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Reforms Trump Talking About Race, Solitary and Kids’ Brains, Next Steps for NYC Solitary Ban, and LA Foster Care Reform Efforts

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

In an op-ed for the LA Times, California Endowment President Robert Ross says that instead of pushing for a national discussion about race issues, we should take advantage of this “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to take action. Ross urges Californians to push forward with meaningful reforms to ensure better opportunities and outcomes for young people of color.

He points to four specific areas, which the state has already made some measure of progress on, where we should focus our efforts—public education, criminal justice, immigration, and healthcare. Here are the details on the first two:

Public education: California has made the most progressive changes in the nation to bring more resources to our most vulnerable students. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that channeled $6 billion to our under-funded schools. We should make it permanent. Then, there’s the Local Control Funding Formula that was ushered in by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. It will increase classroom funding — by as much as $18 billion over eight years, according to Legislative Analyst Office estimates — for kids in poor, immigrant and foster care households.

Still, the supplemental funds from the Local Control Funding Formula risk disappearing into the ether of school districts’ bureaucracies. We need an annual report card or tracking effort to ensure that the money goes to the students it intends to help, and to hold education bureaucracies accountable for closing education gaps.

Criminal justice: California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47 last November, which reclassified nonviolent drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Under Proposition 47, an estimated 40,000 fewer Californians will be convicted of low-level felonies every year. Up to 1 million could have old nonviolent felony convictions wiped from their records, improving their prospects for jobs, housing and stability, and hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced prison costs could be shifted to drug prevention and treatment services.

It is crucial to take advantage of what the law offers. We need to fund effective outreach about the clean-slate provision to maximize its life-changing possibilities. And we must deliver a new approach to safety. Californians are done with prison-first justice. Putting Proposition 47′s prison savings toward treatment programs will double down on its effectiveness in terms of tax dollars spent and people’s lives remade.


WHY WE LOCK KIDS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND WHAT IT DOES TO THEIR BRAINS

Dana Liebelson has an excellent longread for the January/February issue of Mother Jones Magazine, chronicling the history of solitary confinement in the US, and detailing the alarming effects isolation has on young developing brains, exacerbating existing mental illnesses, and even producing new ones. Here’s a clip, but we highly recommend reading the whole thing:

We now know…that new brain cells continue to develop in the hippocampus—a portion of the brain central to cognition and memory processing—throughout adulthood. When scientists began looking at animals kept in isolation, they discovered that they grew fewer new neurons than their nonisolated counterparts. That’s because isolation creates stress, and stress hormones inhibit neuron formation, which can result in harm to memory and learning. The effect is often more pronounced in juvenile animals, whose brains are undergoing rapid development. There “isn’t any question,” says Zachary Weil, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, that isolation is harmful to the brain and to overall health.

Last March, researchers from Brazil published a study in which they isolated adolescent marmosets, a kind of adorable South American monkey, in cages as small as two and a half feet across, and kept them from seeing or touching other monkeys. The animals soon grew anxious and spent less time on their usual grooming habits. Compared with controls, they exhibited “significantly” higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a steady drop in neuron production in the hippocampus—just one week in isolation decreased the observed number of new cells by more than one-third.

Ceylan Isgor, an associate biomedical science professor at Florida Atlantic University, has found that the effects of isolation on juvenile animals are “long-lasting.” As she explained it to me, the pruning of synapses—the connections between nerve cells—that occurs during adolescence and helps teenagers grow out of behaviors such as impulsiveness does not occur normally under conditions of extended isolation. Extrapolating from animal studies, she said, the results would suggest that kids already prone to breaking rules will become even more likely to act out: “You’re getting a whole different network.” And while the consequences may not be seen right away, they can pop up later as mental-illness symptoms or vulnerability to drug addiction. In other words, the way we often deal with messed-up kids in juvenile detention may increase the likelihood that they’ll reoffend down the road.

David Chura, whose 2010 book, I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine, chronicles the decade he spent teaching English to juveniles at the Westchester County Jail (an adult lockup in New York), has seen the effects of isolation firsthand. In 2004, the prison opened a new security housing unit, a.k.a. solitary wing. At first, it seemed like an improvement: The rooms, Chura recalled, were clean and quiet and “you could read or whatever.” But then his students began to deteriorate, rapidly and dramatically, and his teaching attempts fell apart: “The motivation for doing anything was lost.” Young men who used to fastidiously iron their orange uniforms stopped bathing. They became angrier and started acting out more. When they were allowed out of their cells into an adjacent recreation area—an empty room with a screen for fresh air—the kids would “plaster their faces against these screens and be yelling back and forth,” Chura told me, as though trying to prove, “I’m alive. I’m really still here.”

The class action suit in Ohio described a boy, “IJ,” who was 14 when he entered state custody in 2006. Grassian, by then retired from Harvard, was asked to review his records. When IJ first came into the system, Grassian testified, he was described as a “cooperative youth” who, despite his intellectual disabilities, didn’t require psychiatric drugs or mental-health services. But after a few years, and a lot of time spent in solitary, the teen was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder and PTSD. Six years into his sentence, he was “seen as simply incorrigible…and a misogynist,” Grassian noted. He assaulted a staff member that year too. “I hated being in my room,” IJ testified. “It made me mad. It made my anger issues way worse.”


NYC CORRECTIONS SAYS NO MORE SOLITARY FOR RIKERS INMATES UNDER 21, BUT THERE ARE…PROBLEMS

Earlier this week, the New York City Board of Corrections unanimously voted to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger. The decision is particularly important for the young people housed in the notorious Rikers Island Jail.

But while the move is a huge step in the right direction, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Taylor Pendergrass, says formidable obstacles must be overcome in order for the ban to be successful. The first is obtaining sufficient funding.

The Marshall Project’s Clare Sestanovich has the story. Here’s a clip:

Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, who has worked on their federal lawsuit challenging New York state solitary practices, foresees two problems with implementation. The first is one that the Board of Corrections itself has identified: funding. In fact, the board literally underlined this contingency in their new regulations. The ban on solitary will only take effect, they wrote, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.”

Even if funding is secured, a bigger challenge awaits: how to manage such a drastic policy overhaul in a place where, as one former corrections official told The New Yorker, staff has become “severely addicted to solitary confinement.” If this addiction is as deeply rooted as many claim (and Commissioner Joseph Ponte has himself identified a “culture of excessive solitary confinement”) the new policy could face stiff resistance. “The piece that’s complicated and harder to get a sense of,” Kysel says, “is how much buy-in there will be from officers who are putting them in practice.”

But more than getting corrections officers on board, the key, according to Pendergrass, will be “making sure that [guards] have tools other than sending [inmates] to solitary as a knee-jerk response. I think it’s certainly true that if you just take away solitary confinement and replace it with something else, there’s a high risk that the policy will never be properly implemented, or even if it is implemented, you will have a regression back to punitive responses.”

Solitary confinement, he says, has been used as a blunt instrument to respond to a wide array of problems, ranging from mental illness to substance abuse to adolescent defiance, and poses real dangers to those assigned to maintain order. Pendergrass says a long-term solution will require “fragmenting the approach”; tailoring responses to inmates who act out based on their underlying problems. That, of course, requires complicated – not to mention expensive – training. The BOC’s new rule seems to anticipate this approach. It specifies that all staff who monitor punitive segregation units will be provided with training that “shall include, but shall not be limited to, recognition and understanding of mental illness and distress, effective communication skills, and conflict de-escalation techniques.”


WHERE LA STANDS ON THE ROAD TO REFORMING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

After months of delaying the implementation of foster care reform recommendations made by a blue ribbon commission, including the hiring of a child welfare czar, the LA County Board of Supervisors appear to be gaining momentum.

On Tuesday, the Supes voted to move forward with two important child welfare reform recommendations.

Like most of us, the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection attributes the new energy, in part, to the arrival of two new board members determined to implement the commission’s reforms.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick reports that until now, the transition team has come up against resistance from members of the board, particularly Supervisor Don Knabe, who has opposed both the blue ribbon commission and the transition team as unnecessary bureaucracy. In addition, the transition team, once authorized to lend a hand in the hiring of the new czar, were subsequently excluded from the process.

Bolstered by the new activity from the Board of Supervisors, the transition team has set a list of priorities they intend to push in the coming months.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of Renick’s detailed report on the issue:

The transition team appointed to initiate sweeping child protection reform in Los Angeles met for the first time in 2015 this week, and seemed to embrace an optimistic attitude.

“A lot of times you wonder if this is going to be shelved, these recommendations, and what I’m seeing is that it’s alive and well, and we’re moving forward,” said Richard Martinez during the January 12 meeting. Martinez, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is a member of the transition team and Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.

“It’s so exciting that we’re moving forward with this,” said transition team member Janet Teague at the January meeting.

The positive tone belies the team’s frustration over spending the past six months grinding out small wins while being sidelined from the highest priority of the reform process: hiring the person who will oversee it.

The transition team’s meetings – held in the cavernous and almost entirely empty Board of Supervisors’ meeting room in downtown L.A. – have produced some results, such as the expansion of the medical hubs where children and youth receive health screenings.

But fitful relations between the team and some of the county’s five supervisors have left team members and outside observers wondering what could have been if the board had given the deliberative body a stronger mandate.

“We have not yet had an easy communication with respect to the people we’re serving, the Board of Supervisors,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during a December meeting. “A transition team really is only useful if there is a desire to use us in terms of our expertise and our opinions.”

Hope for better relations comes in the form of two new board members, both of whom have voiced support for the reform process.

“We need reports back [from the transition team] more often,” said newly sworn in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, during a recent Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “I think the public’s confidence in what we’re doing is very low. They haven’t seen us doing much and they don’t know that we will do much.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, health care, immigration, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Ezell Ford, LA County Crime Rates, Flashbang Grenades, and Kids’ Perceptions of Incarceration

January 15th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

EZELL FORD: BEFORE THE DEADLY ENCOUNTER WITH LAPD OFFICERS

Going beyond Ezell Ford’s controversial death at the hands of LAPD officers last August, KPCC’s Sharon McNary shares important pieces of the young man’s history—from his promising childhood (one filled with not so far-fetched dreams of playing pro basketball), to getting hit by a bullet during a gang-related shooting in 2008, to his battle with mental illness. Here are some clips:

“To his aunt December 25, 2004. My goals in life. What do I want to be when I am 20 years old? I would like to be a pro basketball player. I would like to be in college studying to be a doctor.”

Ford, at 16, filled the page with his careful, neat printing. He imagined each decade of his future life: practicing medicine during his pro-basketball off-season, retiring from the game, owning a nice home.

At age 50, Ford wrote, “I would be relaxing with my wife. I would still like to be a doctor.”

[SNIP]

In September 2007 Ford was arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana with intent to sell and carrying a loaded firearm. He was 19.

[SNIP]

Two days after that conviction he was shot in his own neighborhood.

66th Street is home to a subset of a street gang known as the East Coast Crips. It got the name because it’s just east of the 110 freeway. Walls in the vicinity are prominently tagged with the gang initials, ECC.

Ezell Ford was one of the early casualties in a gang war that took at least four lives and wounded at least 13 people….

Neighbor Vanessa Santory lives on the Fords’ block. As she watches her granddaughter play on a skateboard in an apartment house driveway, she recalled that shooting.

“Oh, yes, I remember a little bit vaguely about it when they shot Little E in the foot, I think, or the leg? He got shot.”

But she said Ford was an innocent bystander.

“I would say so, because I never seen him gang bang or anything like that, none of [Tritobia Ford's] boys, really, none of them,” she said.

She said that after he was shot, his mental illness became more noticeable.

Clark said his mother took him to doctors. “They diagnosed him as being bipolar, and they put him on medication.”

Ford walked for hours at a time to clear his mind, she said.

Clark says that’s what he was most likely doing on the day of his fatal encounter with two gang police officers last Aug. 11.


LA SHERIFF ANNOUNCES DROP IN CRIME RATES, DISCUSSES IMPLICATIONS

On Wednesday, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced that the number of homicides in LASD territory last year went down 10.5% from 2013—the lowest recorded number of murders (149), since 1970. McDonnell also shared the county’s 5-year statistics. Homicides fell 26% from the number recorded in 2009.

Major violent crimes dropped 4.9% from 2013, and 20.7% between 2009 and 2014. And despite law enforcement predictions that realignment (and more recently, Prop 47) would increase property crimes, the number, in fact, decreased 6.2% from 2013, and 5.8% from 2009.

LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell says the overall decline can be attributed, in part, to fewer gang crimes (although, he said, the majority of the county’s homicides were still gang-related), improved policing, and building better community relations.

The LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s a clip:

In 2013, there were 164 homicides, compared to 149 in 2014. By comparison, the high-water mark for homicides in Los Angeles County dating back to 1960 was 424 in 1992.

But he acknowledged most homicides are rooted in gangs. Last year, 63 percent of the 149 homicides in the county were gang-related. He said the department will continue to push youth-based activities to keep kids off the streets.

“The gangs drive our violent crime rates and particularly the homicide rate,” [LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell] said. “We know most of our gangs are young kids that grew up in an environment that was often dysfunctional. The opportunities that are there for kids in some of our neighborhoods weren’t there for them and they went down the wrong track.”

KPCC’s Frank Stolze also reported on the sheriff’s announcement. Here’s a clip:

While McDonnell credited better policing, he also said improving community relations as one reason crime is down. Those relationships have gotten better over time, he argued, despite news of corrupt and brutal deputies inside the jails.

“It really comes down to a great partnership with the community,” the sheriff said.

That partnership has improved in part because of the declining influence of street gangs, according to Captain Rod Kusch, who heads the Sheriff Homicide Bureau.

“Their strangleholds on neighborhoods is weaker,” Kusch told KPCC. “In the past, that’s driven people away from cooperating with us. They’ve been afraid of retaliation.”

Illegal drug transactions occur mostly behind closed doors now and gangs are less visible in many neighborhoods, Kusch said. “If you have confidence you can talk to police without repercussion, you’re more likely to talk to them.”


FLASHBANGS: HAZARDOUS, UNCHECKED OVERUSE

Diversionary grenades that issue a blinding light and deafening noise, flashbangs, have become a common tool, valuable for uses in extreme situations, like stopping an active shooter, by SWAT teams in big cities.

But in raids across the US, undertrained police officers (many in small municipalities) deploy flashbang grenades, with minimal oversight, often during drug raids that turn up little or no contraband. The unchecked use of flashbangs has resulted in grievous injuries to citizens and officers, including severed limbs and severe burns.

An ACLU report released last June found that SWAT teams were 14 times more likely to use flashbangs during drug raids than any other type of raid (like, you know, hostage, barricade, or shooter situations).

Propublica’s Julia Angwin and Abbie Nehring have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Police argue that flashbangs save lives because they stun criminals who might otherwise shoot. But flashbangs have also severed hands and fingers, induced heart attacks, burned down homes and killed pets. A ProPublica investigation has found that at least 50 Americans, including police officers, have been seriously injured, maimed or killed by flashbangs since 2000. That is likely a fraction of the total since there are few records kept on flashbang deployment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit wrote in 2000 that “police cannot automatically throw bombs into drug dealers’ houses, even if the bomb goes by the euphemism ‘flash-bang device.’” In practice, however, there are few checks on officers who want to use them. Once a police department registers its inventory with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it is accountable only to itself for how it uses the stockpile. ProPublica’s review of flashbang injuries found no criminal convictions against police officers who injured citizens with the devices.

[SNIP]

If there was ever a flashbang injury that might have warranted criminal charges against an officer, it would be the case of Bou Bou Phonesavanh, a 19-month-old baby who last May was nearly killed by a flashbang during a drug raid in Georgia. The case garnered national attention.

Bou Bou was sleeping in a portable playpen at the foot of his parents’ bed when the Habersham County Special Response Team broke down the door to the room and threw a flashbang. The grenade landed on a pillow next to Bou Bou’s face. The blast blew a hole in his chest, severed his nose, and tore apart his lips and mouth. The SWAT team was looking for the boy’s cousin, Wanis Thonetheva, who a day earlier had allegedly sold a bag of methamphetamine to a confidential informant on the property. But Thonetheva wasn’t there, and no drugs or weapons were found. Hours later, Thonetheva surrendered peacefully when officers knocked on the door at a nearby house where he was staying.

At the hospital, Bou Bou was placed in a medically induced coma for almost a month. He has had eight reconstructive surgeries, including skin grafts, and racked up $1.6 million of medical bills that his family cannot afford to pay. In the next few months, he will need surgery to remove black flashbang powder that embedded in his face, arms and chest before it gets infected. And because his skin grafts won’t grow as he grows, Bou Bou will need reconstructive surgery every two years for the next 20 years. His mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, said that she and her husband plan to donate their own skin for the future grafts. Bou Bou often wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and shaking and holding his mouth. “It almost seems like he’s remembering what happened,” said Alecia Phonesavanh, who has been unable to hold down a job since the accident because of the demands of caring for her son.

In October, a Habersham County grand jury declined to indict the officers involved. “Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry,” the grand jury wrote in its findings.

Angwin and Nehring spoke with one of the first men to build flashbangs for police use, who stopped selling the grenades when he realized the scope of officers’ misuse and resulting injuries. Here’s a clip:

But, as flashbangs became ubiquitous, Nixon worried that departments weren’t training officers to use them properly. Reports of accidents started to trickle in. A prison guard in Nevada lost her hand when a flashbang exploded during a training exercise. And then, in 2002, an officer closer to Nixon’s home in Arkansas was injured. An Omni Blast exploded in the hand of Brandt Carmical, a North Little Rock police officer, as he conducted a flashbang demonstration for a local Boy Scout troop. It pulverized his right hand, blew out his right eardrum and perforated his left eardrum. “I saw all this flesh,” Carmical recalled. “I couldn’t hear anything.” At the hospital, Carmical’s hand was amputated at the wrist. Later, he had to go back for further surgery because black powder from the flashbang was causing his skin to rot.

Carmical sued Nixon, arguing that the Omni Blast was defective and exploded too quickly. Nixon said that although it is possible that his device was faulty, he suspects that the accident occurred because the spoon was prematurely released. The dispute was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount (which Carmical said allows him to forgo a second job), and no judicial determination was made about the cause of the accident.

Nixon said he stopped selling flashbangs two years after Carmical’s accident, concerned that police officers are not sufficiently trained to use them. “I realized that, let’s say this is the perfect device,” Nixon said, “it’s still going to hurt people.” In Nixon’s opinion, the police are wrong to treat flashbangs like less destructive weapons such as tear gas and sound cannons. “It boggles my mind,” he said.


ANOTHER STUDY EXPLORING THE EFFECTS OF PARENTAL INCARCERATION ON KIDS: PERCEPTIONS OF LOCK-UP

A new first-of-its-kind study published in the journal Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice takes a look at what at-risk kids understand and perceive about parents’ incarceration.

The study analyzed responses from the interviews of 106 kids between ages 8 and 14: 42.5% with parents who had been arrested before, and 32.4% with parents who had been incarcerated.

The majority of kids believed that jails and prisons are violent, unsafe places. Many kids believed that only bad people get locked up, and more than 12% believed parents were not allowed to see their kids while incarcerated.

Kids’ beliefs about incarceration, researchers said, could induce anxiety about their moms and dads’ safety and health while locked up.

Here’s a clip from the study:

Of note, many youth described jail as a violent place where offenders are not safe. Particularly for youth with incarcerated parents, these perceptions may provoke anxiety about the parent’s well being during the separation. A subset of youth indicated that incarcerated parents could not see their children during their incarceration.

Although this is true in some situations (e.g., long distance between the youths’ home and the facility), it may be disturbing for youth to believe they will not be able to see their parent if he or she is incarcerated. Of additional concern is the belief that individuals who go to jail are “bad people,” which was prevalent in the current sample. These perceptions, when held by the peers of youth with incarcerated parents, may lead to stigmatization of the youth, who might be regarded in a similar way (Hagen & Myers, 2003). Similarly, if youth with incarcerated parents believe their parent is a “bad” person, they may in turn internalize that belief about themselves, which may lead to psychological maladjustment.

Youths’ understanding of incarceration and perceptions of offenders may be shaped by a variety of sources of information, including the media, school, and discussions with others. In the current sample, viewing jail-related media was the most common source of information, with youth watching shows such as Cops. Although the media has the opportunity to provide realistic depictions of incarceration and offenders, it more often portrays these subjects in a sensational light that likely leads to distorted perceptions, particularly among youth who may not be critical consumers. In contrast, youth described learning largely factual information about incarceration and offenders in school and receiving warnings (e.g., parents warning their child, “you really don’t want to go there”) when discussing these subjects with adults in their lives. Although about half of the youth reported learning about incarceration in school and a quarter had discussed it with someone, a large number only received information from the media. This finding in particular highlights a gap in the communication of knowledge about incarceration.

Posted in children and adolescents, Gangs, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, Mental Illness, prison, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Sheriff-Elect McDonnell & Others Speak on Ferguson… And Lots More

November 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Here are a few of the early reactions to the news Monday night
that a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown

LA COUNTY SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL

The frustration we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri demonstrates what can happen when a divide develops between government — through one of its most vital agents, law enforcement — and the community it serves. It is why community policing and engagement must not merely be something we do, but rather it must be who we are and how we operate every day.

The Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri has spoken. Yet a community is still fractured and many lives are forever and irreparably impacted.

I urge those who may be disappointed by today’s decision to nonetheless respect the outcome and processes of our legal system. The greatness of our nation comes from our ability to come together peacefully and lawfully, to speak up about what is on our minds, and to respect one another…..

As the incoming Sheriff of Los Angeles County, I will continue to focus, as I have throughout my career, on strengthening lines of communication and fortifying trust between communities and law enforcement….

AUTHOR OF “THE NEW JIM CROW” MICHELLE ALEXANDER

As we await the grand jury’s decision, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you — a deep, heart-wrenching thank you — to all the organizers and activists who took to the streets following Michael Brown’s killing and who refused to stop marching, raising their voices, and crying out for justice. It is because of them — their courage, boldness, vision and stamina — that the world is paying attention to what is happening in a suburb called Ferguson. The world is not watching because an unarmed black man was killed by the police. That’s not news. What made this police killing different was that the people in Ferguson — particularly the young people — rose up and said We Will Not Take It Any More. Our Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. And their cry has been heard around the world…..

CONNIE RICE AND THE ADVANCEMENT PROJECT

“Today, the people of Ferguson and caring Americans throughout our country are devastated by the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The legal system has failed again to hold someone accountable for the loss of life of an unarmed young Black man. In places throughout the United States, innocent lives are being lost at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect us. Mike Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford are just a small portion of those killed by the police, while countless others have been harassed, injured and criminalized unnecessarily. Efforts for sweeping change will not stop until there is relief for communities of color.”

“The family of Michael Brown deserves an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation into this shooting,” said Connie Rice, Founding Co-Director of Advancement Project. “This incident should be investigated by the federal government for possible civil rights violations. We also welcome federal action to ensure that civil rights of youth of color and of those protesting Michael Brown’s death are protected in the community of Ferguson.”

Here’s the rest.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

“Michael Brown’s death has ignited deep passions across the nation, and Los Angeles is no exception.

Tonight’s decision is one that will be heatedly debated — but we should do so through dialogue and peaceful action….

OAKLAND CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE

My heart continues to go out to Michael Brown’s family and community. Like everyone in our community, I am devastated by the senseless murder of yet another young black man,” Lee said. “The deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, one of my constituents, serve as tragic examples of the senseless murder of young African American men.

We must come together like never before to tackle the systemic, structural and rampant racial bias endemic in our institutions and criminal justice system. We must demand change and work to realize it.


AND IN OTHER NEWS

GOV. BROWN NAMES YOUNG SUPERSTAR LAWYER TO STATE SUPREME COURT

In a surprise move that is very much in keeping with Jerry Brown’s style of choosing unconventional but talented and high profile judicial candidates, on Monday, the governor named 38-year-old Leondra R. Kruger to the California Supreme Court, making her the youngest member of the court in memory. In his Monday statement, Brown called his nominee “a distinguished lawyer and uncommon student of the law” who has won “the respect of eminent jurists, scholars and practitioners alike.”

Interestingly, Kruger, has argued twelve times before the U.S. Supreme court, but has not practiced law in California since 2008. Instead she has spent much of her career as a rising star in the nation’s capital, most recently serving in the U.S. Department of Justice, in the office of legal counsel, prior to that, holding a top position in U.S. solicitor general’s office.

Attorney General Eric Holder stated that Kruger would be “an excellent and thoughtful Supreme Court justice who will serve the people of California with distinction for many years.”

Kruger is only African American on the court since the exit of Janice Rogers Brown in 2005 for a position on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News is one of those who reported on Kruger’s appointment. Here’s a clip from his story:

Here’s a clip:

Defying convention again in his picks for the state’s highest court, Brown on Monday tapped 38-year-old top Obama administration lawyer Leondra Kruger to a vacancy that has been lingering on the Supreme Court since early this year.

Most recently a deputy U.S. attorney general, Kruger would be the state Supreme Court’s first African-American justice since former Justice Janice Rogers Brown moved to a federal appeals court in 2005.

Kruger, a rising legal star already mentioned as a federal appeals court and future U.S. Supreme Court prospect, replaces 73-year-old Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired in April.

The addition of Kruger to a once-aging state Supreme Court represents an unprecedented youth movement – in addition to being the youngest justice in memory, Kruger joins Brown’s two other picks, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 42, and Goodwin Liu, 44, in bringing down the court’s average age by decades.

“(The governor’s) recent appointments to the California Supreme Court reflects a realization in Sacramento of something made decades ago in D.C. in connection with the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Shaun Martin, a University of San Diego law professor. “The younger the justices are when they get appointed, the longer they stay there and affect the law.”


FBI RELEASES 2013 STATISTICS FOR OFFICER DEATHS IN LINE OF DUTY, FINDS NUMBER OF OFFICERS CRIMINALLY KILLED SHARPLY DOWN

According to statistics released by the FBI on Monday, 27 law enforcement officers died as a result of felonious acts last year, and 49 officers died in accidents, for a total of 76 officers killed on the job protecting American communities.

The numbers of officers killed as a result of criminal acts by others in 2013 decreased by 22 when compared with the 49 officers feloniously killed in 2012, according to the FBI.

The FBI also looked at five- and 10-year comparisons in number of officers killed on the job by others and found a decrease of 21 felonious deaths compared with five years ago, in 2009, when 48 officers died, and a decrease of 30 felonious deaths compared with 2004′s 57 officers.

Of course, for the friends, colleagues and the families of those 27 officers feloniously by others in 2013, the statistics don’t really matter.


THE ADVERSE AFFECTS OF PRISONS ON COMMUNITY HEALTH

The millions of Americans who cycle through the nation’s courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems than found in the general population—including a higher rate of infectious diseases, substance use, serious mental illness, and emotional conditions such as chronic depression.

When prisoners return to their communities—as most eventually do—they bring those problems with them, in many cases, arriving home with a condition that has been exacerbated by their prison stay.

A just released report by the Vera institute of Justice called Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration takes a deep look at the negative impacts of incarceration on the health of communities.

Here’s the opening of the report’s overview, which gives a good idea of what researchers found.

Here’s how it begins:

Each year, millions of incarcerated people—who experience chronic health conditions, infectious diseases, substance use, and mental illness at much higher rates than the general population—return home from correctional institutions to communities that are already rife with health disparities, violence, and poverty….

For several generations, high rates of incarceration among residents in these communities has further contributed to diminished educational opportunities, fractured family structures, stagnated economic mobility, limited housing options, and restricted access to essential social entitlements

Several factors in today’s policy climate indicate that the political discourse on crime and punishment is swinging away from the punitive, tough-on-crime values that dominated for decades, and that the time is ripe to fundamentally rethink the function of the criminal justice system in ways that can start to address the human toll that mass incarceration has had on communities…..

Here’s a link to the full report.

Posted in California Supreme Court, Community Health, FBI, How Appealing, Jim McDonnell, LASD, law enforcement, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 20 Comments »

Choosing Third-Strikers to Release, AG Eric Holder Interview, Child Welfare Post-2014 Elections, and a Newt Gingrich Op-Ed

November 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DIFFICULTIES IN SELECTING THIRD-STRIKERS TO RELEASE, AND WHY PROP 47 MIGHT PLAY A ROLE IN DETERMINING FUTURE RELEASES

Since the 2012 passage of Prop 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), more than 1000 third-strike inmates have been resentenced and released in California.

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the petitions, says many of the earlier resentencings were relatively easy and obvious decisions, and they were often supported by the District Attorney’s office. But for the number of inmates who still have pending resentencing requests, things get a little more complicated. The DA opposes resentencing for the inmates in this remaining group of petitioners, and Judge Ryan is having to comb through inmate records, looking for job training and other rehabilitative efforts to ascertain whether an inmate is appropriate for release, or if they pose a threat to society.

And now, recently-passed Prop 47, may play a role in deciding the fate of these inmates, with its defining a person as a “danger to public safety” who is at risk of committing crimes such as murder, solicitation to commit murder, sexual offenses, and certain gun crimes.

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the issue and tells the complex story of third-striker Lester Wallace, a mentally ill man whose troublesome prison record is also indicative of justice system failures. Here are some clips:

In California prison, Lester Wallace was hardly a model inmate.

He spat at a correctional officer, fought with another convict and grabbed a prison guard by the neck before punching him in the stomach.

Wallace racked up more than 20 disciplinary charges while serving a life prison term under the state’s “three strikes” sentencing law for trying to steal a car radio.

Still, he says, he deserves another chance.

[SNIP]

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the cases, said many of his previous decisions were “no-brainer” calls involving inmates who prosecutors agreed deserved release. For another large group of inmates, the district attorney’s office opposed resentencing but didn’t demand hearings when Ryan indicated that he favored reducing punishments.

The latest round of cases, which include Wallace’s, are more contentious.

“I think the calls will be closer and closer,” Ryan said.

The district attorney’s oppositions have helped slow the pace of resolving resentencing requests in Los Angeles, which is well behind other counties.

In examining each case, Ryan said, he has been reviewing the criminal and prison records of the inmates, checking to see whether they have taken vocational training, substance abuse counseling or anger-management classes. The judge said he wants to make sure that people leaving prison after serving so much time have the skills to find jobs to take care of themselves and keep out of trouble.

His future decisions may well be influenced by this month’s passage of another criminal-justice ballot measure, Proposition 47, which defined “danger to public safety” as an unreasonable risk of committing specific serious or violent crimes, including murder, sexual assault and child molestation.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, which changed the three-strikes law. They were swayed in part by tales of inmates with nonviolent histories serving life terms for the pettiest of crimes, such as stealing a pair of socks.

In some ways, however, Wallace better fits the profile of the average third-striker helped by the ballot measure. He has a lengthy rap sheet and a checkered prison record. But he also suffers from mental illness and spent more time behind bars for a petty offense than many prisoners do for child molestation, rape and other violent crimes.

Wallace’s case, like many of the others confronting Ryan, offers an inside look into the usually hidden world of prison discipline and how the state’s correctional system treats mentally ill inmates.

[SNIP]

Wallace’s attorney said his client, who is 5 feet 4 and 120 pounds, sometimes lashed out behind bars to ward off unwanted attention from other inmates. He said Wallace was sexually assaulted during an earlier prison stint.

At a hearing on Wallace’s request for resentencing earlier this year, the inmate arrived in a downtown L.A. courtroom in a wheelchair and carrying a legal pad covered in handwritten notes. He flashed a smile at his attorney, Mike Romano, who directs the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law and helped write Proposition 36.

Romano argued that many of his client’s prison rule violations were for small things, such as sticking a paper clip into a socket to light a cigarette. Wallace’s prison behavior, he said, vastly improved seven years ago after he was diagnosed with kidney disease and he started getting improved treatment for his hallucinations and mood disorder.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER ON HIS LEGACY, BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT, AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In an interview with Bill Keller and Tim Golden of the Marshall Project, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder discusses his biggest criminal justice win and loss, issues that are bringing the right and left together, drug sentencing reform, and mass incarceration, among other issues. Here are some clips:

The Marshall Project: You’ve been pretty outspoken on criminal justice issues across the board – more outspoken than your boss, actually. What would you single out as your proudest accomplishment in the area of the criminal justice system, and what would you single out as your biggest disappointment?

Holder: In January 2013 I told the people in the Justice Department after the re-election that I wanted to focus on reforming the federal criminal justice system. I made an announcement in August of that year in San Francisco, when we rolled out the Smart on Crime initiative. It was a way of breaking some really entrenched thinking and asking prosecutors, investigators, the bureaucracy – to think about how we do our jobs in a different way – to ask the question of whether excessively long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders really served any good purpose, how we used enhancement papers, moving discretion to prosecutors and asking them to make individualized determinations about what they should do in cases, as opposed to have some big policy sent to them from Washington.

And I think that by and large – not without opposition, to be totally honest – the federal system has embraced that vision. And I think that we have started to see the kind of changes that I hoped we would see.

And the biggest disappointment?

I’m proud of the fact that – in 2010, I guess – we reduced that ratio, the crack-powder ratio, from 100-to-1 to about 17- or 18-to-1. I’m still disappointed that, given the lack of a pharmacological distinction between crack and cocaine, the ratio is not 1-to-1. You know, it was the product of a lot of hard work that the president was intimately involved in. But I think he would agree with me that that number should be at 1-to-1.

Before the second term is over, could there be a push for a 1-to-1 ratio?

That is something that I know the president believes in, that I believe in. One of the things that I’d like to see happen before the end of this administration is that there would be a drug court in every district in this country. As I speak to my successor, the 83rd Attorney General, and as I speak to the president, I’m going to push them to make that a goal for this administration, to have a drug court in every district by the end of Barack Obama’s second term.

[SNIP]

Looking at the Realignment process in California and other experiments that are out there in reducing incarceration, do you worry at all about the danger of a race to the bottom, in which states and counties are much more eager to get people out of prison and stop paying for it than they are to pay for the housing and social services that will assure a lower crime rate in the future?

If this is done correctly you not only save money, you keep the American people safe by cutting down on the recidivism rate.

But this cannot be seen as simply something that is cost-saving, because that would potentially lead to states’ doing exactly what you say: racing to the bottom, and just trying to push people out of prison.

I think people who have responsibility for the criminal justice systems around the country understand that if you do that you’re really only putting people out for some short period of time before they ultimately come back. So there has to be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation while people are in prison, and then reentry efforts to prepare them to exit prison.


HOW WILL CHILD WELFARE EFFORTS BE AFFECTED BY A REPUBLICAN-LED CONGRESS?

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Sean Hughes examines what effects on child welfare policy we might expect from our new Republican-led Congress. For example, funding for crucial child welfare and juvenile justice services would be at risk. And Hughes says that if Republicans succeed in gutting, or repealing the Affordable Care Act, foster kids will lose out on having Medicaid until they are 26. Hughes spent 10 years as a Congressional staffer, and is a Social Change Partners policy consultant. Here’s a clip from his story:

When fully implemented, the mental health parity provisions of the law should ensure that all children who have experienced trauma and are suffering from mental health challenges – especially children who have been abused or neglected – will receive better treatment. Repeal, replacement, or interference with the ACA, for which Republicans continue to advocate, would jeopardize these hard-won victories for children and families.

We should also expect a return to budget brinksmanship. As they didn’t suffer any long-term political repercussions for shutting down the government last year, the Republican Party will surely be further emboldened to play budgetary hardball.

Congress will almost certainly seek further federal spending reductions and could very well try to replace the defense cuts scheduled to go into effect next year via sequestration with increased cuts to social service programs.

Critical programs supporting child welfare services will be in the crosshairs and could see their funding levels cut, including:

Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), which House Republicans have already tried to eliminate

Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act programs (CAPTA)

Title IV-B Child Welfare Services

Promoting Safe and Stable Families

Juvenile Justice Programs


NEWT GINGRICH TELLS MICHIGAN TO REBUILD THEIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Newt Gingrich, who, along with some of his other Right on Crime colleagues, was instrumental in getting both Prop 47 and Prop 36 passed, calls for a complete reconstruction of Michigan’s criminal justice system. Here’s a clip:

The state’s correctional system churns through $2 billion each year, and now consumes $1 out of every $5 of the general fund. And because of broad parole board discretion and complicated sentencing guidelines, people incarcerated in Michigan serve longer prison terms, on average, than any other state in the nation.

This approach might be justified if it was making us safer, but that’s not the case. Recidivism rates remain unacceptably high and, at a time when most American communities are safer than they’ve been in decades, several Michigan cities are experiencing alarmingly high crime rates — up to five times the national average.

I’ve never hesitated to support long prison sentences for violent and repeat offenders, and I will continue to be hard on violent criminals. But I’m also convinced that, given the discouraging track record of our current criminal justice system, we can no longer cling to expensive, business-as-usual approaches when better options exist.

Many other conservatives — from Ed Meese, former attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and anti-tax champion Grover Norquist — share my view and have joined me in a national movement called Right On Crime. United by our refusal to accept the status quo, we support a criminal justice system that reflects fiscal discipline, a belief in redemption, support for crime victims and a reliance on proven strategies that make the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Posted in 2014 election, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

New Report: DA Lacey’s Push to Divert Mentally Ill from Jails, LA Child Welfare Check-up, Post-Prop 47 Recommendations, and Gratitude to All Our Veterans

November 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY TO PRESENT REPORT ON HOW LA COUNTY JUSTICE SYSTEM COULD BETTER SERVE THE MENTALLY ILL

On Wednesday, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey will present to the Board of Supervisors a report on how the county’s criminal justice system is failing the mentally ill.

The report includes recommendations for each point of contact at which a mentally ill person might be diverted from the justice system and into a treatment setting. These points of contact are law enforcement and emergency services, a person’s first detention and court hearings, jails and courts, and community corrections and community support.

According to Lacey’s report (prepared by Policy Research Associates, Inc.), a higher percentage of law enforcement officers need to be trained to have better interactions with people suffering from mental illness. There is also a shortage of funding for county Psychiatric Mobile Response Teams.

The report points out that police officers can either wait 3-5 hours to drop someone in crisis off at a psychiatric emergency center, or they can book them on a minor charge and get back to work. Drop off centers for law enforcement must be established to make early diversion possible, according to the report.

It should be noted that the report also recommends law enforcement crisis response for veterans.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on Lacey’s report and what it means. Here’s a clip:

The report describes a system in need of significant changes: In the jails, mentally ill people are receiving inadequate care. At the courthouse, prosecutors, judges and social workers often “lack alignment” when deciding whether its safe to divert someone from criminal prosecution into treatment.

Once someone is released from jail, there’s often no place to go for help. The Department of Mental Health “needs more resources to keep pace with the high volume of referrals and short time frames with which to link individuals to needed services.”

The report identifies five points at which the criminal justice system can divert a mentally ill person into treatment – starting with the moment of police contact. It recommends the Board of Supervisors fund more training for police officers and expand diversion programs. It also recommends creation of a resource center for “criminal justice/mental health technical assistance,” so the justice system can collect and share data on mentally ill offenders.

[SNIP]

“We think the report exposes tremendous suffering for mentally ill people,” said Marc-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now. The report also is further evidence the county should abandon plans to spend $2 billion to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail, he added.

“We think the Board of Supervisors should stop the $2 billion jail plan and move forward with a mental health diversion program that is comprehensive.”

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported that in his acceptance speech, Sheriff Jim McDonnell pledged to work with Jackie Lacey on mental health diversion.


SECOND LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM CHECK-UP SAYS: PROGRESS!

Fostering Media Connections has released a 24-page “check-up” report on how LA County is fairing as it works to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. This check-up is the second in a series of quarterly progress reports after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with 42 recommendations.

The report says, among other recent improvements, $1.23 million has been allocated for boosting Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS), an inter-agency database for reporting child-abuse, and DCFS has completed a new risk-assessment model to target and prevent critical child abuse threats.

Fostering Media Connections founder Daniel Heimpel has more on the report over at the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

The BRC is not the first commission or task force created out of tragedy to improve child protection. But, having watched L.A.’s child protection reform process progress, I am hopeful that what is happening across sprawling Los Angeles County will somehow be different. Further, there is the unique possibility that if this process yields real gains, it will serve to enlighten other jurisdictions currently reeling under the pressure of seemingly preventable child deaths.

Today, we at Fostering Media Connections released our second quarterly “Checkup” on the developmental health of Los Angeles County’s child protection reform effort. In the 100-odd days since we last took such a comprehensive look at the reform process there have been some notable gains:

The Board of Supervisors approved $1.23 million to beef up law enforcement’s response to child abuse.

DCFS finished designing a risk-modeling tool to help prevent critical incidents of child abuse and death.

The department took the first step towards accessing a new pot of state funds to increase foster care payments to family members who take in their kin.

The BRC’s “transition team” charged with maintaining the reform effort made headway towards naming a child protection czar to oversee a new Office of Child Protection designed to integrate services to better protect the county’s children.

Such gains are important, not just for Los Angeles, but across the country.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LAWMAKERS, POLICE, AND PROSECUTORS POST-PROP 47 PASSAGE

Within mere days following the Nov. 4 passage of California’s Proposition 47, low-level offenders are already being resentenced, and released.

An LA Times editorial says the voters made it undeniably clear how the public feels about the war on drugs and tough-on-crime laws and policies of the previous decade, but that it would have been preferable for the legislature to have adopted 47′s changes.

The editorial says lawmakers entering the state capitol (as well as law enforcement and prosecutors) should take heed of voters’ wishes and begin working on a better justice system. Here’s a clip:

Lawmakers could begin by designing and establishing a sentencing commission. Such a step could at long last provide a buffer between the emotional urgency of high-profile crimes and the knee-jerk legislative response of ever-longer sentences. A commission that carefully weighs sentences against evidence of their effectiveness in reducing crime and recidivism could help stop the state from swinging back and forth, every 30 years or so, between punishment that is too tough and costly and punishment that is too lenient and dangerous.

Sacramento should also reject additional prison spending. Californians want and deserve to be protected from crime, but prisons that are too packed to offer the services that encourage inmates to recognize their mistakes or give them opportunities to change, and laws that make it harder rather than easier for former offenders to reenter society safely and productively, are not the answer. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown should focus on rehabilitation, reentry programs and alternatives to incarceration now — even before the additional funding from Proposition 47 for such programs kicks in a year from now.

Police and prosecutors, many of whom opposed the ballot measure, have it within their power to undermine it even after its overwhelming passage. Prosecutors could choose to reject the spirit of the measure and “charge up” — for example, to seek felony charges for possession for sale of a controlled substance in a case they might have charged last month as simple possession.

They could — but they should not. Their challenge is to implement the will of the voters in changing their stance toward drug users and petty criminals rather than looking for excuses not to.

Read the rest.


DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO ALL UNITED STATES MILITARY VETERANS – AND CALIFORNIA READS THE INVALUABLE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR

This year, the theme of Cal Humanities’ statewide initiative, California Reads, is “War Comes Home.” More than 340 libraries around the state will host their own programs and activities, including readings and discussions about the featured California Reads book What It Is Like to Go to War, by Marine Corps veteran and Rhodes Scholar Karl Marlantes.

Sebastian Junger (of The Perfect Storm and Restrepo) says Marlantes’ book “not only illuminates war for civilians, but also offers a kind of spiritual guidance to veterans themselves,” and predicts that Marlantes’ writing will save lives.

And the New Yorker suggests that one of the three purposes of the book is to let lawmakers know exactly what they’re asking military men and women sent into war.

(We at WLA urgently recommend you read this book.)

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, Mental Illness, Sentencing, Veterans | 1 Comment »

Report: LA Needs More Mental Health-Trained Officers and Diversion Tools, California Kids’ Well-Being, Mental Health and Foster Care, Sheriff John Scott Backs Jim McDonnell…and More

October 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPORT COMMISSIONED BY LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY SAYS COPS NEED MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING, AND MORE

More LA law enforcement officers need specialized training on how to better interact with people having mental health crises, according to a report from a consulting firm hired by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The report, by the GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, also said that there need to be more safe locations for officers to take people suffering from severe mental health problems who often end up in a jail cell because of delayed and overstuffed psychiatric ERs.

In addition, the GAINS report recommends bringing more social workers into LA’s justice system and bolstering current county mental health diversion efforts.

(These findings don’t just apply to Los Angeles. Other California counties would also be wise to take this report seriously.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

The county, the report by GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation concluded, puts “insufficient resources” into its mobile response teams, the report found.

The center was hired by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, who is heading a task force focused on the mental health issue. The task force intends to develop a detailed proposal for county supervisors to consider early next year.

The report also found that there weren’t enough safe places for officers to take people with serious mental health issues.

“It’s often more time-efficient for law enforcement to book an individual into jail on a minor charge … rather than spend many hours waiting in a psychiatric emergency department for the individual to be seen,” the report said.

The report also recommended expanding an existing county program that places social workers in the courts to identify defendants who might be candidates for diversion, putting a pre-trial release program in place for such defendants, and placing more social workers in the jails.


CALIFORNIA MISSES THE MARK WHEN IT COMES TO KIDS’ WELL BEING

A new report from the Children Now research group rates California and its counties on how well kids are faring with regard to education, health, and socio-economic issues.

Research director, Jessica Mindnich, says the numbers indicate too many California kids are slipping through the cracks. For instance, only 12% of California kids from low-income households have access to state-funded after-school programs.

California, as a whole, did not fare well in comparison with other states, and there were huge discrepancies across counties based on poverty levels. Although 81% of CA foster kids are placed with families (not in group homes), in some counties far fewer kids are placed in family settings, like Imperial (58%) and Sonoma (58%). And while the California average for 12th graders ready to graduate on time is 80%, some counties had much lower senior graduation rates, like Inyo (32%) and San Francisco (55%).

You can view all of the statistics via Children Now’s interactive Child Wellbeing Scorecard, including county-specific data.

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on what the numbers indicate. Here’s a clip:

Compiled every two years by the nonpartisan research group, Children Now, the 2014-2015 scorecard paints a bleak picture for many California children, particularly those who live in counties with concentrations of impoverished families.

“While some counties may be doing better than others, as a whole we are failing our children,” said Jessica Mindnich, research director for Children Now. “Despite having a large economy and more children than any other state, we are allowing too many to fall through the cracks and denying them the opportunity to be productive, healthy and engaged citizens.”

The data that Children Now collects and compiles come from publicly available local, state and national sources. It was used to evaluate how children are doing based on a series of key indicators.

Overall, California’s kids do not fare well when compared to other states, according to the data.

“Not only are we at the bottom nationally,” Mindnich said, “but we have pretty large disparities across the state based on where kids live.”


LA AND CALIFORNIA’S MANDATE TO PROVIDE MENTAL HEALTH CARE FOR FOSTER KIDS, HISTORY AND MOVING FORWARD

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has the first in a three-part series looking at Katie A. v Bonta, a 2002 lawsuit in which lawyers representing foster youth in Los Angeles and the state of California over its failure to provide mental health care services for kids in foster care or at risk of entering the foster care system.

John Kelly explains how the lawsuit came into being and what has resulted from its settlement. Here’s how it opens:

In 2002, lawyers representing foster youth in Los Angeles sued the county and California over its failure to service the mental health needs of children in or at risk of entering foster care. For years the mental health issues that these vulnerable children face were often ignored. The children who did receive treatment were frequently hospitalized when outpatient services would have sufficed.

Twelve years later, the clock has nearly run out on the settlements that stemmed from Katie A. v Bonta. On December 1, 2014, separate court settlements with the state and Los Angeles County could end.

Following is The Chronicle’s analysis of what has happened since the settlement and where the state and Los Angeles could go next with regard to providing quality mental health services to children in need.

In 2002, Los Angeles County and the state of California became ensnared in a federal lawsuit. Lawyers represented a handful of children and youth, alleging massive gaps in mental health care services available to children in the child welfare system.

These children were either in foster care or at risk of placement into foster care due to a maltreatment report. Katie A., the lead plaintiff, had never received therapeutic treatment in her home. By age 14, she had experienced 37 separate placements in Los Angeles County’s foster care system, including 19 trips to psychiatric facilities.

Evidence strongly suggests that children in foster care deal with significant mental health issues at a much higher rate than the community at large. One study showed that foster youth in California experienced mental health issues at a rate two-and-a-half times that of the general population.

Los Angeles County settled with the plaintiffs in 2003 and accepted the oversight of an advisory panel. After years of litigation and negotiation, the state came to terms only in 2011. A “special master” was appointed to oversee compliance efforts.


LASD INTERIM SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT BACKS LBPD CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF OF LA COUNTY

Interim Los Angeles County Sheriff John Scott has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for sheriff in next week’s general election.

In his endorsement, Sheriff Scott said, “I have every confidence that Jim will make an outstanding Sheriff of Los Angeles County. He is the right person, at the right time, to take the leadership role and re-build this department.”

“It is my hope that the voters of Los Angeles County will select a man of unquestionable integrity and proven leadership skills, with well over thirty years of law enforcement experience in LA.”

McDonnell responded to Scott’s support, saying, “I’m proud to be endorsed by Interim Sheriff John Scott and thank him for his vote of confidence. Sheriff Scott has worked to bring stability to the LASD during challenging times. I look forward to ushering in a new era at LASD, continuing to move the Department beyond past problems and restoring the trust of our community.”


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS TAKES UP ARTS ADVOCACY AS ZEV YAROSLAVSKY AND GLORIA MOLINA DEPART

With a new push for an $8 million cultural center in Culver City, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has jumped onto the arts advocacy stage. Outgoing Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina both have some remarkable arts accomplishments under their belts (for instance, Yaroslavsky’s 2004 Hollywood Bowl renovations and Walt Disney Concert Hall development, and Molina’s Grand Park and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes).

And we hope that the two new supervisors, Supervisor Elect Hilda Solaris and the candidate who replaces Supervisor Yaroslavsky, also emerge as champions of the arts.

The LA Times’ Mike Boehm has more on the proposed cultural center. Here’s how it opens:

Ridley-Thomas is the prime mover behind an $8-million plan to convert a county-owned former courthouse in Culver City into a cultural center that he envisions including a possible outpost of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a media-arts education hub supported by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Ridley-Thomas’ bid to headline the creation of a cultural facility is on a more modest scale than such big-ticket projects as Hollywood Bowl renovations, championed by Yaroslavsky, and the creation of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes and Grand Park, projects driven by Molina in downtown L.A.

His plan came to light recently when the Board of Supervisors approved $6 million for what’s tentatively called the 2nd District Arts and Cultural Center in Culver City, which is part of Ridley-Thomas’ 2nd Supervisorial District.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness | 7 Comments »

Conviction Integrity Units, Race-Based Lockdowns, 30 House Dems Concerned by US Immigration, and a Nathaniel Ayers Update

October 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MULTNOMAH COUNTY DA’S OFFICE JOINS SANTA CLARA COUNTY AND OTHERS, SETS UP CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNIT

As part of a growing trend to combat wrongful convictions, prosecutors offices across the US—including in Dallas, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Santa Clara County (see below), and the US Attorney in DC (above)—are establishing “conviction integrity” watchdog systems. (And back in August, we pointed to this Mother Jones story about a Florida public defender’s office using a group of former police officers for investigating claims of prosecutorial misconduct and bad police work.)

Now, Oregon’s Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill has nominated a veteran prosecutor to investigate innocence claims, as well as update plea deal policies, and examine how cops utilize photo lineups and confidential informants.

The Oregonian’s Maxine Bernstein has the story. Here’s a clip:

“It’s our job to do it right in the first place and double-check our work if we need to,” Underhill said.

Russ Ratto, a 35-year Multnomah County prosecutor, will start in the new job Monday.

Ratto will review claims of innocence after convictions have occurred and update office protocols on everything from prosecutors’ obligations on sharing evidence with defense attorneys to how to use eyewitness identification of suspects.

Underhill said he hopes that assigning one deputy to the work will improve the ability to track the cases and boost public confidence in the county’s prosecutions. In the past, he said, a number of prosecutors throughout the office have juggled the cases, but there was no central contact.

“We want to make sure we’re using the best practices to obtain the best convictions so we don’t have to ask later ‘Was a mistake made?’” Ratto said. “We think we’ve got a good criminal justice system here, but we want to maintain the public confidence going forward.”

Other prosecutors’ offices are doing the same thing, including in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Dallas, Philadelphia, Denver and California’s Santa Clara County, according to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity.

“This is a very important movement in our nation’s criminal justice system,” said board member Everett Bartlett of the Center for Prosecutor Integrity. The center started in 2010 with a mission to end wrongful convictions and promote prosecutor ethics.

Until the advent of forensic DNA testing in 1989, we “assumed our criminal justice system was operating very effectively and very accurately,” Bartlett said. Since then, he said, more than 1,000 people convicted of crimes have been exonerated. The majority have not been due to DNA analysis, but due to false confessions or problems in witness identification.

California’s Santa Clara County’s Conviction Integrity Unit is headed by David Angel. The San Jose Mercury’s Tracey Kaplan has a worthwhile 2011 story about Angel and his appointment. Here’s how it opens:

Mention Santa Clara University’s esteemed Innocence Project and most prosecutors cringe. They see the legal advocacy group that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people as out to get them.

But not David Angel, the prosecutor named this month to head the newly re-established Conviction Integrity Unit in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Not only does he not fear the project, he also is teaching a wrongful conviction class alongside Cookie Ridolfi, director of the Northern California Innocence Project at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

It’s not that Angel holds prosecutors solely responsible when people are sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. He will forcefully point out that defense attorneys, mistaken eyewitness identifications and false confessions contribute to plenty of wrongful convictions. But Angel is devoted to making certain that the 170 prosecutors in Santa Clara County do all they can to get their cases right.

“He’s a model of a good prosecutor,” said Ridolfi.

As head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, Angel will review cases in which an allegation of a wrongful conviction has been made, examine office policies, serve as crime lab liaison and take charge of training prosecutors on a number of topics, including ethics.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL APPLAUDS END TO RACE-BASED PUNISHMENT IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Last week, the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to end race-determined prisoner lockdowns triggered after a riot or other violent incident, settling a six-year-long class action lawsuit. The suit was originally filed on behalf of black inmates at High Desert State Prison who were confined to their cells for 14 months without access to outdoor exercise or rehabilitation programs, but was broadened to apply to all state prisoners.

An LA Times editorial says punishment based on race should not be used in detention facilities, that inmates should only have to account for their own actions, not the actions of every other inmate of the same race. Here’s a clip:

Racial segregation and discriminatory treatment of populations by race are, prison officials argued, important tools for combating violence. Squeamishness about such responses was a luxury afforded to outsiders who didn’t have to deal with the reality of prison conditions.

In fact, though, racial segregation is at best a temporary option to quickly defuse violence, but unnecessary and corrosive as an ongoing policy; and race-based punishment is an evil that goes to the heart of the American experience and cannot be countenanced in the justice system….

Inside prison walls, just as outside, people should expect that they will be treated according to their actions and not be made to pay for the transgressions, real or perceived, of others of the same race or ethnicity. Society’s failure to abide by that precept is intertwined with the history of crime and punishment and is exacerbated when race-based policies govern prison populations.


HOUSE DEMOCRATS WRITE LETTER TO PRESIDENT VOICING CONCERNS ABOUT DETENTION OF IMMIGRANT WOMEN AND CHILDREN

On Tuesday, over 30 House Democrats signed a letter to President Barack Obama sharing concerns about how the US is handling of immigrant detention and deportation, especially with regard to women and children fleeing violence from their home countries.

Politico’s Seung Min Kim has more on the letter. Here are some clips:

“At the current rates, within one year this administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who spearheaded Tuesday’s letter. “As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America.”

[SNIP]

In Tuesday’s letter, House Democrats said it is “critical” that none of the families who are currently detained be deported until officials ensure they won’t be sent back to dangerous conditions – such as persecution or torture – in their home countries.

The Democratic lawmakers added that they are “concerned that the rapid expansion of family detention is being done in a manner that fails to meet the unique needs of parents and children.”


CHECKING IN WITH NATHANIEL AYERS, THE “SOLOIST,” AS HE RECORDS NEW ALBUM, PUTTING ON AYERS

For KCET’s SoCal Connected, LA Times’ Steve Lopez catches up with Nathaniel Ayers, the formerly homeless, Juilliard-trained musician who is the subject of Lopez’s book (and subsequent film) “The Soloist.” Lopez sits in on the recording of Ayers’ album, Putting on Ayers, the proceeds of which will fund mental health agencies’ art programs.

Posted in arts, immigration, Innocence, Mental Illness, prison policy | 3 Comments »

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

October 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. We think so too.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

Still, there is risk.

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

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

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

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

October 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

Many facilities suppress information and close their doors to scrutiny.

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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