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Keeping Foster Parents in the Loop, “Mass Incarceration on Trial,” IG Report on LAPD Misconduct-Flagging System, and Obama Orders Probe of Police Militarization

August 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD INFORMED OF COURT DATES AND DECISIONS AFFECTING THEIR KIDS

A lawsuit filed this month accuses the LA County Department of Children and Family Services of failing to inform foster parents of their foster kids’ court dates, as well as neglecting to give foster parents the 7-day notice required by law when children in their care are going to be taken and placed elsewhere. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the non-profit group Advokids and three foster parents.

The LA Times’ Jim Newton, who has been watching foster care issues closely, says lapses in communication between DCFS workers and foster parents are detrimental to the wellbeing of the kids they care for. Here’s how it opens:

Heather Whelan has been a foster mother to some 20 children. She has nurtured broken babies back to health and worked closely with parents to fix families. She has also cringed as social workers made life-changing decisions about her charges without consulting her. In one case, she says, the county abruptly separated a pair of sisters she’d been caring for, traumatizing the baby girls because the social worker did not know how much the girls had come to rely on each other.

Carrie Chung is a professional social worker who became a foster parent in 2008. She describes how she once cared for a very young infant who required special foods and exercise to grapple with a difficult ailment. When a hearing was scheduled to decide whether the child could be safely returned to her family, Chung says, no one even bothered to tell her it was taking place.

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles foster care system — in courtrooms and waiting rooms, with children and lawyers, birth parents and foster parents. And while I can’t say whether Whelan and Chung are the exception or the rule when it comes to how the county’s Department of Children and Family Services relates to foster parents, I can say that there are persistent breakdowns in communication between social workers and foster parents — and that kids are suffering as a result.

Of the 20,000 or so Los Angeles County children who were living outside their homes this summer under DCFS supervision, about 6,500 were placed with non-relative foster parents. The children have social workers, but they only see them once a month or so. Their lawyers are often overwhelmed. Foster parents are often the only people who see these children every day and can know if they’re having nightmares or trouble with bullies or if they are sinking or recovering.


LOOKING AT CALIFORNIA PRISONS TO UNDERSTAND MASS INCARCERATION NATIONWIDE

A promising new book by legal scholar and Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, takes a look at the issue of nationwide mass incarceration through the lens of California’s prison history, from the 70′s and 80′s when “tough on crime” triggered the rise of incarceration rates, to SuperMax prisons, to Brown v. Plata—the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling that said California’s prison overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and put a population cap in place.

Mass Incarceration on Trial challenges the belief that locking more people away promotes public safety.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “an eloquent critique of the American prison system.”

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick interviewed Simon about his book. Here are some clips:

The Crime Report: Considering that mass incarceration is a national problem, why did you focus on California?

Jonathan Simon: California is the Mississippi of mass incarceration. When people think of states that would follow the worst practices in incarceration you may think of Texas, Mississippi, or other Southern states because they have struggled with issues of segregation and racism that would crossover to how they treat their inmates. Historically California has been so progressive. It started out as the second most lenient region behind the Northeast, but then from the 1970s through the 1990s the rate swung all the way to be one of the most punitive regions. There was a 500% increase in incarceration—the biggest increase for any of the big states. The state defends itself by saying they in line with the national average of incarceration, but I say who wants to be part of the national average?

But in a way Californians are lucky, because it’s a state that has bad incarceration with good lawyers. And the story couldn’t be told—and the future of mass incarceration may be different—without the work of the California’s Prison Law Office, and the firm Rosen Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, which brought so many of the game-changing prisoners’ rights suit.

TCR: The California corrections system official title is “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” yet you note that the idea of rehabilitating prisoners has almost completely disappeared from the system.

JS: Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger actually added rehabilitation back into the title in 2004-2005. He saw that the system was in catastrophe. Putting that word back in was a clear sign that he knew things needed to change. Rehabilitation used to be a central theme of California prisons until the 1970s and the move towards determinate sentences in California. The purpose of the 1976 Determinate Sentencing Act is punishment. Rehabilitation was no longer the goal of the prison. The idea was to give criminals short and just sentences and then they would return home from prison.

But in reality that is not what happened, mass incarceration began to grow as legislatures and politicians added more punishments such as three strikes, and corrections lost their ability to parole. Long sentences replaced short sentences. It was a layer-cake effect. But by then, the idea of rehabilitation had been out of the system for so long, that corrections had stopped thinking of prisoners as human beings. The system began to treat people as a mass, instead of individuals.

[SNIP]

TCR: Should judges should be required to routinely visit correctional institutions so they can be kept apprised of the conditions?

JS: I think that’s a great idea. In Plata v. Brown our courts functioned almost as human right investigatory body. They went into these prisons and brought videos out of inhumane conditions happening in the prisons, overcrowding, bad -beds, unchecked mental illness. And with these videos they’ve opened a visual pathway through which the public can really confront what our nation has been doing with mass incarceration.

TCR: How can the American system learn from European correctional systems?

JS: In Europe they have the European Prison rule. The rule has three core features: individualization of the inmate; normalize the prison to make it as consistent with the community as possible, (provide equal medical care, employment rights, human rights); and be progressive—offer prisoners who obey the rules opportunities. These rules make a difference. In the United States (such an approach) could conserve the dignity of the prisoner and create a better system then we had in the past.


LAPD SYSTEM FOR FLAGGING OFFICER MISCONDUCT FALLS SHORT, SAYS INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s system for flagging questionable officer behavior triggers warnings against officers that turn out to be unfounded, while proving unsuccessful at flagging officers who go on to commit serious misconduct, according to a report by the LAPD inspector general, Alex Bustamante.

The department has asked a research group to analyze all the databases used to track officer behavior, and whether the system actually, created under a federal order, has any influence on officer conduct.

The Police Commission will discuss Bustamante’s findings during their meeting today.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

The report by the Police Commission’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, scrutinized an early warning computer program that the LAPD has used since 2007 to track patterns of excessive force and other misconduct by its roughly 10,000 officers. The analysis casts doubt on the usefulness of the computer system, which federal officials forced the LAPD to build after years of corruption and abuse.

[SNIP]

The Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, will discuss the inspector general’s report at a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the department’s current tracking system appears to be “providing limited predictive capabilities,” adding that Bustamante’s report raises “significant questions.”

“I look forward to understanding how the department is responding to correct the issues,” he said.

In his report, Bustamante examined nearly 750 warnings about officers generated over a recent four-month period. In 70% of the cases, supervisors took no action after determining that the conduct flagged by the computer system did not point to any problems, the report found.

The lack of action after so many red flag notifications raises questions about the criteria being used to trigger warnings — called “action items” in LAPD jargon. Currently, the system attempts to compare several aspects of an officer’s conduct to that of other officers in similar assignments. A warning is triggered when an officer exceeds acceptable limits for each benchmark. The various benchmarks include the number of times an officer uses force on a suspect, as well as complaints and lawsuits filed against the officer.

Maggie Goodrich, the LAPD’s chief information officer, said it could be that the system currently is too quick to issue a warning. The risk, she said, is that the department might narrow its assessment of officers too much and, in doing so, miss some misconduct.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” she said.


OBAMA RESPONDS TO FERGUSON CONFLICT BY ORDERING REVIEW OF POLICE MILITARIZATION

President Barack Obama is ordering a review of law enforcement militarization. The probe, to be conducted by White House officials, will focus on military surplus programs and federal grants that help civilian police forces buy military equipment, whether police should be receiving the equipment, how state and local police are using the equipment now, and what kind of training they should have in the future.

The president’s decision comes in the wake of images and reports of Ferguson, MO, police in combat gear and heavy weaponry clashing with people protesting the death of Michael Brown.

McClatchy News’ Christi Parsons has the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be led by White House staff, will also look into whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment it helps facilitate, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s in-house directive.

The federal government has been helping police purchase military equipment for more than 10 years, ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, raised concerns about police readiness for a serious attack. Through grant programs and transfers from the military, the U.S. government has helped make the gear available to law enforcement agencies across the nation that have asked for it.

But the gear hadn’t been widely noted until unrest broke out in Ferguson early this month over the shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man. The incident stirred protests, looting and some anti-police violence, which in turn inspired the police to get out their body armor, heavy vehicles and automatic rifles.

[SNIP]

After seeing images of the police gear in video footage, Obama asked senior advisers to look into the programs that provided them. He also spoke about the images in a news conference with reporters a week after Brown’s death. Some post-9/11 equipment upgrades have been useful, he said, noting in particular the improvements to radio communications and to equipment for dealing with hazardous material.

But Obama said he wanted to make sure that what police are buying is “stuff that they actually need.”

He also warned that “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, Obama, prison | 1 Comment »

LA Supe Molina Asks for LASD Internal Investigation Files…Breaking Out of Men’s Central Jail Cells…One Problem with “My Brother’s Keeper”…and More

March 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISOR MOLINA REQUESTS LASD FILES ON USE OF FORCE INSTANCES

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina is calling on County Counsel to give the board access to LASD internal investigation files regarding use of force and officer-involved shootings.

Molina says, without access, the board cannot provide thorough oversight, or know whether it is valid to settle with claimants in use of force cases against the LASD. Molina introduced a motion that would request immediate access to LASD reports on a 2013 shooting involving an officer who had been involved in six other shootings. Board members will likely vote on it at next week’s meeting.

Here’s a clip from Supe. Molina’s website:

“Our county lawyers don’t seem to understand whom they’re representing here,” Molina said. “It appears we have Sheriff’s Deputies involved in violating policy over and over again, often the same ones. Management allows this to happen. And yet when I ask for a copy of basic investigations into these cases, County Counsel has denied me access time and again. I have explained myself continuously as to my duty and responsibility. I have outlined that I am asking for nothing but our own materials.”

Under Government Code Section 25303, the Board of Supervisors is required to oversee the conduct of all county officers to ensure that they “faithfully perform their duties.” Moreover, in Dibb v County of San Diego (1994), the California Supreme Court ruled that a county Board of Supervisors has the legal obligation to monitor the conduct of Sheriff’s employees as long as it does not interfere with the investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct.

“I have reminded our legal counsel that this is not the District Attorney’s investigation and the District Attorney is not their client – we are,” Molina continued. “I’m willing to view this report with a bank of lawyers surrounding me and yet I’m still continually denied access to it. The Sheriff’s Department has investigated the incident and claimed to have taken appropriate corrective action. But we don’t know if that is true. I am told that the Board of Supervisors must pay for these claims, that we have no choice. Yet our lawyers constantly refuse to fight for our access to the reports that would help us get to the root causes of our problems. I have no interest in interfering with D.A. investigations – only ensuring the fundamental integrity of the investigations. But I have significant questions about officer-involved shootings and whether or not our use-of-force policies are being followed not just in our county jail system but in the field, where residents live and work. In the absence of a fully operational Office of Inspector General or a legally constituted Civilian Oversight Committee with subpoena power, it falls to the Board of Supervisors to directly exercise its duty and authority on behalf of the public.”


EASY CELL BREAKOUTS AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

ABC7 spoke with inmates and jail officials, including CJ captain Dan Dyer, who said it’s not all that hard to escape from a cell, even a high security one, in the outdated Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail.

Dyer says inmates usually break out of their cells and handcuffs to attack other inmates (less often deputies and custody assistants).

Here’s a clip from the ABC7 report:

“For my staff, every time they walk one of these rows, they’re in danger,” said Men’s Central Jail Captain Dan Dyer.

One inmate, whom we agreed not to identify, is housed in a high-security area known as “2904.” He told Eyewitness News he’s accused of murder and selling drugs and guns. The inmate was locked up behind a cell door constructed from heavy steel mesh and iron bars. Despite the tight security, the inmate told us he could break out of his cell at any time.

“Yeah, like most doors when you unlock them, some doors are racked and if you know how to do it right, you can push your gate in and it will open right up, you know? And whether you catch an active or non-active gang member, your enemies, you could attack them while they’re walking to the showers and handcuffed with deputies,” said the inmate.

Escapes from the jail facility itself are rare, but inmates breaking out of their cells is another matter.

“There’s probably not a housing location in my building that they can’t get out of,” said Capt. Dyer. “We’ve watched them. We’ve had them show us how they do it. Simply the design of some of these cells makes it very easy. These guys that have been in and out of here over the years. It’s an art to it and they know how to do it.”

The inmate in 2904 says he learned how to break out of his cell from his “homies” and years of cycling into and out of the criminal justice system.

“When you’re facing life already, you have nothing to lose,” he said.

Dyer said a small number of inmates may want to attack a deputy or custody assistant, but most are looking to assault a fellow inmate.

“What’s commonly called a ‘green-lighter,’” said Dyer. “Somebody who’s a drop-out from a gang on the street or somebody who has committed an act inside the jails in violation of gang codes. Those are the individuals they’re after.”


“MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” …WHAT ABOUT YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN OF COLOR?

Last week, President Barack Obama launched an important initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

The Nation’s Dani McClain says—that’s great, but minority girls need just as much help. Here are some clips:

If streets corners, classrooms, workplaces and court systems are inhospitable to and dangerous for black and Latino boys and men, how do they affect the girls and women who are often right by their sides? After all, boys and men don’t exist in a vacuum.

In fact, black and Latina girls and women also struggle to succeed in school, avoid the criminal justice system, and find and keep good jobs. Nearly 40% of black and Latina girls fail to graduate high school on time. Black girls experience sexual violence at rates higher than their white and Latina counterparts, and intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death among black women between the ages of 15 and 35. This is perhaps not the kind of violence Obama’s initiative is drawing attention to, but it’s violence just the same.

[SNIP]

In the past thirty years, women have entered US prisons at nearly double the rate of men, with the female population behind bars growing by more than 800 percent, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Racial disparities exist for the female prisoner population, too. Black women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated and Latina women are nearly 70 percent more likely.

The president’s initiative promises to create economic opportunities for boys and young men, and girls and young women could use a hand in this arena as well. A study of black unemployment found that black teenage boys and girls experienced similar rates of joblessness during 2011—a low of 35 percent for black girls and 39 percent for black boys and a high of 48 percent for both. The same UC Berkeley Labor Center study found that between 2009 and 2011, the unemployment rate declined slightly for black men but joblessness actually increased for black women. Unemployment rates fell for both white men and white women during this time.


LAPD MAKES HAPPY BIRTHDAY / GET WELL VIDEO FOR YOUNG BOY WITH LEUKEMIA

The LAPD put together a very sweet video for Tyler Seddon, a young boy celebrating his seventh birthday while fighting leukemia for a second time. Tyler’s mother set up a Facebook account asking her son’s heroes, first responders, to send him birthday cards.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Obama, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 6 Comments »

Fighting Zero-Tolerance in a North Carolina County…Why States Turn to Private Prisons…Foster Kids’ Need for Consistent Education…and Disney Cuts $$ to Boy Scouts Citing Anti-Gay Policy

March 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“MISSION CRITICAL” DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS KIDS BEING PUSHED THROUGH THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

In the nationwide push to end the school to prison pipeline, many school districts are turning away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline practices (LAUSD included). Last week, President Obama launched an important initiative to keep kids of color in school and out of the justice system, but there is still much work to be done.

A new documentary produced by Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina) looks at the battle raging in Wake County, North Carolina, where 10% of kids were suspended during the 2011-12 year.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the documentary (which can be watched in its entirety in the above video). Here’s a clip:

The lawyers and staff of the organization bought a $200 camera and over 18 months shot raw interviews of parents and students who’ve been affected by the pipeline. After piecing it together, “Mission Critical: Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Wake County” was released last week at a community screening.

“We really wanted to humanize and personalize what really is a civil rights crisis in our community,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services and one of the film’s directors.

Wake County Public Schools has one the biggest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation, Langberg said. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district gave out 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions. The figure amounts to one suspension given for every 10 students, according to a report by Advocates for Children’s Services.


PRIVATE PRISONS: EXTRA SPACE FOR STATES WITH OVERCROWDING PROBLEMS, BUT IS IT WORTH IT?

For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America claim to save states money, but often have less than desirable track records, and employ lock-up quotas. (WLA previously pointed to CCA’s run-in with contempt of court in Idaho.)

Politico’s Matt Stroud takes a closer look at why states, including California, (and even the feds) enter into contract with private prisons. Here’s a clip:

In October, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison behemoth, onlookers might’ve wondered if he’d been following the news.

The same could be asked of Wall Street in general. Over the last five years, CCA’s stock price has increased by more than 200 percent and earlier this month Jim Cramer’s investment website The Street praised the company’s “strengths” on Wall Street, enthusiastically rating its stock a “buy.”

As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government. Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013, its most ever and more than a hundredfold increase since the company went public ten years ago.

But while privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea.

[BIG SNIP]

Yet companies such as CCA continue to get contracts—and Congress has been one of the industry’s benefactors. A 2009 change to the Department of Homeland Security’s federal spending bill requires officials to keep 34,000 people in federal immigration detention centers operated by private prison companies. The federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service all contract with private prison companies.

Again: Why?

Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.

Gilroy is director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to government problems and has also received financial support from both CCA and the GEO Group. He explains the lure of private prisons as a simple matter of cost and convenience: “It costs a lot of money to open a prison,” he says. “And to have it fully ready, you need a full contingent of staff, you need to set that staff up with health care, arrange for maintenance workers, provide food and utilities. And that’s a big order, particularly if you’re in a rush.” Private prisons can fill that rush order, he says.

A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California

(Read on.)

Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for CCA wrote a lengthy reply to Stroud’s Politico story. Owen says that Stroud only focused on the company’s problem areas, or “challenges,” and says there are many positive things CCA is doing for states and inmates. Here’s a clip:

The opinion writer opens his piece with ill-informed commentary about CCA’s relationship with California. In fact, there is perhaps no better example of the important role we can play in addressing corrections challenges. The difficulties the state has faced with overcrowded facilities are well documented, and for more than seven years, CCA has provided an important relief valve to help them manage their inmate population. Our facilities and professional staff have alleviated unsafe conditions and created opportunities for offenders to access a wide range of programs that prepare them to re-enter their communities once their time is served. The most recent iteration of our partnership is an innovative agreement that allows California to lease needed space from our company and staff the facility with public employees.

Additionally, the tools we are providing to help manage this difficult situation are being delivered at a significant cost savings. Overall, economists from Temple University, in an independent study receiving a partial grant from our industry, analyzed state government data and found companies like ours save 12 percent to 58 percent in long-term taxpayer costs.

The opinion piece moves on from California to cherry-pick stories of incidents that portray our company and industry through a lens that is not only incomplete but also often factually inaccurate and disingenuous. It is an unfortunate reality that no corrections system—public or private—is immune to challenges. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working each and every day to address concerns head on and learn from our mistakes, as we have recently in Idaho…

And here’s what Owen has to say about those pesky lock-up quotas:

I also want to address the issue of minimum-occupancy guarantees. Fewer than half of our contracts have them, and those that do contain explicit provisions allowing our government partners to terminate the agreement in a short period of time if the capacity is no longer needed. The idea that somehow our partners are locked into space they aren’t using is grounded more in politics than in fact…


FOSTER KIDS WHO REPEATEDLY CHANGE HOUSES AND SCHOOLS LOSE MONTHS OF EDUCATION, LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE

The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey has a worthwhile story about how frequent uprooting and instability in a foster kid’s life create significant gaps in learning and reduce their likelihood of graduating high school. Here are some clips (but do go read the rest):

When 12-year-old Jimmy Wayne’s parents dropped him off at a motel and drove away, he became the newest member of the North Carolina Foster Care system. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended 12 different schools.

“I don’t even remember what I learned—no, let me rephrase that—I don’t remember what they tried to teach me—after fifth grade,” he told me recently. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about science, I was thinking about what I was going to eat that day or where I could get clothes. When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

[SNIP]

Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster care children years behind their peers. Falling behind isn’t the only problem with frequent school moves: School transfers also decrease the chances a foster care student will ever graduate from high school.

[SNIP]

Kate Burdick, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Juvenile Law Center, shared the changes she’d make that would greatly improve the chances that children in foster care get the educational stability they need:

Schools must ensure school stability for children in foster care by requiring schools to be flexible around residency requirements in order to allow children to remain in the same school or district, and provide the supports to make that stability happen, such as reliable transportation and dedicated adult liaisons who can provide academic support.

Promote greater collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools in order to ensure that foster children’s particular educational needs are being met.

Collect tracking data on educational progress and outcomes, including attendance, school moves, enrollment delays and academic outcomes in order to reveal where policies and practices could be improved.

(For recent stories on the state of foster care in Los Angeles County, go here and here.)


DISNEY TO STOP GIVING MONEY TO BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OVER ANTI-GAY POLICY

The Walt Disney Company is cutting funding to the Boy Scouts of America starting in 2015 because of its policy banning gay scout leaders.

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

The Boy Scouts organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect the organization’s ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.

[BIG SNIP]

The memo was posted on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that is critical of the Boy Scouts’ policy to ban adult gay troop leaders.

Last week corporate giants like Delta, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple threatened to move outside of Arizona if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto legislation that would have let businesses refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. (Bloomberg’s Thomas Black and Jennifer Oldham have that story.)

It’s heartening to see these two instances of corporate America standing up for LGBT equality.

Posted in CDCR, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LGBT, Obama, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Obama Launches Initiative to Help Minority Boys and Men, This Week at the Supreme Court, ALADS’ Sheriff Candidate Debate, and an Open Letter from Paul Tanaka

February 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HELPING BOYS AND YOUNG MEN OF COLOR BREAKING FREE OF THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

On Thursday, President Barack Obama officially launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” the initiative to end the school-to-prison pipeline for young men and boys of color nationwide. “My Brother’s Keeper” will connect with non-profits and businesses to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color succeed.

Here’s a clip from President Obama’s speech (the entirety of which you can watch in the video above):

…we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they are in ninth grade, they are twice as likely to drop out.

That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines, not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior, as opposed to bad behavior out of school.

We can make classes good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future.

And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong, in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.

…we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he’s almost as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.

And that means then they’re more likely to be employable and to invest in their own families and to pass on a legacy of love and hope. And, finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be disconnected, not in school, not in working.

We have got to reconnect them. We have got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We have got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We have got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.

We can keep them from falling through the cracks and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life.

And here’s a clip from the Advancement Project’s announcement and response to the newly launched initiative:

“It is momentous that in the first 60 days of this year, both President Obama and Attorney General Holder have addressed barriers to opportunity that are facing people of color, especially young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis…

“We are pleased that the Obama Administration will focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline caused by overuse of suspensions and arrests, pushing young people off of an academic track and onto a track to prison…

[SNIP]

“We are encouraged to see President Obama use his platform to specifically support boys and young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Constance L. Rice. “From our work in the city of Los Angeles’ gang violence hot zones, we know that community safety is of paramount importance to this demographic, with young Black men 10 times more likely and young Latino men three times more likely to be killed by guns than young White men. We need a comprehensive, public health-based community safety strategy to reverse this trend…


SCOTUS ON WARRANTLESS SEARCHES AND ASSET FORFEITURE

This week, the United States Supreme Court issued two noteworthy criminal justice rulings.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that if a person objects to a warrantless search of his home, but then leaves the residence (in this case, by arrest), officers can still conduct the search with the consent of a different occupant. (Here’s some backstory.)

The LA Times editorial board says this ruling may give officers a reason to arrest someone just to sidestep a refused search. Here are some clips:

The 6-3 decision eviscerated a 2006 ruling in which the court ruled that police must respect “a physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search” even if a spouse or roommate gives consent.

Walter Fernandez, a robbery suspect, made it abundantly clear to LAPD officers in 2009 that he didn’t want them to search his apartment, saying: “You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights.”

Or at least he thought he did. Police arrested Fernandez, and an hour later an officer returned and asked Roxanne Rojas, Fernandez’ companion, for permission to search the apartment. The search turned up gang paraphernalia, a knife and a gun, and Fernandez was eventually convicted of robbery and domestic abuse.

[SNIP]

By blessing the warrantless search of Fernandez’s apartment, the majority not only undermined its previous ruling but also sent a message that police can skirt the 4th Amendment and not be punished for it by the courts.

In another 6-3 Tuesday ruling, the Court said that a defendant who has been indicted by a grand jury has no right to contest pre-trial asset forfeiture.

Slate’s Chanakya Sethi has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, thus concluded Justice Elena Kagan that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial. In an odd ideological lineup, the dissenters were Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Kaleys’ saga began more than nine years ago when Kerri, a medical device salesperson, learned that she was under investigation by federal authorities for stealing devices from hospitals. Kerri admits she took some devices and later sold them with Brian’s help, but she says the devices she took were unwanted, outdated models that the hospitals were glad to be rid of—in effect, that she couldn’t steal something that was given to her…

With charges looming, the Kaleys sought an estimate from their lawyers of how much mounting a defense would cost. The answer: $500,000. (That figure may seem high, but sadly the government agreed it was reasonable.) The Kaleys took out a home equity loan and used the $500,000 to purchase a certificate of deposit, which they planned to spend on lawyers.

Then came the grand jury indictment and with it a nasty surprise: an order freezing essentially all their assets, including the CD that was meant to pay their legal bills. The only assets exempt from the order—Kerri’s retirement account and their children’s college funds—weren’t enough to cover the $500,000 estimate. And if the Kaleys liquidated those funds, they’d have owed $183,500 in tax penalties. The bottom line: They could no longer pay for their lawyer of choice even though, as the government agreed, that’s what the Sixth Amendment right to counsel protects.


CLOSED-DOOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

Last week, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) held a members-only debate at the county Hall of Administration between the candidates running for sheriff. The debate had some interesting moments, and focused on the need for department reforms, along with other issues important to deputies.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who has been criticized for helping foster a culture of abuse inside the jails, criticized the department’s inmate education program.

“Deputies should not be teaching inmates how to read while they should be manning security posts, OK?” he said, prompting loud cheers.

In a statement to The Times, Tanaka said he wasn’t opposed to educating inmates “as long as it does not take away from the limited resources which are needed to run the jails and protect the public.”

In interviews afterward, the other candidates took aim at Tanaka, who seemed to be the crowd favorite based on applause. His opponents said Tanaka’s comment showed his shortsightedness about the role education can play in keeping inmates from re-offending after they are released.

“To show that lack of compassion for people who can’t read is exactly why I’m running,” Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold said.

The candidates acknowledged during the debate, which took place last week, that the recent federal indictments against deputies and reports of poor hiring show that reform is needed. But they also assured the audience that they believed that a great majority of deputies follow policy.

Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told the deputies that he took exception with some outside criticisms of the department. Some time after Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell promised to “restore that shine and that luster to the badge,” Rogers said: “Others talk about our badge being tarnished. With all due respect to all of them, my star is just as shiny as it used to be, and so is yours.”


PAUL TANAKA “SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT”

On Thursday, (a day after the new issue of LA Magazine hit newsstands) former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka published an open letter to “set the record straight” about his involvement in a number of LASD scandals.

Here’s how the letter opens:

After dedicating three decades of my life to public safety, I have suffered overwhelming character attacks over the last two years by nameless “sources” who have continuously falsified accounts of my behavior and my leadership for their own self-purpose and notoriety. I have always believed that the focus of law enforcement officials should remain on public safety and the community rather than combating the latest news story, however, I can no longer remain quiet as others continue to paint fiction and call it truth. I would like to Set the Record Straight regarding my character and my record once and for all.

First and foremost, during my 33 years in law enforcement I have never condoned nor encouraged excessive force or deputy misconduct. In fact, in the past I have been highlighted as a strict no-nonsense disciplinarian. It wasn’t until there were talks throughout the Department that I may run for Sheriff that these accusations began. Many of my accusers feared the standard of accountability they would be held to should I become Sheriff. Throughout my career, I have always demanded our Department employees, particularly high-ranking executives, perform the duties and tasks the people of Los Angeles County pay them for, and expect from us, with no exception.

And here are Tanaka’s thoughts on a certain online publication’s stories about a private smoking patio, and his alleged pay-to-play system:

Furthermore, an online publication has written countless stories about a secret patio that was supposedly reserved for a secret circle of department employees that had to possess “challenge coins” in order to gain entrance. In addition, this same publication has also alleged that those who donated to my Mayoral campaign would then be promoted in the Department. First, the process for promotion in the Sheriff¹s Department is an uncompromising and strictly defined process. Promotions are based on a set of qualifications determined by the Department and the County. In addition, promotions to Lieutenant and higher were appointed solely by the Sheriff. No one who has ever donated to my City Council campaign has ever been given special treatment. Period. Second, the employee patio that was mentioned is an open air, out-door patio with poles that support its roof. It is open to all civilian and sworn employees and was commonly used for cigarette breaks, barbecues, meetings, etc. The coins they referred to were created, passed out and sold by Chief Buddy Goldman and retired Captain Joe Gonzales. To my knowledge, they were nothing more than a souvenir item anyone in the department could obtain.

Posted in LASD, Obama, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | 54 Comments »

WLA on Madeleine Brand Show Wed. Talking About Baca & LASD….Closing the Camp Kilpatrick Sports Program?…. How Has Prez Done on Criminal Justice?….Farewell to Harold Ramis

February 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WITNESSLA ON MADELEINE BRAND SHOW AT 12 NOON WED TALKING ABOUT LEE BACA & THE LASD: UPDATED

I’ll be on KCRW’s new Madeleine Brand show on Wednesday at 12 noon, 89.9 FM. We’ll be talking about my lengthy article on former Sheriff Lee Baca that is in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine (due out Wednesday).

UPDATE: I originally thought it was going to be broadcast Tuesday, but although it was taped Tuesday morning, it’ll be broadcast on Wednesday.

You can listen in real time. I’ll also link to the podcast after the show.

(And here’s a link to a sort of teaser interview that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me about the story.)

Obviously, I’ll let you know when the story itself is out!


CLOSING THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM?

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a story on the possible closure of the famous juvenile sports program at LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick.

We’ll have a lot more on this issue in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from Banks’ column:

A sports program that brought national acclaim to a Los Angeles County probation camp is headed for extinction — unless it can prove that it helps youthful offenders stay trouble-free.

For more than 20 years, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has been the only juvenile correctional facility in the state to field teams that compete against public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.

The camp’s football team inspired the 2006 movie “Gridiron Gang” and sent several players to college. Its basketball team has come close to being a regional champion. Its soccer program produced this year’s Delphic League MVP.

But Camp Kilpatrick is being torn down next month and will be rebuilt on a new model — one that stresses education, counseling and vocational training over competitive sports.

It’s part of a long-overdue shift in the county juvenile justice system, from boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach to rehabilitating young people.

Still, it would be a loss to the young men incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick if sports are a casualty of reform….

We agree. Read the rest here.


NY TIMES’ BILL KELLER ASSESSES OBAMA ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE RECORD & HOLDER SEZ SENTENCING REFORM WILL BE DEFINING

In his final column for the paper, outgoing NY Times editor-in-chief, Bill Keller grades President Obama on his criminal justice reform record.

Here’s a clip:

I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin.

It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.

Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had high expectations.

In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project (after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this president has lived up to those high expectations so far…..

[HUG SNIP]

“This is something that matters to the president,” [US Attorney General Eric] Holder assured me last week. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.”


A FAREWELL TO HAROLD RAMIS….TOO SOON! TOO SOON!


Radiantly, brilliantly, humanely funny.
It seems terribly wrong that Harold Ramis is dead.

Above is writer, actor, director Ramis talking to students about “good comedy.” With his films such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and more, Harold Ramis showed how it was done.

Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LASD, Life in general, Obama, Probation, racial justice, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 12 Comments »

LA Sheriff Scott Interview, LA Supes to Scrutinize Youth Indigent Defense, LASD IG Addresses Public, and Obama’s New Initiative for Young Men of Color

February 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS LA COUNTY INTERIM SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, the new LA County Sheriff, John Scott, discusses why he was chosen as interim sheriff, and what he hopes to accomplish in the next ten months (when a permanent sheriff will be elected). Here’s a clip:

PM: Are more indictments coming?

JS: I’ve asked for a meeting with the federal prosecutor to see whether I can find out.

PM: You have at most 10 months before a new, elected sheriff comes in. What problems need fixing, and why did the Board of Supervisors believe you were the man to do it?

JS: They were looking for an individual who was not going to run for the position, and I had the unique perspective of working both L.A. and Orange County with [some] similar issues: problems in the jail and badges [issued to politicians or supporters].

The image has been tarnished. Things were done that are being investigated that certainly we’re accountable for, but the vast majority of deputies are doing a very professional job.

One of my goals is to restore an image but also the confidence of our public. Then we have accountability. Some things that were in place when I left, I want to restore.

We had SCIF, Sheriff’s Critical Incident Forum, a quarterly look at all the different factors that go into an operation. We determined if there were spikes or trends, and we analyzed why is this high or why is this low. It’s good to take metrics and analyze them and take good ideas and apply them across the board.

PM: Of the 60 reforms recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, how many have been done?

JS: Close to 50.

PM: So the hard parts are left?

JS: It’s hard in terms of financing. We have to find funding for some of the last components. Policy change and supervisorial monitoring are things we can do pretty quickly, but when you talk about a culture that exists, that takes more than a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

PM: And you’ve been brought in to do the hard stuff and deliver bad news?

JS: I’ve done it before and I’m willing to do it again, because it’s the right thing to do.

PM: We may elect a sheriff in June, or there may be a runoff in November. How can you work with that timing uncertainty?

JS: My game plan is to push as much through as I can in 10 months. I feel it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a clear [winner] in June. I’m looking at this as a 10-month program, but I’m concentrating heavily on the first four months. I’ll [also] be reaching out to each of the candidates about their own plans and goals as we move forward.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS ORDER REVIEW OF JUVENILE INDIGENT DEFENSE IN LA

The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion (by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system, including how panel attorneys—private attorneys assigned to kids the public defender’s office cannot represent—are compensated.

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

Under-age criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer are generally represented by someone from the county public defender’s office. But when that office is already representing another defendant in the case or a special circumstance arises, lawyers from a separate panel step in to remove the potential conflict of interest.

Advocates argue that the switch creates another problem: The private lawyers the county contracts with for these cases, known as panel attorneys, are paid less — a flat rate of $319 to $345 per case — and may not represent their clients as vigorously.

“Children charged with crimes are not only entitled to competent representation but an opportunity to avoid the prison pipeline if it is at all possible to do so,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the review.

[SNIP]

The review will include looking at the compensation systems in other counties and the resources and training given to attorneys. It will also consider a set of guidelines for defense attorneys proposed by Michael Nash, presiding judge of the county’s Juvenile Court.


INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR LASD ADDRESSES COMMUNITY AT TOWN HALL MEETING

The new Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, spoke to the public for the first time at a town hall meeting on Monday. Huntsman, who took the role of independent LASD watchdog at the beginning of the year, discussed jail violence and recent indictments, and his intent to bring accountability to the department.

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

…there’s been a question of what sort of oversight the department should have. An elected official, the sheriff is an atypical law enforcement leader in that he or she is accountable only to the voters – not a civilian oversight board, or elected officials, or an institutional watchdog.

Nevertheless, creating a way to monitor the department has been the goal of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for several years. Supervisors have power over the law enforcement agency’s budget, but not much else. The answer was to create the office of the Inspector General and hire former public corruption prosecutor, Max Huntsman, to the post.

At a town hall organized by the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress, Huntsman acknowledged that while he lacks formal power, he’s hopeful that he’ll have the necessary tools to inspire change at the sheriff’s department.

“I can’t force change. I can’t order the sheriff’s department to do anything,” Huntsman said, noting to the audience that local and state law gives the sheriff sole authority over his or her department. “The power that I have comes from you.”

Huntsman noted that the vast majority of sheriff’s deputies are “heroes,” and that his job is to bring attention to those who fall short. He outlined his vision for the new office as a bridge between the community and the sheriff’s department.

…By hiring attorneys, retired police officers, and investigators to staff the inspector general office, he said he hopes to gain credibility with both the public and the department. The primary role will be to monitor department’s activities, audit expenditures, select which investigations to pursue, and lobby for changes, he said.

(Read on.)


OBAMA LAUNCHES EFFORT TO HELP YOUNG MINORITY MEN FLOURISH

On Thursday, President Obama will launch an initiative to stop the school-to-prison pipeline for young men of color across the nation. The initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” will connect businesses and non-profits to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color “reach their full potential.”

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb has the story. Here’s how it opens:

President Obama will launch a significant new effort Thursday to bolster the lives of young minority men, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison.

The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will bring foundations and companies together to test a range of strategies to support such young men, taking steps to keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system, a White House official said. Obama will also announce a more vigorous program to evaluate policies and publicize results to school systems around the country.

The effort will seek “to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. “The initiative will be focused on implementing strategies that are proven to get results.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Obama, Public Defender, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

Juvenile Justice Roundup: California Suspension & Expulsion Rates Fall, San Francisco School Nixes Zero-Tolerance, Help for Trafficked Girls at an Alameda County Courthouse…and More

January 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUSPENSION AND EXPULSION RATES DROP IN CALIFORNIA

In California, suspensions were down 14% and expulsions dropped 12% in 2013. While this is welcome news, the numbers are still inordinately high at 609,471 and 8,562, respectively.

The LA Times Teresa Watanabe has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

The number of suspensions dropped by 14.1% to 609,471 last year from 709,596 over the previous year. Expulsions declined by 12.3% to 8,562 from 9,758 over the same period, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Suspensions declined among nearly all ethnic groups, including reductions of about 10% for African Americans, Latinos and whites. But, continuing a pattern that has prompted national concern, African Americans were still disproportionately suspended, with a rate of 16.2% last year although they make up 6.3% of the statewide student population.

The data represent the state’s first year-to-year comparison of disciplinary actions taken against students including their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Although fewer students are being removed from the classroom in every demographic across the state, the rates remain troubling and show that educators and school communities have a long road ahead,” Torlakson said in a statement.

(Read on for more, including data on how LA Unified is fairing with its push for alternative discipline strategies.)


WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: A FOCUS ON A SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL’S DISCIPLINE TRANSFORMATION

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of how one San Francisco elementary school, in particular, has dropped its overall suspension rate a whopping 89% by implementing trauma-informed practices. Here are some clips:

For one young student – let’s call him Martin — the 2012-2013 school year at El Dorado Elementary in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco was a tough one, recalls Joyce Dorado, director of UCSF HEARTS — Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools.

“He was hurting himself in the classroom, kicking the teacher, just blowing out of class many times a week.” There was good reason. The five-year-old was exposed to chronic violence and suffered traumatic losses. His explosions were normal reactions to events that overwhelmed him.

This year, Martin’s doing better. That’s because he spent months working with a HEARTS therapist, and that therapist worked with his teachers and other school staff to create a more safe and supportive learning environment. Still, on days when he feels extremely anxious, Martin sometimes asks to visit the school’s Wellness Center, a small, bright room stocked with comforting places to sit, headphones to listen to music, and soft and squishy toys.

“If a student starts to lose it, the teacher can give the kid a pass to go to the Wellness Center,” says Dorado. “The kid signs in, circles emotions on a ‘feelings’ chart (to help the person who staffs the center understand how to help the child). The staff member starts a timer. The kid gets five to 10 minutes. The kid can sit on the couch with a blanket, listen to music, squeeze rubber balls to relieve tension and anger, or talk to the staff member. Kids who use the room calm down so that they can go back to class…

[SNIP]

In 2008-2009, the year before HEARTS was introduced at El Dorado, there were 674 referrals – students sent to the principal’s office for fighting, yelling, or some other inappropriate behavior.

During the last school year – 2012-2013, there was a 74% drop, to only 175. This year, only 50 referrals have occurred.

There were 80 suspensions in 2008-2009. And although suspensions increased for four years to 150 in 2011-2012, last year they dropped 89%, to only 17. So far this year, only three students have been suspended.

As El Dorado Elementary School Principal Silvia Cordero thought when she first heard about trauma-informed practices: “Why don’t all schools have this?”

[SNIP]

It’s a public health issue, explains Dorado, because the toxic stress caused by chronic trauma can harm children’s brains. Toxic stress alters the brain’s structure and functioning, so that a child is hyper-vigilant. With their trigger reset on “red alert”, they can flip into “fight, fight, or freeze” mode even when they aren’t in real danger. As a result, they can have trouble concentrating, learning, or sitting still. They can erupt into rages, lash out at others or hurt themselves. Or they can withdraw in fear and not participate in anything that’s going on around them. None of this behavior is intentional, says Dorado.

Many teachers and principals think kids’ “bad” behavior is deliberate, and that the kids can control it. But it’s often not and they can’t – not without help, says Dorado. Their behaviors are a normal response to stresses they’re not equipped to deal with. Throwing a punch makes sense if they’re jumping in to defend their mother from an alcoholic raging father; screaming in fury is a normal reaction to a bully who continuously harasses them. But when the raised voice of a teacher or a counselor who’s criticizing them inadvertently triggers the same response, these behaviors look “abnormal, rude, or inappropriate,” says Dorado. “So, they’re getting kicked out of class and disengage from school. That puts our kids at incredible risk for later problems, including imprisonment.”


AN ALAMEDA COUNTY COURT’S COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO HELPING EXPLOITED GIRLS

In Alameda County, an innovative court for at-risk girls—primarily aimed at helping young girls forced into prostitution—has collaborated with social services to provide teens with crucial resources and personal guidance to help them out of crisis situations.

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the Alameda County Girls Court’s specialized approach. Here’s a clip:

Girls Court brings an all-hands-on-deck approach to the lives of vulnerable girls, linking them to social service agencies, providing informal Saturday sessions on everything from body image to legal jargon, and offering a team of adults in whom they can develop trust. And while still in its early years, the system is showing promise.

Founded two and a half years ago and carved out of the existing juvenile court, the Girls Court is for young women considered most at risk, especially those forced into prostitution. It is part of a network of a half-dozen or so Girls Courts around the country, each with a different emphasis. The results have been encouraging: The court in Hawaii, a program where both parents and girls attend counseling for a year, has led to a marked decrease in detentions, according to a 2011 evaluation. The Orange County Girls court, which was started in 2009, intervenes in the lives of teenage girls in long-term foster care, with preliminary studies suggesting better grades and fewer placements.

“It’s a unique alignment between adversaries,” Laurel Bellows, a Chicago lawyer and co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s anti-trafficking task force, said of the court’s collaborative approach. “These are not easy victims to deal with.”


MISSING FROM THE STATE OF THE UNION: DRUG POLICY AND MASS INCARCERATION

On Monday, we pointed to an op-ed by Juliet Sorensen (daughter of Ted Sorensen, JFK’s speechwriter and advisor), urging Obama to address drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech. Drug policy was nowhere to be seen in Tuesday’s speech, but that wasn’t the only elephant missing from the room.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf lists several other relevant topics that didn’t make the cut—like the mass-incarceration epidemic.

Here’s a small clip:

Drug reform is the one that disappointed me most. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is hugely significant, given the number of Americans who are locked in cages under prohibition, the disproportionate impact on minority families, and the tension between anti-prohibitionist states and federal law enforcement. Obama told the New Yorker’s editor that state legalization experiments should go forward. But drug policy was missing from his speech.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice, Obama, Restorative Justice, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Homeboy Needs Funding to Continue Crucial Services…Cams in LA Jails a Success…More LASD Indictments?…and Drug Sentencing Reform and the State of the Union

January 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES FORESEES MORE LAYOFFS WITHOUT DESPERATELY NEEDED FUNDING

Of late, it has become a distressing fact of LA County life that, for all the indispensable work done by Homeboy Industries—the respected gang recovery program that for over 25 years has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—in the past few years, the program’s famous founder, Father Greg Boyle, has not been able to raise enough money keep Homeboy’s services fully afloat. As a consequence, last year, Boyle had to lay off 40 people. This year, if more government funding doesn’t find it’s way to Homeboy, an estimated 60 additional people will have to be laid off.

This doesn’t seem to prevent various LA County agencies from relying on Homeboy for services—without paying a penny in return.

This was part of the message that Boyle brought when Chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff, invited the priest to speak at last week’s commission meeting.

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.

Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.

Making ends meet.

“Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%,” Boyle told the police commissioners.

And then he had this pithy observation:

“I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we’d be endowed by now. But we’re a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It’s a tough sell, but a good bet.”

[SNIP]

Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.

“I’m heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%,” Boyle told the commission. “And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that.”

But Boyle didn’t hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy’s services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.

“We shouldn’t be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself,” he said. “They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”

[SNIP]

…this is Los Angeles, home to 22 billionaires at last count. Home to a Hollywood crowd that congratulates itself for its social conscience and, in just one night at George Clooney’s house, raised $15 million for Barack Obama — more than Homeboy’s annual budget.


CAMERAS PLACED IN LA COUNTY JAILS PROVIDE “AN OBJECTIVE EYE,” SAYS OIR REPORT

Video cameras installed in LA County jails in 2011 have proven to be greatly helpful in determining which party is telling the truth in excessive use-of-force allegations against deputies, according to a new report from the LASD watchdog, Office of Independent Review. The cameras (more than 1500 between CJ, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center) were put up amid a 2011 federal investigation into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report released by the agency’s civilian monitor Thursday found that the footage has helped to exonerate deputies who were falsely accused and build cases against those who break the rules.

“The department now has a video record of 90% of force incidents in its downtown jails and is no longer completely reliant on ‘observations’ of inmates and jail deputies,” the report by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review stated.

Dozens of cameras were installed inside the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2011 — when the FBI’s investigation of deputy misconduct inside the lockups first became publicly known. Today there are 705 cameras in the facility, with about 840 more in the sheriff’s other downtown jail facilities, Twin Towers and the Inmate Reception Center.

Gennaco’s report found that there are still areas of the lockups that cameras don’t cover, causing shortcomings in some investigations, but that overall, use-of-force investigations have improved because of the cameras.

A multi-million dollar surveillance system for CJ was in the works all the way back in 2006, only to be abandoned by LASD officials. (You can read more in the first installment of Matt Fleischer’s “Dangerous Jails” series.) A number of cameras were purchased later, in 2010, and then tucked away in someone’s office for a year before actually being installed at Men’s Central.

In their latest report, the Office of Independent Review laments that the cameras were not put in place sooner:

…the success of the cameras causes us to question why it took so long to heed our requests for this technology. However, rather than labor to try to understand the delay, we embrace the video cameras that help us with making credibility and accountability calls that were not possible in the years during which the LA County jails did without.


ARE THERE MORE INDICTMENTS IN STORE FOR THE LASD?

David Ono of ABC7 digs into rumors of further indictments headed for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Here’s the backstory, if you missed it.) Here’s how it opens:

Seven sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant’s FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?

Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?

Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.

That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”

It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men’s Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown’s cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.

What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

“They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI,” said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.

Brown was moved — allegedly hidden — for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.

“These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department,” said Eliasberg.

(Read the rest.)


OBAMA SHOULD CALL FOR SENTENCING REFORM IN HIS STATE OF THE UNION, SAYS SORENSEN

In an excellent piece for the Atlantic, Juliet Sorensen, daughter of Ted Sorensen (JFK’s advisor and speech-writer) makes a case for Obama including drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Here’s how it opens:

In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.

As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”

President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs. In a January 8 statement, Obama endorsed the very same priorities articulated in LBJ’s War on Poverty and catalogued exactly 50 years ago in Johnson’s own State of the Union address. This indicates that he will also focus on income inequality—21st century lingo for entrenched poverty—in his speech on January 28. While a renewed commitment to tackling persistent poverty is laudable, Obama should also seize the moment to further another, related legislative aim of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations: reduced sentencing for drug-law violators who are nonviolent offenders.

The stark increase in federal inmates in recent decades has overcrowded prisons, impeded rehabilitation, and cost taxpayers millions. A “lock them up and throw away the key” response to the rise of crack cocaine 30 years ago—echoing Johnson’s reaction on that December night—resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners in the United States between 1980 and 2012…

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, jail, LASD, Obama, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | 7 Comments »

Kids Still Locked Up for Life Despite SCOTUS Rulings…Youth Justice Grant $$ Cut from Federal Budget….Obama on Marijuana Policy…and the US Immigration Lock-Up Quota

January 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STATES’ RESPONSES TO SUPREME COURT RULINGS ON LIFE SENTENCES FOR JUVENILES

The United States Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life sentences for kids via the 2010 Graham v. Florida and the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decisions. In Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS ruled that juveniles cannot serve life without the possibility of parole where no murder was involved—kids must be given a chance to seek parole based on their level of rehabilitation. The Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for children was unconstitutional (but did not strike down LWOP for youth altogether).

Many states are dragging their feet, only partially complying with the landmark rulings. (See clip below for how California’s efforts rate.)

The NY Times’ Eric Eckholm has the story. Here are some clips:

In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.

But most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings, which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts…

Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in nonhomicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing…

The plaintiff in one of the Florida lawsuits, Shimeek Gridine, was 14 when he and a 12-year-old partner made a clumsy attempt to rob a man in 2009 here in Jacksonville. As the disbelieving victim turned away, Shimeek fired a shotgun, pelting the side of the man’s head and shoulder.

The man was not seriously wounded, but Shimeek was prosecuted as an adult. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery, hoping for leniency as a young offender with no record of violence. The judge called his conduct “heinous” and sentenced him to 70 years without parole.

Under Florida law, he cannot be released until he turns 77, at least, several years beyond the life expectancy for a black man his age, noted his public defender, who called the sentence “de facto life without parole” in an appeal to Florida’s high court.

[SNIP]

Among the handful of states with large numbers of juvenile offenders serving life terms, California is singled out by advocates for acting in the spirit of the Supreme Court rules.

“California has led the way in scaling back some of the extreme sentencing policies it imposed on children,” said Jody Kent Lavy, the director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which has campaigned against juvenile life sentences and called on states to reconsider mandatory terms dispensed before the Miller ruling. Too many states, she said, are “reacting with knee-jerk, narrow efforts at compliance.”

California is allowing juvenile offenders who were condemned to life without parole to seek a resentencing hearing. The State Supreme Court also addressed the issue of de facto life sentences, voiding a 110-year sentence that had been imposed for attempted murder.


SUBSTANTIAL FEDERAL JUVENILE JUSTICE GRANT CUT FROM BUDGET

Funding for the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JAGB) was cut from the 2014 budget Congress sent to the president’s desk late last week. The grant provided money for important programs across the country, including a restorative justice program in California that was successful in keeping kids out of the system. At the same time, the budget reserves $10M for building and expanding corrections facilities. Advocates are dismayed, saying the lost juvenile justice dollars indicate misplaced governmental priorities. (We agree.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Gary Gately has the story. Here’s a clip:

Juvenile offenders and their parents in California signed contracts agreeing to school attendance, curfews, drug testing and counseling – and the agreements prevented the youths from being incarcerated.

New York state funded programs in Syracuse and Utica to divert from arrest youths who had committed non-serious illegal acts at school.

Georgia made funds available to 159 county juvenile courts to find community-based services as alternatives to detention.

The efforts in the three states were funded in part by the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program, which gives states resources to improve juvenile justice systems.

But the JABG funding has been eliminated in a fiscal year 2014 spending bill released this week by House and Senate negotiators.

[SNIP]

[Executive Director of the Coalition for Youth Justice, Marie] Williams, told JJIE that the JABG funding “does a lot of really, really good things that I think states are going to be missing the funding for,” including prosecutors, drug courts, risk-assessment tools and school safety.

[SNIP]

While eliminating the JABG grant funding, the spending bill allows states to spend up to $10 million of the $55.5 million in Title II grants for “building, expanding, renovating, or operating temporary or permanent juvenile correction, detention or community corrections facilities.” (The Title II grants are based on formulas in which the federal government and states contribute to juvenile justice initiatives.)

Williams said singling out such facilities for funding reflects misplaced priorities on Capitol Hill.

“To us, it’s a clear indication they’re out step with the trend in juvenile justice, which is de-incarceration,” Williams said. “Why on the one hand is Congress defunding things like juvenile courts, restorative justice programs, improving juvenile justice systems, but making a point to include $10 million for juvenile corrections facilities?”


OBAMA ON MARIJUANA POLICY

In David Remnick’s interesting (and extensive) new profile of President Barack Obama for the New Yorker, the president shares his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana and the racial and social class sentencing disparity.

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion — the legalization of marijuana — he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked.

[SNIP]

Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.”


CONSEQUENCES OF THE US IMMIGRATION INCARCERATION QUOTA

For the last six years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been forced to fill a quota of 34,000 immigrants in lock-up at all times.

The NY Daily News’ Robert Morgenthau rightly points out that setting a numerical quotas when it comes to incarceration policy—for immigration or otherwise—-completely undermines the notion of justice in any court process. Here are some clips:

The detention quota is unprecedented and unique to the immigration context. As Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, explained to Bloomberg News in June 2013: “No other law enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people that they must keep in jail.”

But hard-liners in Congress fight tirelessly to keep it in place. Last year, when the prisoner population dipped to 30,773, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul wrote a pointed public letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, informing him that he was “in clear violation of the statute” and its 34,000 prisoner requirement.

Notice that’s not the number of immigrants Congress wants to deport; it’s the number Congress insists on incarcerating while they await their fate.

[SNIP]

Such a rigid number cannot help but have a corrupting influence on the entire process. Imagine trying to get a fair trial in criminal court if your state legislature mandated that judges had to fill a certain number of prison cells each day. It would be impossible.

How can lawyers representing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement do their job dispassionately — seeking incarceration only of those who truly represent a danger to society or a risk of flight — if they know their funding is dependent upon hitting a number?

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Obama, racial justice, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

Obama, the Inaugural Address, Gay Rights & Other Social Justice Issues

January 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


There is a lot of news that is worth your attention this week: a significant new report with implications about California’s probationers and parolees.
..some action on LA County probation’s use of solitary confinement for kids…additional LASD news….and more. But we’ll get to those issues tomorrow, and in coming days.

Today we are pausing to focus on Monday’s inauguration as it relates to a couple of the social justice topics that we discuss here at WitnessLA.

With that in mind, here are some stories, essays, and op eds that attempt to decode the import of the president’s speech, specifically, and the inauguration, in general:

(Here’s the text of Obama’s inaugural address, in case you need it for reference.)


AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT GAY RIGHTS SPEECH?

Well, Richard Socarides of the New Yorker thinks so, and makes his case.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

No one anticipated it, but President Barack Obama used the occasion of his second Inaugural Address to give what was perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history. Inaugural Addresses are, by their definition, important and defining occasions, when Presidents set the tone and direction for the coming four years. President Obama used the occasion to make the first direct reference to gay-rights in an Inaugural Address, and he did so with a power and forthrightness we have not heard before, even from him.

About two-thirds of the way into the speech, Obama referred to Stonewall, a gay bar where, in 1969, a police raid provoked a riot, in the same sentence as Seneca Falls and Selma—thus comparing the women’s and African-American civil-rights movements to the gay-rights struggle. Had he stopped there, it would have been historic—particularly coming from the first African-American President—but, in keeping with the tradition of politicians who refer to gay-rights obliquely or with code words, stopping short of directness.

But the President continued:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Not only was this a call to end discrimination, but an unambiguous argument for the recognition of same-sex marriage across the country. For a President who announced his support for marriage equality less than a year ago, after more reluctance (and suggestions about what could be left to the states) than many would have liked, this was a bold declaration….


THE DIFFERENCE FOUR YEARS MAKES

NY Times columnist, Frank Bruni, comments on the difference between Obama’s first inauguration and Monday’s when it comes to gay rights. Here’s a clip:

Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The alliteration of that litany made it seem obvious and inevitable, a bit of poetry just there for the taking. Just waiting to happen.

But it has waited a long time. And President Obama’s use of it in his speech on Monday — his grouping of those three places and moments in one grand and musical sentence — was bold and beautiful and something to hear. It spoke volumes about the progress that gay Americans have made over the four years between his first inauguration and this one, his second. It also spoke volumes about the progress that continues to elude us.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” the president said, taking a rapt country on a riveting trip to key theaters in the struggle for liberty and justice for all.

Seneca Falls is a New York town where, in 1848, the women’s suffrage movement gathered momentum. Selma is an Alabama city where, in 1965, marchers amassed, blood was shed and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood his ground against the unconscionable oppression of black Americans.

And Stonewall? This was the surprise inclusion, separating Obama’s oratory and presidency from his predecessors’ diction and deeds. It alludes to a gay bar in Manhattan that, in 1969, was raided by police, who subjected patrons to a bullying they knew too well. After the raid came riots, and after the riots came a more determined quest by L.G.B.T. Americans for the dignity they had long been denied.

The causes of gay Americans and black Americans haven’t always existed in perfect harmony, and that context is critical for appreciating Obama’s reference to Stonewall alongside Selma. Blacks have sometimes questioned gays’ use of “civil rights” to describe their own movement, and have noted that the historical experiences of the two groups aren’t at all identical. Obama moved beyond that, focusing on the shared aspirations of all minorities. It was a big-hearted, deliberate, compelling decision.

He went on, seconds later, to explicitly mention “gay” Americans, saying a word never before uttered in inaugural remarks. What shocked me most about that was how un-shocking it was.


OKAY, THAT’S ALL VERY NICE, BUT DOES IT SIGNAL A CONCRETE POLICY SHIFT THAT WILL RESULT IN ACTION?

In this LA Times Op Ed, Ken Dilanian and David G. Savage of the paper’s Washington Bureau, discuss the possible policy shifts the speech suggests—particularly when it comes to the stand the administration may or may not take with regard to the gay rights matters coming soon before the Supreme Court. Here’s a clip from their story:

“….Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he continued, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

The passage “was definitely one of those moments that took your breath away,” said Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian and Gay Band Assn., whose 215 members later marched past the president in the inaugural parade. “We understand the historical significance of it. What political significance it has remains to be seen.”

Obama, who only last spring hesitated to declare his public support for gay marriage, soon will have to decide whether his administration will take the potentially huge step of arguing before the Supreme Court that gay marriage is an equal right under the Constitution.

The court will soon review two cases, one of them involving California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that limited marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Gay rights lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to declare the ballot measure unconstitutional, potentially striking down the laws of 41 states.

To several legal scholars, Obama’s equating of Selma and Stonewall strongly implied he is prepared to side with gay rights activists. But doing so would mark a sudden departure from the caution with which he has typically approached most issues….

[SNIP]

Theodore Olson, the former George W. Bush administration solicitor general and lawyer for the gay couples challenging Proposition 8, said the president sounded ready to back a constitutional right to gay marriage.

“I was very gratified to hear the president state in clear and unambiguous language that our gay and lesbian citizens must be treated equally under the law,” Olson said, “and that their loving relationships must be treated equally as well. That can only mean one thing: equality under the Constitution.”

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of New York-based Freedom to Marry, noted in an interview that Obama’s speech “was an inaugural address, not a legal brief, and we will see over the next several weeks exactly what positions the Justice Department takes.”

“I am confident the president knows that the Constitution requires equality in the freedom to marry,” he added…



AND, WHILE ON THE SUBJECT OF ACTION, WHAT’S WITH THE PREZ’S INACTION ON CLEMENCY?

“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

Doug Berman over at Sentencing, Law and Policy wants to know if Obama’s clemency record will match his inaugural rhetoric.

Here’s a clip:

Blogging four years ago during the last day in which a US President took the oath of office, I commented in this post about the tendency of chief executives to invoke great rhetoric and wax poetic about freedom and liberty in America despite our country’s recent record of locking up a record number of persons in jails and prisons. I also asked in this follow-up post on the same day whether it was too early to start demanding President Obama use his clemency power to live up to our country’s traditional commitment to personal freedom and liberty.

Sadly, as P.S. Ruckman effectively documents and highlights in this new post, President Obama’s first-term record on the clemency front is at once disgraceful and disgusting:

Barack Obama’s first term has come to an end and we are now ready to report that his four-years as president represent the least merciful term for any modern president (Democrat or Republican) and, quite possibly, the least merciful in the entire history of the United States (see footnote below).

This is, of course, an incredible distinction for a president who repeatedly notes that America is a place where people get “second chances,” from a president who complained bitterly about overly-harsh sentences given to criminal defendants simply because they were African-American, and from a president who promised us “hope and change.”


AND TWO MORE OPINIONS ON WHETHER OR NOT THE RHETORIC WILL TRANSLATE INTO ACTION

The Atlantic’s James Fallows points out that, in addition to the significance of the paragraphs in the president’s speech on gay rights, gender equality, et al, the other significant section is the one that comes earlier in the speech, and contains this:

“For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”

In other words, for whatever it is worth, POTUS intends the speech as more than rhetorical; it is a specific call to action.

Fallows says he has ” no illusion, delusion, allusion, or even dog-whistle conceptions that this speech will change the partisan power-balance affecting passage of anything Obama mentioned, from climate legislation to reforming immigration law.”

And yet, Fallows’ colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests in his reflections on the speech:

Obama’s speech is different. To some extent it exposes people to new ideas. But to a greater extent, perhaps, it shows how movements which only a few years ago were thought to be on the run have, in at least one major party, carried the day. This is not a small thing.

For details, one presumes we should stay tuned for the State of the Union address in February.


AND NOW….back to our regularly scheduled programming


PS: While Beyonce and the others were wonderful to see and hear at the inauguration, for me it was that lovely, unnamed soprano who—along with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir surrounding her—truly blew the doors off the joint.


Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, gender, immigration, LGBT, Obama, Sentencing, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

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