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Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for Sheriff

April 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS

In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.

Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.

Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:

California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.

When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.

But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.

Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.

“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.

Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.

Even the laundry became a battleground.

Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.

Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.

“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”

But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.

Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.

“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”

The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.

Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.

The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.


MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY

On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:

“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…

[SNIP]

According to the report:

• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;

• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;

• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;

• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”

“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.

But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”

“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.

He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.

Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.

He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.

On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.

Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.

An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.


FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.

The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.

Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.

Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.

Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.

The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.

Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.

[SNIP]

Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.

He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.


LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:

[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.

Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.

The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.

Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.

The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”

He’ll have to live up to that…

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, LASD, Mental Illness, prison policy, solitary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Program Helps Kids in CA Lockup Repay Victims While Learning a Trade…LASD to Propose Early Release Risk Assessment Program…Sheriff Candidate Updates…and More

March 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM IN CALIFORNIA YOUTH FACILITY ALLOWS KIDS TO LEARN TECH INDUSTRY WHILE EARNING MONEY AND PAYING BACK VICTIMS

Through a tech business program called Merit Partners operating in a California juvenile facility, kids receive training and experience in the tech industry while repaying victims. The program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility gives kids a way to take responsibility for their crimes, and becomes a healing process for many young participants.

Workers earn $8.00 an hour recycling and reselling electronics. Twenty percent of the money they earn goes into a victim fund, another portion to their own restitution fines. The rest goes into a savings account to help kids learn about personal finances and budgeting, and to help them get on their feet when they leave “Chad.”

Alice Daniel has the story for KQED’s California Report podcast. Here’s a small clip from the transcript:

Michael Casaglio introduces himself and some of his colleagues at Merit Partners, an environmentally certified electronic recycling business that’s located within the walls of the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. There’s floor leader Terrance Turner, upcoming floor leader Jordan Rutkes and IT tech Chandler Luce.

“Cables, wires, computers, laptops, computer chips, motherboards,” says Casaglio, as he reels off the types of electronic equipment they resell and recycle.

Merit Partners is the only operation of its kind in a California correctional facility. The incarcerated youth do most of the work; a small support staff trains them. The job pays $8 an hour and teaches valuable skills, Casaglio says.

It’s a far cry from his drug-dealing past. He spent his youth in and out of foster care; his own parents were addicts, he says. He smoked pot at age 9, used hard drugs at 11 and, at 15, held his gun to another dealer.

“And during the course of the robbery, somebody tried to prevent us from getting away, so I shot him five times,” says Casaglio, who has been at Chad five years.

The murder haunts him. “I took somebody’s grandparent away,” he says. “I took somebody’s husband, I took somebody’s dad, and there’s nothing I can do to repay or replace that.”

But he is giving back. Twenty percent of the money he and his peers earn goes directly to victims. The youth contribute to a local victims fund every year, and also compensate the people harmed by their crimes by paying restitution fines.

The compensation is mandatory, but 18-year-old Chandler Luce says he would donate some of his earnings to make up for his past, even if it were optional.

“You look in here, and this is a place full of people who caused harm to the world. And I was part of that,” he says.

(The clip doesn’t do it justice. Go listen to the whole story.)


LASD CONSIDERS NEW PROGRAM TO IDENTIFY LOW-RISK INMATES FOR EARLY RELEASE

The LA County Sheriff’s Department plans to propose (to the Board of Supervisors) a new system for selecting low-risk inmates for early release by predicting the likelihood of each inmate reoffending.

Currently, the state system looks only at the inmate’s last offense, and fails to take into account any previous offenses, even those of a serious nature. Critics (WLA included) have long thought that there should be a more nuanced form of risk assessment that looks at a variety of elements, rather than the broad strokes system that is presently in place.

It is therefore good news that interim Sheriff John Scott and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald want to try an inmate release strategy that they say will be more finely calibrated.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Jack Leonard have the story. Here’s a clip:

The proposal calls for a significant shift for the nation’s largest jail system, which currently determines when inmates get released by looking at the seriousness of their most recent offense and the percentage of their sentence they have already served. Officials say the current system has weaknesses because it does not take into account the inmate’s full record, including serious crimes that occurred years ago.

Supporters argue the change would help select inmates for early release who are less likely to commit new crimes. But it might also raise some eyebrows. An older offender convicted of a single serious crime, such as child molestation, might be labeled lower-risk than a younger inmate with numerous property and drug convictions.

The Sheriff’s Department is planning to present a proposal for a “risk-based” release system to the Board of Supervisors.

“That’s the smart way to do it,” interim Sheriff John L. Scott said. “I think the percentage [system] leaves a lot to be desired.”

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said at the center of the new system would be a computer program that uses each inmate’s criminal history to calculate the chance he or she will reoffend, and release those deemed lowest-risk first.

In addition to making release decisions, the tool could be used to assign inmates to education and treatment programs while in jail, and to decide which are eligible for alternatives to jail such as home confinement.

“It’s more sophisticated to look at risk,” she said. “It makes common sense to most people.”

The department could choose to override the automated risk scores for inmates convicted of certain crimes, but McDonald said it’s too early to say whether it would.

The Sheriff’s Department has not calculated the cost of the system but hopes to seek bids on the project soon if the Board of Supervisors approves.

(Read more about the proposed program, and how Riverside County is faring with its own version of early-release risk assessment.)


GETTING TO KNOW LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JAMES HELLMOLD

KPPC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of LA County Sheriff hopeful James Hellmold (currently an assistant sheriff) that’s worth reading. Here’s how it opens:

A few years ago, when James Hellmold commanded L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in the gang-riddled Lynwood area, he drew the ire of some colleagues.

“They had a legitimate question,” Hellmold recalled. “Why [was I] speaking at a gang member’s funeral?”

Hellmold attended the services for 25-year-old Branden Bullard, who’d been shot by rival gang members, to focus, he said, not on the “the negativity” in the young man’s life, but on the good things.

“In more recent days he had mentored some kids who were athletes, and trying to stay away from gangs.”

When the questions persisted from deputies, Hellmold challenged them.

“I asked them what they’ve done to help somebody else.”

Hellmold, 46, now one of four assistant sheriffs in the sprawling L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, seems just as interested in lending a hand to the needy as handcuffing criminals. Asked for a war story from the streets, he doesn’t talk about the time he shot an armed bank robber. He tells of taking foster kids to UCLA football games….

And as for the ongoing, controversial department issues, Hellmold says he is in favor of more civilian oversight, but denies the notion of “systemic misconduct” within the LASD:

“There have been some mistakes made, and there are some more reforms that need to occur,” Hellmold said. “But it is not true that there’s systemic misconduct happening.”

Hellmold once served as a personal assistant and driver for Baca. He owes his rise in the department in part to the retired sheriff and to another candidate, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. They groomed and promoted him. Baca and Tanaka also faced scathing criticism in a blue ribbon report for failing to stop abuses in the jails. But Hellmold remains reluctant to criticize them publicly.

“It’s very trendy right now to jump on the bandwagon of talking negative of Undersheriff Tanaka,” Hellmold said. “But we can’t deny some of the good things that he’s done for the department.”

Author Joe Domanick, who has written extensively on law enforcement in Los Angeles, wonders how much an insider like Hellmold can reform the agency.

“If he’s risen that high in the department, it’s a rare bird indeed who hasn’t been part of the problem,” said Domanick, adding that Hellmold likely wouldn’t have the big picture view of the department a candidate from outside the agency would bring.

“He’s part of that culture,” Domanick noted. “He’s trained to think, and act within the culture of that department.”


IN OTHER SHERIFF CANDIDATE NEWS: CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS THROWS HER SUPPORT BEHIND JIM MCDONNELL

Late last week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her endorsement of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the Los Angeles Sheriff race.

Here’s a small clip from AG Harris’ announcement:

“Chief Jim McDonnell is an excellent choice, and the best choice to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era,” Harris said. “McDonnell has the integrity, experience and professionalism necessary to protect public safety and earn the trust of the people of Los Angeles.”



FEDERAL ATTENTION ON STAFF RESPONSE TO SUICIDES BY MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Questionable handling of two successful suicide attempts by mentally ill inmates in California prisons has prompted internal investigations and caught the attention of U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (also on the three-judge panel enforcing California’s prison population reduction).

In both instances, guards would not allow medical staffers to enter the cell and attempt to intervene or revive the inmate.

Judge Karlton has held hearings on the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, and will address one of the two incidents in a court session today (Monday).

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

At 6:10 a.m. on Oct. 15, a medical technician handling the morning “pill pass” at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County spotted inmate David Scott Gillian hanging inside cell No. 164 from a bedsheet tied to an air vent.

“Gillian is hanging in his cell,” the tech called to a nearby guard, then rushed off to grab the “cut down scissors” and begin the process – mandatory under corrections department policy – of trying to revive the inmate through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to an internal department review of the incident.

Guards and medical staff converged at the cell door, according to the internal report. A sergeant and the medical technician entered the cell where Gillian was housed alone and found no pulse or signs of breathing.

“We need to cut him down, we need to do CPR,” the tech told the sergeant.

Instead, the sergeant refused, according to the review team report; he ordered the cell door closed and locked, even after a doctor and another medical staffer demanded they be allowed to perform CPR. Gillian, 52, would remain hanging for nearly four hours before he was cut down.

The confidential corrections department report, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, summarizes the findings of a suicide review team assigned to investigate Gillian’s death. All suicides in California state prisons are reviewed by a team of corrections officials. The report obtained by The Bee, based on the review team’s interviews with prison staff and inmates, chronicles events leading up to and following Gillian’s hanging.

Gillian’s death has sparked a series of internal investigations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In the review team report, corrections officials investigating the suicide express “several concerns” about the circumstances. Among the concerns cited: that prison guards prevented medical staffers from trying to revive Gillian; and that guards may not have made their regularly scheduled rounds that day, possibly causing a delay in discovering his suicide.

The incident is at least the second documented case in recent months of disputes between medical staffers and guards over when a cell door should be opened to provide emergency medical care and assistance to an inmate.

On Sept. 7, Joseph Duran, 35, an inmate at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County who suffered from mental illness, died hours after he was blasted in the face with pepper spray, according to an internal department review of that case. Duran had undergone a tracheotomy years before, and breathed through a hole in his throat. Agitated and coated with spray, he yanked out the tube he relied on for air, according to the review team report. Guards refused to intervene, despite repeated demands from medical staffers to allow them to enter his cell, decontaminate him and reinsert the tube, according to staff interviews contained in the internal report. Duran was found dead, alone in his cell, seven hours later.

That incident, laid out in a January story in The Bee, prompted U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton to reopen an evidentiary hearing in Sacramento federal court inquiring into the alleged use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates in California prisons.

[BIG SNIP]

The two cases come as the corrections department battles legal action on several fronts tied to medical and mental health care inside California’s 34 adult prisons. Last month, a three-judge court agreed to give California two more years to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, a benchmark designed to reduce the overcrowding that the court in 2009 found is the primary reason for subconstitutional levels of medical and mental health treatment for inmates.

Revelations about Duran’s death have complicated matters for the department in a separate inquiry: the hearing before Karlton involving use of force on mentally ill inmates. Attorneys representing the state’s mentally ill inmates did not learn of the circumstances of Duran’s death until they were contacted by The Bee in January, and they have accused the state of covering up his death and the fact that pepper spray was used. The hearing on use of pepper spray and discipline against mentally ill inmates began Oct. 1 and went into November in Karlton’s court in Sacramento, during the same period that corrections officials were reviewing Duran’s death.

Corrections officials deny they were suppressing the Duran incident, but Karlton ordered a hearing on use of force reopened and has scheduled a court session partially devoted to Duran’s death for Monday afternoon.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Mental Illness, prison, Reentry, Restorative Justice, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

$5.9M LAPD Ticket Quota Settlement…Fed. Judge Orders Improved Care for CA’s Mentally Ill on Death Row…LA Social Worker Strike Ends…and More

December 11th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LAPD TRAFFIC TICKET QUOTA LAWSUIT SETTLED FOR ALMOST $6M

On Tuesday, the LA City Council approved unanimously a $5.9M settlement to 11 LAPD officers who claimed they were forced by superiors (namely West Traffic Division Captain Nancy Lauer) to comply with a traffic ticket quota of 18 tickets per shift, 80% of which were to be for major violations. The officers further alleged that they were retaliated against when the failed to make the quota or raised objection to it.

The settlement brings the LAPD’s total for legal fees and payouts from quota suits to roughly $10M, with one more case pending, according to the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Catherine Saillant. Here are some clips:

The ticket controversy has been a black eye for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ticket quotas are against state law. After the officers’ allegations were made public, LAPD officials met with police union representatives and signed a letter emphasizing that the department prohibits quotas.

Dennis Zine, a former City Council member and career LAPD motorcycle officer, said the settlement calls into question LAPD’s traffic division management. Zine is also incensed that Capt. Nancy Lauer, who ran the LAPD’s West Traffic Division at the time of the allegations, has been promoted.

“This whole thing clearly shows me that management did not do what they needed to do and taxpayers are footing the bill for that,’’ said Zine, who lost a bid for city controller in this year’s municipal elections.

[SNIP]

The lawsuits alleged that Lauer, who ran the division starting in 2006, required officers to write at least 18 traffic tickets each shift and demanded that 80% of the citations be for major violations.

Officers who failed to meet the alleged ticket minimums or raised concerns about them were reprimanded, denied overtime assignments, given undesirable work schedules, and subjected to other forms of harassment, according to the lawsuits. In a few instances, Lauer allegedly tried to kick officers out of the motorcycle unit, the lawsuits claim.

In a statement, Chief Charlie Beck defended the division’s practices. Management set “goals” to reduce traffic violations that resulted in serious injury and death, Beck said, but the jury in a separate 2009 case interpreted that as quotas, he said.

“We do not agree with the original jury’s findings,” he said. “Unfortunately the large jury award in the earlier court case made settling this case the most prudent business decision.”

Lauer, who currently runs one of the department’s patrol divisions, said she instructed officers to ticket illegal driving but did not set quotas.

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov also covered this story. Here’s a clip of LA Police Protective League Prez Tyler Izen’s take on the settlement:

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said he hopes the suit sends a message to the department.

“I hope this is the last time any of our officers have to settle a grievance in the court system,” Izen said. “I would like to see us get to a point where we can figure out a way to enforce the laws without us ending up in court.”


FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL DEATH ROW INMATES NEED INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC CARE

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the CDCR is not providing adequate psychiatric treatment to California’s mentally ill death row inmates, and ordered state officials to come up with a solution. The ruling by US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (a member of that three-judge panel who ordered Gov. Jerry Brown’s compliance with a prison population reduction SCOTUS ruling) is a development in a federal case brought in 1991 against the state alleging rampant abuse of mentally ill prisoners. (Here is an October WLA post about recent hearings.)

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered state officials to work with a court-appointed monitor to find solutions. Options include creating a specialized inpatient psychiatric facility at San Quentin State Prison, which houses condemned inmates.

State officials are not meeting their constitutional duty to provide condemned inmates with sufficient inpatient treatment, the Sacramento-based judge said in a 28-page ruling.

“The state is committed to providing quality medical and mental health care for all inmates,” Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement. She said the state will work with the court’s special master to make sure that mentally ill inmates on death row receive proper care.

Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill inmates in the ongoing class-action lawsuit, called the ruling “a very significant victory.”

[SNIP]

Inmates’ attorneys would not object to creating a psychiatric unit at San Quentin to treat inmates awaiting execution, Bien said. That would keep the inmates close to their families and attorneys while saving the state the expense of building a high-security mental health unit at another prison, he said.


LA COUNTY DCFS STRIKE ENDS, BUT NOT BEFORE DEMONSTRATORS ARE ARRESTED

A six-day LA County social worker strike ended Tuesday after heated rallies and the arrests of seven protestors who refused to move from the middle of an intersection. (In case you missed the story this week: the striking DCFS workers were demanding smaller caseloads in order for DCFS workers to adequately serve LA’s “most vulnerable” kids.)

DiamondBar-Walnut Patch posted this story from City News Service. Here’s a clip:

Social workers who walked off the job Thursday were expected back at work Wednesday. The resumption of labor talks was bargained by a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.

“Today the county got the message loud and clear,” according to Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721. “When they saw the incredible solidarity of our members on the street, the supervisors knew they had to act. And now I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county.”

Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police…

Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.

“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.

About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.

The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.


RECOMMENDED LONGREAD: LIFE FOR A HOMELESS CHILD IN A NEW YORK SHELTER

We didn’t want you to miss NY Times’ Andrea Elliot’s excellent five-part longread that, over the course of several months, follows an eleven-year-old named Dasani who shares a room in a crumbling Brooklyn shelter with her parents and seven younger siblings. Here’s how it opens:

She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire State Building, the first New York skyscraper to reach 100 floors. Her gaze always stops at that iconic temple of stone, its tip pointed celestially, its facade lit with promise.

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she says, taking inventory: The fork and spoon are her parents and the macaroni, her siblings — except for Baby Lele, who is a plump chicken breast.

“So that’s a lot on my plate — with some corn bread,” she says. “That’s a lot on my plate.”

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

Homeless children across the country are living in very similar conditions—many without even a shelter to provide the most basic necessities. In LA County, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members are children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2013 homeless count.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, DCFS, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LAPPL, Mental Illness, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Inmate Tech Entrepreneur Program Comes to Twin Towers…Help for LA’s Homeless Moms…Suicide of Deputy’s Girlfriend Leaves Much Unanswered…and a Bill for Brightly-Colored Fake Guns

November 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TO TRAIN TWIN TOWERS INMATES FOR FUTURE JOBS WITH TECH START-UPS

A relatively new business tech program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison expanded this month to serve inmates at LA County’s Twin Towers Jail. Participants take classes twice a week for six months where they learn how to create and launch tech companies—from actual experts.

If inmates graduate the course, they are guaranteed paid internships upon their release from prison or jail. The program has been a successful anti-recidivism tool thus far: the five released San Quentin graduates are all employed in the tech sector.

KPCC’s Martha Mendoza has the story. Here’s a clip:

The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.

“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today’s high-tech, wired world,” says co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has launched thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange…

“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?’” [Redlitz] recalled.

After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.

Now, during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google— practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.

The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and now a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.

They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.


NEW PROGRAM TO HELP LA’S HOMELESS MOMS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

A new program will provide 60 homeless mothers with desperately-needed housing, mental health services, and help finding employment with funds raised by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The program is an extension of Project 50, a homelessness initiative created by Supe. Yaroslavsky to locate and house Skid Row’s 50 most at-risk residents.

The LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here are some clips:

Named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.8 million wing inside the Didi Hirsch Via Avanta building on Glenoaks Boulevard was hailed by county leaders and nonprofit groups as proof that collaboration can help solve one of the biggest problems in the region.

[SNIP]

About 54,000 people were counted as homeless in Los Angeles County this year, an 18 percent increase compared with the last survey in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. About 15 percent of the county’s homeless are from the San Fernando Valley, which also is an increase, especially among families, the LAHSA figures show.

To help the homeless, Yaroslavsky championed Project 50 in 2010, an initiative to identify Skid Row’s 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless, and get them housing, medical care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment so they can live off the streets. But the supervisor acknowledged that it’s a massive undertaking, especially in Los Angeles, which continued to see an increase among the homeless this year compared to 2012, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Didi Hirsch program is an extension of Project 50, organizers said.

Didi Hirsch President and Chief Executive Officer Kita S. Curry said the new wing will help 60 women with children for six months. Afterward, the women will move into housing, thanks to vouchers secured by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.


A SUSPICIOUS SUICIDE AND A SHODDY INVESTIGATION: DEATH OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S GIRLFRIEND STILL LEAVES TROUBLING QUESTIONS

In September 2010, in St. Augustine, FL., a young mother died from a wound inflicted by her boyfriend’s sheriff’s dept.-issued handgun. The young deputy, Jeremy Banks, said he heard the gunshots from several rooms away, and found his girlfriend Michelle O’Connell bleeding to death.

Investigated by Banks’ own department, the crime scene DNA was left untested, the neighborhood uncanvassed, family and friends uninterviewed, and O’Connell’s suspicious death was quickly pronounced a suicide. And, although new pieces of the puzzle turned up and pointed to Banks, including alleged domestic violence, efforts made to re-open the case were stamped out.

The NY Times’ Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber have an excellent interactive narrative of the case and the aftermath. (A PBS “Frontline” documentary produced concurrently with the article will premiere Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 10:00p.m., but has already been released on the PBS website.)

Here are some clips:

At 11:25 p.m., the three St. Johns County officers arrived at 4700 Sherlock Place, a one-story suburban house in this historic seaside community. A young deputy, Jonathan Hawley, was already there. “Oh my God,” he cried, seeing a young woman he knew lying on the bedroom floor, an inert, bloody mess.

Michelle O’Connell, 24, the doting mother of a 4-year-old girl, was dying from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was a semiautomatic pistol that belonged to her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a deputy sheriff for St. Johns County. A second bullet had burrowed into the carpet by her right arm.

Ms. Maynard quickly escorted Mr. Banks, who had been drinking, out of the house. “All of a sudden he started growling like an animal,” she said. With his fists, Mr. Banks pounded dents in a police car.

“I grabbed him and tuned him up,” another deputy, Wesley Grizzard, recalled. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”

Within minutes of the shooting on Sept. 2, 2010, Mr. Banks’s friends, family and even off-duty colleagues began showing up, offering hugs and moral support. He huddled with his stepfather, a deputy sheriff in another county, before a detective interviewed him in a police car.

With his off-duty sergeant listening from the front seat, Mr. Banks gave this account: Ms. O’Connell had broken up with him and was packing to move out when she shot herself with his service weapon. He said he had been in another room.

Ms. O’Connell’s family, immediately suspicious, received a starkly different reception from the authorities. Less than two hours before she died, Ms. O’Connell had texted her sister, who was watching her daughter: “I’ll be there soon.” Yet when her outraged brother tried to visit the scene, officers blocked his way. The family’s request for an independent investigation was rebuffed, as was one sister’s attempt to tell the police that in the months before she died, Ms. O’Connell said she had been subjected to domestic abuse by Mr. Banks.

Before the sun rose the next morning over this place that calls itself “the nation’s oldest city,” the sheriff’s investigation was all but over.

Ms. O’Connell, the sheriff’s office concluded, took her own life. Detectives were so certain in their judgment that they never tested the forensic evidence collected after the shooting. Nor did they interview her family and friends, who would have told them that she was ecstatic over a new full-time job with benefits, including health insurance for her daughter.

Over time, though, the official narrative began to change. The sheriff asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-examine the case, and investigators found two neighbors who said they had heard a woman screaming for help that night, followed by gunshots. Their account prompted the medical examiner to revise his opinion from suicide to homicide, a conclusion shared by the crime reconstruction expert hired by state investigators.

Eventually, however, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and closed the case early last year. But that was hardly the final word. The state law enforcement agency asked for a special inquest into the death, saying significant questions remained. The sheriff, David B. Shoar, struck back in support of his officer, prompting an extraordinary conflict between two powerful law enforcement agencies.

And through it all, the O’Connell family continued to believe that the sheriff’s office, investigating one of its own, had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse is believed to be the most frequently unreported crime, and it is particularly corrosive when it involves the police. Taught to wield authority through control, threats or actual force, officers carry their training, their job stress and their guns home with them, amplifying the potential for abuse.

Yet nationwide, interviews and documents show, police departments have been slow to recognize and discipline abusers in uniform, largely because of a predominantly male blue wall of silence. Victims are often reluctant to file complaints, fearing that an officer’s colleagues simply will not listen or understand, or that if they do, the abuser may be stripped of his weapon and ultimately his family’s livelihood.

[SNIP]

The Times examined the case in collaboration with the PBS investigative news program “Frontline,” reviewing police, medical and legal records, interviewing dozens of people connected to the case, and consulting independent forensic and law enforcement experts.

The examination found that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors. Because detectives concluded so quickly that the shooting was a suicide, investigators failed to perform the police work that is standard in suspicious shootings, including collecting and testing all available evidence and canvassing neighbors.

(We highly recommend you go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


BILL TO REQUIRE FAKE GUNS TO BE PAINTED IN BRIGHT COLORS TO BE REINTRODUCED

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require all fake guns—BB, airsoft, etc.—to be manufactured in bright colors. The revived bill comes in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County deputy who mistook his airsoft gun for an assault rifle. (Read more about the shooting, and the previously failed legislation, here.)

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has the story. Here’s a clip:

The death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, who was carrying a replica of an AK-47, might have been prevented if deputies could have determined the gun was not a real assault weapon, lawmakers said.

“When officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child.”

De Leon plans to reintroduce a measure he wrote in 2011 that would have required BB guns to be painted a bright color.

That bill was requested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in response to an incident in which 13-year old Rohayent Gomez was shot and left a paraplegic when police mistook his replica firearm for a real weapon. That bill failed passage in an Assembly committee.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

A Mind Shattered by Solitary, A California Problem School Overhauled, and the Death Penalty’s Core Defect

November 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LIFE WASTED BY JUSTICE MISCARRIED AND PROLONGED ISOLATION

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has a worthwhile long read article about Sam Mandez, a Colorado man grievously failed by the Colorado justice system at every turn. After a slipshod trial and a murder conviction at eighteen (for a crime that occurred when he was fourteen), Mandez landed in solitary confinement where he spent sixteen years developing severe mental illness without adequate treatment.

Here are some clips:

On July 26, 1992, an elderly woman named Frida Winter was murdered in her home in Greeley, Colorado. The police recovered fingerprints from the scene and later found some of Winter’s things in a culvert near her home. But for years the investigation went nowhere in large part because it was flawed in nearly every way. Other fingerprints from Winter’s home were not recovered. Leads were not adequately pursued. Logical suspects were not properly questioned. At the time of Winter’s death, Sam Mandez was 14 years old.

Four years later, the police caught what they considered a break. Fingerprints from Winter’s home finally found a match in a police database—and the match was Sam Mandez, who had just turned 18. They brought him in for intense questioning. But Mandez had a strong alibi. He and his grandfather had painted part of Winter’s home in 1991, a year before her death. There was good reason for his prints to have been on the window that was broken on the night of Winter’s death. Mandez had been in trouble with the law before—but never for a violent crime.

There were no eyewitnesses. There was no confession. There was no evidence of any kind that Mandez had murdered Winter. But there was one other link between them. Among the items recovered from that culvert after Winter’s death was a matchbook from a business in Henderson, Nevada. The Mandez family had relatives there. The cops said this proved that Mandez had been inside Winter’s house on the night of her death: He had burglarized her home, and thus, under a dubious extension of Colorado law, he was necessarily guilty of first-degree murder.

The trial of Sam Mandez was a travesty. Prosecutors could have processed him through the juvenile justice system—he was only 14 at the time of his alleged crime, remember—but chose instead to charge him as an adult under Colorado’s felony-murder rule…

So prosecutors did not need to prove at trial that Mandez had murdered Winter or even that he intended to murder Winter. They did not need to solve the crime for jurors. What they did need to do was observe the constitutional command of Brady v. Maryland, which forbids prosecutors from withholding evidence that could exculpate the defendant. They failed—a critical prosecution witness changed his story at the last minute, but that fact was not disclosed to Mandez’s lawyer until the witness had testified. A foul, sure, but no harm, the court ruled.

There were other fatal flaws in the trial. The judge refused to allow Mandez’s attorneys to fully cross-examine the police about other suspects. This information was not relevant, the trial judge said with no evident trace of irony, because Mandez had been charged with felony-murder. And then that same judge refused to grant the defense a continuance to obtain the presence of a material witness who was prepared to identify another suspect in the murder. The initial jury vote was 6-6. As Mandez was convicted, one of the jurors begged the defense to appeal.

[SNIP]

If this were the extent of the injustice the law has visited upon Mandez, it would be enough, wouldn’t it? But this is a story that gets even worse. After being convicted of a crime with which he never should have been charged, Mandez went to prison and was promptly placed into solitary—”administrative segregation,” is what bureaucrats call it—for institutional offenses so petty that they almost beggar belief. He made a three-way phone call he wasn’t supposed to make. He put his key in a bathroom lock after it was closed for the evening. Even Kafka, even Hugo, did not memorialize such diabolical perversions of law and justice.

For that, Colorado prison officials in 1998 put Mandez away, in lockdown, where he more or less has remained for nearly 16 years. What happens when you take a young man and confine him in such conditions for such a long period? The young man becomes severely mentally ill. And his illness causes him to act out. And in acting out he gets in more trouble, which justifies his continuing placement in solitary confinement which in turn causes him to act out more.

The ACLU has put out a video (above) documenting Sam Mandez’s story. And Mandez is far from the only person visibly harmed by shoddy trials and solitary confinement. Here (and here, and here) are similar stories by Cohen and others that WLA has pointed to.


A CALIFORNIA MIDDLE SCHOOL SHIFTS TOWARD RESTORATIVE DISCIPLINE APPROACH

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel has a new narrative piece about a troubled middle school in Santa Ana called Spurgeon Intermediate, and Todd Irving, the new game-changing principal who is bringing Spurgeon back from the brink of failure. The chaotic school environment, described by one teacher as like “Lord of the Flies” has already seen huge improvements two months into the year, with a more than 50% drop in suspensions thanks to Irving’s alternative discipline strategies and genuine dedication to helping his middle schoolers succeed.

Here are some clips:

Spurgeon Intermediate in Santa Ana sits squarely in the center of one of the poorest ZIP Codes in Orange County. For years, it has consistently ranked one of the lowest-performing schools in the region. But early this year, things got even worse.

In March, 36 teachers and employees took the unusual step of filing a hostile work environment complaint against the administration and students. Children were accosting adults, smoking marijuana, making sexual noises in class, the complaint said. By the end of the school year, more than 40% of the students had been suspended for a total of more than 800 days.

Things were so bad, one teacher said, it was like “Lord of the Flies.”

Irving was hired over the summer to keep Spurgeon under control. The 6-foot-1 former college basketball player had two major goals: First, enforce the small rules; second, give the troublemakers some attention.

In the weeks before school began in late August, he asked his vice principals to compile a list of the school’s 50 most disruptive students and promised to be responsible for them…

Over the summer, he met with each of the 50 students and their parents. The meetings gave Irving a glimpse into the problems they faced at home.

Some have trouble waking up for school because they don’t have beds to sleep in, parents explained. There are boys whose fathers are serving life in prison. Others have mothers who are being deported. Some are not yet teenagers and already are addicted to painkillers or inhalants.

“These are not bad kids,” Irving said. “We have students … that we talk about like they’re a problem. But they come to us with problems.”

[SNIP]

Each was asked to sign a contract promising to come to class every day and to follow small rules, like being on time. Teachers would assess their behavior on a scale of one to five during each period of each day. If they earned consistent marks, they could graduate from the program.

[SNIP]

So far, suspensions are down — in the first two months of the year there were 24 days compared with 71 last year, Irving said. All but 12 of the 50 students identified as troublemakers have done well enough that they are no longer required to check in with teachers every period.


WHY THE DEATH PENALTY IS CONSTITUTIONALLY FLAWED

This month’s Criminal Justice Matter’s show put on by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (above) examined the fundamental failures of the death penalty in the United States. In the course of the program, Georgia’s former assistant AG, Dorothy Toth Beasley pointed out the bottom-line objection to capital punishment—that there is no way to ensure innocent people are not executed.

(Other guests included Evan Mandery, author and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Jesse Wegman of the NY Times editorial board.)

Here’s a clip from the program’s synopsis:

The U.S. justice system will never be able to apply the death penalty in a way that avoids the danger of convicting innocent individuals or eliminates the possibility of serious human rights abuse, says Georgia’s former assistant attorney general.

Dorothy Toth Beasley, who defended her state’s use of capital punishment in the historic 1972 Furman v Georgia case before the Supreme Court, says the checkered history of death penalty cases in the three decades since makes clear that capital punishment violates American values of equal justice…

“We’ve tried all kinds of different ways, and we can’t get it perfect enough to know that somebody is (not) being executed wrongly, or that the delay is too long—nine, ten, sixteen years.”

Although the Court ruled against Georgia in 1972, the decision was interpreted by legal observers as a nudge to the states to improve their legal procedures for putting people to death. Four years later, the ruling was reversed—and by the late 1970s, 37 states had reintroduced capital punishment with new administrative rules designed to ensure due process of law was followed.

But since then, the use of emerging DNA technology to prove wrongful convictions has illustrated that the system remains flawed—and in the process has increased public doubts about the death penalty, according to Evan Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and author of Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America.

Mandery, who appeared with Beasley on the Criminal Justice Matters program, suggested that America’s High Court would likely outlaw the death penalty today if it were presented with a similar case…

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, Death Penalty, Mental Illness, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

California Freeing Woman Who Killed Pimp at 16, Teen’s Death Points Back to Defeated Bill…and More

October 28th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SARA KRUZAN, WOMAN WHO WAS SENTENCED TO LWOP FOR KILLING HER PIMP AT 16, RELEASED ON PAROLE

Late Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown chose not to block a parole board’s decision to release Sara Kruzan. At age seventeen, Kruzan received 25-to-life without the possibility of parole for killing her pimp—a man who began grooming her for child prostitution when she was just eleven years old.

The Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 shooting death of George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She contended that he sexually abused her and had groomed her since she was 11 to work for him as a child prostitute.

Her case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to soften harsh life sentences for juveniles.

“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”

Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube [above].

The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.

“Given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive,” the governor wrote in his commutation message, “it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age.”

This January, a Riverside judge further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.


TRAGIC DEATH OF 13-YEAR-OLD CALLS ATTENTION TO FAILED REPLICA GUN LEGISLATION

Last Tuesday, a Sonoma County deputy fatally shot thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez who was holding a pellet gun that the officer mistook for an assault rifle. This heartbreaking death is calling attention to failed a California bill that would have required replica guns like the one Andy was holding to be made of transparent or neon plastic. The bill, supported by LA Police Chief Charlie Beck, was defeated with help from the National Rifle Association and pellet and paintball gun vendors.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper has detailed emotional protests alleging excessive force by Sonoma County law enforcement after a sheriff’s deputy on Tuesday fired at teenager Andy Lopez, killing him. Deputies came across the boy in his “wine country” community around 3:15 p.m. as he was walking down a road, on his way home, carrying a pellet gun fashioned to closely resemble an AK-47. The pellet gun belonged to a friend.

Taking cover behind vehicle doors, deputies told the boy, whose back was to them, to drop what they believed was a real gun. Andy began to turn toward them, according to law enforcement officials. A deputy reportedly thought the boy was raising the gun and fired. Andy was hit seven times, according to reports.

In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity reported on how pressure from retail stores and the National Rifle Association helped defeat a bill by Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, who came up with the proposal in response to similar police shootings of boys playing with replica guns.

The bill would have required replica guns like the one Andy was carrying be made with transparent bodies or in certain neon colors. The measure had the support of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who invoked the tragic 2010 shooting of another 13-year-old boy who was paralyzed when L.A. police officers came upon boys playing with toy guns and ended up shooting one.

“Backers said the measure (de Leon’s) was designed to try to prevent shootings of innocent young people by police officers who have to make split-second decisions,” the Center’s story said.


LA TIMES READERS DISTURBED BY TOP CALIFORNIA PRISON PSYCHIATRIST’S CLAIMS

In a story last Wednesday on impending policy changes regarding the use of pepper spray on mentally ill prisoners in California, the LA Times’ Paige St. John noted that California’s senior prison psychiatrist Dr. John Lindgren testified in front of a federal judge that he thought mentally ill inmates would have no memory of being pepper sprayed and likely have a higher pain tolerance than other prisoners. (We linked to St. John’s earlier story on the issue, here.)

On Sunday, the LA Times published several letters from readers outraged by the prison psychiatrists claims. Here is the first:

It is distressing to read a correctional psychiatrist’s assertion that psychotic prisoners “would have no memory” of being repeatedly pepper-sprayed and “have a higher than average threshold for pain or noxious stimuli.”

The claim that psychotic illness would prevent a person from remembering physical pain has no basis in science. Regarding pain thresholds, a growing body of literature documents post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in psychotic people subjected to excessive force.

Since the defunding of public psychiatry in the 1980s, prisons have increasingly played a custodial role for people who are severely mentally ill. As a society, we have chosen to treat such people as criminals first and patients second. The results: huge bills, little healing and the brutality The Times describes.

Thomas R. Blair, MD

Los Angeles


CALIFORNIA STARTS MOVING INMATES TO PRIVATE PRISONS

The state has begun the transfer of prisoners to private prison facilities in an effort to comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population by about 9000 inmates before a now twice-extended deadline. (Backstory: here.)

(We are unclear on why there is a need to start moving prisoners this far in advance of the deadline and a decision on the part of the judges as to whether California will ultimately be given a three-year extension.)

Katie Orr has the story over on KPBS. Here’s a small clip:

James Black, with the GEO group that operates the facilities said GEO’s prisons must meet the same standards required for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“All of our facilities are ACA accredited, American Correctional Association accredited. We still operate under the oversight of the entity that we are contracted with. So we still operate under, basically, CDCR oversight,” Black said.

Black said California is paying GEO $60 per inmate per day. He expects all 2,100 transfers to be complete by the beginning of December. The inmates require medium-level security.


BY THE WAY…

Jack Leonard of the LA Times has an interesting story about inmates falsely claiming homelessness to avoid home detention that is worth checking out. (We’re looking into the issue ourselves, and will likely have something on the topic soon, so stay tuned.)

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LWOP Kids, Mental Illness, prison policy | 1 Comment »

LA Jail Deal with Kern County May Be Nixed, a New Women’s Facility, California Prison Pepper Spray Policy Update…and More

October 24th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CONTRACT TO MOVE LA COUNTY JAIL INMATES TO KERN COUNTY MAY BE VOIDED NEXT WEEK, AND A NEW WOMEN’S JAIL IS IN THE WORKS

A controversial $75M contract to move 500 LA county jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County that the Board of Supervisors approved last month will likely be canceled at next Tuesday’s board meeting. Supe Gloria Molina has introduced a motion to void the deal after learning of an ongoing legal dispute between the state and Kern County over leased beds. (Find the backstory here.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the contract in late September as a means of alleviating crowding in the jails. Two supervisors, Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Riddley-Thomas abstained from the vote, citing questions about funding the contract and where the move fit into the county’s long-term jail plans. Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich, and Don Knabe supported the contract as a way of adding jail space and potentially reducing the practice of releasing inmates early because of a lack of beds.

Now, Supervisor Gloria Molina has indicated she’s withdrawing her support for the contract and introduced a motion to void it. That item will likely be on the board of supervisors’ agenda on October 29. The motion will need three votes to pass.

Roxane Márquez, a spokeswoman for Molina, said the supervisor changed her mind after the county uncovered legal hurdles to quickly sending inmates to the Community Correctional Facility. It is run by the City of Taft, which is near Bakersfield.

“We did not know that the State of California and the City of Taft were involved in litigation about the use of those beds,” Márquez said. “We’re not interested in getting involved in the lawsuit.”

The Supes also moved forward with a plan to fund a new women’s jail facility in Lancaster at the Mira Loma Detention Center. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Is it just us, or does it feel like the board approves a gigantic new jail expenditure nearly every week without ever having approved any kind of overall plan or strategy? Seriously, people!)

The LA Daily News has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to shift $100 million in state funding for a women’s jail facility near Castaic to a new project site — the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster.

The county was in danger of losing that grant money, which had been allocated for a “women’s village” at Pitchess Detention Center, but easements owned by oil and utility companies have stalled the planning process.

Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka recommended moving the project to Mira Loma, previously used as a federal detention site for undocumented immigrants but now closed. “If we don’t take today’s action … we will lose that $100 million,” he said, warning the deadline is the end of this month.

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald supported the change, saying a Mira Loma Women’s Village would offer more capacity for innovative programs and the possibility of a re-entry facility to help ease the transition back to society.

The village would operate under “indirect supervision,” with guards moving freely among inmates rather than being stationed in a central control room, and housing in the proposed re-entry facility would be outside the confines of the jail, so women would have some freedom to come and go.

“The county has an opportunity with this facility to design a national model for the treatment of female offenders,” McDonald said, though she added that the site was “not without its challenges.”

One obstacle is the traveling distance for inmates’ families as compared with the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood, currently the county’s all-female jail.


CDCR SAYS PEPPER SPRAY POLICY CHANGES ARE ON THE WAY

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Wednesday that it will be changing protocol on when and how much pepper spray can be used on mentally ill inmates. The policy shift comes amid federal hearings on alleged abuse of California’s mentally ill prisoners. (You can catch up on that story here, if you missed it.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

In testimony Wednesday before a federal judge, the state official in charge of adult prisons said he sought the changes in part because of videotapes, introduced as evidence in the case, showing half a dozen inmates who were repeatedly sprayed with large amounts of pepper spray — even while naked and screaming for help.

Those tapes, he said, “are honestly one of the reasons we will be revising our policy to provide additional guidelines,” said Michael Stainer, deputy director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Stainer said the new rules would limit the amount of pepper spray guards may use on a prisoner, including banning the use of pepper spray canisters — designed for crowd control — on prisoners in small cells.

“I would love to have this policy in practice by the end of the year,” Stainer told the Los Angeles Times.

The Associated Press also reported on the CDCR’s policy changes. Here are some small clips:

The corrections department will limit how much pepper spray can be used and how quickly, said spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. The rules are still being written and would not apply to emergency situations.

[SNIP]

“Obviously, it’s our goal to use a minimal amount of force. Having it spelled out may help these situations stay more in control,” Hoffman said.


LA TIMES GETS IPAD NUMBERS WRONG, OTHER PUBLICATIONS FOLLOW SUIT

The LA Times falsely reported yesterday that the LAUSD’s deal with Apple to buy thousands of iPads would cost more than originally agreed upon. Many publications picked up the info and ran with it without bothering to fact-check.

LA School Report’s Chase Niesner has the story. Here’s a clip:

“This is not new news and [is] part of the original board-approved contract,” said LA Unifed spokesperson Shannon Haber.

The article, “School iPads to cost nearly $100 more each, revised budget shows,” circulated by numerous media outlets including LA School Report, reported that the iPads now cost $770 per tablet, stating, “the newly disclosed price, a 14 percent increase per iPad, appeared in a revised budget released in advance of a public meeting Tuesday on the $1-billion project.”

But there was no revision. The “newly disclosed price” was available by reading the July contract, which states that the district would receive a significant discount upon purchasing 520,000 devices, totaling $400 million.

The folks at the LA Times weren’t the only ones confused about the iPad deal, another story by the LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo says that the LAUSD school board was shaky on the details. Here’s a clip:

...two months into the school year, with more than 30,000 iPads deployed, $50 million already spent and another $500 million on the line, school board members still have more questions than answers about the most basic details of getting a sleek new(ish) tablet into the hands of every student. And what has become painfully obvious is that school board and committee members alike are only now asking questions that should have been asked long before the project got off the ground.

For instance, board members seemed not to know what was actually in the contract with Apple, or what it would actually cost per unit.

(Read the details here.)


LA COUNTY DEPUTY CHARGED WITH ASSAULTING HIS GIRLFRIEND MULTIPLE TIMES, THREATENING TO KILL HER AND MOTHER OF HIS CHILD

LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Eric Hibner was convicted Tuesday of beating his girlfriend after she found out that he was seeing another woman. He was also charged with threatening to kill both his girlfriend and the mother of his child. (Yet another story that makes the case for more thorough background checks.)

Here’s a clip from the Orange County DA’s website:

On Dec. 25, 2012, Hibner got into an argument with Jane Doe #1 after the victim discovered a sexually suggestive voicemail from another woman on the defendant’s cell phone.

The following day, Dec. 26, 2012, Hibner continued to argue with Jane Doe #1 over his relationship with the other woman. Over the next few days, Hibner physically assaulted Jane Doe #1, spit on the victim, repeatedly swore at her, and threatened to kill her.

On Dec. 30, 2012, Hibner woke Jane Doe #1 and dragged her to the living room by her hair. Hibner threw the victim on the floor and got on top of her. Jane Doe #1 cried, begged Hiber to stop, and banged her foot on the floor to wake the neighbors. Hibner then covered the victim’s mouth, pinched her nose, and threatened to make her pass out. He got off of Jane Doe #1, spit on her, threw a lit cigarette at her, and called her derogatory names.

On Feb. 19, 2013, Hibner met with Jane Doe #2, with whom he formerly had a romantic relationship and minor child, for a child custody exchange. During the meeting, Hibner threatened to kill Jane Doe #2 if she appeared in court at a hearing scheduled for two days later regarding a protective order for the crimes against Jane Doe #1.


LA WILL LIKELY BECOME FIRST CITY TO BAN ELEPHANT BULL HOOKS

On Wednesday, LA City Council moved to ban the use of bull hooks and other objects used to inflict pain on circus elephants, and asked that a city ordinance be drafted and presented to the council for a final vote.

The LA Daily News’ Dakota Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:

Swayed by graphic undercover video showing elephants being prodded with the tools, City Council members unanimously backed a ban on the steel-pointed rod resembling a fireplace poker. The tool is used to inflict pain on the animals, argued City Councilman Paul Koretz, who has sponsored numerous laws in support of animals’ rights.

“It causes great harm and great pain to elephants,” said Koretz, who held a bull hook aloft as he spoke on the council floor.

With the vote, the City Council ordered a draft ordinance, which must return to the council for a final vote. If ultimately approved, the ban would take effect in three years.

The delayed ban allows local workers dependent on Ringling Bros.’ annual show to find replacement work, officials said.

With the move, Los Angeles is set to become only city in the country to ban the bull hook. Animal activists contend the tools are cruel, and point out that progressive zoos and habitats ban their use.

Posted in CDCR, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAUSD, Los Angeles Times, Mental Illness | No Comments »

Community Alternatives Give Troubled Violinist Second Chance…Problematic Youth Curfews…and More Bills

October 15th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

MENTALLY ILL VIOLINIST SAVED BY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH COURT

Kim Knoble, a gifted violinist with a promising future, plummeted into serious mental illness, drugs, and homelessness, halfway through a full-ride music scholarship at UC Irvine.

Instead of being locked up and set on a path to cycle through the system like so many others with mental illness in California, she was sent to San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court. Through court-supervised community treatment, Knoble reclaimed her life and her music.

The LA Time’s Lee Romney has this redemptive story. Here are some clips:

Kim Knoble’s past tracks an arc of promise, mental illness and descent into what her parents call “living hell.” But Knoble is not homeless, in prison or dead — outcomes common with stories like hers.

Instead, on Wednesday, the woman with a head of wild red curls plans to walk into the St. Francis Yacht Club, tell her tale of recovery and lift the instrument she did not touch for a decade to play Massenet’s “Meditation From Thais.”

Now 31, Knoble was mastering Mozart violin concertos by the time she hit middle school. As a high school senior, she played with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra — while doubling as concertmaster of its Marin counterpart.

Then, on a music scholarship at UC Irvine, her brain began to change.

She thought the FBI had tapped her phone, that Hollywood producers were sending her messages. She started using drugs. Years of difficulty followed: Hospitalization. Rehab. Relapse. Tough love. And homelessness.

What brought Knoble redemption was the crime she would commit. Agitated and off her medication two years ago, she pushed a 75-year-old man down the stairs of a city bus. He was injured. She was arrested.

But Knoble was fortunate. She was accepted into San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court, which in lieu of incarceration offers comprehensive treatment, housing, vocational services and more under the supervision of a Superior Court judge.

[SNIP]

A 2010 study examined San Francisco’s court and three others nationwide and found success. Though San Francisco’s served the highest proportion of participants with schizophrenia and the greatest percentage who committed crimes against people rather than property, it showed the greatest drop in rearrests compared with control groups — 39% to 7%.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said that before this program, released offenders might have to wait 45 days for follow-up appointments, by which time “they were back in jail.” In contrast, he said, Behavioral Health Court offers a seamless handoff from jail psychiatric services to outside helpers.

Skepticism initially ran high, but Adachi said he now considers it “one of the most successful start-up social experiments in criminal justice history.” Dist. Atty. George Gascon called it “a national model for its humane approach to treating clients who suffer from severe mental illness. We’ve enhanced public safety by reducing recidivism.”

We think that that last from DA George Gascon bears repeating, when he called the program that rescued Knoble, “a national model for its humane approach to treating clients who suffer from severe mental illness. We’ve enhanced public safety by reducing recidivism.


WHY JUVENILE CURFEWS DO NOT WORK

Mike Males, Senior Research Fellow for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), in an Op-Ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) says youth curfews are ineffective, erring on the side of detrimental to kids and communities, and a major law enforcement resource-waster. Here’s a clip:

Studies of dozens of cities across the nation found no effect or bad effects following youth curfews. An 18-year analysis of 21 cities in California found youth curfews useless or worse. San Jose’s and Chicago’s periods of vigorous curfew enforcement coincided with persistent failure to reduce crime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while curfew-free cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, New Haven and New York City had impressive crime declines. Even a study purporting to validate curfews — which failed to compare cities with and without them — inadvertently found criminal arrests of youth fell faster across the country in general than in cities that enforced curfews.

Understanding why curfews fail requires radically revising our entire view of young people perpetrated by law enforcement, interest groups, politicians, and the news media from Fox News on the right to The Nation on the left.

Imagine instead — however impossibly, given the drumbeat of fear — that teenagers in this country are not a mass of risk-happy thugs, gunners, rapists and bullies. Imagine that police bent on curfew enforcement could stop hundreds of teenagers late at night and find virtually no wrongdoing — just park basketball players, movie-going throngs, restaurant socializers; that is, young people enjoying their communities.

CJCJ’s journal analysis of 400 police citations found just that: Curfews function as remarkably effective tools to waste law enforcement resources removing law-abiding youths from public places, where youthful presence serves to deter crime. Urban scholarship from William H. Whyte and Jane Jacobs to common knowledge in European and Latin American cities validate that the more folks on the streets, young or old, the safer the public space. A Toronto Mountie once laughed when I asked if the city had a youth curfew: “Maybe for six year-olds.”


MORE CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown finished up the last of the bill signing (and vetoing), making the final call on 36 bills.

Gov. Brown signed SB 569, a bill to combat false confessions from kids by requiring that all interrogations of juveniles suspected or accused of homicide be videotaped.

Brown also approved AB 651, legislation that will allow certain people who served a nonviolent felony sentence in county jail to have the felony expunged from their record.

Another signed bill, SB 618, will make the compensation process easier for California’s wrongfully convicted. Claimants will no longer have to re-prove their innocence to the state. Bill author Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) says on his website that of 132 exonerations in California since 2000, only 11 people have been compensated.

(You can find a list of the rest of Sunday’s bill decisions, including two prison education bills, here.)

On a far sadder note, over the weekend, Brown vetoed SB 744, a very important bill (previously pointed to here) that would have provided protections for kids that are transferred to community schools.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, Mental Illness, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

More on CA Prison Overcrowding…Beginning of Fed. Hearings on CA Mentally Ill Prisoner Abuse Claims…LA County Could Get More Out of Realignment…and Olmsted on Baca’s Endorsement

October 2nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

GOV BROWN’S CONTINUED FIGHT AGAINST PRISON OVERCROWDING RULINGS

Last week, federal judges gave Governor Jerry Brown an extra month past his impending December deadline to come up with a plan to fix the prison overcrowding crisis, before the state is ordered to release a further 8,000 inmates.

Brown is supposed to be coming up with viable rehabilitative solutions, but at the same time, he continues to fight orders at every opportunity.

The governor says that the judges have overstepped their authority and that there hasn’t been enough money for rehabilitative programs. Unfortunately, if Gov. Brown doesn’t come back to the three-judge panel with something meaningful, the state is going to be stuck with Brown’s proposed $315M private prison deal.

Reuters’ Sharon Bernstein has the story. Here are some clips:

…a combination of politics, budgetary constraints and a belief by Brown that the courts are wrong, have spurred the state to fight back at many levels, even in the face of a small olive branch from a panel of federal judges.

“They’re fighting everything at every turn,” said attorney Ernest Galvan, who represents inmates in one of two cases underpinning the overcrowding rulings. “Wherever possible they’re stalling for more time.”

[SNIP]

Last week, the judges made a rare concession to California’s requests, granting a one-month delay in response to a promise from the state that, it would be able to reduce the prison population through rehabilitation, if only given more time.

In a move that many said was a hopeful sign, the judges ordered state officials to sit down with lawyers representing inmates to try to work out a deal. A longer-term extension, the judges wrote, was still a possibility if the talks were productive. The judges asked the state to refrain from seeking out-of-state beds for prisoners while the talks were going on.

But two days after the judges’ order, the Brown administration rushed an angry brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the panel’s ruling.

It is not clear, analysts say, whether the move will anger the federal panel, and Supreme Court consideration of the case at all is considered a remote possibility by many.


VIDEOS OF ALLEGED ABUSE OF CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL INMATES COME INTO PLAY AT FEDERAL HEARINGS

Federal court hearings began Tuesday over accusations that the level of force used on California’s mentally ill prisoners is excessive and unnecessarily brutal. Inmates’ attorneys played two of seventeen total videos showing mentally ill inmates being pepper sprayed, hit with batons, and wrestled to the ground. (For the backstory go here and here.)

It’s not just an issue on the state-level, the controversial federal hearings regarding treatment of California inmates is in addition to a current FBI investigation into allegations of abuse in LA County jails.

The Sacramento Bee’s Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton have the story on the videos and the hearing. Here are some clips:

In the first video, played to a hushed crowd of lawyers and reporters in Karlton’s 15th-floor courtroom in downtown Sacramento, an inmate in a mental health crisis unit at the prison in Corcoran is shown refusing to take medication from a psychologist visiting him in his cell.

“He refused to take it,” the psychologist tells a waiting team of guards wearing gas masks, helmets, padded vests, gloves, protective jumpsuits and shin guards.

The inmate, locked in his cell, was playing with his feces and threatening to throw two cups of an unknown substance on anyone who entered. Almost immediately after the psychologist emerged, the team began pumping pepper spray through the food port of the metal cell door, repeatedly dosing the inmate between warnings that he better come out.

Finally, the team opened the door, dragging the inmate out and wrestling him to the floor as he alternately sobbed and screamed, “Don’t do this to me,” “help,” or “I don’t want to be executed.”

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, the inmate attorneys’ first witness described as “extraordinary” the amount of armaments he saw on a typical California prison guard’s duty belt. Eldon Vail, a corrections consultant and former head of the Washington state prison system, said he had never seen as many weapons in use in other states, and added that during his tour of California prisons he was surprised by inmates’ fear of leaving their cells.

“One common theme that emerged from inmates was that it was better to just stay in your cell so you wouldn’t get harassed by the staff,” Vail testified.

Vail, who said he frequently walked prison yards alone while he was secretary of the Washington prison system, also indicated he was surprised when the warden at a California prison tried to persuade him to wear an anti-stab vest before walking among inmates. That indicated “there is a great deal of fear” between staff and inmates, Vail said.

KQED’s Rachael Myrow has this quote from plaintiff’s attorney Michael Bien:

“We’re not talking about someone who’s rioting, or in a fight, or out in the yard. We’re talking about someone who’s locked in their cell, and not cooperating with clinical care. We think that’s a clinical problem, and they’re dealing with it like it’s a battle.”

(The LA Times’ Paige St. John also covered the beginning of the federal hearings.)


LA COUNTY’S NEGLECTED REFORM OPPORTUNITIES

This smart editorial from the LA Times editorial board (written by our pal Rob Greene) explains key reasons why LA County is so far behind other CA counties in taking advantage of opportunities for desperately-needed reform offered through realignment. Here’s a clip:

Millions of dollars of state AB 109 funding for drug rehabilitation and other community corrections programming remain unspent. The Board of Supervisors has failed thus far to empower the sheriff to free up jail space for convicts by releasing accused nonviolent defendants who are locked up merely because they can’t post bail. The Los Angeles County Superior Court, prosecutors and defense lawyers have rejected the opportunity to sentence AB 109 convicts to a portion of their terms in jail and a portion under mandatory substance abuse treatment and education in their communities — an approach known as “split sentencing” — despite evidence that such programs have the most chance of succeeding and of keeping offenders from breaking the law again.

Los Angeles County supervisors and judges have demonstrated their share of resentment about their responsibilities under AB 109, but so far have merely shrugged at the opportunities — funding for community rehabilitation, selective pre-trial release, split-sentencing — that the law provides. Leaders in other counties have used the last two years well. Los Angeles County leaders have used them poorly.

Greene does say, though, that all the blame does not rest solely on the shoulders of LA County. The state blundered on two important funding elements:

It failed to allocate enough funding for data collection and analysis, leaving counties insufficiently able to quantify what they have and have not achieved; and it provided counties funding without conditions or incentives. The state is now looking at new incentive funding under which counties would be rewarded based on the results they achieve in lowering the number of felons they send to the prisons. It’s a smart way to go.


OLMSTED WEIGHS IN ON SHERIFF BACA’S YOR HEALTH ENDORSEMENT

Bob Olmsted, whistleblower and candidate opposing Lee Baca for Sheriff, has released a statement about Baca’s controversial promotion of Yor Health. Here’s a clip:

“This is yet another revelation that Sheriff Baca’s judgment is clearly flawed. If he isn’t able to steer clear of involvement with multi-level marketing groups and commingling his role as Sheriff how can he possibly have the judgment to clean up the jails and keep families safe?”

(If you missed it, here’s the backstory.)

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Mental Illness, prison, Realignment | 3 Comments »

Detention Facilities as “De Facto” Mental Hospitals, New DOJ Report on LA County Juvie Camps, and More

September 26th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

THE DILEMMA OF JAILS AND PRISONS SERVING AS MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT FACILITIES

A new Wall Street Journal article draws attention to the mental illness crisis in US prisons and jails. The story hits close to home—Los Angeles County Twin Towers Jail serves as the nation’s largest mental health facility—and points toward the need for lasting solutions to the revolving detention door, like adequate treatment programs and rehabilitative help on the outside.

WSJ requested information from every state on mental health issues within their prisons. Twenty-two states gave detailed responses. States on the lower end of the mental health patient ratio reported one in ten inmates suffered from mental illness, while Oregon and Iowa on the other end of the scale said that a whopping 50% or more of their their state inmates battled mental health problems. (California landed somewhere in the middle with about 27%.)

The WSJ article by Gary Fields and Erica E. Phillips is behind a paywall. Here are some of the relevant clips for those of you that don’t subscribe:

America’s lockups are its new asylums. After scores of state mental institutions were closed beginning in the 1970s, few alternatives materialized. Many of the afflicted wound up on the streets, where, untreated, they became more vulnerable to joblessness, drug abuse and crime.

The country’s three biggest jail systems—Cook County, in Illinois; Los Angeles County; and New York City—are on the front lines. With more than 11,000 prisoners under treatment on any given day, they represent by far the largest mental-health treatment facilities in the country. By comparison, the three largest state-run mental hospitals have a combined 4,000 beds.

Put another way, the number of mentally ill prisoners the three facilities handle daily is equal to 28% of all beds in the nation’s 213 state psychiatric hospitals, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute Inc.

“In every city and state I have visited, the jails have become the de facto mental institutions,” says Esteban Gonzalez, president of the American Jail Association, an organization for jail employees.

[SNIP]

To get a snapshot of how the U.S. is grappling with such an explosive societal issue, The Wall Street Journal surveyed all 50 states about issues of mental health within their prison populations. Of the 22 states that provided detailed responses, their mental-health patient ratios ranged from one in 10 inmates to one in two. Inmates in all 23 responding states account for 55% of the prisoners in the U.S. under state jurisdiction.

In Oregon, the trend is particularly acute. Officials there estimate that half the state’s 14,000 prison inmates suffer from some type of mental-health issue.

Several states with large inmate populations, like Michigan and Illinois, reported to the Journal that about 8% to 10% of their inmates suffered from serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Smaller states, like Montana, said as many as 15% of their inmates suffered from serious mental illness.

[SNIP]

Caring for such distressed inmates is costly. National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the leading advocacy research groups, estimates that prisoners with mental illness cost the nation $9 billion annually.

Other challenges are evident. In Los Angeles, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice found in 1997 that mentally ill inmates were abused and endured conditions that violated their federal civil rights.

Earlier this month the DOJ sent a letter to L.A. officials saying that despite some apparent progress, there is “a growing number” of mentally ill inmates housed in general population quarters at Men’s Central Jail, as well as a “recent increase in suicides.”

Assistant Los Angeles County Sheriff Terri McDonald said the growing population of mentally ill inmates “certainly strains the system.” She said they would continue to work with DOJ officials “and we welcome their thoughts.”


LA COUNTY PROBATION CAMPS COME UP SHORT ON ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT DOJ REFORM REQUIREMENTS

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released its most recent report detailing the progress being made through its oversight of LA County’s juvenile probation camps. According to the report, while the county has come into compliance on 38 monitored areas for reform, four provisions—staffing ratios, rehabilitation and behavior management, access to community alternatives, and the auditing process—are still not in full compliance.

While this shows improvements from this time last year when Probation appeared to have slid out of compliance in several disturbing areas, it’s especially concerning that rehabilitation and behavior management (arguably the most important reform area) is still out of compliance.

The 141-page report comes after about five years of DOJ-monitoring of the probation camps, and re-assesses compliance reports from 2011 and 2012 on the Feds’ original 2008 reform demands.

(We’ll have more on this next week, but here’s the short form.)

Here are a few clips from what the report had to say about rehabilitation and behavior management:

With regard to the programming provisions of Paragraph 17, the County has increased the range of programs available to youth. The capacities of these programs were determined in part by the results of the youth “Needs Assessment” discussed in a previous Monitoring Report. After an intensive period of staff training, the County now has sufficient capacity in the major rehabilitative programming components, with the exception of a small number of camps with limited ART capacity. For the most part, and despite some weaknesses in the process, youth at all camps now have access to enriched programming services. With the increased capacity, once the County is certain that youth are accessing needed programs, their impact on the youth’s behavior must be evaluated.

With regard to the behavior management requirement of Paragraph 17, the County has now had more experience with the enhanced Merit Ladder program. By design, it includes a range of short-term, mid-range and long-term rewards to incentivize pro-social behavior. Problems with the mechanics of the point system and delivery of some of the rewards persist in several camps. Significant work remains to shore up the implementation of the Merit Ladder.

…only recently (July 2013) have staff been trained to implement the new policy on the use of the SHU. Its implementation has not yet been assessed by the County nor witnessed by the Monitor.

…and community-based alternatives:

Paragraph 73 was added to the MOA to ensure that alternatives to incarceration are properly considered for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and that youth receive treatment and services in the least restrictive setting consistent with public safety, the youth’s needs, and the goal of rehabilitation. Because the provision deals with many of the processes and programs already in place in the County system and facilities, Monitors were frequently told that the existing policies, procedures and practices needed either no change or only minor adjustments for full compliance with the Paragraph. However, during this monitoring period the County and the Monitors have found many of the policies and procedures lacking in the specific requirements of the provision. Even where, in some instances, the policies and procedures may have been adequate, the practices and implementation of those policies may not have been.


TENNESSEE WOMAN REDIRECTS AT-RISK KIDS WITH “TOUGH LOVE”

In a suburb of Nashville, Carolyn McFall runs the community-based Evening Diversion Program where at-risk youths are referred as a final opportunity to turn their lives in the right direction before they end up in state custody.

Seventy-year-old McFall takes on a grandmotherly role with the kids, who often have issues at home and substance abuse problems, and equips the kids healthy coping mechanisms and teaches them how to “rescue themselves.”

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s James Swift has the story. Here’s a clip:

The program operates out of a small, one-story home in a quiet, residential neighborhood close to the Franklin city limits. It stands side-by-side with My Friend’s House boys’ home, which is one of the last remaining standalone group homes in Middle Tennessee.

The EDP site, which she refers to as “her cottage,” does not feel like just another building, McFall said. Its quaintness gives it a certain intimacy, she said, which is something that’s often lacking in larger facilities.

“The Evening Diversion Program is a program for small groups of at-risk youth,” she said. “The court wanted us to start a program that would be the last program before these kids went into state custody.”

[SNIP]

For McFall, 12-hour days are not unusual. EDP pre-planning usually begins at noon, she said, but frequently, her workday begins even earlier. If one of her youths has a court appearance in the morning, McFall said she’s more than willing to show up beside them, even though her position doesn’t necessitate it.

“I go to court with them, every time,” she said.

Routinely, she said she visits the Williamson County Juvenile Court, not only to see if any of her former youths have re-offended, but also to scout potential EDP participants. “If I see a kid who comes through there that sounds like they’re just perfect for the program,” she said, “I’ll just go to the YSO and say, ‘hey, what about so-and-so?’”

One of the favored approaches McFall employs is what she called a “backdoor treatment plan.” She sits down with youth in the program, and allows them to chart their own plans, based on what they believe would be the best way to achieve rehabilitation. In one example, she said she asked what one youth felt he needed to do to become sober; his responses, McFall stated, ended up becoming his own blueprint for treatments.

McFall’s program seeks to instill in young offenders specific life skills, such as coping mechanisms and how to work with others to solve problems. Instead of being punitive, she said EDP is designed to educate youths on how to make better decisions and “rescue themselves.”

The goal of EDP, she said, was to “normalize” its participants. “You’re just making mistakes and you don’t know how to get out of them,” she said. “Every one of them is worth saving.”

For McFall, social skills development is a pivotal aspect of rehabilitation. To help youths better empathize with others, McFall said one of her groups once prepared dishes for a get-together with several agency members. “They see DCS, Youth Service Officers and the court officers, they’re here to punish you,” she said. By having regular social interaction with probation officers and YSOs, however, she said her kids were able to better relate to and understand systems employees. Learning how to discuss contentious issues civilly, she said, was another major component of the program.

The most difficult part of her job, McFall said, weren’t the kids, but working with their parents and custodians.

“So many of these families have given up on these kids,” McFall said. She recalled several incidents involving LGBT youths enrolled in the program.

“This is a very religious area,” she said. “And I have had any number of parents who come in here, who wants me to explain to [their children] that God doesn’t love them.”


Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

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