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Mental Illness


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

July 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

UNIQUE SAN DIEGO PROGRAM GIVES AGING OUT FOSTER KIDS A FAMILY OF VOLUNTEERS TO HELP THEM INTO ADULTHOOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE SAYS MOST OF THE DRUG SENTENCES SHE HANDED DOWN WERE UNFAIR

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

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

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

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

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


THE MENTALLY ILL AND DEADLY LAW ENFORCEMENT CONFRONTATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


POOR DEFENDANTS IN CIVIL COURT CASES ARE LEFT TO DEFEND THEMSELVES – HERE’S WHY THERE AREN’T ENOUGH LEGAL AID LAWYERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Away from Solitary Confinement in LA and CA – UPDATED….Bills, Bills, Bills….Mental Illness….and LYRIC

May 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

ADVOCATES AND OTHERS WHO WERE HELD IN SOLITARY AS KIDS PRAISE LA COUNTY SUPES FOR SUPPORTING CA BILL TO DRASTICALLY LIMIT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support CA Sen. Mark Leno’s important bill to limit the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities.

In the days immediately following, various advocates, some of whom had personally experienced the trauma of solitary confinement as kids, praised the board’s decision to back the measure.

Sheila Kuehl, authored the motion, which was co-sponsored by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth Justice Coalition, the Children’s Defense Fund of California, and the CA Public Defender’s Association. In response to the positive vote, Kuehl said, “I’m proud to be part of this rehabilitative movement working to change our treatment of incarcerated youth, and want to thank my fellow Supes for joining with me on this critically important issue.”

In her motion, Supervisor Kuehl said the board’s hope is that the county will set a precedent—the “LA Model”—at both the state and national levels by overhauling the way LA County supervises the 1,200 kids in its juvenile detention facilities. As the first step in that model, Kuehl points to the $48 million transformation of the dilapidated Camp David Kilpatrick, now under construction, that will turn it into a facility focused on “relationship-building, trauma informed care, positive youth development, small and therapeutic group settings, quality education, properly trained staff, a relational approach to supervision and an integrated group treatment model.”

An overuse of solitary confinement is not in keeping with the rehabilitative focus of the LA Model, thus the Supes have moved to support Sen. Leno’s proposed legislation.

Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California said that the support of the supervisors for Leno’s bill “moves the state one step closer to ending the use of solitary confinement for youth in California,” and helps “to ensure that youth in L.A. County and across the state receive the healing and rehabilitation they need to succeed rather than be re-traumatized.”

Specifically, the bill would ban isolating kids except in extreme circumstances in which a kid poses a serious threat to staff or others, and when all other alternatives have not worked. The bill would also clearly define solitary confinement as “involuntary placement” in isolation away from people who are not staff or attorneys. Kids would also only stay in solitary for the least amount of time needed to handle the safety risk.

Francisco Martinez, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition described solitary confinement as “horrible – like an animal in a cage.” Martinez lived through solitary confinement at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, CA. “The conditions were a small, dirty concrete room,” he said. Food, dirt, and spit covered the walls and windows, and the mattress was i, according to Martinez. “We were kept in our boxers with a tee shirt and socks, and a thin blanket.” Martinez said the air conditioning, which blew 24-7, “was even worse for me, because I have asthma. I had shortness of breath when I woke up until I went to sleep.”

The passage of Sen. Leno’s bill, say advocates, would be meaningful not only for the kids who are locked away in isolation, but also for their loved ones on the outside, the family members to whom they return, often more damaged than before their incarceration.

“My godson was incarcerated for almost 10 years since the age of 15. His time in solitary confinement hurt him the most, and I was worried the damage would be permanent,” said LaNita Mitchell, board member of the Ella Baker Center. “Our children need help, not torture.”

“Troubled youth need treatment, not isolation,” said Sen. Leno. ““Deliberately depriving incarcerated young people of human contact, education, exercise and fresh air is inhumane and can have devastating psychological effects for these youth, who are already vulnerable to depression and suicide.”

The LA Supervisors’ move came one week after the Contra Costa County Probation Department agreed to ban solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, as part of a groundbreaking settlement.


CA ASSEMBLY TAKES ACTION ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE BILLS

On Thursday, the California Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees took action on a number of weighty criminal justice and foster care bills.

Among other noteworthy justice-related bills, the Assembly Committee addressed measures that aimed to reverse portions of California’s Prop 47—the reclassification of certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.

AB 150 by Assemblymember Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elisnore) which would have bumped gun theft back up to a felony, was blocked, while SB 333 by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), a bill to reinstate the felony classification to the possession of date rape drugs, was sent to the Senate floor for a vote.

Three bills addressing the state’s over-drugging of foster kids made it out of the Senate Committee alive: SB 238 from Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-LA), which would require the state to collect data on how many kids in foster care are prescribed psychotropic (and other potentially dangerous) meds; SB 319 by Sen. Jim Beall, which would establish a monitoring system for public heath nurses to oversee foster kids who have been given psychotropic drugs; and SB 484, also by Beall, which would make the state identify and inspect foster care group homes in which kids are being over-drugged, and create drug reduction plans for those homes.

Other bills that advanced Thursday, and are worth tracking:

AB 1056 by Assemblymember Toni Atkins would use money saved by Prop 47 to house former offenders through the “Second Chance Program for Community Re-entry.”

SB 674 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, (D-LA) would require cops to issue certificates to immigrant victims of crime who have aided law enforcement during investigations. Those certificates could then be used by immigrants to avoid being deported.


MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE AGE OF MASS INCARCERATION

The Sacramento Bee’s Daniel Weintraub has an interesting profile of MacArthur Genius Elyn Saks, a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at USC, in the midst of her own battle with schizophrenia, has become a champion for the mentally ill, fighting against the criminalization of people with mental illness, and pushing for legislation that brings treatment to the community level.

Here’s a clip from Weintraub’s story:

“Everything about my past says I shouldn’t be here,” Saks says.

But here she is – a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California. She is a researcher, an author and the recipient of a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

Thirty-five years ago, however, Saks was first-year law student at Yale University suffering a terrifying mental breakdown. Studying with friends one night, she started speaking gibberish and singing the Florida “sunshine song.” Then she withdrew inside herself.

That episode eventually landed her in the emergency room and led to five months in a psychiatric hospital. She was placed under restraints for up to 20 hours at a time. Her doctors described her prognosis as “grave.” Some expected her to live out her life in board and care homes, doing menial jobs – or living on the streets.

But with the help of a few close friends, her family, regular therapy and medication, Saks held her life together, and then some.

Her experience led her to become a leading opponent of the use of force to control people with mental illness, a practice she says is largely unnecessary. She also believes it is dehumanizing and probably counterproductive, because it keeps many people from seeking the care they need.

The first time she was “retrained,” Saks said, a sound she had never heard came out of her mouth: “It was a half-groan, half-scream, barely human and pure terror.”

In an op-ed for CNN, Newt Gingrich and Van Jones lay out the ways incarcerating mentally ill Americans does a colossal disservice to taxpayers, cops, and, of course, the mentally ill, and stress the importance of identifying and implementing research-based strategies to keep people with mental illness out of jails and prisons.

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House who, along with some of his other Right on Crime colleagues, was instrumental in getting both Prop 47 and Prop 36 passed. Van Jones is a former presidential advisor and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media.

Here’s a clip from the op-ed:

America’s approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes — locking them up without addressing the problem — is a solution straight out of the 1800s.

When governments closed state-run psychiatric facilities in the late 1970s, it didn’t replace them with community care, and by default, the mentally ill often ended up in jails…

Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital. With 2 million people with mental illness booked into jails each year, it is not surprising that the biggest mental health providers in the country are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County Jail in Chicago…

Cycling [the mentally ill] through the criminal justice system, we miss opportunities to link them to treatment that could lead to drastic improvements in their quality of life and our public safety. These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time. People who’ve committed nonviolent crimes can often set themselves on a better path if they are provided with proper treatment.

The current situation is also unfair to law enforcement officers and to the people running our prisons, who are now forced to act as doctors or face tense confrontations with the mentally ill while weighing the risk to public safety. In fact, at a time when police shootings are generating mass controversy, there is far too little discussion of the fact that when police use force, it often involves someone with a mental illness.

Finally, the current approach is unfair to taxpayers, because there are far more cost-effective ways for a decent society to provide care to the mentally ill. Just look at Ohio, where the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is projected to spend $49 million this year on medications and mental health care, on top of nearly $23,000 per inmate per year.


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE PROGRAM TO TEACH KIDS THEIR RIGHTS WHEN INTERACTING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT

Alameda County Public Defender’s Office recently visited an 11th grade class at Oakland Technical High School to teach them the things they should say and do (and things they should not say and do) when stopped by law enforcement. The purpose of the Public Defender’s Office’s unique program, Learn Your Rights in California (LYRIC), is to make sure young people of color—many of whom have been stopped by officers before—are aware of their rights, and to help them have better interactions with cops. The public defenders taught the Oakland Tech students through role-play and skits in addition to a thorough Q&A session.

KQED’s Sara Hossaini has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Good morning, My name is Brendon Woods, Jennie’s boss,” Woods says, introducing himself to the class as Alameda County’s first African-American public defender.

“We’re here to talk to you about L.Y.R.I.C.”

He tells the class of mostly black and brown students that the L.Y.R.I.C. program stands for Learn Your Rights in California. He says it’s something that has personal meaning for him.

“Because when I was your guys’ age, I got stopped and harassed all the time,” Woods explains. “And it’s important for me to make sure that you guys know your rights and are able to assert them.”

Deputy Assistant Public Defender Jennie Otis hopes that helps keep kids out of the system.

“I think it plays many roles,” Otis says. “One is hopefully to reduce our clientele.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Foster Care, Mental Illness, racial justice, Reentry, solitary | No Comments »

The 22-Hour Standoff, Sentencing Videos, and a Promising Housing Program in SF

May 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD 22-HOUR STANDOFF WITH ELDERLY WOMAN A MODEL FOR HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERACTIONS WITH THE MENTALLY ILL CAN GO RIGHT

Last Thursday, beginning at 5:30a.m. in a mobile home park on the 4200 block of Topanga Blvd., a mentally ill 74-year-old woman armed with a revolver engaged members of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in an intense standoff that lasted more than 20 hours.

On Tuesday, LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell called a press conference to lay out the details of the crisis situation, which would have tested “the resolve, training and tactics of any law enforcement agency.”

The woman reportedly brandished the gun at paramedics and officers who had responded to her distress call, as well as mobile home park residents (who were quickly evacuated), before taking over a neighboring mobile home. The LASD sent in its Crisis Negotiations Team, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” commanding officers, and special equipment.

The raving elderly woman reportedly shot at a robot sent in to negotiate with her, as well as at officers during the standoff. At one point, the woman approached officers, saying she had lost her gun, before pulling it out and firing two rounds.

Sheriff McDonnell said the incident “provided rare insight in to the continuum of decisions that our deputies make in life or death situations…decisions that balance the need for control in the name of public safety…with the safety and welfare of an individual.”

Officers deployed a great deal of less-than-lethal resources, including foam projectiles, tear gas, and even a fire hose, all of which failed to subdue the woman. Despite believing the woman had at least one live round left, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” stripped out of their gear, helmets, and vests. Five Blue Team members very carefully crawled under the house, and were able to take the woman into custody—all at great danger to the unarmed officers.

McDonnell praised the officers’ skillful handling of a situation that could have easily ended in tragedy. “It would be a mischaracterization to say that the SWAT team was ‘held at bay,’” said McDonnell. “The Special Enforcement Bureau’s SWAT team held themselves at bay of out an overriding desire to end the incident without having to resort to using deadly force.”

Sons of the elderly woman, who they said had never been in trouble or caused any disturbances before, expressed deep gratitude to the members of the Lost Hills Station and SWAT team: “…everyone we came into contact with exhibited the utmost in compassion, concern, patience, discipline  and restraint: for the residents of the mobile park, their fellow officers, our family and most importantly, for an elderly woman in need of help.”


SENTENCING VIDEOS BRING DEFENDANTS HUMANNESS INTO THE COURTROOM, BUT WILL THE COST KEEP THEM OUT OF REACH FOR POOR DEFENDANTS?

It is becoming increasingly more common for defense lawyers to submit mini biographical documentaries during sentencing. The new defense tool, commonly called a “sentencing video” focuses on a defendant’s history, hardships and traumas, and potential, in an effort to humanize defendants and sway judges toward handing down lighter punishment.

Advocates are concerned, however, that as the trend grows, the use of often-costly sentencing videos will not be possible for indigent defendants using public defenders.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice non-profit, seeks to level the playing field.

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has the story. Here’s a clip:

Even in cities with robust public defense programs, like New York, lawyers may be handling as many as 100 cases at once, and they say there is little room to add shooting and editing videos to their schedules.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that public defenders could possibly spare the time to do that,” said Josh Saunders, who until recently was a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, adding that lawyers there are often physically in court for the entire workday. He sees the humanizing potential of videos, he said, but “I would also be concerned that defendants with means would be able to put together a really nice package that my clients generally would not be able to.”

Mr. Jayadev’s nonprofit, Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice group and community center in San Jose, Calif., believes that videos are a new frontier in helping poor defendants, and is not only making videos but also encouraging defense lawyers nationwide to do the same. The group has made about 20 biographical videos for defendants, one featuring footage of the parking lot where a homeless teenage defendant grew up. With a $30,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation, De-Bug is now training public defenders around the country.

Given that a defendant has a right to speak at sentencing, a video is on solid legal ground, said Walter Dickey, emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, “though the judge can obviously limit what’s offered.” Professor Dickey said that because, at both the state and federal levels, the lengths of sentences are increasingly up to judges rather than mandated by statute, it followed that videos that “speak to the discretionary part” of sentencing were having a bigger role.

Mr. Jayadev takes a standard approach to his projects: The producers identify the defendant’s past hardships and future prospects, then select supporters or family members to describe those, usually in a visual context, like a pastor in a church pew. Mr. Jayadev said he found it was more natural to have the defendant talking to someone off-screen, rather than staring at the camera.

For Mr. Quijada, “this story is around this young man’s transformation from a life that had sort of run its course,” Mr. Jayadev said.


A COLLABORATIVE SF PROGRAM TO PROVIDE FORMER OFFENDERS WITH FREE HOUSING AND REHABILITATION SERVICES TO HELP THEM GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

Forty-two recently released low-level former offenders and more serious offenders who are currently on probation will soon move into their own studio apartments at Drake Hotel in the heart of San Francisco. Through a united effort between the SF Superior Court, Probation Department, and Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a single-occupancy hotel is being transformed to specifically house homeless former offenders who struggle with addiction.

The move is particularly meaningful in a city where the average apartment runs $3,458 per month. The goal of the housing program, which is funded with realignment money, is to help tenants find permanent housing within one year of living at the Drake Hotel.

Tenants will be given a set of responsibilities and a curfew and will be paired with case managers who will help them access public benefits and save up for a deposit and first month’s rent on their own apartment.

The SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight has more on the program. Here are some clips:

…asked why criminals should get free housing in San Francisco when law-abiding low-income and even middle-class families struggle to afford apartments, court officials seemed to be caught off guard.

“The kind of housing these folks are getting is not something to be envious of, honestly. It’s just a room,” said Lisa Lightman, director of the Superior Court’s collaborative courts, which include special courts for drug-addicted people and mentally ill people and the Community Justice Center, which handles low-level crimes committed in the Tenderloin.

Asked the same question, Krista Gaeta, deputy director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said the public will benefit if people who have committed crimes are living in decent housing and provided case management.

“You can’t let someone out of jail, give them $5 and say, ‘Good luck,’” she said. “The better plan is to do things like this so they can go out and get permanent housing, find work and not commit the crimes that got them in trouble in the first place.”

[SNIP]

Fletcher said it has become increasingly difficult to help people on probation in San Francisco find any sort of housing because of the city’s sky-high rents. Last month, San Francisco landlords with available apartments were asking a record average rent of $3,458 a month.

The Drake Hotel will specifically serve people on probation who are homeless and are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The facility will be considered a clean and sober building, but tenants won’t be evicted for having relapses, Fletcher said.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

Mentally Ill and Locked-up Kids, State of the City, and Police Brutality

April 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BACKGROUND ON RAHEEM HOUSSEINI’S ILLUMINATING STORY ABOUT HOW MENTALLY ILL KIDS WIND UP IN JAIL

Here in California, there has been ample discussion about how adults with mental illnesses are winding up in jails and prisons instead of receiving appropriate treatment in their communities or in mental health facilities. (And in LA County, in particular, District Attorney Jackie Lacey is working on a comprehensive mental health diversion program.)

Sacramento-based reporter Raheem Hosseini found, almost by accident, that the same thing is happening to mentally ill kids in California, and wrote in-depth about the issue last November.

This week, Hosseini published a story-behind-the-story about how he came upon this troubling set of facts and the difficulties he faced in reporting on kids with mental illness in the juvenile justice system. Here’s a clip:

Interim chief probation officer Suzanne Collins spent her limited time summarizing her department’s mandate: supervising adult offenders once they exit custody; producing in-depth assessments for the courts to consider at sentencing; and housing juvenile delinquents. While describing this last mission, Collins made the off-hand comment about juvenile hall having turned into a “commitment facility” for mentally ill children with no other place to go. The session quickly moved onto other business. In my head, however, the bell had been rung.

I had become familiar with the shifting complexion of adult prisons and jails, where a third to half of inmates experience mental health issues, depending on who — and when — you asked. But I had done little reporting on the juvenile justice system, and I was surprised to hear such an alarming assertion dropped so casually.

Because, if true, this is where the prison pipeline began for children who needed help, not institutionalization.

It wasn’t until weeks later that I was able to schedule a tour of juvenile hall. The kids I briefly met, especially in the special needs unit, stuck with me. Who were they? What brought them here? And where would they go next?

I managed to pick story subjects with multiple, co-existing privacy obstacles: Minors (1) with mental illnesses (2) in the juvenile justice system (3).

How would I find them? And can a mentally ill minor even grant consent to their story being told? That’s a question I posed to a few of the speakers present at a week-long health reporting fellowship at the University of Southern California in February 2014. I got sympathetic shrugs in return.

When I started reporting, I immediately reached out to multiple youth justice foundations, advocacy groups and researchers to see if they could put me in touch with mentally ill incarcerated juveniles, former juveniles and their families. Many requests went unanswered; some referred me to other groups or individuals; most said they couldn’t put me in touch with anyone.

Meanwhile, locating hard data on mental health trends within the juvenile justice system proved almost as tricky…

Here’s a clip from Hosseini’s original story about how kids who really need mental health care get ensnared in the juvenile justice system (where they are over-prescribed antipsychotics) and what counties are doing, or are not doing, to rectify the situation:

Ashley Drake is trying to be something other than a cautionary tale. In a north Sacramento law enforcement office, the 22-year-old waits on a probation officer, the same one she’s had since childhood. It’s time again to reach for the straight and narrow.

She’s never had much help in that department.

Afflicted with bipolar disorder, clinical depression and avoidant personality disorder symptoms, Drake’s childhood is a blur of family discord, 10 juvenile hall detentions and 13 separate group home placements. Therapy, counseling and treatment? They never happened. Instead, she began self-medicating with hard drugs as an adolescent, and has since graduated to adult jails…

According to a comprehensive analysis completed in September for the Sacramento County Criminal Justice Cabinet, nearly 43 percent of the average daily juvenile hall population received mental health services this year, a 19-percent increase over 2000. Of the 84 children who were served, 52 received psychotropic drugs. The representation of medicated juveniles at the hall rose by 16 percent in comparison to 2004, when the population was larger and the number of medicated kids smaller—around 32—an examination of state and local data shows.

“About half of our juvenile hall is a mental health facility. And we don’t have adequate services to keep up with that,” says Arthur L. Bowie, supervising assistant public defender of the county’s juvenile division. “We’re making criminals out of them, instead of what they are.”

What they are, says Bowie and others, are victims of abusive homes and failed institutions. Institutionalized at a young age and too often deprived of proper psychiatric care, they’re groomed for lives on perpetual lockdown.

“Half these kids don’t belong in detention,” says deputy probation officer Gabo Ly, who supervises the special needs unit, where juvenile hall’s most emotionally and psychologically unstable are segregated. “But this is all we have.”

It’s a crisis in quiet, sapped of any grand political campaign or national outcry.

Read the rest.


LA MAYOR’S STATE OF THE CITY: COMMUNITY POLICING, TARGETING CRIME HOTSPOTS, FUNDING GRYD

At CSUN on Tuesday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his second annual State of the City address. The mayor announced a new 40-officer LAPD unit that will focus on community policing, as well as other activities (like coaching sports teams) that will build better relationships between cops and the neighborhoods they serve.

The LAPD will also hire 200 new Metropolitan Division officers to target high crime areas. (KPCC’S Frank Stoltze has more on this plan and why critics say it may harm the efforts of community policing.) Each police division will also receive a new specialized domestic violence unit.

Among other noteworthy changes, an extra $5.5 million in funding will go to the Gang Reduction Youth Development program, which allows for GRYD’s Summer Night Lights program to be extended to include non-summer Friday nights in some park locations.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has more on the State of the City address. Here’s a clip from the mayor’s speech:

“We should all be very proud: we reduced overall crime at the end of last year to its lowest level per capita since 1949.

But our city’s violent crime numbers were up.

And as long as I’m your Mayor, I won’t duck bad news. I’m going to own it and I’m going to attack it.

Here’s how:

First, we’re nearly doubling the ranks of LAPD’s elite Metropolitan Division, so we can quickly saturate a neighborhood with additional officers when crime spikes.

Second, because domestic violence increased in our city last year, we’re also doubling the number of our Domestic Abuse Response Teams so there’s one in every LAPD division — and today, I am proud to announce that they will be on the streets by July first, six months ahead of schedule.

DART teams are civilians who roll out with police officers and give victims of domestic abuse the legal, medical, and emotional support they need to break the cycle of violence.

Third, we know that intervention works…when our Gang Reduction and Youth Development workers step in, guns are lowered and lives are saved.

Today, I’m pleased to share that the budget that I’m sending City Council next week will include five point five million dollars more for the GRYD program, so we can cover new territory and 50 percent more gang-related violent crime.


TA-NEHISI COATES: BEYOND POLICE REFORM, SITUATIONS FOR WHICH LAW ENFORCEMENT MAY NOT BE THE BEST SOLUTION

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates says that instead of questioning whether a police use of force was within the law and department policy, we should question whether we should have sent the officer(s) out to deal with the situation that led to a use of force. Coates says we should ask, for instance, whether there are safer (for both officers and the public) and more peaceful ways to deal with a person who is skipping out on child support (instead of arrest), or to help someone in the throes of a mental health crisis. Here’s a clip:

There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.

When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.”

Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was informed of the killing of Tony Robinson by a police officer. Robinson was high on mushrooms. The police were summoned after he chased a car. The police killed him. A month earlier, I’d been thinking a lot about Anthony Hill, who was mentally ill. One day last month, Hill stripped off his clothes and started jumping off of his balcony. The police were called. They killed him.

[SNIP]

Police officers fight crime. Police officers are neither case-workers, nor teachers, nor mental-health professionals, nor drug counselors. One of the great hallmarks of the past forty years of American domestic policy is a broad disinterest in that difference. The problem of restoring police authority is not really a problem of police authority, but a problem of democratic authority. It is what happens when you decide to solve all your problems with a hammer. To ask, at this late date, why the police seem to have lost their minds is to ask why our hammers are so bad at installing air-conditioners.

STEVE LOPEZ: COPS GET TOO MUCH LEEWAY ON USE OF FORCE

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez says that while officers have to make extremely difficult, split-second decisions to protect their own safety and the safety of the public, deadly use of force incidents resulting from minor civilian misdeeds seem to occur too frequently. And, after questionable uses of force, officers are investigated by their own department, District Attorneys with close ties to local law enforcement agencies, and sympathetic juries. Here’s a clip:

The job is inherently dangerous, split-second decisions are hard to make under pressure, and sideline critics like me have the advantage of hindsight in second-guessing the use of deadly force.

But too often, it seems to me, we’re left trying to understand how a minor infraction or mere suspicion of criminal activity could have escalated into a deadly confrontation, and why police didn’t use better judgment.

[BIG SNIP]

It’s also time for police to refine the widespread broken-windows strategy — a full-bore crackdown on minor infractions to discourage serious crime — that can border on harassment and have deadly consequences, even if it does conveniently fill local treasuries with money from nuisance citations.

I’d like to put in a vote for the development and use of less lethal arms and ammo — such as a non-penetrating bullet now being tested in Ferguson, Mo. — that can incapacitate a suspect without killing him.

And it’s time to review deadly force policies and training.

Stephen Downing, a retired LAPD deputy chief, said he thinks a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on use of force has led to varying interpretations that give police too little guidance and too much latitude in determining when to shoot.

In training and practice, Downing said, the standard has been pushed “closer to what is justified by law as opposed to what is expected by the community. Thus, we see more and more, ‘He reached for his waistband’ rather than, ‘I opted to take cover, assess, develop a tactical alternative to use of deadly force and do all in my power to avoid taking a life.’”

And as for cops who negligently or maliciously cross the line, no more free passes. As Los Angeles attorney Walter Katz argued last week in a Harvard Law Review commentary, it’s time for independent investigations of police shootings, to help restore police accountability and public trust.


MAN SUING LAPD FOR ALLEGED BRUTALITY SAYS COPS ARE HARRASSING HIS FAMILY

Clinton Alford Jr., a 22-year-old man who filed a lawsuit last year against the LAPD for alleged excessive use of force, says officers are retaliating against him. Alford says officers drew guns on him during a traffic stop, have driven by his house heckling Alford and his family, and flown a helicopter so low above his home that the house shook.

Last fall, a store security camera captured video of an officer allegedly kicked Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. LAPD officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

Flanked by his father and his attorney, Clinton Alford Jr. told reporters that officers have repeatedly driven past his South L.A. house. And helicopters have flown so close overhead that walls and windows shook.

The 22-year-old’s attorney, Caree Harper, said officers had “heckled” Alford and his family while driving past their home. Last week, she said, officers drew their guns on her client after stopping him for a traffic violation.

Harper said she planned to amend a federal civil rights lawsuit she filed on Alford’s behalf to include the allegations of retaliation by police.

“They want to catch him doing anything,” she said. “Even if he’s not doing anything.”

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, declined to discuss the Oct. 16 incident, citing an ongoing internal investigation and civil litigation.

“There’s already an internal affairs investigation into this matter,” he said. “If they have any other allegations of misconduct, we’re eager to hear them and have internal affairs investigate them fully.”

Posted in Eric Garcetti, jail, juvenile justice, LAPD, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

LA DA Jackie Lacey Chats Candidly With Community Experts Re: Mental Health Diversion

April 7th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


MORE THAN THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Last Friday, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey held a meeting with a line-up of mental health experts, community service providers, and local policy advocates to discuss how best to create a rigorous diversion system to keep LA County’s mentally ill out of the street-to-jail cycle that has been the rule in the county—a cycle that Lacey is determined to break.

With the DA was Nedra Jenkins, the executive director of Lacey’s mental health diversion task force.

According to those whom we spoke with, this particular meeting was refreshingly unique in that it didn’t feature the usual suspects, but instead was packed with those working the front lines with some of LA’s most troubled populations. Furthermore, many of those invited are known for saying what they think, particularly when it comes to public officials. Yet, most were reportedly pleasantly surprised at the forthright and candid exchange that took place between Lacey & co, and those experts from the community.

The event was organized by So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, and, he too, was encouraged by the outcome.

“When some of us first proposed the idea,” said Eliasberg, “we originally were going to organize a town hall. But then we realized that it made sense to first have a meeting with the people who are really in the trenches on this stuff.

“And not only did the DA and Nedra Jenkins like the idea,” he said, “they didn’t look at it as just an opportunity to talk. They said, ‘We really want to listen and hear what these people have to say. We want to learn from them.’”

And the sentiments turned out to be more than lip service.

Lacey was at the meeting for more than two hours, Jenkins even longer. “And I’m quite sure she will be following up with everybody, either in smaller groups or individually. They want to build on this.”

Rev. Peter Laarman of Justice not Jails, had a similar take to that of Eliasberg. In a commentary he posted over the weekend, Laarman wrote that the meeting was “the kind of event that is highly unusual in Los Angeles County: a candid exchange of information and opinion between top leaders of a public agency and community stakeholders.”

Among the things the discussion revealed, wrote Laarman, was “how terribly broken the current ‘system’ for service delivery is: e.g., the separation of drug treatment from mental health treatment on account of bureaucratic silos, the mismatch between various programs related to housing, even the fact that while the LAPD brags about having specialist teams to deal with the mentally ill, those teams aren’t actually available 24-7: it appears that they work what we used to call ‘bankers’ hours.’”

Mark-Anthony Johnson from Dignity & Power Now noted that the mentally ill in LA County Jail are disproportionately African American.

Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition, talked about how conditions of confinement can exacerbate mental illness (an issue that is part of what may still result in a federal consent decree for LA County’s jail system).

Not everyone agreed. But the back and forth was respectful.

Afterward, Lacey too called the meeting very productive.

“I gained more insight into what will be needed in the futureee to provide a comprehensive diversion plan…” she said when we asked what she thought the exchanged accomplished. Lacey also said that “a significant impediment to progress is the lack of funding for supportive housing.” But some of those at the meeting, she said, came up with new ideas as to how the county might come up with the necessary dollars. “I look forward to continuing this discussion…”

Good idea. Go, Jackie!

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Jail, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness | 1 Comment »

Incompetent to Stand Trial and Warehoused in Jails, SFPD Chief Blasts SF DA’s Task Force, 22 Pardons, and P22

April 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NO HOSPITAL BEDS: LA’S MENTALLY ILL AND DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED DEFENDANTS DECLARED INCOMPETENT WAIT IN JAIL

Porterville Developmental Center is California’s only hospital that admits developmentally disabled criminal defendants. Because Porterville has a lengthy waiting list, there are around fifty inmates declared incompetent to stand trial waiting more than two years, on average, in jails across the state for space to free up at the hospital.

The number is even higher for mentally ill defendants declared incompetent. There are more than 300 waiting for beds at the five state hospitals that can accept them.

When defendants are deemed unfit to stand trial, they are supposed to be sent to a mental hospital for treatment until they can understand the charges against them.

But it’s not as easy as just spending money to create more hospital beds. Counties, including LA, are waiting to see if Prop 47 (the reduction of many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors) will help alleviate the problem. But the state is leaning on counties to implement jail treatment programs for the mentally ill inmates awaiting transfer.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In January 2014, Edward Lamont Mason allegedly attacked and injured a woman with a baseball bat.

He was arrested and has been in jail ever since, even though a judge ruled he was unfit to stand trial.

Mason, it turns out, is developmentally disabled. The victim of the alleged assault was his caretaker. And while the judge ordered him sent to Porterville Developmental Center — the only state hospital set up to house and treat developmentally disabled criminal defendants — there is no room.

So while the case against the Hayward, Calif., resident has been temporarily suspended, he remains an inmate in Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail, not receiving the treatment that would allow his case to move forward.

Mason’s lawyer, assistant public defender Brian Bloom, said if his 37-year-old client had been convicted and sentenced, he probably would have served less time than he has now spent waiting for a hospital bed.

“He’s confined in jail for no other reason than he’s developmentally disabled, which is really quite horrific when you think about it,” Bloom said.

State officials say there is nothing they can do about it…

Both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have set up small programs to treat mentally ill defendants in jail. Los Angeles, already under fire for poor treatment of mentally ill inmates, is looking into doing the same, but there is no easy solution to the problem.

The program would have some financial advantages, as the state would pay to house and treat the inmates in the county jail. Currently, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department receives no reimbursement for housing inmates awaiting transfer to state hospitals.

Some advocates, attorneys and treatment providers are adamantly opposed to the proposal.

“I think it’s a foolhardy idea,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who specializes in jails. Mentally ill jail inmates spend most of their time in a cell and, in some cases, in isolation, which can exacerbate their symptoms, he said.

“Of course it’s possible to do quality treatment in the jails,” Kupers said. “I’ve just never seen it happen.”


SAN FRANCISCO POLICE CHIEF BUTTS HEADS WITH SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY OVER MISCONDUCT TASK FORCE

On Monday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced a new task force would look into some troubling misconduct allegations within the SF Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, and the DNA crime lab. (More on that here.)

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr criticized the DA’s move as good press for an election year, and said Gascon was overstepping boundaries by launching the task force.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vivian Ho has the story. Here’s a clip:

The chief said police were already cooperating with the district attorney’s office in both the DNA and text-messaging cases, but that Gascón “has no role in supervising or overseeing either the Sheriff’s Department or the Police Department.”

“But then again it’s an election year, and task forces generate press conferences,” Suhr said.

Suhr also said the crime-lab supervisor who was put on leave after failing a DNA proficiency exam, Cherisse Boland, was also a supervisor while Gascón was police chief. A defense attorney complained about her during Gascón’s tenure, Suhr said, but she remained on staff.

“It’s important that we have a hand-in-glove relationship to make the best cases, and I don’t think that’s in jeopardy,” Suhr said of Gascón’s office. “But I’m the chief of police. I’m responsible to and accountable for anybody and anything that goes on in my department, just as he should be as the district attorney and Sheriff Mirkarimi should be as the sheriff. As our systems connect, I think we need to be respectful of everybody’s charge.”

The investigation into the text messages should be done by the end of the week, Suhr said, and the crime lab investigation should take four to six weeks.

[Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said he supports a third party looking into the allegations against his department, but he thinks the district attorney is too connected to the two departments and would not be able to clearly evaluate the cases.

“A task force could be a good idea, but the district attorney’s office is entwined with many of the systemic issues that implicate the police and sheriff’s departments,” he said. “Rather, a true independent task force would not be burdened by potential conflicts. In our case, this is why I initiated a request to the U.S. attorney and attorney general.”


PRESIDENT OBAMA PARDONS 22, HIS LARGEST NUMBER OF INMATES YET

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 non-violent drug offenders.

All of those pardoned have spent more than ten years behind bars, and the majority would have received shorter sentences if they had been sentenced under current drug laws.

Obama has faced criticism from activists in past years for granting so few people clemency. These 22 new recipients make up the largest group Obama has pardoned thus far, bring the president’s total up to 43. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office.

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Sari Horwitz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The 22 inmates whose sentences were commuted Tuesday were nonviolent offenders serving time for the possession, sale and distribution of substances including methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine. One, Terry Andre Barnes of East Moline, Ill., was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced in July 2005 to 246 months in prison, a term that would have kept him behind bars until 2025.

Obama wrote a letter to each of the inmates — all but one of whom, including Barnes, will be released July 28 — urging them to use the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity,” Obama wrote. “It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. . . . But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices.”

“I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong,” the president concluded, “So good luck, and Godspeed.”


HOW NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER STEVE WINTER SHOT ICONIC LA COUGAR (P22) PHOTOS

National Geographic photographer Steve Winter tells LA Magazine’s Marielle Wakim about how he captured rare photos of P22, LA’s most famous cougar, over the course of fifteen months with cameras hidden around Griffith Park.

Here are some clips (but definitely go over to the LA Mag interview for the photos):

You have built a career on photographing much larger, scarier cats for National Geographic—although personally, I find mountain lions scary. How was the challenge of shooting in Griffith Park different from shooting in wilder areas?

All my work in the middle of nowhere helped when thinking about the fact that I needed to get an image of a cougar in an urban setting. I first started in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and that didn’t pan out. I went to a mountain lion meeting in Bozeman, Montana, where I met L.A. wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich. I told him, ‘Jeff, I really need to get this picture, do any of the cats in the Santa Monica Mountains walk into suburban or urban areas?’ because I had heard there used to be a cat that would walk onto Cher’s property. But Jeff said no, that they’re smart cats—they’ll go into urban areas at night, but if they don’t see any prey, they’ll turn around and come back.

After he said this, I had said to him jokingly—but never really jokingly— wouldn’t it be great to get a picture of a mountain lion with the Hollywood sign? He later told me he thought I was crazy, but he was being polite, so he said, “Well it would, except that there are no cougars or mountain lions in Griffith Park.” I told him to let me know if something changed. Eight months later, I was in the dentist’s chair, and my phone vibrates: it’s a text from Jeff saying ‘Call me now.’ He said that there was a bobcat study being done with remote cameras in Griffith Park. There’s a hill with a cross on it on the other side of the 101, and there was a remote camera right by that cross—the beginning of Griffith Park. And boom: they got a picture of a mountain lion. That’s how it all started.

What was your ultimate goal with this shot?

I was visualizing two things: Getting a picture of a cougar with L.A. in the background, and [having the image] speak to everyone around the world. City lights say ‘city lights,’ but they don’t say ‘L.A.’—everyone recognizes the Hollywood sign. Those were my goals, and we got both of them, but it took forever to figure out. It took me 15 months to get that picture and to figure out what trail that cat walks on. Nobody had seen the P22, so figuring out where to put these cameras was hard. Griffith Park is not that big, and there aren’t that many trails. There are even fewer where you can see the Hollywood sign or where you can see L.A., especially from the height of a cat. So figuring out a place to put the cameras in Griffith Park where I could get the shot and where the cameras wouldn’t get stolen was a big issue.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Mental Illness, Obama | No Comments »

John Oliver Blasts Municipal Fine Swindle-System, LAPD Empathy Training, LA City Crime Rates, and Former LA DA Paid to Lobby for New Jail

March 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOHN OLIVER SHINES A LIGHT ON MUNICIPAL FINES AS ABUSIVE MEANS TO FUND CITIES

Many cities use the revenue from tickets for municipal violations to fund public services, and happily heap on further penalties for inability to pay—fines for the fines. Obviously, this system disproportionately affects the poor. In addition to incurring impossible debt, people who cannot pay their tickets can also lose their drivers licenses in many states. This, in turn, means that they can no longer drive to a job to earn money to funnel into the city’s coffers, and the pockets of private probation debt-collecting companies. Sometimes an inability to pay these fines can even land them in (debtor’s) prison.

On Last Week Tonight John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales, including the story of a grandmother who racked up thousands of dollars in insurmountable late fines. The grandmother lost her car, lost her license, and spent ten days in jail.

We highly suggest watching the above segment in its entirety.


NEW LAPD TRAINING: EMPATHIZING TO DE-ESCALATE

LAPD officers are receiving a new one-week empathy-focused training on how to de-escalate encounters with people who are mentally ill and showing signs of aggression. The goal to equip cops with better techniques for interacting with people suffering a mental health crisis who do not pose an immediate threat, to avoid unnecessary use of lethal force. Officers are taught to use humor, first names, and other non-threatening conversational strategies while slowly backing away. The safety of officers and the public are, of course, still of highest priority.

Participants are also taught about various types of mental disorders they may come in contact with. Thus far about 1,000 of the 10,000 sworn have taken the new course.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the new training. Here are some clips:

The scene was tense: Two Los Angeles Police officers approach a man yelling and screaming at the end of a cul de sac. He looks angry and aggressive as he paces back and forth in the middle of the street.

“I just got back two weeks ago,” he shouts. “Two weeks ago!” The man is an Iraq War veteran.

“Tell me about it,” an officer calmly asks. He is met with anger. “What are you trying to do? Don’t try to talk to me. Nobody understands what it was like over there.”

“Sir, I’m here to help you,” the officer responds. He watches the man’s hands closely to see if he grabs a weapon.

The man is unarmed. He starts to calm down.

Suddenly, lights come on.

The two officers are standing in front of a screen inside the LAPD’s “force option” simulator.

[SNIP]

Peter Moskos, who teaches at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the techniques taught at this class only work if everyone uses them.

Too often, he said, a patrol officer may be bringing down the stress when a more aggressive “obnoxious” cop swoops in and makes a mess of things.

“This frustrates cops to no end,” said Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer. “You could be de-escalating the scene, and someone in your squad shows up, and you go, ‘Oh, my god, now it’s going to explode, because they just don’t know how to talk to people.’ Because they don’t have that empathy.”


BIG FLUCTUATIONS IN LOS ANGELES CRIME RATES

The LAPD reported Tuesday that shootings have risen 31% (54 incidents) over last year. Violent crime went up 27% overall, and property crime increased 12%. Several other types of crime experienced similar spikes. Homicides, however, dropped 2%.

The sizable disparity in crime numbers may be due, in part, to the LAPD correcting crime classification issues (more on that here), but it’s hard to tell this early. Department officials believe gang-related violence may be behind the the jump in shootings.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton and Ben Poston have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

“We are putting our officers in corridors that are the hottest for crime,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

The department is also relying more on crime data to help predict where hot spots might develop and deploy extra resources there, Beck said.

[SNIP]

Officials said fixing the classification process has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.

But the crime increase in 2015 goes beyond this one offense.

Villegas cited a jump in robberies, particularly in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas. Robberies are up 19% citywide compared to this time last year. Police have reported 7% more rapes this year compared to 2014.

Some of the crime, Villegas said, is connected with the skid row homeless population fighting over territory as well as an increase in street crime. Central Division, which includes skid row, has recorded a 73% surge in violent crime this year compared to 2014.


FORMER LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE COOLEY LOBBYING FOR NEW JAIL DEAL

Former LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley has taken up lobbying for an Adelanto jail plan…for pay.

Back in December, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 in favor of building a new 3,264-bed jail, with the idea that LA County would lease the $324 million facility and fork over what, for the small San Bernardino city, would be some much-needed cash.

Private developer Doctor R. Crants hired the former DA to throw his weight behind the controversial jail proposal, and hopes to pitch the idea to the LA County Board of Supervisors as soon as possible.

The Hesperia Star’s Brooke Self has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re working on it (but) we haven’t been able to schedule a vote yet (with the Board of Supervisors),” Johns said about progress and potential support from LA County. “We (hope) to be able to have a presentation with the Sheriff next week. Once we meet with the Sheriff and get the green light there — we won’t go to the Supervisors until we get encouragement from the Sheriff.”
When asked how he thought Cooley’s influence might impact L.A. County’s decision, Johns said “trust me, we wouldn’t hire him if we didn’t think so.”

“He’s one of the foremost public safety officials in the state,” Johns said of Cooley. “He’s been serving in that capacity for a very long time. I would think his support would be meaningful for those people looking to receive direction and input. I think he’ll be very helpful.”

Cooley, 67, was the longest-serving DA in L.A. County history, serving from 2000 to 2012. He worked for 39 years and four months as a county prosecutor. Last year, he was a public supporter of new L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s successful campaign for the top law enforcement post.

McDonnell’s office is in charge of producing the county’s jail plans and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. On Thursday, Cooley said the two have been friends for 15 years, but he didn’t believe that there were any ethical concerns with him lobbying his office.

“I don’t have legal issues,” Cooley said. “I’m a private person, an attorney to practice law. I have some degree of expertise in this arena and I can advocate for whatever I think is in the client’s best interest. And certainly this is in the county’s best interest. The fact that I have a 15-year relationship with the county Sheriff is irrelevant. Adelanto wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen when I was out there supporting McDonnell. Any suggestion of any ethical issues are misplaced and not even logical. When I do register as an L.A. County lobbyist, then certain rules come into place and I’ll honor those rules.”

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, Mental Illness, prison policy, racial justice | No Comments »

SCOTUS to Consider How Cops Deal with Mentally Ill, Asking the Right Questions About Police Killings, Gov. Brown Sez Hire Ex-inmates, and Trafficked Foster Kids

March 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US HIGH COURT TO HEAR ARGUMENTS ON HOW POLICE HANDLE ARMED, MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE

This week, the US Supreme Court will consider in what capacity law enforcement officers must adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act during an encounter with a mentally ill (or otherwise disabled) person who is armed and violent.

In San Francisco v. Sheehan, officers shot a woman with schizoaffective disorder in a group home who, in midst of a psychiatric crisis, had locked herself in a room with a knife after threatening her social worker. Sheehan survived the shooting. She has since sued the police department for resorting first to lethal force instead of attempting to deescalate the confrontation.

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah and Sam Hananel have more on the case and why it is so important. Here’s a clip:

Law enforcement groups are keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court case, which they say could undermine police tactics, place officers and bystanders at risk, force departments to spend thousands in new training and open them to additional liability.

The ADA was designed to regulate institutional policies, not an individual officer’s behavior, said Darrel W. Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which filed a brief supporting San Francisco.

Stephens said that while departments around the country receive training to de-escalate and avoid using force in a situation with an unstable person, it’s not always possible to do so.

But mental health advocates say the ADA requires police to act less aggressively when arresting or detaining people with disabilities. Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union’s disability rights program, said the ADA should apply to all situations, especially emergencies when the disabled most need to be accommodated.

“This case is not unusual. There are a lot of Sheehan situations out there where there is an opportunity not to rush in, and take a moment,” Center said.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: RADLEY BALKO SAYS WE ASK THE WRONG QUESTIONS ABOUT POLICE KILLINGS

Last summer, Dallas police officers shot and killed Jason Harrison, a mentally ill man who police say threatened them with a screwdriver. Late last week, Harrison’s family members, who are suing the Dallas Police Dept., released footage captured by one of the officers’ body cameras during the encounter. (You can watch it here.)

The police department concluded their internal investigation into whether or not the officers broke any laws and chose to turn it over to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says that instead of just looking at whether the killing was lawful and within department policy, we should also ask whether the killing was necessary, or whether it could have been deescalated by the officers. Balko also says that if the killing of this man suffering from mental illness could have been reasonably avoided, we must also determine what needs to change in order to prevent such shootings in the future. Here’s a clip:

Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.

Let’s go back to that Dallas shooting. Unfortunately, the video camera doesn’t capture the critical moments immediately prior to the shooting. But it does capture the initial police contact with Harrison. Let’s assume for a moment that the police account of the incident is 100 percent true — that Harrison did come at them with the screwdriver. The question we should be asking isn’t whether or not the police decision to shoot Harrison at that moment was justified. The question we should be asking is whether the interaction ever should have reached that moment. Or, to go back to our more basic question: Was this shooting necessary?

The video strongly suggests that it wasn’t. Why were two patrol officers responding to a call about a possibly schizophrenic man? Would it be better for a mental health professional to have accompanied them? If Dallas police officers are going to be the first responders to calls about mentally ill people who have possibly become dangerous, are they at least given training on how to interact with those people? Are they taught how to deescalate these situations?

From the video, it seems clear that these particular police officers did the escalating, not Harrison. It’s the cops who begin yelling and who take a confrontational stance. Yes, Harrison was holding a small screwdriver. And yes, in the right circumstances, even a small screwdriver can do a lot of damage. That doesn’t mean you pull your gun on everyone who is holding a small screwdriver. Now, there’s probably nothing illegal about a police officer unnecessarily escalating a situation with his words or his body. There’s certainly nothing illegal about his failure to deescalate.

But that’s precisely why Was this illegal? is the wrong question. The better question is, Was this an acceptable outcome? And if the answer is no, then the follow-up question is, What needs to change to stop this from happening again?


GOV BROWN CALLS ON CALIFORNIA BUSINESSES TO EMPLOY EX-OFFENDERS TO REDUCE REVIDIVISM

At a employer forum at Merritt College in Oakland, California Governor Jerry Brown urged businesses to hire former offenders to give them the means to successfully transition back into their communities. Brown called the issue one of public safety as well as about “being a human being.”

KQED’s Sara Hossaini has the story. Here are some clips:

Brown says a lack of work will keep them locked out of a permanent place in their communities and, too often, locked up behind bars once again.

“This work I see is, yes, about public safety, but it’s also about being a human being,” says Brown.

[SNIP]

Now, Brown is hoping that providing employers with information and incentives will encourage more of them to do their part. That means tax breaks, talent matching, bond reimbursements and training subsidies of between $5-10,000 per employee.

Businesses can also take part in a Joint Venture Program that offers what officials call attractive benefits for employing people while they’re still in custody, in the hopes of providing them a seamless transition once they’re out.


LA COUNTY DISAGREES ABOUT HOW TO KEEP SEX-TRAFFICKED KIDS FROM BEING PULLED BACK TO THE STREETS

Within the last few years, LA County has shifted away from criminalizing and locking up sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and diverting them from juvenile detention into foster care. But placing trafficked girls into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors does not always work. Sometimes the young girls run away, and return to the streets and their pimps.

The LA County Board of Supervisors and head of the Department of Children and Family Services, Philip Browning, don’t all agree on how to address this complex problem.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…as county supervisors debate establishing a treatment center for these youth, the issue of locking up foster children has become a quagmire.

On one side are those who say the state should act like a responsible parent to stop children from leaving their home to meet pimps and johns. On the other side are those who say that locking up children mirrors the confinement that predators subject them to, and will ultimately fail to cure the problem.

“This is really the issue that everyone keeps coming back to,” said Allison Newcombe, an attorney with the Alliance for Children’s Rights who represents sex-trafficked children. “Everyone has such strong opinions.”

Law enforcement officials say criminal gangs have increasingly turned from selling drugs to selling children for sex because a drug can be sold once, but a child can be sold repeatedly. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a child’s life expectancy after being involved in sex trafficking is seven years, with AIDS and homicide being the leading causes of death.

Pimps capitalize on the porous barriers between foster care facilities and the outside world, advocates say, by calling vulnerable children, sending them letters and infiltrating group homes with young recruiters. In some cases, the pimps persuade children to get tattoos of their names.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who opposes efforts to allow locking up foster children who are at risk of being lured into sex trafficking, said the recruitment for prostitution in the county’s juvenile detention facilities proves that confining children is not a solution.

Leading the push to establish a locked facility for some foster youth are Los Angeles County’s child welfare chief, Philip Browning, and Supervisor Don Knabe. Both are lobbying Sacramento lawmakers to change laws that currently prohibit confining foster care youth who are at risk.

Browning said he reluctantly came to support such an option after social workers watched children as young as 10 and 11 run from county foster care facilities to rendezvous with pimps and johns.

“We have a small number of youth in foster care where our current programs simply haven’t worked,” Browning said. “Frankly, I’m not certain that the current facilities provide the level of security that I would like.”

Posted in Child sexual abuse, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Reentry | No Comments »

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

March 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some clips detailing what happened next:

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are American Jails Being Misused? A New Report Says YES…(And How Do LA Jails Rate?)

February 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Every year there are nearly 12 million admissions to local jails in the U.S.
—almost 20 times the number of admissions to the nation’s state and federal prisons.

Yet while Americans seem finally to be having a sober conversation about the collateral damage done by our disastrously outsized prison systems, comparitively little attention has been paid to the rapid growth of the nation’s jails.

Now a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice looks at the key policies that have contributed to the rise in the use of jails, and the impact of jail incarceration on individuals, families, and communities.

The report, called Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of MacArthur’s just announced $75 million Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, through which the Foundation will fund up to 20 jurisdictions throughout the country to rigorously examine how well or poorly their local jails are being used. Then out of the 20, 10 entries will be selected and given up to $2 million a year to design and implement plans for using “innovative, collaborative, and evidence-based solutions” to reduce the use of jail incarceration without compromising public safety.

The Safety and Justice challenge is competitive and, on Wednesday, MacArthur released its request for proposals [RFP], for the first round of the competition, entries for which are due March 31.

“We’ve had expressions of interest from a number of counties in California,” Laurie Garduque, the director of Justice Reform for MacArthur told me. “I expect we’ll get applications from some of those jurisdictions—especially in light of the impact of realignment and other legislation, that has focused more attention on what is happening at a county level with the local jails”

As to whether anyone had expressed interest from Los Angeles County, the MacArthur and the Vera people I spoke with said they hadn’t yet talked directly to any of the main players about the challenge, but that they hoped LA would apply.


FACTORS AFFECTING OVER USE OF JAILS

The Vera report points out that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

According to Vera, however, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report points out, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

Vera also points to success stories, like that of Portland, Oregon, where every police officer receives training in how to respond to a suspect who appears to suffer from mental illness or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “For those people whose mental illness or substance use disorder is driving their repeated encounters with law enforcement—-typically as suspects in drug or property crimes—-the department participates in a Service Coordination Team that offers treatment in lieu of detention.” The strategy worked, both in terms of public safety, and fiscally. Between 2008 and 2010, the team saved the county nearly $16 million in jail costs alone.


WHAT ABOUT LA?

Interestingly, in 2011 the Vera Institute delivered a 289-page jails study commissioned by Los Angeles county’s board of supervisors. The report was titled the Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project and, as its name suggests, it was focused on the LA county jail system specifically. The two-year Vera analysis (which was first completed in 2008, then revised in Sept. 2011) was exhaustively thorough, and yielded 39 detailed recommendations for LA, many focusing on things like pre-trial release programs and more effective responses to the mentally ill. Few of those recommendations, however, seemed to be included when, last spring, the board ordered up its $2 billion jail replacement and building plan.

More recently, spurred by the leadership of district attorney Jackie Lacey and by escalating threats from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, LA has finally taken some heartening steps in the direction of a comprehensive community diversion program for the non-dangerous mentally ill who, at present, cycle in an out of LA county jail with grinding regularity.

Yet pre-trial release has been pretty much a non-starter.

So now that we have a new reform-minded sheriff, two new supervisors who are unhappy at the size of the county’s jail population, and a district attorney who continues to demonstrate her engagement with reform, will LA County fill out an application for the MacArthur Safety and Justice challenge?

“I think it’s a real opportunity,” said Nancy Fishman, one of the authors of the new 54-page report. “We’re all just at the beginning of what will be a massive outreach to counties, Los Angeles included. And we hope LA applies.”

More on that as we know it.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, pretrial detention/release | 4 Comments »

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