percent of its patrol officers. Ideally, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of officers are trained, with the goal of at least one trained officer at each station for each shift.

Finding the right officers for the training hasn’t been easy, and that’s true anywhere, said Major Sam Cochran, who founded CIT while at the Memphis Police Department.

“There are some officers that are not ready to be CIT officers,” said Cochran, who is now at the University of Memphis. “They don’t have the experience. Some officers don’t have the maturity level.”

In some cities, like Berkeley, the program is so elite that officers must compete to get in. But as it launched in San Francisco, few officers volunteered, and station chiefs simply had to choose who got sent to training. Cochran says it’s the the role of a police chief to elevate the status of the team so officers want to be a part of it.

“That chief needs to make sure that those men and women understand that they have an identity and that they have a role,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s model calls for CIT to be an elite, and independent, team within the department, like SWAT or hostage negotiation. In an interview with KQED, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said he’d prefer it not to be separate.

“Police officers by nature find niches,” Suhr said. “I don’t want cops to find a niche and be expert on what they do and don’t do. I want them to do it all.”

That’s how SFPD Commander Richard Corriea once felt. He’s the third person to lead SFPD’s Crisis Intervention Team in three years.

“I’m a convert on the issue of team,” he said. “I think it inspires officers who are engaged in this. They have a special skill. It makes them feel part of something. And the outcome is better and better service.”

A team creates a feedback loop, said Angela Chan, a former police commissioner who spearheaded the program. The unit is supposed to learn from each response. It allows officers perfect their skills, share information with other CIT officers and establish strong relationships with mental health providers.

The SFPD is one of many forces struggling with this issue: the Department of Justice has said that Albuquerque, NM, police have a serious problem with excessive use of force, sometimes escalating confrontations until there is reason to use force against someone.

NPR’s Kelly McEvers has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some officers argue that in these situations, it’s black and white. There is no gray. If someone has a weapon and points it at police, police are going to shoot. And they don’t shoot to wound, police told NPR; they shoot to kill.

But the Justice Department says it is gray sometimes. In its report, the Justice Department said Albuquerque police sometimes use force when there is not an imminent threat to officers or others, and that they themselves sometimes escalate the situation until there is a reason to use force.

Sam Costales, a former Albuquerque cop for more than 20 years, says of course there is a gray area.

Back in 2001, Costales was chasing an armed robbery suspect who grabbed a piece of pipe from the back of his truck and came at him. Costales took out his gun.

“I could’ve shot him,” he says. “I had every right to shoot him. But I didn’t want to shoot him.”

Instead, he put his gun back in the holster, maced the guy and arrested him.

Back at the station, Costales put the suspect in an interview room and went to get him something to drink. A couple of detectives walked by.

“And they go, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m getting the guy a Coke.’ ‘You’re getting the guy a Coke? This guy that just came at you with a pipe? A guy that’s gonna kill you, you’re gonna buy him a Coke now?’ I said, ‘He didn’t kill me, and he’s thirsty,’ and I left it at that,” Costales says.

Costales says he tried to treat suspects with respect. But other cops yelled at people, beat people up, used their weapons against people and then covered it up, he says.

Riot police faced off with protesters Sunday, during a demonstration against recent police shootings in Albuquerque, N.M. The march lasted at least nine hours.

A lot of this bad behavior is the work of a good-old-boys network, where it’s all about who you’re related to, says Cassandra Morrison, another former Albuquerque cop of 20 years.

Doug Brinson sits on a stoop next to a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold by police officers while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. His death has been ruled a homicide.

It’s about “who you know, who you hang out with, who you smoke cigars with, who you go have a beer with,” she says.

If you’re in the club, she says, you don’t get punished when you act like a cowboy, break the rules and use excessive force. It’s a system that won’t change until some of those cowboys get punished, she says.


CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER SAYS AMERICANS PAY NO MIND TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL CONDITIONS IN PRISONS ACROSS THE US

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Martin Garbus, an attorney and author of several books on constitutional law, says Americans are disregarding reports of atrocious conditions prisoners across the nation are held in, particularly in solitary confinement. Garbus says that turning the other way is a matter of “bad public policy,” and that the prisoners enduring cruel and unusual punishment, health hazards, and sexual assault will eventually return to their communities. Here’s a clip:

As a litigator and constitutional lawyer, I have heard appalling stories from the nation’s prisons and jails. One prisoner described to me how he was handcuffed to the bottom of his bunk in his underwear day after day for months. Another described how his cell was located directly beneath broken toilet pipes, which meant the cell smelled horribly of urine and excrement. I’ve heard how cells are unbearably hot or cold and how four prisoners are confined to spaces intended for two, with only one set of bunk beds. I’ve heard about showers that produce only scalding or icy water and about how, when cell toilets overflow, staff are in no hurry to fix them or to clean up.

The health risks in prisons are also unacceptable. MRSA, a bacterial infection whose strains are often resistant to antibiotics, now runs through maximum security prisons. I contracted it myself after visiting such a prison in June and was hospitalized for three days. Sexual assaults and sexual activity are well known to occur in prisons, but prisoners rarely have access to protection, such as condoms, that can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there is solitary confinement. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Today, 44 states allow it, but many states do not report how many inmates are held in solitary. A 2005 report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimated the number at 81,622.

Reports from those who have been held in solitary make clear how inhumane the punishment is. Even the most optimistic lose hope. I have heard it described more than once as like being trapped in a coffin. Lights are sometimes kept on 24 hours a day. Prisoners often have no books or reading material. Visits from lawyers and family members, as well as phone calls, are severely restricted, leaving prisoners feeling totally isolated from everything and everyone.


PAUL TANAKA’S CAMPAIGN (OR LACK THEREOF) FOR SHERIFF

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a story about sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka and his campaign that isn’t a campaign, consisting of a handful of social media posts, a video, and a few appearances in Gardena, the city of which he is mayor. Here’s how it opens:

After squeaking into the runoff election for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka posted a message on his website.

He had been trounced by Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, but his hopes of leading the department where he spent 31 years were still alive.

“We need someone who is ready to lead on Day One,” he wrote June 5. “We have just begun this effort!”

Since then, the retired undersheriff has mostly disappeared from view, throwing the contest to lead one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies into a strange limbo.

He has ignored requests to debate McDonnell. He dismissed his campaign team after the primary and apparently has not brought on replacements. His public appearances have largely been limited to City Council meetings in Gardena, where he is mayor, and his testimony at the criminal trials of sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing an FBI investigation of jail abuse.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Paul Tanaka | No Comments »

MacArthur Genius Jonathan Rapping Interview, AG Kamala Harris Missing Report Deadlines, Inadequate Care for Mentally Ill Riverside Inmates, and the “Justice on Trial Film Festival”

September 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR INTERVIEW WITH MACARTHUR FELLOW AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE EXPERT JONATHAN RAPPING

Recently named a MacArthur “genius,” Jonathan Rapping is a veteran public defender who founded “Gideon’s Promise,” a public defender training program to raise the quality of representation provided to poor defendants.

Rapping was one of two criminal justice experts given a MacArthur genius grant, this year. The other was Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychologist whose research has revealed racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Charles Pulliam-Moore interviews Rapping on NPR’s Code Switch about why he became involved in reforming public defense, and how Gideon’s Promise helps perpetually overburdened public defenders give quality defense to poor people facing a criminal justice system stacked against them. Here’s a clip:

How did you initially become interested in reforming the way public defenders represented their clients?

Rapping: After Hurricane Katrina hit, I was invited to come to New Orleans to and help with the effort to rebuild their public defender office. It was my first introduction to systems that were incredibly dysfunctional and had come to accept an embarrassingly low standard of justice for people.

In what ways were the standards low?

You would see these systems where human beings — almost exclusively poor and disproportionately people of color — were brought into these systems and just processed. No one was treated like a human being. …

It starts with legislators who in a “tough on crime” environment are really pressured to basically over-criminalize behavior. Then you get police who feel pressured to make arrests and to target certain communities. Prosecutors who frequently feel the pressure of a “tough on crime” environment charge more cases than the system is equipped to handle. As the system gets overwhelmed, the goal becomes getting this overwhelming number of cases through the system. Rather than focusing on justice, taking our time, and making sure that every person gets what our Constitution deserves, we start looking for shortcuts. …

Prosecutors start doing things like asking that poor people be held on bonds they can’t make. They do this knowing that when you’re sitting in jail on a bond you can’t make and the only way to get out is to take a plea, that’s an incredibly powerful tool for a prosecutor to get a quick conviction.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS HAS LEFT AT LEAST 13 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REPORTS UNFINISHED SINCE 2011

California Attorney General Kamala Harris seems to have missed deadlines on at least nine important criminal justice reports for 2013, and four between 2011 and 2012. The missing reports have created a gap in data on juvenile justice, organized crime, gun use, and hate crimes, among other issues. The delayed reports can cause problems for law enforcement, lawmakers, and researchers for whom current data is important.

U-T San Diego’s Ashly McGlone has the story. Here’s a clip:

The late reports — covering hate crimes, juvenile justice, firearms use during the commission of a crime and other topics — are meant to provide the public a snapshot of trends in criminal activity and insight into the dealings of the Department of Justice.

As the state’s top law enforcer, Harris is entrusted in the state Constitution “to see that the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced.”

The most overarching report that Harris is late producing is the Biennial Report of Major Activities by the Attorney General, which the law requires her to produce every other year. The 2012 report was due two years ago, and the 2014 report was due last week.

The report is supposed to provide the governor with budget information and recap the accomplishments of the Attorney General’s Office, including court cases litigated and legal opinions issued.

U-T Watchdog reported on the tardiness of that report in April, and Harris’s office said at that time that the 2012 report would be complete within months and the 2014 report would be completed on time on Sept. 15.

[SNIP]

Several 2013 reports were due earlier this year, and have not been posted:

On March 1, the Asset Forfeiture Report was due, with information on all seizures of assets from illegal drug activities initiated throughout the state during the calendar year.

In April, two more reports were due, one detailing electronic surveillance efforts and results and one cataloguing the number and type of firearms used most frequently in the commission of violent, homicidal, street and drug trafficking crimes.

In July, separate reports were due on hate crimes and the juvenile justice system. Also, the Crime in California report was due, including statistics on reported crimes, arrests, dispositions, adult felony arrests, domestic violence calls, officers killed or assaulted and more.


LOS ANGELES ISN’T THE ONLY COUNTY STRUGGLING TO PROPERLY CARE FOR MENTALLY ILL INMATES…RIVERSIDE IS, TOO

A current federal class-action lawsuit and a couple of grand jury reports call attention to the substandard care Riverside County provides to the mentally ill.

The sheriff’s department says that it is working to address the issues, in part, by adding more staff and beds for mentally ill inmates, as well as a fast-track to treatment for those incapable of standing trial. But inmate advocates say these changes only accomplish damage control, and that the whole mental health care system needs to be rebuilt.

The Press Enterprise’s Richard De Atley has the story. Here’s how it opens:

California’s prison realignment has sharpened an already critical focus on Riverside County’s treatment of mentally ill and suicidal jail inmates – issues cited in negative grand jury reports and in a current federal court lawsuit.

Sheriff’s and mental health officials said they are trying to close the gaps, doubling the number of dedicated beds for mentally ill inmates and increasing the mental health personnel to care for them. The sheriff has also established a faster treatment program for those declared incompetent to stand trial.

Treatment of mentally ill patients is a big component of state prison realignment, which focuses on local incarceration, probation and rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.

But one psychiatrist, who reviewed Riverside County’s five adult jails on behalf of the inmates who are part of the federal lawsuit, said mental health care remains in “crisis management mode” this year, despite grand jury reports in 2011 and 2012 that cited inadequate mental health worker staffing and other systemic problems.

Sara Norman, an attorney representing Riverside County inmates in the federal lawsuit, said her clients aren’t the only ones who would benefit from improvements in mental health care.

“A poorly run system is harmful to patients, but also demoralizing and difficult for health care staff and detention staff,” she said. “You have a very difficult population. The vast majority are getting out, and it’s a burden on health care on the outside to deprive them on the inside.”

Among the lawsuit’s several claims are that psychotropic medications are poorly managed and monitored for jail inmates.


FILM FESTIVAL: “JUSTICE ON TRIAL” CHALLENGES THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

LA Progressive’s Dick Price and Sharon Kyle interviewed Susan Burton, the executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, which helps formerly incarcerated women in South Central land on their feet with housing, food, clothing, and reentry services. Burton has a personal knowledge of prison’s revolving door, having cycled in and out of lock-up herself for 15 years.

Burton is now working on the second annual “Justice on Trial Film Festival,” which focuses on the American prison system’s effect on people, particularly people of color. The festival will take place September 26 and 27 at Cal State Long Beach. (You can register here.)

Price and Kyle spoke with Burton about mass incarceration, the film festival, and Prop 47. Here’s a clip:

Dick and Sharon: What do you hope the Justice On Trial Film Festival will accomplish?

Susan: Our intention is to alert the broader public with what’s going on with our mass incarceration system, here in Los Angeles and across the country. We’ve brought together well-known speakers and a collection of independent films whose creators have been moved to promote the end of mass incarceration.

We moved this year’s second annual event to Long Beach because that city has such a high number of formerly incarcerated people living there. This area is majorly oppressed, with high rates of incarceration, high rates of homelessness, high rates of police killings.

Dick and Sharon: You’ve been a strong supporter of Yes Prop 47. If passed, what kind of impact would this initiative have in your life and in the lives of the women who come through A New Way Of Life Reentry Project?

Susan: Prop 47 takes six low-level, nonviolent felonies—such as shoplifting, drug possession for personal use, writing bad checks—and makes them into misdemeanors. It then puts some of the money saved by not incarcerating so many people into drug treatment and mental health programs to help people stay out of trouble in the first place.

For me and the women of A New Way Of Life, Prop 47 would mean that we would not have had to go to prison. It would have meant that we would have gotten help for our problems with drugs and alcohol. It would have let us have clean records so we would not have to go through life with the burden of wearing the label “convicted felon” around our necks, dragging us down.

Posted in jail, Mental Illness, Public Defender | 2 Comments »

More on the LAPD Ezell Ford Shooting, DOJ to Review Police Tactics, LAUSD Welcomes Immigrant Kids…and More

August 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD UNION MAKES STATEMENT ON FORD SHOOTING…AND QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED BY THE INVESTIGATION

On Monday, an LAPD officer shot Ezell Ford, an unarmed, young black man who was reportedly mentally disabled. According to LAPD officials, two officers stopped Ford, a struggle ensued, and Ford tackled one officer and tried to take his gun from its holster, at which point the officer shot Ford with his back-up weapon. The second officer also shot Ford. It is not yet clear how many bullets were fired.

Eyewitnesses are telling a conflicting story, one in which Ford was complying with officers.

Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League urges us not to rush to a conclusion on the matter—that a thorough investigation will take time to determine whether the shooting was within policy. Here’s a clip:

“Increasingly, in the immediate aftermath of any police shooting, unvetted statements by persons claiming to be witnesses are given prominent play. While a factual investigation unfolds at a deliberate and slower pace, an inaccurate narrative can be created before the actual facts are determined. The Ezell Ford incident on August 11, 2014, in Newton Area is no exception, as we have read and viewed some inaccurate reports of what occurred.”

“It is critically important, both for the LAPD and the community to establish what actually happened. The LAPPL reminds everyone that it is necessary for a thorough and transparent investigation to take place so the final conclusion is trustworthy and can withstand critical scrutiny—and that will take time. This thorough and complete investigation is being conducted by Force Investigation Division. The Inspector General and the district attorney monitor the investigation and ensure that it is complete and unbiased. The preliminary facts, according to LAPD officials, are that two LAPD officers assigned to the Gang Enforcement Detail in Newton Area stopped Ezell Ford at about 8:10 p.m. as he walked on a sidewalk near 65th Street and Broadway in South Los Angeles. A violent struggle ensued, and Ford grabbed one of the officers and tried to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster, prompting a deadly use of force.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is out of town, but KPCC’s Frank Stoltze spoke with LAPD Commander Andrew Smith and LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger about the Ford incident.

According to Smith, the struggle was chaotic and did end in Ford being shot while on the ground. Here’s a clip from Stoltze’s story:

The incident started when two officers with the Newton Division’s Gang Enforcement Detail confronted Ezell Ford during an “investigative stop” around 8:20 pm, according to Commander Andrew Smith. He did not know what precipitated the stop. Gang officers regularly approach people who they believe may be involved in gang activity.

“As the first officer gets close, the suspect spins around and grabbed the officer around the waist, threw him to the ground and was laying on top of the officer,” Smith said. “There was a struggle over the officer’s weapon and the officer on the ground withdrew his backup weapon and shot the suspect.” Many officers carry backup weapons in ankle holsters or tucked inside pants pockets.

The second officer also fired at Ford. Smith would not say how many bullets were fired or how many struck the suspect. Both officers are “veterans” with at least seven years at the department, he said.

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told KPCC that Ford “made suspicious movements, including attempting to conceal his hands.” Paysinger also said Ford “attempted to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster.” He added that “the suspect partially removed the gun from the officer’s holster, and it was indeed a struggle for their lives.”

Whether or not the shooting is determined to be within policy, it had a tragic outcome. Here are some of the questions that we’d like to see answered by the investigation:

Why was Ford stopped in the first place?

Are Ford’s fingerprints on the officer’s gun?

How many bullets were fired by the officers? Which shot proved fatal? After the first shot, were any following shots necessary, or were they products of an adrenalized action that could have been avoided?


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF QUESTIONABLE USE OF DEADLY FORCE ON MINORITIES AND THE MENTALLY ILL: JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAUNCHING LARGE-SCALE REVIEW OF POLICE TACTICS

The Department of Justice is conducting an extensive review of police policies with regard to contact with the mentally ill, use of deadly force, and more, according to a federal law enforcement official. The review is expected to be completed early next year. The DOJ is also considering forming a national commission to oversee and direct police protocol and conduct.

USA Today’s Kevin Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In addition to deadly force, the review is expected to examine law enforcement’s increasing encounters with the mentally ill, the application of emerging technologies such as body cameras, and police agencies’ expanding role in homeland security efforts since 9/11, said the official, who is not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

The review is slated to be completed early next year while authorities consider establishing a special law enforcement commission similar to a panel created by President Johnson to deal with problems then associated with rising crime.

Rather than violent crime, which has been in decline in much of the country, police are now grappling with persistent incidents involving use of force and their responses to an array of public safety issues, from drug overdoses to their dealings with the mentally ill and the emotionally disturbed.

The call for a broader federal policy review, while not directly tied to any specific incident, grew out of a meeting involving law enforcement advocacy groups and Justice officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, the official said.

“Nobody has looked at the profession in any holistic way in more than 50 years,” the official said.


LAUSD TO WELCOME NEW IMMIGRANT STUDENTS “WITH OPEN ARMS”

All kids in the United States have a right to attend school regardless of their immigration status. In 2013, 13,000 kids entered the country without a parent or guardian. The number jumped to 25,000 this year, as kids are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said that he is preparing for about 1,000 new immigrant children to enter the public school system this year, and told the LA Times, “We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s how it opens:

At the low-slung bungalow west of downtown, a youngster screams from a vaccination and a nurse records the height and weight of an older boy. Academic counselors stand by, because it is here that many children who recently crossed the southern border enroll in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As the line runs out the door of the cramped reception area, José Miguel waits his turn to sign up 17-year-old niece Elena, a native of Guatemala who crossed over from Mexico in March without her parents or a guardian.

Under federal law, these children are entitled to attend public school regardless of immigration status.

“I am planning for 1,000 this year, but I will know more when our doors open,” L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said just before the nation’s second-largest district started its school year on Tuesday.

Across the country over the next year, federal agencies expect to manage about 60,000 minors who entered or will arrive in the United States without an adult guardian. That figure compares with about 7,500 who came in annually before the numbers surged to 13,625 last year and about 25,000 in the current year.

“We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD,” Deasy said last week in an interview with reporters and editors at The Times.

Many unaccompanied minors land in Southern California; here they can be cared for by relatives who are part of well-established expatriate communities from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — the impoverished and sometimes violent countries from which most have journeyed.

José Miguel, a worker in the garment industry, needs assistance in part because his own education was limited. He speaks Spanish, but his first language is a Guatemalan dialect. Immigration authorities left him a stack of papers for his niece. He’s not sure what district staff need to see.

The center is outfitted to handle Spanish and Korean speakers, and brings in interpreters as needed.

L.A. Unified officials have warned schools to be prepared for students who may be afraid to enroll or who could experience separation anxiety and grief. Some have suffered trauma from witnessing violence. They may be undereducated or even illiterate.

Some of the girls might have been sexually abused; some are parents themselves. Diapers are among the supplies at the school enrollment, placement and assessment center, located in a fenced corner of Plasencia Elementary School.


BILL TO END RACIAL DISPARITY IN CRACK/POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING HEADS FOR GOVERNOR’S DESK

The California Assembly has passed a bill to equalize the punishment for possession (for sale) of powder and crack cocaine. Crack previously held a higher penalty of three to five years, while powder was punishable by two to four years.

SB 1010, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, after which it will land on the governor’s desk.

The Drug Policy Alliance has more on the bill’s progress. Here’s a clip:

“As Assemblymember Bradford said in presenting the bill today, the current disparities in our drug laws amount to institutional racism,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Fair Sentencing Act will take a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. The time has long come.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body. Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda. Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Posted in LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 52 Comments »

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

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A story in USC News explains how this works:

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

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

Here’s more from USC News.

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

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

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

The Cost of Court Involvement


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

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

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

Here’s the story:

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

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

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

Here are some clips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill came out to $221,000….

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:

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

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

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


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

They wrote:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

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

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

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

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

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

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

Leifman said the results were striking.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

(Um. Ya think?)

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

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

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

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

For example, there was this:

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

And then later:

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

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

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