Just in Time for Foster Youth….a Former Fed. Judge Sez Her Sentences Were Unfair….Fatal Encounters Between Cops and Mentally Ill….and Poor and Unrepresented in Civil CourtJuly 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker
UNIQUE SAN DIEGO PROGRAM GIVES AGING OUT FOSTER KIDS A FAMILY OF VOLUNTEERS TO HELP THEM INTO ADULTHOOD
San Diego-based Just in Time for Foster Youth connects current and recently aged-out foster kids (between the ages of 18-26) with a network of volunteers to lean on, who will teach them and help them grow into self-sufficient young adults.
Foster youth aging out of the system face incredible challenges to finishing school and finding housing and employment. Many end up homeless. Within 18 months of emancipation, 40% of kids end up homeless, and within the first two years, 25% get locked up.
The majority of Just in Time’s volunteers are former foster kids. The hope is that the kids and their mentors form lifelong relationships. Volunteers go shopping with the kids, teach them about budgeting, and give them career advice and other help. The program pays to furnish participants’ first homes, and provides laptops and other important supplies for secondary education.
Leah Burdick founder of the Foster Coalition advocacy group, has more on the program for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:
Since 2009, 35 percent of College Bound participants have graduated from college with many still enrolled; a significant achievement given only 1 to 3 percent of former foster youth graduate from college.
Just in Time’s relationship approach is coupled with comprehensive services and training programs to help youth overcome financial emergencies, get established at home and in school and learn valuable life and career skills.
“The need for tangible resources brings the youth to us, but we discovered that it’s the connections to multiple people that really enable self-sufficiency,” said Don Wells, executive director of Just in Time. “We would see kids get scholarships and graduate from college. They were considered success stories; however after they transitioned out of survival mode, past trauma would start coming up for them to deal with.”
Despite having an education, they’d either get a low-paying job or struggle to get a job, Wells said. “Before long they’d be on the verge of homelessness. These kids, like all of us, need multiple people to go to for ongoing advice, guidance, friendship and support.”
Jackie, who did not wish to provide her last name for this article, was placed in foster care at age 16 when social services discovered she was the only caregiver for her single father with advanced Alzheimer’s. After securing her GED, Jackie was accepted into college, but had no furnishings for her new college apartment.
Just in Time volunteers furnished her apartment, and today Jackie participates in their Career Horizons program. One of her mentors, an international marketer, has inspired Jackie to pursue a career in teaching abroad.
“Just in Time really provides a community for us. They get that ‘it takes a village’,” said Jackie.
FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE SAYS MOST OF THE DRUG SENTENCES SHE HANDED DOWN WERE UNFAIR
On Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Nancy Gertner, a federal judge for 17 years, said that of the 500 decisions she handed down, she believed that 80% of them were “unfair and disproportionate.”
In her speech (video above) Gertner, who is now Harvard faculty, urges the US to treat the War on Drugs like World War II, and focus on the future and reconstruction, instead of punishment.
Conor Friedersdorf has Gertner’s story for the Atlantic. Here’s a clip:
“This is a war that I saw destroy lives,” she said. “It eliminated a generation of African American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums… and created an intergenerational problem––although I wasn’t on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble, and are in trouble with the criminal justice system.”
She added that the War on Drugs eliminated the political participation of its casualties. “We were not leveling cities as we did in WWII with bombs, but with prosecution, prison, and punishment,” she said, explaining that her life’s work is now focused on trying to reconstruct the lives that she undermined––as a general matter, by advocating for reform, and as a specific project: she is trying to go through the list of all the people she sentenced to see who deserves executive clemency.
THE MENTALLY ILL AND DEADLY LAW ENFORCEMENT CONFRONTATIONS
According to an investigation by the Washington Post, so far this year, 124 of the 462 people shot and killed by law enforcement officers were in the middle of a mental health crisis.
Fifty percent of those shootings were by cops in departments that had not provided updated mental health training to their officers.
Fifty percent of the people shot were committing “suicide by cop.” Most of the shootings happened after officers responded to calls for help from family or neighbors who said the person was unstable, not calls about a crime being committed.
More than a fourth of the deaths occurred in California and Texas.
Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the video):
Although new recruits typically spend nearly 60 hours learning to handle a gun, according to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, they receive only eight hours of training to de-escalate tense situations and eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill.
Otherwise, police are taught to employ tactics that tend to be counterproductive in such encounters, experts said. For example, most officers are trained to seize control when dealing with an armed suspect, often through stern, shouted commands.
But yelling and pointing guns is “like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Sandy Jo MacArthur is an assistant chief who oversees “mental response teams” for the Los Angeles Police Department, a program considered to be a national model. MacArthur said her officers are trained to embrace tactics that may seem counterintuitive. Instead of rushing to take someone into custody, they try to slow things down and persuade the person to come with them. When possible, a psychologist or psychiatrist is on the scene.
The mentally ill “do not process what is happening like a normal criminal,” MacArthur said. “There’s a lot of white noise in their head.”
Mental health experts say most police departments need to quadruple the amount of training that recruits receive for dealing with the mentally ill, requiring as much time in the crisis-intervention classroom as police currently spend on the shooting range. But training is no panacea, experts caution.
The mentally ill are unpredictable. Moreover, police often have no way of knowing when they are dealing with a mentally ill person. Officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong. And in a handful of cases this year, police were prodded to shoot someone who wanted to die.
That was the case with Matthew Hoffman, a 32-year-old white man who had long struggled with mental illness, according to family members. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Hoffman walked up to San Francisco police officers in January outside a police station in the bustling Mission District. He pulled a gun from his waistband, pointed it at the officers and advanced in silence.
The startled officers fired 10 shots, three of which struck Hoffman. They later discovered that his weapon was a BB gun. And they found a note on his mobile phone, addressed to the officers who shot him.
“You did nothing wrong,” it said. “You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself.”
Grace Gatpandan, San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman, said the department offers crisis-intervention training. But those classes are designed primarily to teach officers to handle someone threatening to jump off a bridge, not someone pointing a gun in a crowded tourist area.
“When officers are faced with a deadly situation, when there is a gun pointed at a cop, there is no time to go into mental health measures,” Gatpandan said. “There was nothing we could have done. This is one of those tragedies.”
POOR DEFENDANTS IN CIVIL COURT CASES ARE LEFT TO DEFEND THEMSELVES – HERE’S WHY THERE AREN’T ENOUGH LEGAL AID LAWYERS
In the US criminal justice system, everyone charged with a crime has a right to free legal counsel. But that right does not extend to indigent defendants in civil matters like family court hearings, evictions, and protective orders.
There are not nearly enough legal aid lawyers to help all defendants in civil cases who qualify for legal aid. For every 8,893 poor Americans who qualify for assistance, there is only one lawyer to go around.
Part of the problem is that lawyers and law firms are not donating enough to their state and local legal aid programs. The Am Law 200—the two hundred top-grossing firms—donated less than a tenth of one percent of their revenue on legal aid donations, according to a new report from the American Lawyer. Here’s a clip:
A network of legal service providers who represent the poor for free has arisen to address some of this need, but a lack of adequate public funds and private donations means that, as in Cleveland, more than half of those who seek help are turned away. Put another way, there’s just one legal aid lawyer for every 8,893 low-income Americans who qualify for legal aid, according to the Justice Index, a project of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. That’s how, in a country with one of the highest concentrations of lawyers in the world, poor people often are forced to navigate the potential loss of their home, their children or their benefits on their own.
The crisis in legal aid isn’t new. What is new is that since the recession, profits and revenue at Am Law 200 firms are healthy again—in many cases, surging. Last year, the collective revenue of these firms passed the $100 billion mark for the first time. Many recorded all-time highs in revenues and profits, and profits per partner at a dozen firms exceeded $3 million. Yet in our analysis—the first time we’ve looked deeply at firms’ legal aid giving—it appears that the most generous firms contribute little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of their gross revenue to groups that provide basic legal services for the poor, and many fall far below that amount. This doesn’t include individual donations by firm lawyers, which isn’t feasible to track. While individual donations are important, institutional giving by law firms is crucial for legal aid groups, those organizations say.
We found that the bulk of firms’ charitable donations are directed to other causes, including clients’ pet charities and well-endowed law schools, records show. At the same time, the percentage of law firm pro bono work aimed at helping the poor is declining. Legal aid advocates, however, are largely reluctant to publicly criticize big firms, because they’re so dependent on the funds they do get from them.
Lawyers and firms, especially America’s biggest and most successful ones, have a special responsibility to do more, some observers say. “A big- firm lawyer ought to care that the justice system is working fairly for everyone,” says John Levi of Sidley Austin, chairman of the board of directors for the Legal Services Corporation, a federally funded nonprofit that is the single biggest source of legal aid funding in the United States. He senses that many big firms could dig deeper into their pockets to support legal aid. “I’m not sure they are,” he says.
David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit that solicits firms to underwrite fellowships for young lawyers to work at nonprofit legal aid groups, says he appreciates the support he gets from big firms, but believes most firms should do more. “When you look at how little they give, it’s pitiful,” he says about law firm giving as a whole. “I have been doing this work for more than 20 years, and I am always astounded by law firms talking about charitable giving from a position of scarcity while their partners are bringing home more than $1 million in profits per partner.”