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Mental Illness


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

February 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FACTORS AFFECTING OVER USE OF JAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WHAT ABOUT LA?

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

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

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

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

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

More on that as we know it.

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

“Black Girls Matter,” Refugee Camps, Life as a Black Cop, LA Jail Suicides Down

February 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BLACK GIRLS EXPERIENCE AS MUCH (OR MORE) RACIAL INEQUALITY AS BLACK BOYS, BUT DO NOT RECEIVE AS MUCH HELP

In the United States, black girls experience racially disparate school discipline at significantly higher rates than black boys (vs. white girls and white boys). US Department of Education data for the 2011-2012 school year reveals that while black boys are suspended three times more often than their white counterparts, black girls are suspended six times more often than their white peers.

In New York City and Boston, where more black kids are enrolled into the school systems than white kids, the disparity is even more stark. Black girls in NYC and Boston are 10 and 11 times more likely to be suspended than white girls, respectively.

A report from Columbia Law School and the African American Policy Forum, analyzed this data along with personal experiences from interviews with young black girls in New York City and Boston between 2012-2013.

Among other findings of the report, girls felt that zero-tolerance school policies were not conducive to a positive learning environment, and often dissuaded them from attending school altogether. Girls said that increased police and security presence, as well as metal detectors made them feel uncomfortable and less safe. Girls also reported receiving more severe discipline than boys for the same infractions.

A law professor at UCLA and lead author on the report, Kimberlé Crenshaw, said, “As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk.”

The report recommends equal funding for supporting girls and women of color as boys and men of color, as well as boosted data collection, research, advocacy, and programs.

Here are clips from a few more of the report’s findings…

The failure of schools to intervene in the sexual harassment and bullying of girls contributes to their insecurity at school:

Participants and stakeholders addressed the consequences of sexually harassing behavior, physical and sexual assault, and bullying. The emphasis on harsh disciplinary measures did little to curb such behavior. In fact, zero-tolerance policies sometimes exacerbated the sense of vulnerability experienced by girls because they feared they would be penalized for defending themselves against aggressive behavior. One participant recalled that her long history of suspensions and expulsions began with what she believed to be an unfair punishment in response to assaultive behavior by a male classmate:

This boy kept spitting those little spitballs through a straw at me while we were taking a test. I told the teacher, and he told him to stop, but he didn’t. He kept on doing it. I yelled at him. He punched me in the face, like my eye. My eye was swollen. I don’t remember if I fought him. That’s how it ended. We both got suspended. I was like, ‘Did I get suspended?’ I was, like, a victim.

Stakeholders observed that teachers were some times unprepared to resolve matters associated with sexually harassing behavior.

It was remarkable how teachers have a culture of sweeping it under the rug. They will say that ‘boys will be boys’; ‘this is sexual awakening.’ Yet they know all the gossip, they know all the stuff that is happening. . . . [T]hey even talked about girls feeling shamed coming to school, like they can’t concentrate because the boys are making comments – lewd comments – constantly pressuring them to have sex with them. Slapping their butts and bras, and just sort of forcing themselves on them against the wall or the locker. . . .

Girls sometimes resort to “acting out” when their counseling needs are overlooked or disregarded:

In environments in which discipline is foregrounded over counseling, girls who seek help in response to traumatic experiences or who have other unmet needs may gain the attention of school personnel only when they “show their face” (act out) in ways that prompt disciplinary intervention:

The only way they’re going to know there’s something wrong with you is if you show your face. If you try . . . to go in there, try to sit there, one on one, they can automatically think you’re there to waste time and not to go to class. It’s like they shutting down on us.

This point was augmented by stakeholders who noted that some of the behavior that triggers the suspension or expulsion of girls may reflect the consequences of untreated trauma. While the problem of undiagnosed needs is not exclusive to girls, their concerns may be harder to address prior to a punishable act:

I think girls tend to not express the trauma . . . and that is a big problem. In the school you focus on the people who are acting out so some are getting their needs met, but this doesn’t mean that those that aren’t acting out are not in need. It plays itself out later on. . .

…and recommendations:

Review and revise policies that funnel girls into the juvenile justice system:

The lack of counseling and other effective conflict intervention strategies leads many girls into contact with the juvenile justice system. Schools should review their current policies and develop more robust measures to ensure that student conflict is not unwarrantedly subjected to criminal sanctions.

Devise programs that identify the signs of sexual victimization in order to support girls who have been traumatized by violence:

Schools must train educators to identify signs of sexual abuse and respond with therapeutic interventions. In so doing, they should develop protocols and policies that streamline their responses to suspected instances of abuse.

Advance and expand programs that support girls who are pregnant, parenting, or otherwise assuming significant familial responsibilities:

Lack of childcare, strict attendance policies, unsafe campuses, and untrained administrators contribute to school push-out of pregnant or parenting girls. Schools, stakeholders, and advocates must work to create policies that are sensitive to the needs of pregnant girls as well as girls who take on significant caretaking responsibilities.


WHAT HAPPENS TO WOMEN AND CHILDREN REFUGEES WHO ENTER THE UNITED STATES

The NY Times Magazine’s current cover story by Wil Hylton takes a look at America’s controversial detention camps chock-full of women and children refugees fleeing from violence in Central America.

In these family camps, mothers are regularly held without bond (and without guaranteed legal representation), and kids’ health and schooling needs often go unmet.

Here’s how Hylton’s story opens:

Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.

As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.

Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.

As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”

Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of this fantastic (and lengthy) story.


SAN BERNARDINO COP ON WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BLACK OFFICER IN THE US

As a black police officer in the city of San Bernardino, CA, Darren Sims is a minority on both sides of the badge.

According to 2011 Census data, San Bernardino has the highest poverty level of a city with a population over 200,000 in California, and the second highest nationally (behind Detroit). San Bernardino’s crime rates are also significantly higher than the state and national averages.

San Bernardino has struggled with creating a police department representative of the city’s population. Around 9% of SBPD officers are black, compared with a 15% black community. Latinos comprise just 28% of the police force, in contrast to 60% of citizens. And the department and city are 59% and 19% white, respectively.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Esme Deprez, Sims shares what it’s like to be a black cop in San Bernardino. Here are some clips:

For Sims, the combination of black skin and blue uniform makes him feel, by turns, like a threat and a target. Last summer, his beat partner almost died after being shot in the head, an event that still haunts him. He empathizes with minorities who feel unfairly treated, yet he’s also been the target of their scorn. As an officer, he says, he upholds the law, regardless of a lawbreaker’s race.

San Bernardino, a city of 214,000 people 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has long been one of the most dangerous of its size. Things have gotten only worse after the city declared bankruptcy in August 2012. The police force has shrunk to 230 officers from more than 350. Homicides surged to 46 in 2013 from 32 in 2009.

Those numbers are why Sims, who grew up in nearby Riverside, wanted to join the department: Higher crime means more people in need of protection. In August 2013, he was sworn in, following stints counseling troubled youth at group homes, supervising park workers in nearby Moreno Valley and playing football at Kentucky State University.

Sims describes those drawn to policing as protectors of everyday citizens — sheep — from criminals intent on doing harm — wolves.

“Racism does exist,” he said recently, after an all-night shift. “I don’t believe it’s the underlying factor, the underlying thing, that drives law enforcement to oppress a certain person, a type of people, a certain demographic of people.”

[SNIP]

In uniform, his medium-brown skin invites taunts: Oreo, sellout, Uncle Tom. The ugly names have increased since Ferguson, Sims says. Now, as he approaches people, they’ll often raise both hands and say, “Don’t shoot,” as some witnesses said Michael Brown did.

“They don’t view us as being black,” Sims said. “They view us as being a cop.”

Those views were once his own. Growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood, Sims listened to rap music that glorified cop-killing, and shared his friends’ conviction that police were to be shunned. Now, on patrol, he is reminded of that sentiment by “187 SBPD” graffiti, referring to the penal code for murder and the San Bernardino Police Department….

The way to demolish barriers between police and community is a mutual exchange of respect, Sims says. He prides himself on talking with suspects as he would with his watch commander — or grandmother.


SUICIDES IN LOS ANGELES JAILS DECREASED BY HALF IN 2014

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department data shows that inmate suicides dropped from 10 in 2013 to 5 in 2014. The decrease follows a year after the US Department of Justice released a report criticizing the county’s treatment of mentally ill inmates—with particular reference to the suicide count—and said it would seek a consent decree.

KPCC’s Andrea Gardner has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelley Frasier said deputies and mental health professionals have set suicide reduction as a top priority. For instance, after noticing a trend in higher rates of attempted suicide among inmates housed in “single-man cells,” she said they changed the practice.

“We came to the table and we said, ‘let’s make a conscious effort, let’s not put them in single-man cells,’ ” she said.

In other cases, more mental health teams were dispatched to check on isolated inmates more often.

Instances of serious self-harm—like cutting and attempted suicide—also dropped significantly in 2014 from 2013, to 71 from 110 documented cases.

Posted in Department of Justice, Education, immigration, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, racial justice, women's issues, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Koch Campaign, Violence Intervention in Hospitals, Mental Illness and Solitary, Legislation Against Over-medicating Foster Kids

February 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A FACE FOR THE KOCH BROS’ CAMPAIGN AGAINST MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES, CIVIL FORFEITURE, AND MORE

Weldon Angelos will spend 55 years in prison for selling weed while carrying a firearm, a punishment tremendously disproportionate to the crime, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The conservative multi-billionaire Koch brothers want to help free Angelos (only possible through a presidential pardon), and introduce him as the face of their criminal justice system reform campaign. The campaign will target harsh mandatory minimum laws, overcriminalization of non-serious, non-violent offenses, civil asset forfeiture abuse, militarization of police, and reentry services.

The Koch brothers are part of a growing trend of Republican leaders and groups emerging as leaders in the fight against mass incarceration. Another high-profile group, the Texas-based Right on Crime, were integral to the passage of California’s three-strikes reform bill, as well as the more recent Proposition 47.

The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak has the story. Here’s a clip:

Judge Paul Cassell protested the sentence when he was forced to make it in 2004, a move he told The Daily Beast he considers “the most unjust, lengthy sentence that I had to hand down.”

At the time of the trial, Cassell noted that Angelos’ sentence exceeded the minimum required for an individual convicted of airline hijacking, detonating a bomb intended to kill bystanders, and the exploitation of a child for pornography.

Angelos is now 35 years old and has spent some 11 years behind bars.

He has more than 40 years left to go. Even though his crime was non-violent, parole is not an option at the federal level.

His only hope for relief from his sentence is an order by the president.

“If we’re going to deprive someone of liberty, and deal with the high cost of incarceration, it better solve a problem. And in this case, it doesn’t solve any problem,” argued Mark Osler, Angelos’ lawyer, who filed a clemency petition on his behalf in 2012.

This is where the Koch brothers come in.

The case is being highlighted by Koch-backed group Generation Opportunity, which targets millenials, in a broader campaign to press for criminal justice reforms this year.

They will kick off the campaign with a documentary highlighting Angelos’ predicament, premiering at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum next week.

In the same vein, Mother Jones’ Sam Brodey has a roundup of five important criminal justice issues we may see some bipartisan reform on from Congress soon, including sealing and expunging records, good time credits, and mandatory minimums. Here’s a clip:

Earned-time credits: These programs, under which prisoners can work to earn an early release by completing classes, job training, and drug rehab, are highly popular among reformers. Many states already offer them, and they’ve been touted as smart, efficient ways to reduce prison populations as well as recidivism rates. Jay Hurst, a criminal-justice lawyer and commentator at the Hill, says that this is the likeliest issue where Congress could pass legislation this year.

Easing up mandatory minimums: These laws, which broadly require those convicted of certain crimes to serve set sentences regardless of the specifics of the case, are considered hallmarks of the tough-on-crime approach politicians used to embrace. Critics, such as advocacy group Families Against the Mandatory Minimum, argue that these laws “undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual” and that they are one of the main reasons for overcrowded prisons. According to Jesselyn McCurdy, a criminal-justice expert at the American Civil Liberties Union, half of those locked up in federal prison are there for drug offenses, to which mandatory minimums are often rigorously applied.

Last January, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which intended to reduce the size of the prison population and rein in ballooning costs by reducing mandatory minimum sentencing, especially for drug-related crimes. Someone serving a 10-year sentence for a nonviolent crime could theoretically get out in five, under the legislation. The bill also proposed broadening judges’ discretion to sentence below federal minimums, known as the “safety valve” for oversentencing.

The Durbin-Lee bill died in committee—a common fate for criminal-justice legislation—and a total overhaul of mandatory minimums could be a tough ask for this Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s new chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is a vocal defender of sentencing minimums. Still, experts say there’s reason to believe some progress could get made. “Safety valve relief could happen this Congress,” Hurst said, because it’s considered a more moderate path to reducing sentences.


HOSPITAL PROGRAMS BREAKING THE CYCLE OF RETALIATORY VIOLENCE

A growing number of “hospital-based violence intervention programs,” designed to interrupt patterns of violence in kids’ lives, are cropping up in California and across the US.

These programs ensure there are tools and resources to redirect kids and teens from retaliation, when they turn up at hospitals suffering from violent injuries and traumas.

Not only are these methods successfully keeping kids and communities safer by connecting kids with therapy, job training, and other services at a pivotal moment, they are saving criminal justice systems (and hospitals) money.

Pacific Standard Magazine’s Lauren Kirchener has this story (we didn’t want you to miss). Here’s a clip:

When Joel Fein was working in the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, treating a 16-year-old boy for injuries he had suffered in a fight, he felt truly helpless when he heard the boy say: “The guy that did this—I’m gonna cap him.” It would mean another fight, another victim of violence, and another patient in the ER. How could Fein do anything to stop the continuation—and escalation—of violence?

This helpless feeling, and this question, both eventually led Fein to his role as co-chair at a national network of “hospital-based violence intervention programs” (HVIPs) that teach health care workers how to help kids and teenagers who have undergone a trauma, and to divert their energies away from dangerous retaliation. And (not that this should be the primary goal, but) according to a new study out by Drexel University, it might save communities a lot of money, too.

The idea behind an intervention program in the hospital setting is that, while victims of violence might have other opportunities to connect with social workers or other resources at other times in their lives, the time right when they are recovering from their injuries may be the most crucial. So the people who are surrounding them at that time should be trained to help them make the right choices. The national network’s handbook for starting up a new hospital-based program reads:

The philosophy of these programs is that violence is preventable and that trauma centers and emergency rooms offer a unique opportunity at the hospital bedside—the teachable moment—to most effectively engage a victim of violence and stop the cycle of violence.

How programs actualize that philosophy will vary, but, for instance, San Francisco’s Wraparound Project assigns case managers to patients who can organize ongoing home visits or cognitive behavioral therapy, and can help patients get better access to government services. They can also point young people to vocational training and new after-school programs to occupy their time, and even to free or discounted tattoo removal—presumably so the kids can take steps to dissociate themselves from gangs.


WAREHOUSING MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, THEN RELEASING THEM WITH A WORSENED MENTAL STATE

In the first of a four-part series for WNYC’s Morning Edition program, Cindy Rodriguez shares the tragic story of Sedlis Dowdy, a severely schizophrenic man who has spent nine years in solitary confinement (seventeen total in prison, with five to go) for violent crimes associated with his mental illness.

Dowdy was released once, at the end of his fourteenth year behind bars, but only made it a few days in transitional housing before he was locked up again for stabbing someone. He will likely be released again in five years.

Among a number of other collateral consequences of how the US uses solitary confinement, a high percentage of people held in solitary confinement are eventually going to leave prison—often with more mental problems than when they arrived. When they are released back into their communities, they take illnesses exacerbated by isolation with them. (California struggles with this problem, as do many other states.)

Here are some clips from the WNYC story:

Dowdy grew up poor in Harlem during the 70s and 80s, as the state’s mental-health system went through a wrenching transformation away from large institutions to the underfunded, underperforming system that it is today.

The illness derailed what could’ve been the story of a young man who beat the odds. Despite frequent fights and dropping out of high school, he did well on his GED and attended college at Morrisville State in central New York.

[SNIP]

…in February of 1996, he shot a man at St. Nicholas Park in Harlem.

“I didn’t even know the guy,” Dowdy said. “I couldn’t take the voices no more and they was telling me to do it.”

Dowdy’s violent crime made him an outlier: Research suggests that only 4 percent of violence in the U.S. can be attributed to the mentally ill. He was sentenced to five to 10 years but ended up serving 14 because of the serious trouble he got into. Within a 15 month period, starting in October of 1997, he became uncontrollable. The state Department of Corrections said he assaulted inmates and staff, had weapons and disobeyed direct orders. Dowdy said he was off his meds and delusional at the time.

And as he acted out, the prison responded with more punishment. Dowdy spent nine years, nearly a quarter of his life, in solitary confinement and was often only fed what’s called “the loaf,” which is a brick of baked bread and vegetables.

Experts say extreme isolation is like physical torture for someone who is mentally ill. Over the last four years, several states have scaled back their use of solitary for more vulnerable populations, including New York, which enacted a new policy last year as the result of a lawsuit.

Dowdy’s situation got so bad, he took to throwing feces on guards. He was prosecuted for it and got four extra years added to his sentence. Soon, according to Dowdy, punishment turned into brutality by guards. He described guards beating him, putting glass in his food and trying to break his legs.

“At the time I was just so angry I didn’t know what to do,” he explained. “And nobody was listening to me, so I would come out of my cell and not go back in.”

When asked about the abuse, the state Department of Corrections said records show Dowdy spent nine months on the loaf and in 2000 was the subject of one excessive use of force report complaint, the details of which were lost when the agency changed computer systems.

The environment inside prisons and jails is known to exacerbate mental illness, making treatment that much more difficult to deliver.

“The more chaotic the environment, the harder it is for somebody who is already having trouble organizing their thoughts and organizing their behavior to deal with it,“ said Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University.


UPCOMING CALIFORNIA BILLS TO TARGET UNCHECKED OVERPRESCRIBING OF PSYCHOTROPIC MEDS FOR FOSTER KIDS

Karen de Sá’s alarming five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. Last year, the Department of Health Care Services tightened restrictions on how doctors prescribe these meds to kids in the foster care system, as a result of the exposé.

This year a number of California bills are in the works to protect foster kids from dangerous over-medication.

One bill would allow kids to receive alternate treatments to certain psych drugs. Another would provide training to foster parents regarding psychotropic prescriptions.

San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has more on the issue, as well as a rundown on the rest of the upcoming bills. Here’s a clip:

With a half dozen legislators exploring bills, de León’s staff has been working behind the scenes, attending meetings of a statewide reform group and meeting with advocates led by the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law and lawmakers considering bills.

“When the government takes the extraordinary step of removing a child from their families because of abuse or neglect, it assumes the tremendous responsibility of ensuring they are cared for and not further abused or neglected by the system,” de León said in an email.

This newspaper’s series “on the overprescribing of psychotropic medications has shed a spotlight on a deeply troubling aspect of the system,” de León said. “The Senate will be investigating the plight of the adolescents highlighted in these articles, as well as foster children generally.”

[SNIP]

Lawmakers, including state Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, have each submitted early language to the Legislative Counsel’s Office, their staff members confirmed. Other bills that address prescribing psychotropics in group homes are also in the early stages.

The influential California Welfare Directors Association is working with Mitchell’s office on legislation that would provide more information to judges, social workers and others in the lives of foster children about their medication and treatment history. That information would give judges who authorize medications more than just a prescriber’s recommendation. It would include observations from social workers, caregivers and the children themselves.

“We’ve been very concerned about making sure that only kids who really need these drugs are getting them,” said Frank Mecca, the welfare director association’s executive director.

Yet, opposition has already surfaced over the state Department of Health Care Services’ decision last fall to require that doctors receive extra authorization to prescribe antipsychotics to children 18 and younger in the public health system…

Hop over to the SJ Mercury for the rest of the story.

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, Mental Illness, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Right on Crime, Sentencing, Trauma, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Jail Population Declining, Unsolved Homicides Update, Unaccounted-for Mental Health $$, and Sluggish County Settlements,

January 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY JAIL POPULATION DOWN THROUGH PROP 47 AND BOOST TO SPLIT-SENTENCING

LA County has started catching up with other counties using their realignment money to implement split-sentencing—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation. Last July, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey instructed prosecutors to seek split-sentences.

Since then, the county’s use of split-sentencing for low-level offenders has risen from 5% to 16.6%, according to a Probation Dept. report presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. (Still a far cry from counties like Contra Costa, where 92% of non-serious offenders were serving split sentences by June of last year.) And as of January 1, across the state, split-sentencing for felonies will be mandated unless a court decides “that it is not appropriate in a particular case.”

Thanks, also in large part, to Proposition 47, the LA County inmate population has dropped low enough to ensure that most offenders will now serve nearly the full length of their sentences. (If you need a refresher: Prop 47 reclassified certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.)

These numbers may come into play during the LA County Board of Supervisors’ discussions about whether to spend $2.3 billion on a 4,860-bed replacement for Men’s Central Jail. (We hope so.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, who manage the jail system, complained that the resulting influx of offenders serving longer sentences was leading to the early release of thousands of other inmates. At the same time, probation officials have had trouble adjusting to a new population of offenders with lengthier criminal records and more serious mental health and substance abuse problems.

In November and December, the first two months after the penalty-reduction law took effect, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office reported that felony sentences of prison, jail or probation had dropped by 41% from the same period in the previous year. And the number of inmates in county jails decreased from about 18,700 at the end of October to fewer than 16,000 at the end of December.

As a result of the falling population, the Sheriff’s Department has reversed a long-standing policy of releasing most inmates after they serve a fraction of their sentences. For years, most men convicted of lower-level crimes served only 20% of their sentence and women served 10%. Now, McDonald said, most inmates are serving 90%.

[SNIP]

…Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, who joined the board after November’s election, have expressed reservations about the size of that jail.

Kuehl said Tuesday that she continues to question the need for that many beds and “whether there is more capability and better capability to do mental health and substance abuse treatment in the community than in a locked facility.”

By the way, there is a ton of other interesting information in the Probation Department year-three realignment report. Or you can skim a condensed summary (with charts!) in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.


LAPD’S RESPONSE TO INVESTIGATION INTO CLOSED—BUT UNSOLVED—HOMICIDE NUMBERS

Between 2000-2010, the LAPD closed unsolved homicides without arresting or charging a suspect at a rate more than double that of the national average, according to an investigative story by Mike Reicher as part of the LA Daily News’ fantastic series called “Unsolved Homicides.” (More on that in our previous post, here.)

Since then, the LAPD has responded, saying that they are unable to provide more data about why so many murders were cleared without being solved because they do not have the man power to pull the records, and provide the information. But former LAPD chief (and current city councilmember) Bernard Parks says collecting the information would not be difficult.

Here are some clips from Reicher’s update on this story:

“I would want them to be extremely transparent and clear about the numbers,” said Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine. “How many arrests are brought forward and declined by prosecutors? It could be that the courts are overwhelmed, that the resources aren’t there to deal with the volume. These are important questions that nobody has an answer to.”

[SNIP]

When asked for the reason each case was closed, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith wrote, “We do not have the staff available to pull the concerned cases, conduct the research and provide you the detailed information you requested.”

Those reasons should be easily accessible, said City Councilman and former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. Each detective has to justify why a case is closed, he said.

“If they’re not watched, and they’re not evaluated, people can easily manipulate them to have better stats,” Parks said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not only transparency, it’s the basic element of filing a case. You can’t just say, ‘I cleared it, and I’m not going to tell you why.’ ”

LAPD Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said the agency already discloses enough information: “I think our guys are as transparent as any department in America.”


HOW DOES CA SPEND $13 BILLION ALLOCATED FOR THE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHERE ARE THE RESULTS?

In 2004, California’s Proposition 63 approved an extra 1% tax on millionaires to provide $13 billion in additional funding for mental illness programs state-wide. A report from the Little Hoover watchdog panel found that the state is unable to show how the money was spent (continuing a ten-year trend), or whether the extra money has helped California’s mentally ill.

The report gives six sensible recommendations on how to realize the full potential of this funding, through data collection, financial reporting, and weeding out ineffective programs, among other efforts.

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

An investigation by The Associated Press in 2012 found that tens of millions of dollars generated by the tax went to general wellness programs for people who had not been diagnosed with any mental illness. Those programs include yoga, gardening, art classes and horseback riding. The state auditor reported similar findings a year later….

Counties are responsible for choosing and running their own programs, but an oversight commission was not established until eight years after the funding began and it has little authority.

Because of that, the report said, there are few repercussions for sloppy accounting or insufficient data, making it difficult for the state to evaluate the programs.

Commissioners said that during hearings on Proposition 63 last year they heard anecdotal stories of individual success, but the state cannot show “meaningful big-picture outcomes — such as reduced homelessness or improved school attendance.”


EDITORIAL: SWIFTER SETTLEMENTS TO PARTIES WRONGED BY LA COUNTY AGENCIES

When a lawsuit against an LA County department (the sheriff’s department, for instance) results in a settlement, county lawyers regularly draw out the process, even when there is no other option but to settle. The Board of Supervisors can (and do) further defer finalizing legal settlements.

The Supervisors understandably aim to be good stewards of the county’s money, and sometimes it’s necessary to make certain that the department at fault takes corrective action. But injured parties wait longer to receive restitution when the county delays action, and it can cost taxpayers even more money.

An LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to ensure a timely payment to the those wronged, and if necessary, to lean on departments taking too long to remedy violations. Here are some clips:

Joseph Ober was an inmate in another case; he said that deputies beat him without justification and denied him medical treatment. He and county lawyers reached a settlement in May, and one of the terms was final sign-off by the supervisors within 120 days. That deadline passed in August, and the court ordered the county to pay daily interest on the $400,000 settlement amount. The supervisors finally approved the agreement last week.

[SNIP]

County officials face an inherent tension when settling lawsuits. They want to protect the county treasury as much as possible, so they bargain hard and sometimes drag their feet in quest of a better deal. But they also have an obligation to make victims of county mistakes and misdeeds whole; and they must make sure that the problems that led to the suits are fixed. To that end, the supervisors understandably demand to see evidence of corrective action — so the same thing won’t happen over and over — before they approve settlements.

But many of these delays cost the county additional money, as in the Ober case…

Posted in District Attorney, jail, LAPD, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness, Realignment, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

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

January 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CHOOSE ACTIONABLE REFORM OVER NATIONAL DISCOURSE ON RACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 15th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

EZELL FORD: BEFORE THE DEADLY ENCOUNTER WITH LAPD OFFICERS

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

But she said Ford was an innocent bystander.

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

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

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

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

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


LA SHERIFF ANNOUNCES DROP IN CRIME RATES, DISCUSSES IMPLICATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FLASHBANGS: HAZARDOUS, UNCHECKED OVERUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from the study:

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

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

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

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

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

November 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

LA COUNTY SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL

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

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

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

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

AUTHOR OF “THE NEW JIM CROW” MICHELLE ALEXANDER

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

CONNIE RICE AND THE ADVANCEMENT PROJECT

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

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

Here’s the rest.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

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

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

OAKLAND CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE

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

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


AND IN OTHER NEWS

GOV. BROWN NAMES YOUNG SUPERSTAR LAWYER TO STATE SUPREME COURT

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


THE ADVERSE AFFECTS OF PRISONS ON COMMUNITY HEALTH

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it begins:

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

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

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

Here’s a link to the full report.

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

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

November 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, he says, he deserves another chance.

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And the biggest disappointment?

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act programs (CAPTA)

Title IV-B Child Welfare Services

Promoting Safe and Stable Families

Juvenile Justice Programs


NEWT GINGRICH TELLS MICHIGAN TO REBUILD THEIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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