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Part 4: “Drugging Our Kids,” Compensating Wrongfully Convicted, Rehabilitating CA’s Female Lifers, and WLA on Deadline LA

December 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

YOLANDA’S STORY: RESCUED BY A GROUP HOME DOCTOR WHO FOUND A DIFFERENT WAY TO TREAT TRAUMA

In August, September, and November, we linked to parts one, two, and three of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury uncovering the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Part four introduces readers to Yolanda Vasquez, a former foster kid with a winning smile who was once so severely drugged by doctors, she almost lost the ability to talk, and functioned at the education level of a five-year-old at age thirteen.

Yolanda was eventually rescued by a therapist who wondered who Yolanda really was “under all the medicine,” and psychiatrist who broke from the pack and helped Yolanda and other foster kids wean off of their psychotropic medication cocktails. Dr. Edmund Levin, resident psychiatrist at the Lincoln Child Center group home, began a trial of guiding the kids under his care through tapering off of their medications, of which they were often taking six or seven kinds at once.

When Yolanda emerged from the fog, nearly all of her learning and speech impairments began to fade with the drugs. And a majority of the other kids in Levin’s small experiment, which cut medication use at Lincoln by 80%, had similarly positive results.

Here are some clips from the latest in de Sá’s series:

Before Lincoln, Yolanda remembers taking 10 pills, morning, midday and at night. Levin’s records showed over time she was on a mix of psychiatric drugs that would fill a medicine cabinet: three antipsychotics to help calm her. A mood stabilizer to even her out. A stimulant to help her concentrate. An anti-seizure medication and another drug to help treat the other drugs’ side effects. And finally a drug to help her sleep. She remembers their sizes, shapes, colors and bitter taste.

And each pill had its own set of side effects. Yolanda gained weight and became so lethargic that she couldn’t play basketball — the one thing that excited her through all her moves. She often fell asleep in class, even on field trips.

And when Yolanda was awake, she often was afraid. Like so many traumatized children, Yolanda not only felt invisible but constantly on edge, an emotional state clinicians describe as “fight or flight” mode.

[SNIP]

The tapering trials proceeded gradually, one medication at a time. All child care workers would have to agree to reduce medications in the case of every child. And drugs would be quickly added back if any serious problems arose.

Week by week, Levin eliminated one of Yolanda’s medications, then watched her progress and carefully decided whether to reduce another. Within a couple of months, she was down to one drug — guanfacine, a hypertension medication used to treat attention-deficit disorder. Weeks later, she was done.

[SNIP]

But as Levin reduced Yolanda’s medications, the breakthroughs slowly came — along with the trust. She started sharing some painful memories with Forster, dark moments about being abused, deep sadness about longing for family.

As the “sleepy, fuzzy weirdness” wore off, the more she opened up.

She laughed more, stayed awake in class and took on a new role caring for the younger kids at Lincoln. She finally learned to tell time by reading the clock on the wall in Forster’s office.


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND REHAB PROGRAM FOR CALIFORNIA FEMALE LIFERS

A new program at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla for women serving life in prison is giving graduates a better chance at winning parole. The comprehensive program helps women realize the impact of their actions, overcome addiction, build relationships, and more. The program is the first of its kind: no other program has received the recognition of the Board of Parole Hearings, and it’s the first real state-funded effort at rehabilitating female lifers.

Sascha Khokha has more on the program for KQED’s California Report. Take a listen to the full audio, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

“Denial is real. It’s very difficult to look at yourself, especially if you’ve done horrible things,” says inmate Candace MacDonald, who is serving a life sentence for breaking into a 73-year-old man’s home in Eureka and beating and smothering him to death in 1980.

She says she was high on methamphetamine when she committed the crime.

“Because of my addiction, I did things that I would never do. Then I hated the things I was doing, so I would do more drugs because I hated the things I was doing,” she adds. “It’s just a horrible cycle.”

MacDonald is now 64 years old, and one of a number of senior citizen inmates who’ve spent most of their adult lives in prison. Some now use walkers or wheelchairs. She says in all her years here, this is the first program that’s truly pushed her to work deeply on herself. It held a mirror to her, made her dig into painful truths.

“To be able to peel that away, and look deep down inside, and gain an understanding of what you have done, and how it affected all of the people around you,” she says. “The ripple effect is incredible.”

MacDonald has unsuccessfully presented her case before the parole board a number of times over the years, repeating the same testimony she gave at her trial. But after doing this program, she says, she was able to speak from her heart and truly admit her regret. Last week, the board recommended that she be released on parole.


AFTER A WRONGFUL CONVICTION, A STRUGGLE TO WIN COMPENSATION FROM THE STATE

Rafael Madrigal was convicted in 2000 of attempted murder and sentenced to 53-years-to-life in prison. The victim, who had been shot in the head during a drive-by, identified Madrigal in a photo lineup. Madrigal, a 25-year-old father of four with a good job, said he had never been in a gang, and had a time card indicating he had been at work during the shooting.

But neither cops nor jury bought his story, and he spent the next nine years in prison before an attorney convinced a judge Madrigal received inadequate legal defense. And now, five years later, despite strong evidence pointing to his innocence, Madrigal has received nothing in his fight for compensation, and has struggled to pick up where he left off before his wrongful conviction.

In California, exonerees receive far less than the guaranteed federal payment of $50,000 for every year behind bars. The yearly payment is capped at $36,500 (a far cry from Texas’ $80,000), and the process is complex. As of 2013, only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Note: late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process a bit easier.)

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has Madrigal’s story, as well as a rundown of what it takes to receive compensation in California. Here’s a clip:

Madrigal walked out of Chino State Prison on Oct. 6, 2009, with the clothes on his back and $187. He was free to return to the life he’d left behind nine years earlier.

Except it didn’t exist.

Under a state law intended to compensate those wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, Madrigal appeared to qualify for $281,700 from the state of California.

In the five years since his release, he has argued his case before a state hearing officer and a state compensation board. But though a federal judge found “compelling evidence” that he was “actually innocent,” Madrigal has been paid nothing.

The Los Angeles Times has documented dozens of cases nationwide in which people convicted and later cleared by DNA or new evidence never received state compensation. Some — especially the low-income minorities who make up a large share of the wrongfully imprisoned — never file a claim because they can’t afford a lawyer or find one willing to take the case.

“They just opened the door and said, ‘Hey, walk away!’” said Madrigal, 39. “I didn’t have much when I went in. But I had what I had, and that little bit that I did have was all taken from me.”

[SNIP]

“If someone gets paroled, they get … food vouchers, clothing vouchers, benefits, even places to live. But for someone who gets exonerated, they just throw you on the street and don’t even give you an apology,” said Dwayne Provience, 41, who spent nearly a decade in prison before his murder conviction in Detroit was overturned in 2010. The city rejected his bid for compensation and then declared bankruptcy; Provience now works two jobs to support his four children.

[SNIP]

A 2012 survey by a researcher at the State University of New York at Albany found that California pays less than many other states and provides fewer services.

Since 1981, the earliest year with records available, the three-member board that decides compensation claims in California has denied 59 and granted 22, awarding payments of about $6.2 million.

A decade ago, President George W. Bush signed the Innocence Protection Act, which guarantees those exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for every year they spent in prison, $100,000 for each year on death row.


WLA’S CELESTE FREMON TO BE ON KPFK’S DEADLINE LA

WLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be discussing oversight of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, today (Monday), at 3:00p.m.

If you don’t catch it live (on 90.7 FM), you can find the episode in the archives, here.

Posted in Foster Care, Innocence, prison, Rehabilitation, Trauma | No Comments »

Child Welfare Czar Further Delayed, LASD Oversight, Long-Term Price of Locking Kids Up…and More

December 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS RESTART THE SEARCH FOR A CHILD WELFARE CZAR

In a closed session last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors broke off their contract with the firm chosen to identify candidates for the new child welfare czar. (If you are unfamiliar: this czar will be appointed to oversee much-needed reforms to the Department of Children and Family Services.)

The board, unsatisfied with the people recommended by the headhunting firm, will now restart the search for viable contenders for the position. Other reasons for the change of course included uncertainty about how much power the czar will have, and the arrival of two new Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

One key question is how much authority to give the new position. Antonovich cited this as another reason the board decided to change headhunters.

“The position was being sold as having more authority than it was really going to have,” he said. Oppenheim said county officials decided on the job description, not him.

Solis suggested any new job description should provide the child welfare director more authority, not less. McCroskey said the current description was unclear because of conflicting views on the board.

“It wasn’t clear what it is that the primary responsibility would be,” she said. “Are you there to coordinate different agencies ? Or are you there to direct other agencies?”

Solis said the board’s decision to hire a new headhunter and re-write the job description reflects a new day at the county Hall of Administration – especially as it relates to her and fellow newcomer Kuehl.

“We’re not just going to sit by and keep with the status quo or listen to the naysayers who say ‘oh, you don’t know enough about this,’ ” Solis told KPCC. “We are taking a new refreshing look at it, a new bite at the apple.”


FORMING THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of creating a citizen’s oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But what will that commission look like?

An LA Times editorial says the commission should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five Supes. That configuration would not have enough independence from the board. The editorial (as well as Sheriff Jim McDonnell), calls for a larger commission, one with non-board-appointed members who can only be ousted with good cause. Here’s a clip:

Will this new body remain a creature of the Board of Supervisors, or will it be granted some independence? Will it oversee the work of the department’s inspector general, or instead will it work in cooperation — or competition — with that office? Will it have power to subpoena documents? What sway will it hold over the actions of the sheriff, who will continue to report directly to voters and will, at least on paper, be accountable only to them? Can oversight be accomplished by a body that is merely advisory?

The answers to these and other questions are fundamental to the proper operation of the commission, which could become a useful tool for good sheriff-community relations and for transparency and accountability. Or, if the panel is put together with too little care, it could become another sedimentary layer of bureaucracy that consumes resources but offers little in return.

[SNIP]

The new oversight commission should be seen differently, not as a instrument of the board but rather as something more independent, with a focus more on disclosure and accountability than on limiting financial liability.

A five-member panel would almost certainly consist of one appointee from each of the supervisors, serving as extensions of their offices, removable by them.

That’s one reason that Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in Los Angeles Jails and The Times editorial board support a larger panel with members other than board appointees, each with staggered terms and removable only for cause.

The editorial also suggests county officials look to other municipalities with civilian oversight to see what’s working.


INCARCERATING KIDS COSTS BILLIONS DOWN THE LINE

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute examines the long-term costs, including the collateral consequences, of locking kids up.

Examining data from 46 states, the study found states spent an average of $148,767 a year locking up just one kid in the most expensive kind of confinement. California was among the 10 states spending the most on incarceration ($570.79 a day, $208,338 a year). Beyond that, the report estimates the US loses between $8-$21 billion in long-term secondary costs of needlessly incarcerating kids, including lost education time, lost future earnings, and lost future taxes.

Among other recommendations, the report suggests community-based treatment and supervision, investing dollars in diversion programs, better tracking of recidivism and outcomes.

Here are some clips from the accompanying story:

“Every year, the majority of states spend $100,000 or more to lock up youth who are mostly imprisoned for troubled behavior or nonviolent offenses,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of Justice Policy Institute. “And compared to the huge long-term costs to young people, their families, victims, and taxpayers, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a poor investment and we must do better.”

The billions of dollars in hidden costs result from formerly incarcerated young people earning lower wages, paying less in taxes, as well as having a greater dependence upon government assistance and higher rates of recidivism. Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future…

Beyond these costs, the report also notes that the system does not affect all young people equally. African American youth are incarcerated at a rate nearly five times that of white youth, and Hispanic/Latino youth at a rate twice as high as whites. Even though young people engage in similar behavior, there are differences in the way young people of color and white youth are treated.

“The significant and multi-faceted costs of incarceration paint a troubling picture for young people, their families and communities, as well as taxpayers,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Fortunately, proven alternatives to incarceration for holding youths accountable are not only cheaper, but most importantly are almost always the best answer for protecting the public and putting kids on the right track to being productive, law-abiding citizens.”


CONSIDERING THE INQUEST: A POSSIBILITY ALTERNATIVE FOR HANDLING POLICE KILLINGS

The non-indictments of both Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo—the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner—have prompted conversations about ways to eliminate bias in police killing cases generally handled by local District Attorneys. Appointing special prosecutors or handing cases to the state DA’s office have emerged as potential work-arounds.

Slate’s Josh Voorhees has the story on another idea that is entering the discussion: an inquest. Here’s a clip:

How do we resolve this disjoint between a binary system that sees things only in black and white and the public’s need for an honest investigation of the shades of gray in between? One little-discussed option comes from Paul MacMahon, a law professor at the London School of Economics. He argues in a forthcoming Yale Law & Policy Review article that the solution may be an inquest, a quasi-judicial proceeding with medieval roots that has largely fallen by the wayside in the United States. Inquests—which are still common in England and Ireland—are called in the aftermath of an unexpected or unusual death. Typically, a jury, with the help of a judge or coroner, seeks to establish the facts of the case but, importantly, has no legal authority to indict or convict. Think of this as akin to a civilian review board, but with more power, a clearer task, and an actual platform to make sure its conclusions are heard.

How would such an inquest work? MacMahon proposes launching one automatically anytime a police officer kills someone in the line of duty. Having either a judge or coroner lead the jury would remove the apparent conflict of interest of a district attorney investigating an officer who he relies on to do his job. The inquest would have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath, but unlike a grand jury, the proceedings would play out in public. The bigger wrinkle, though, is that the jury would have no power to decide the question of criminal or civil liability. The findings wouldn’t necessarily even be admissible as evidence in a court of law. Prosecutors would still be the ones to decide whether to take the case to the grand jury; the grand jury would still decide whether to indict the officer. But an inquest would bring a heavy dose of public accountability. In England, for instance, when an inquest concludes a homicide was an “unlawful killing,” the state doesn’t have to prosecute the case. If it chooses not to, however, it has to formally explain that decision.

The inability of an inquest to bring charges itself may sound like a weakness, but it’s what makes the process so valuable. Because the panel wouldn’t be preoccupied with the guilty/not guilty or indictment/no indictment binary, it would have more leeway to pursue the facts wherever they lead. “The inquest, more than any other institution, is charged with pursuing the truth—sometimes including the moral truth,” MacMahon writes. Inquests don’t just ask whether someone’s actions were justified in a legal sense, he says; they ask “whether or not a person’s conduct was justified in distinct and important ways from the question of whether or not the person should be held criminally responsible or liable to pay damages.”

In the case of Wilson or Pantaleo, then, an inquest could try to answer not just whether the officer was legally justified in his use of force, but whether the officer was right in a larger sense to do so. There’s no guarantee the inquest’s jurors would be able to settle that question once and for all, of course, but simply publicly attempting to would be a big step forward for a government that is struggling to convince communities of color that their lives matter in our criminal justice system…

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | 22 Comments »

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

November 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

LA COUNTY SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL

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

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

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

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

AUTHOR OF “THE NEW JIM CROW” MICHELLE ALEXANDER

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

CONNIE RICE AND THE ADVANCEMENT PROJECT

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

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

Here’s the rest.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

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

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

OAKLAND CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE

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

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


AND IN OTHER NEWS

GOV. BROWN NAMES YOUNG SUPERSTAR LAWYER TO STATE SUPREME COURT

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


THE ADVERSE AFFECTS OF PRISONS ON COMMUNITY HEALTH

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it begins:

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

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

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

Here’s a link to the full report.

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

Gov. Brown’s Realignment, LAPD Investigating Use-of-force Incident, Exoneree Wins $41.6 Million, and a Bryan Stevenson Essay

October 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LOOKING AT REALIGNMENT AS WE HEAD INTO NOVEMBER ELECTIONS

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks reelection on Nov. 4, California Report’s Scott Shafer takes a look at the state of criminal justice in California under Brown, particularly with regard to Realignment (AB 109). Many critics argue prison realignment was implemented too quickly, without adequate advanced planning, and thus left counties to struggle with little preparation under the burden of supervising and housing would-be state prisoners.

California counties received a combined $2 billion to adapt to realignment, yet the various counties are not using the money uniformly. Some are funneling the money into rehabilitation, reentry, and diversion programs as reformers had hoped they would, while others have beefed up their sheriff and probation staff. And still other counties have used the money to build new jails able to handle the influx of inmates serving longer sentences than preexisting county facilities were designed to house.

Three years after its launch, in short, the jury is still out. Even supporters agree we won’t really know if realignment had the effects proponents had hoped for until years from now.

Here’s how Shafer’s story opens:

It’s not the focus of this year’s campaign for governor, but under Jerry Brown the state’s approach to criminal justice has gone in a dramatically new direction.

Underlying it all: too many inmates and too few cells.

In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned the state Legislature that the prisons were powder kegs.

“Our prisons are in crisis,” the governor said. “We have inherited a problem that has been put off year after year after year.”

Schwarzenegger did take steps to reduce the inmate population, but not nearly enough to satisfy the federal courts. Finally, in 2011, with the state’s back to the wall, the Legislature passed the most fundamental reform of California’s criminal justice system in more than a generation.

AB109, known as “realignment,” transferred responsibility for tens of thousands of low-level criminals from state prisons to county jails and probation officers.

These perpetrators of non-serious, non-sexual, nonviolent crimes would now become the responsibility of local law enforcement officials, rather than the state.

“Probation [departments] were not ready,” says U.C. Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg, who for years has advised the Legislature on criminal justice matters.

Krisberg says California adopted realignment so fast that counties struggled to keep their heads above water.

“I mean, if you had done this logically, you would’ve announced to everyone, ‘We’re gonna do it.’ You probably would have spent a year or so planning it out, training and making it happen,” Krisberg says.

“But that’s not how realignment happened. It just happened.”

Five months after Brown signed AB109 (and a companion bill, AB117), realignment took effect.


LAPD OFFICER ALLEGEDLY KICKED RESTRAINED SUSPECT IN THE HEAD

An LAPD officer has been accused of kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground by other officers. Police officials were able to view footage of the incident taken by a nearby store’s security camera. The officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.” The police officer (as well as three other officers and a sergeant) has been relieved of duty with pay pending the investigation. The officer’s lawyer said the kick landed on Alford’s shoulder and was an acceptable use of force.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

Alford said he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk along Avalon Boulevard near 55th Street when a car pulled up behind him. A man shouted a command to stop, but Alford said he continued pedaling because the man did not identify himself as a police officer. When someone grabbed the back of the bike, Alford said he jumped off and ran.

After a short foot pursuit, two officers caught up to Alford. Footage from the security camera on a nearby building captured Alford voluntarily laying down on the street and putting his hands behind his back, according to several people who viewed the recording. The officers restrained Alford, who made no movements and did not resist, the sources said.

Seconds later, a patrol car pulled up and a uniformed officer, who the sources described as “heavyset” or “very large,” rushed from the driver’s side, according to sources. The officer moved quickly over to Alford, who was still held on the ground by the other officers, and immediately stomped or kicked, the sources said.

The officer then dropped to the ground and delivered a series of strikes with his elbows to the back of Alford’s head and upper body, sources said. Alford’s head can be seen on the video hitting the pavement from the force of the strikes, two sources recounted. Afterward, the officer leaned his knee into the small of Alford’s back and, for a prolonged period, rocked or bounced with his body weight on Alford’s back, the sources said. At one point, the officer put his other knee on Alford’s neck, a source said.

Throughout much of the altercation, two officers restrained Alford but eventually they moved away.

Two officials who viewed the video said it was clear to them Alford was handcuffed as soon as he got on the ground. Others said it is difficult to tell from the video when Alford was placed in handcuffs.

Alford said he had already been handcuffed when he was first kicked.

When it was over, Alford’s body was limp and motionless, according to sources who viewed the video. It took several officers to carry him to a patrol car, they said.

“He looked like a rag doll,” one person said of Alford.

Gary Fullerton, an attorney representing the officers, declined to discuss details of the incident but disputed that Alford had his hands behind his back when the officers used force.


INNOCENT MAN RECEIVES $41.6 MILLION FOR 15 YEARS IN PRISON, UNPRECEDENTED PAYOUT

A New York man, Jeff Deskovic, won $41.6 million in a lawsuit against Putnam County and the sheriff’s investigator who coerced his false confession. Deskovic was exonerated in 2006 of raping and killing a 15-year-old schoolmate, for which he spent 15 years in prison.

While Deskovic’s sum is reportedly the largest in US history, in a whopping 21 states, people who are exonerated after spending years in prison do not receive any compensation at all. In states that do pay, it takes years for the money to work its way through the court system, and in many cases the payouts are capped to prevent large payouts like Deskovic’s. Most Exonerees are not even given the reentry assistance provided to other released inmates.

The NY Daily News’ Stephen Rex Brown has the story on Deskovic. Here’s a clip:

Deskovic was given three lie detector tests over the course of a six-hour interrogation in which he eventually confessed.

He said on the stand this week in federal court in White Plains that he was scared for his life during the ordeal.

He was convicted in 1991 after prosecutors successfully argued that Deskovic did the deed — despite DNA taken from semen on the body that didn’t match the teen’s.


EXCERPT FROM BRYAN STEVENSON’S NEW BOOK

We introduced you to Bryan Stevenson last week, and didn’t want you to miss this essay by Stevenson in the NY Times Magazine that was adapted from his new book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

Here’s a clip (it’s a short one, so be sure to go read the rest):

“The lawyers at S.P.D.C. sent me down to tell you that they don’t have a lawyer yet,” I said. “But you’re not at risk of execution anytime in the next year. We’re working on finding you a lawyer, a real lawyer.”

He interrupted my chatter by grabbing my hands. “I’m not going to have an execution date anytime in the next year?”

“No, sir. They said it would be at least a year.” Those words didn’t sound very comforting to me. But he just squeezed my hands tighter.

“Thank you, man,” he said. “I mean, really, thank you! I’ve been talking to my wife on the phone, but I haven’t wanted her to come and visit me or bring the kids because I was afraid they’d show up and I’d have an execution date. Now I’m going to tell them they can come and visit. Thank you!”

I was astonished. We began to talk. It turned out that he and I were exactly the same age. He told me about his family and his trial. He asked me about law school and my family. We talked about music and about prison. We kept talking and talking, and it was only when I heard a loud bang on the door that I realized I had stayed long past my allotted time. I looked at my watch. I had been there three hours.

The guard came in and began handcuffing him; I could see the prisoner grimacing. “I think those cuffs are on too tight,” I said.

“It’s O.K., Bryan,” he said. “Don’t worry about this. Just come back and see me again, O.K.?”

I struggled to say something appropriate, something reassuring. He looked at me and smiled. Then he did something completely unexpected. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. I was confused, but then he opened his mouth, and I understood. He had a tremendous baritone that was strong and clear.

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,

By faith, on heaven’s tableland;

A higher plane than I have found,

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Posted in Innocence, LAPD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Realignment, Reentry | 1 Comment »

Justice Bills, InsideOUT Writers, Prison Gangs, and More on the Probation Dept. Workers Comp. Fraud

September 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BILLS FOR HOMELESS KIDS, REENTRY SERVICES, AND SAFEGUARDING JUSTICE PROGRAMS ON THEIR WAY TO CONGRESS

Right before the US Senate Judiciary Committee headed into recess, it approved three noteworthy social-justice-related bills.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, S.2646, would fund housing and “trauma-informed and gender-responsive” services for teens who are homeless or have runaway from home. The bill also aims to increase the time kids are allowed to stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days, as well as require that shelters offer counseling. The bill would also create a fund for young victims of trafficking out of money recovered from sex trafficking sting operations.

The second bill, S.1690, would renew funding to the Second Chance Act at $100 million to pay for developing state and local reentry services for kids and adults.

And the final piece of legislation would change a portion of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. So far, only two states have passed compliance with PREA. (California is not one of them.) States that do not become compliant face a 5% deduction from the federal funding of their prisons. Cornyn’s bill would exempt three programs from the funding fine: the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants.

The bills will head to Congress once the fall recess has ended, after the November elections.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bills. Here’s a clip:

The bill, S.2646, extends the maximum stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days. It also requires transitional living program grantees to provide counseling services and aftercare services to participants.

The legislation would also establish a compensation fund for victims of human trafficking. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), speaking at the committee markup of the bill today, said the fund would be paid for with assets recovered in trafficking stings and by increasing financial penalties on federal sex offenders, who Cornyn described as “among the most affluent in the federal system.”

A second piece of legislation passed by the committee today, S.1690, would reauthorize the Second Chance Act at $100 million. Second Chance funds state and local efforts to improve and expand reentry programs for adult and juvenile offenders.

Cornyn successfully attached an amendment to the reauthorization that actually relates to the penalties involved in another federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)…


INSIDEOUT WRITERS PROGRAM TEACHES LOCKED-UP KIDS HOW TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES

InsideOUT Writers, an anti-recidivism program taught at three LA juvenile detention facilities, has been helping incarcerated kids learn positive self-expression through writing for nearly two decades. (And we’ve written about it here, and here.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Henry Foster Rubenstein had the opportunity to attend several InsideOUT Writers classes where he was able to experience first hand the impact the teachers and writing have on the kids, and the power the kids themselves have to rise above their incarceration. Here’s a clip:

At 9 a.m. the next day, another IOW teacher, Scott Budnick, brings me into his all-boy class, most in for violent crimes. He has taught IOW classes every Saturday morning since 2003. With him that day are two other teachers, Johnny Kovatch and Susy Sobel. The three create a perfect balance of caring nurture and hard-knock love.

Kovatch bounces around the table, pouring out energy and enthusiasm, while Budnick and Sobel bring it all together.

The teachers emphasize the students must express the talent and effort the teachers knew they’re capable of. The atmosphere begins to get aggressive. Unlike the girls’ class the day before, the boys don’t like opening up about their feelings.

But the teachers are ready to make them dig.

“Sometimes I feel that I’ve been a failure so long I can’t succeed, but I know I have to let that pressure out, and not hold it in,” one student says. Each student uses the writing circle to look inside themselves at the decisions and emotions that set them off-course.

Budnick asks the students to share something they got out of the day. Most say the classes give them a chance to vent. One boy says, “Writing makes me not want to care about the bad things anymore,” while another insists, “Writing makes me believe in myself, knowing I can do it!”


THE COMPLICATED AUTHORITY OF PRISON GANGS ON THE INSIDE, AND HOW THEY REGULATE CRIME ON THE OUTSIDE

The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood has an excellent longread about the complex system of inmate gangs that, in addition to their obvious downsides, also provide the function, particularly in the California state prison system, of imposing a kind of order inside the state’s lock ups. Wood’s story looks as well at how the gangs originated, and how they enforce a system of rules for the drug trade on the streets from inside prison walls.

Here’s a clip, but do yourself a favor and read the story in it’s entirety:

…starting in the 1950s, things changed: The total inmate population rose steeply, and prisons grew bigger, more ethnically and racially mixed, and more unpredictable in their types of inmate. Prisons faced a flood of first offenders, who tended to be young and male—and therefore less receptive to the advice of grizzled jailbirds. The norms that made prison life tolerable disappeared, and the authorities lost control. Prisoners banded together for self-protection—and later, for profit. The result was the first California prison gang.

That moment of gang genesis, Skarbek says, forced an arms race, in which different groups took turns demonstrating a willingness to inflict pain on others. The arms race has barely stopped, although the gangs have waxed and waned in relative power. (The Black Guerrilla Family has been weakened, prison authorities told me, because of leadership squabbles.) The Mexican Mafia was the sole Hispanic gang until 1965, when a group of inmates from Northern California formed Nuestra Familia to counter the influence of Hispanics from the south. Gang elders—called maestros—instruct the youngsters in gang history and keep the enmity alive.

What’s astonishing to outsiders, Skarbek says, is that many aspects of gang politics that appear to be sources of unresolvable hatred immediately dissipate if they threaten the stability of prison society. For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood—a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates. You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. The sole purpose of this exercise is for each gang leader to guarantee that his men will respect the night’s silence. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up. The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in 1956, and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. “The young guys on the street look to the gang members inside as role models,” says Charles Dangerfield, a former prison guard who now heads California’s Gang Task Force, in Sacramento. “Getting sentenced to prison is like being called up to the majors.”

But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals. In a 2011 paper in American Political Science Review, he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside. Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world.

Gangs effect this justice on the inside in part by circulating a “bad-news list,” or BNL. If your name is on a BNL, gang members are to attack you on sight—perhaps because you stole from an affiliate on the outside, or because you failed to repay a drug debt, or because you’re suspected of ratting someone out. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.


LA PROBATION PINPOINTING DOCTORS WHO HELP PROBATION STAFF WIN WORKER’S COMP. FOR DUBIOUS INJURIES

Yesterday, we linked to Rina Palta and Karen Foshay’s story for KPCC about a surprising number of far-fetched worker’s compensation claims filed by Probation Dept. staff members.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers says investigators are not only working to crack down on on worker’s compensation fraud by going directly to the staff in question, but also investigating the doctors who are allegedly enabling the fraud.

Palta and Foshay have the update. Here’s a clip:

…Probation chief Powers says there is a problem with doctors who are all too willing to approve workers’ compensation claims.

“There’s an informal grapevine out there” of doctors “who are more than willing to sign [probation workers] off duty so they can gain benefits,” says Powers.

He says he doesn’t know how large that grapevine is. There are hundreds of doctors who handle probation staffers’ workers’ compensation claims.

Probation says it has reached out to a number of doctors who have a high approval rate of department employees’ workers’ compensation or disability claims, although it won’t say how many, or which ones. Officials say sometimes they show doctors surveillance footage of workers engaged in physical activity while out on disability or workers’ compensation. But the doctors frequently have an explanation for the physical activity, says Cynthia Maluto, head of probation’s return to work unit.

“Things don’t change after the meetings,” she says.

Posted in Gangs, prison, Probation, race, Reentry, writers and writing | No Comments »

The Case for Prop 47, Other States’ Lessons on Reducing Prison Pop., a Mentally Ill Diversion Program for LA County, and Gov. Brown Signs Ex-Inmate Job Training Grant Bill

September 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEWT GINGRICH AND B. WAYNE HUGHES JR ENDORSE PROP 47, CALL ON CALIFORNIA TO TAKE NOTES FROM THE RED STATES

Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 ballot, would reduce certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, keeping people who have committed low-level drug and property crimes out of lock-up and under better-suited supervision and treatment. (A report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice estimates $175 million in savings for LA County, if voters pass Prop 47.)

Newt Gingrich and B. Wayne Hughes Jr., founder of Serving California, in an op-ed for the LA Times, urge Californians to vote yes on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Contributing to the growth in the number of prisoners and in prison spending has been a dramatic expansion in the number of felonies. In addition, mandatory minimum sentences have been applied to an increasing number of crimes. These policies have combined to drive up the prison population, as more prisoners serve longer sentences. On top of that, California has an alarmingly high recidivism rate: Six out of 10 people exiting California prisons return within three years.

It makes no sense to send nonserious, nonviolent offenders to a place filled with hardened criminals and a poor record of rehabilitation — and still expect them to come out better than they went in. Studies show that placing low-risk offenders in prison makes them more dangerous when they are released.

Over-incarceration makes no fiscal sense. California spends $62,396 per prisoner each year, and $10 billion overall, on its corrections system. That is larger than the entire state budget of 12 other states. This expenditure might be worth it if we were safer because of it. But with so many offenders returning to prison, we clearly aren’t getting as much public safety — or rehabilitation — as we should for this large expenditure.

[SNIP]

Most notably, Texas in 2007 stopped prison expansion plans and instead used those funds for probation and treatment. It has reduced its prison population, closed three facilities and saved billions of dollars, putting a large part of the savings into drug treatment and mental health services. Better yet, Texas’ violent crime rates are the lowest since 1977.

Another red state, South Carolina, made similar reforms for nonviolent offenses. The drop in the number of prisoners allowed South Carolina to close one prison and also lower its recidivism rate. Other states (Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Mississippi) have similarly shifted their approach to nonviolent convictions.

Now voters in California will have a chance to do the same, using costly prison beds for dangerous and hardened criminals. It is time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on locking up low-level offenders. Proposition 47 on the November ballot will do this by changing six nonviolent, petty offenses from felony punishments (which now can carry prison time) to misdemeanor punishments and local accountability.

The measure is projected to save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars per year, and it will help the state emphasize punishments such as community supervision and treatment that are more likely to work instead of prison time.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

The folks over at Zócalo asked five criminal justice experts what California can learn by example from other states who have successfully reduced their prison populations. Here’s what Lois M. Davis, a RAND Corporation senior policy researcher, had to say about Washington state, and its success with making rehabilitation high priority.

California’s experiment in public safety realignment is being credited with closing the revolving door that keeps low-level offenders cycling through the state prison system by housing them instead in county jails and providing counties funding and flexibility to provide for these inmates. Currently the state’s 58 counties are doing their own experiments to determine how much of the realignment resources should be devoted to rehabilitative programs. But reducing California’s prison population over the long term will require the state to provide rehabilitative services like education that reduce recidivism and help to turn individuals’ lives around once they return to communities.

California can learn a great deal from the state of Washington, which has implemented a series of reforms focused on rehabilitation—on diverting offenders to treatment and other options and making serving time in prison the last option. The logic for this is clear: Analyses by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show that cognitive-behavioral programs for adult offenders in prison and community settings can be expected to reduce recidivism rates by 6.3 percent, on average.

RAND’s recent national study on correctional education shows that adult offenders who participated in prison education programs reduced their risk of recidivating by 43 percent. Every $1 invested in these programs resulted in about $4 to $5 in savings in re-incarceration costs. Beyond the stark economic benefits is the broader incentive that such rehabilitation is good for society as a whole. As a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences indicated, mass incarceration is associated with negative social and economic outcomes, which make it very difficult for ex-offenders to turn their lives around when they return, disproportionately, to disadvantaged communities.

California took a bold step in implementing the Public Safety Realignment Act. Now it should move beyond realignment to focus on rehabilitation.

Head over to Zócalo for for more lessons from other states, including a tip California can take from 45 other states, and something the state can learn from itself.


A RELATIVELY SMALL BUT PROMISING LA COUNTY PROBATION PROGRAM TO DIVERT MENTALLY ILL FROM JAIL

On Wednesday, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a small pilot program to divert homeless, mentally ill people charged with low-level offenses from jail. To start with, the program will target 50 participants in Van Nuys, but both Yaroslavsky and Lacey both say they would like to see the program expanded county-wide.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“We want to demonstrate that it works, demonstrate that it saves money, we want to demonstrate better outcomes for the individuals in the program,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at a press conference.

L.A.’s county jails are overcrowded with mentally ill offenders, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office. Earlier this year, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.8 billion jail overhaul plan that includes building a new downtown jail to house mostly inmates with serious mental illnesses.

The new diversion program will offer chronically homeless men and women an alternative to jail when they’re initially charged with a misdemeanor or low-level felony. Those who opt to participate will be sent to the San Fernando Community Mental Health Center and, if needed, placed in subsidized housing. They’ll also receive mental health and employment services.

But it’s limited to 50 participants at a time and only in Van Nuys. It’s expected to cost approximately $750,000, funded partially by the county and partially through a federal grant.

Palta has a second interesting Los Angeles Probation story, along with Karen Foshay, regarding an alarming number dubious worker’s compensation claims filed by Probation Dept. staff. Here’s a small clip from the opening:

KPCC reviewed hundreds of Probation Department workers’ compensation files from 2010-2012 and found dozens of questionable cases, including workers spending months away from the job after getting spider bites or tripping in parking lots, or falling out of chairs.

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers stresses that the vast majority of workers’ compensation claims are legitimate, but he has taken several steps to crack down on questionable injuries since taking office in 2011. Since then, the number of probation staff on disability has dropped by one third, Powers says.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL CREATING A GRANT PROGRAM TO GIVE JOB TRAINING TO EX-INMATES

For more on the bill, Assemblymember Perez has this update from June when the bill passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee. Here’s a clip:

“Workforce training for the re-entry population is a practical strategy for improving access to a stable job,” said Pérez. “It helps improve offender outcomes, reduces the likelihood of recidivism, and promotes community safety and stability.”

Specifically, the bill establishes a new competitive grant program for workforce training for the re-entry population. The grant program would be administered by the California Workforce Investment Board and would be available to counties on a competitive basis, with greater consideration for those that provide matching funds, have demonstrated collaborative working relationship with local workforce investment boards, and/or have a workforce training program for the reentry population already in place.

To fund the program, Pérez secured $1 million in the 2014-15 Budget Act, which will be appropriated through the state’s the Recidivism Reduction Fund.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Probation, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 1 Comment »

Crime Decline Higher in States That Also Reduced Incarceration, California Foster System Behind on Investigating Mistreatment, Inmates Average Only Two Visits, and SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

September 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE COMPLICATED CONNECTION BETWEEN HIGHER INCARCERATION AND LOWER CRIME RATES

Since 1994, when Congress passed the “tough-on-crime” Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the national incarceration rate has risen 24% while the crime rate has dropped 40%. But the link is not that simple.

A new Pew Charitable Trusts infographic shows that some states have successfully lowered both crime and imprisonment. California is among the top three states with the biggest reductions of crime and incarceration, along with New York and New Jersey.

For further reading on the issue, Vox’s German Lopez has an interesting story explaining a bit more about mass incarceration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which was enacted when violent crime levels were already falling), and what the Obama administration is doing to counteract the outdated law.


CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE SYSTEM NOT INVESTIGATING MISTREATMENT COMPLAINTS QUICKLY ENOUGH

The state’s Department of Social Services has nearly 1,000 pending investigations of child mistreatment that have sat unaddressed past the three-month deadline. More than half of those complaints—for things like abuse, malnourishment, and poor living conditions—have been pending for more than six months.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Agency officials blame the problem on chronic staffing shortages and warn that the backlog is likely to persist for at least another year.

“We didn’t get into this overnight, and we are not going to solve it overnight,” said Pam Dickfoss, who was appointed deputy director of social services earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The majority of the lagging investigations — which include allegations of serious abuse, inadequate food, homes in disrepair or other licensing violations — have remained open for more than six months, according to data obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.

The delays can make investigations more difficult, officials said. Witnesses become unavailable or memories fade. And children could remain in potentially substandard homes as inquiries back up.

In one case, investigators took four months to confirm that a child’s hands had been placed under scalding water by other children, resulting in second-degree burns, records show. It also took four months to determine that another child was not being fed regularly and that his surroundings were filthy and stank of mildew.

The backlog has grown steadily since Brown took office in 2011, when the department probed 3,491 complaints and finished 60% on time. This year, complaints against state-licensed foster homes requiring investigations are on pace to exceed 4,000, and only 40% of those inquiries are being completed on time, records show.

And this isn’t just a state level issue, it’s happening at the county level, as well:

More than 6,100 current county investigations have remained open for more than 30 days, a nearly eight-fold increase since 2011. Cases open more than 60 days have increased from from 2,700 to 3,559 in the same period. Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning said he has deployed a strike team of top managers to develop a new plan to reduce the backlog.


PRISONERS RECEIVE JUST TWO VISITS DURING INCARCERATION ON AVERAGE

Using Florida prison data, a study in Crime and Delinquency found that inmates received an average of only two visits throughout the entirety of their incarceration. Not surprisingly, the Florida research found that inmates who received more visits had better outcomes while behind bars and once released.

The study showed that inmates receiving the most visits were around 20-years-old, had fewer offenses, were white or latino, or had come from communities that had either high incarceration rates or were considered socially altruistic. Black inmates and those who were older or had multiple offenses received fewer visits.

University of Minnesota sociology professor and author, Chris Uggen, has more on the study for Sociological Images. Here’s a clip:

There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.

These are common problems nationwide, particularly in large states like California, Texas, and Montana.


SUPREME COURT MAY SOON SET NATIONAL STANDARD ON GAY MARRIAGE

Federal judges across the US have been overturning state bans on gay marriage. There have been more than twelve rulings, so far, this year. But none of these rulings (nor last year’s Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act) have set the national standard. For now, gay marriage rights are in the hands of the states.

That may change as SCOTUS has decided to review a package of seven gay marriage cases from lower courts, and experts say the high court will most likely choose to take up one of the cases, if not more.

Each of the seven cases challenges a state’s right to ban gay marriage. And all but one case would call on the court to decide whether gay marriages should be recognized in other states.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova has more on the issue (as well as a rundown on each case). Here’s a clip:

This cluster of cases centers on two key questions: All seven ask SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also raise the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled on two landmark gay marriage cases in 2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned California’s Proposition 8, and US v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act. But neither weighed in on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, leaving the choice to allow gay marriage up to each individual state. If the court takes one of these new cases, it’s likely that its decision will have a broad and more definitive impact. “Should they decide that the 14th Amendment actually protects the rights of same-sex marriage, that would have the effect of being binding on the federal government,” says Jane Schacter, a professor at Stanford Law School.

The cases before the court involve the 14th Amendment’s guarantees to equal protection under law and due process. If the high court rules that it is a violation of either promise for one state to deny a marriage license to a same sex couple, then it would become unconstitutional for any state to do so. Any state that failed to comply with the ruling, Carpenter elaborates, “would face immediate lawsuits—a complete waste of time and money.”

It’s anyone’s guess which case (or cases) SCOTUS may choose…



Above visual taken from a portion of this Pew infographic.

Posted in crime and punishment, Foster Care, LGBT, prison, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

LA Mayor Backs Jim McDonnell for Sheriff, PTSD in High-Violence Neighborhoods, and “Paws for Life”

September 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI TO ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

Today, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti will officially endorse Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Sheriff of Los Angeles County. He will announce his support at 1:00p.m. on the 1st Street Steps of City Hall.

Here are some clips from the announcement:

Chief McDonnell and Mayor Garcetti have been long-time partners in reducing crime, increasing public safety in the region and advancing smarter approaches to policing, including investing in reducing crime by improving opportunities and protecting the most vulnerable, instituting strong management teams and practices, and focusing on results.

Mayor Garcetti believes Chief Jim McDonnell, based on his 29 years’ experience at the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and four years as Chief of Police in Long Beach, has the experience, credibility and judgment to lead the LASD forward.

[SNIP]

Chief McDonnell is an outsider who will bring a fresh perspective to the Sheriff’s Department by rebuilding community trust and enhancing transparency within the Department. He supports the creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Commission and understands the importance of community-based policing, which he helped design and implement within the LAPD, and which Mayor Garcetti strongly supports.


THE UNDENIABLE COST OF PTSD ON KIDS AND FAMILIES IN INNER CITY NEIGHBORHOODS

Emerging research reveals that people living in high-violence neighborhoods experience rates of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rivaling that of war veterans. Despite this, not much is being done to combat trauma in inner-city communities, particularly concerning its effects on children.

Lois Beckett’s story for ProPublica explains the real cost of PTSD on families and communities and why it is such an important issue. (The story was co-published with Essence magazine.) Here’s a clip:

Last October, Aireana and her boyfriend were driving through Oakland when a man on the street opened fire on their car. Her two children, ages 6 and 1, were in the backseat. Aireana, who asked to be identified only by her first name, remembers feeling something slam into her jaw and hearing a sound like a firecracker popping in her head. Her boyfriend hit the accelerator and swerved down the street. He and Aireana turned at the same moment to check on the kids. They were safe. Then her boyfriend looked at her and saw blood spurting from her neck. “Oh, my God,” he said, panicking, and crashed into a parked car.

In the shock after the crash, Aireana had only one coherent thought: I cannot die in front of my kids. They cannot see me die. She unbuckled her seat belt and pushed herself out of the car. As she stood, she felt dizzy and closed her eyes. But the thought of her children propelled her forward. They can’t see my body lying here dead. Still dazed, she walked away from the car. She could hear her daughter screaming behind her, “My mom’s dying!”

[SNIP]

A bullet had smashed through her front teeth, grazed her tongue and broken her jaw. In the emergency room, the surgeons repaired her tongue. Later, they wired her jaw shut so that it could heal. Aireana stayed in the hospital for more than a month. When she went home, her face was still puffy and swollen, and she had a hard time talking. Fragments of the bullet were still lodged in the side of her neck.

“You’re so lucky,” her friends kept telling her. “Why are you still so sad? You’re okay—you’re alive.” But Aireana couldn’t stop thinking about the shooting. She felt guilty, as if it were her fault that she had been hit. Why hadn’t she lifted her arm to block the bullet? Why hadn’t she ducked? The shooting played over and over in her dreams. Sometimes, reliving it, she remembered to duck, and then the bullet passed over her and hit one of her children. She’d wake up in a panic, soaked in sweat.

[SNIP]

The burden of post-traumatic stress on low-income communities of color gets very little attention. What public recognition it does receive is often sensationalized: A TV reporter apologized this spring after a segment on young people dealing with trauma in Oakland referred to PTSD as ” hood disease.”

“Someone in the community has to stand up and say, ‘Because of all the gun violence, we have a lot of traumatized people—and it’s not just the people who are being shot and shot at, it’s the people who are witnessing it, the vicarious trauma,’” says Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., the commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. With the support of Mayor Michael Nutter, Evans has pushed Philadelphia to treat trauma as a major public health issue and to develop a comprehensive approach to PTSD. Over the past eight years, city officials have worked with hospitals, community mental health clinics, pediatricians, schoolteachers and police officers to increase awareness of the disorder and make sure residents are connected with treatment professionals. “We have to stop telling our kids they just have to live with this,” Evans says.

This past July, Aireana helped her kids overcome their terror of the firework noises they thought were gunshots outside their apartment:

As her neighbors set off firecrackers in the street, she kept her kids at a distance. She pointed to the lights: “That one’s cool.” A purple explosion: “Oooh, nice.” Gradually, they walked closer. Later, she gave her kids sparklers and watched them run around making glowing scribbles in the dark. She had always loved fireworks. It was good to see her kids not being afraid and enjoying them, too.


DOGS AND INMATES RESCUE EACH OTHER

Karma Rescue, a non-profit that saves animals at high kill-shelters, partnered with CA State Prison LA County in Lancaster to launch an inmate-dog training program called “Paws for Life.” Karma saved five dogs at risk of being euthanized, and brought them to the Lancaster prison where 14 inmates spent 12 weeks training the dogs to boost their chance of finding permanent homes.

The program was a huge success for both inmates and the dogs who brought unconditional love and happiness into a place largely devoid of both. Four of the five dogs have been adopted since their graduation on August 9, and the program is set to begin again in September with 10 new dogs in need.

We’ve reported on programs of this kind before in LA County, but this is the first to be performed in a high-security prison with lifer inmates.

The Huffington Post’s Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald has more on the program (and John DuBois and Shaughn Crawford have taken some powerful photos of the dogs and their incarcerated friends). Here are some clips:

Fourteen inmates were then selected to train five shelter dogs who stayed at the prison this summer for a 12-week program. From the very beginning, the program struck a chord with everyone involved. Karma Rescue’s founder Rande Levine wrote, “Men who had not seen an animal in decades were openly emotional at the sight of the beautiful creatures before them. Just petting our dogs brought many to happy tears. It was a day I will never, ever forget.”

Several times a week, professional dog trainer Mark Tipton and several dedicated Karma Rescue volunteers drove out to the prison to instruct the inmates on how to train their assigned dogs for ‘Canine Good Citizen’ certification, a designation that increases the chance that a dog will be successfully adopted.

I attended the graduation of the first class of Paws for Life on August 9th, and what made it so powerful was the pervasive sense that absolutely everybody involved in the program — the volunteers, the prison warden and staff, the inmates, the dogs, and everyone in their vicinity — was transformed by it.

[SNIP]

For Captain Crystal Wood, having the Paws for Life program represents a “lifelong dream” of hers to have a dog program at the prison. She noticed a huge change in the inmates in a relatively short time after the dogs entered the prison.

“A lot of times in this setting it’s so depressing and you don’t show emotion…feelings and when you have a creature that gives you unconditional love and licks you and doesn’t care – you see men who’ve been in prison for 20 and 30 years break down and cry just for the compassion and the humanity. It’s just generally made the yard a calmer place,” Capt. Wood said.

Mark Tipton, the trainer for the inmates, was beaming and proud of his students: “I had high hopes and they met them. When I first came I had one of the officers tell me, ‘I’ve never seen any of these guys smile and I’ve been here 14, 15 years and now they’re coming out smiling like Cheshire cats.’ They have smiles on their faces — happy, happy – and it gives them purpose.”

And here’s what some of the inmate participants had to say about the program:

DeAngelo: “The dogs have taught me how to be patient and how to continue to love no matter what’s going on around you and to you, just continue to learn how to love. No matter what’s going on with the dog, he responds the same way … he loves you, and that’s what I got out of that. Our trainer, Mark, he taught us patience, how to be gentle, how to love. He was very patient with us.”

John M.: “This program has saved my life. It’s pretty simple. I have been in prison for twenty plus years…The Paws for Life program came along with Karma and all of a sudden I can love again. I can feel love. I can experience emotions that I have been holding down for twenty plus years…I sleep better at night, I’m more able to speak with people, I’m a little bit more literate. All of this comes from having a dog.”

Oliver: “It gave me another chance at unconditional love. It’s changed the entire yard, there is a lot of peace with the C.O.s (Correctional Officers) and other inmates. It brought everybody closer.”

Posted in Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Mayor, prison, PTSD | 2 Comments »

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 »

Middle School Dropouts, Bill Passes to End Prison Sterilizations, Ferguson Protests…and More

August 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA HAS THOUSANDS OF FORGOTTEN MIDDLE SCHOOL DROPOUTS

More than 6,400 California middle-schoolers (7th and 8th graders) dropped out of school in the 2012-2013 year, more than 1,000 of which were LAUSD students. The number seems relatively low when compared with California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year, so these younger kids are often overlooked and underserved. Most schools do not even have the resources to track them down once they stop showing up.

KPCC’s Sarah Butrymowicz takes a closer look at the issue in a story produced by the Hechinger Report. Here’s how it opens:

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

But their numbers are so tiny in comparison to California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year that few school districts are paying attention to middle school dropouts.

One sign of the inattention: a 2009 state law mandating California education officials calculate a middle school dropout rate has gone largely ignored, although districts do publicly report the raw numbers.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO BLOCK STERILIZATION OF FEMALE INMATES MOVES ON TO GOVERNOR’S DESK FOR SIGNING

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that California prison doctors performed 148 unlawful (and ethically questionable) tubal ligations (or “tube-tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law, often without proper legal consent from the women, between 2006 and 2010.

On Tuesday, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill, SB 1135, that would prohibit prisoner sterilizations as a means of birth control, except in the event of a medical emergency or treating an illness.

The bill, now headed for the governor’s desk, would also require the CDCR to provide counseling to women receiving the procedure, as well as post data online about any sterilizations performed. The bill would also provide safeguards for those who might report future misconduct.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign (or not sign) the bill into law.

CIR’s Corey G. Johnson has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill, passed unanimously today by the state Senate, would ban sterilizations for birth control purposes in all state prisons, county jails and other detention centers. Surgeries would be restricted to treating life-threatening medical emergencies and addressing physical ailments.

Women would receive extensive counseling, and correctional facilities performing such surgeries would be required to post data about the procedures online. The bill also protects whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting violations.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pushed for the bill after The Center of Investigative Reporting found more than 130 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010. Former inmates and prisoner advocates told CIR that prison medical staff pressured women, targeting inmates deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” Jackson said. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”


WHAT MADE PROTESTS IN FERGUSON, MO, TURN INTO A WEEK OF VIOLENCE AND DISORDER

NBC’s Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter have delved into why protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, spiraled out of control, while nearby protests over an unconnected fatal shooting of a young black man did not turn violent. Here’s how it opens:

The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri has led to angry protests and violent clashes with police that reached a fresh crescendo earlier this week. A second, unrelated fatal police shooting of a young black man just a few miles east on Tuesday, however, sparked protests, but no violence.

Why did events spiral out of control in Ferguson? Why did this little-known St. Louis suburb, with just 21,000 people, explode into more than a week of unrest? Part of the problem seems to have been a series of missteps by local authorities.

Experts from around the nation, including law enforcement officials, academics and civil rights attorneys, cite four factors: A poisoned relationship between a virtually all-white police force and a majority black city; heavy-handed police tactics both before and after the shooting — including a military-style response to the initial protests; and mixed messages from local authorities, some of whom attempted to focus attention on an alleged robbery by the dead teen, Michael Brown, instead of updating the public about the investigation into Brown’s death.

“Put that all together and you have a ready-made disaster,” L.A.-based civil rights attorney Connie Rice told NBC News.

The Police vs. the Public: Rice and others said most of the problems in Ferguson flowed from the almost non-existent connection between the city’s police and its residents. Detective Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association, which represents many of the area’s officers, told NBC News he thought there had been early friction in Ferguson between police and protesters because there had been “no established lines of communication with community leaders.”

While two-thirds of Ferguson’s citizens are African-American, there are only three blacks on its 53-member police force. Where larger urban departments like the NYPD have used so-called “community-based policing” in recent years to build trust with a diverse public, Ferguson focused on old-fashioned top-down policing and revenue generation. That meant most contact with civilians involved traffic stops and writing tickets – an extraordinary number of tickets for traffic and other offenses. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics at the New School in New York City and a former resident and legislator in St. Louis County, described Ferguson as “a constant, simmering state of tension and mistrust.” Smith said community policing could have reduced tensions, but that “it’s like (Ferguson) missed the whole phenomenon.”

[SNIP]

Changing the Subject: Two related moves last week appeared to defuse tensions. Missouri State Police took over command of the scene from the local cops, and designated Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American who grew up near Ferguson, as the on-site commander and liaison with the community.

But then Ferguson Police Department Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference and released documents and surveillance video — over Justice Department objections — allegedly showing that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store a short time before he was fatally shot. Hours later, Jackson held another press conference to announce that the white officer accused of shooting Brown was unaware of Brown’s alleged involvement in the robbery when he shot him.

Eric Rose, a crisis management expert who advises police organizations across the country, called Jackson’s revelations “foolish,” saying they served “to further incite tensions.”

“The goal should have been to calm things down,” said Rose. “Releasing that information did not serve that purpose.” In high-profile cases, he said, “You never want to go public without truly knowing all the facts and you want to have a clear strategy. In this case, the stakes of being wrong could have meant riots. And that’s exactly what happened.”


CHILD WELFARE TRANSITION TEAM AND SUPERVISORS DIFFER ON HOW TO MOVE FORWARD

At the end of June, the LA County Board of Supervisors appointed a nine-member transition team to assist in the creation of a child welfare czar meant to oversee the implementation of child welfare reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

On Tuesday, in their first progress report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team members outlined qualifications the Office of Child Protection should have. Co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague also asked for an executive director to keep the group focused and moving forward on reforms until the czar can be put in place.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that the hiring of a child welfare czar was of higher importance than the hiring of an executive director, and that the BOS never approved staff for the transition team. Yaroslavsky also suggested that there might be a calculated delay on hiring a czar until he and Supe Gloria Molina are termed out of office in December.

Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the board to continue implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s other recommendations while the search for a czar continues.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In its first report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague presented the group’s work over the course of the past month. Those efforts have largely centered on clarifying the role and desired qualifications of the incoming director of the Office of Child Protection.

“The founding director of the Office of Child Protection will have the opportunity to forge a transformational process for the children of Los Angeles County and we hope you see it the same way,” Gilbert-Lurie said while addressing the Board of Supervisors at the August 19 meeting.

But the transition team remains hindered by confusion about its responsibilities beyond assisting in the search for a leader of the new office and questions about staffing support that team members say would help speed up the implementation of reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“What bothers me is that we’re not seeing eye to eye on what’s the most important thing for us,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “The most important thing is getting the Office of Child Protection person hired. The search firm in my opinion is moving very slowly, too slowly, and is responding to too many people. It’s August 19 and we’re no closer to hiring, or even searching for the office of child protection than we were a month ago.”

Transition team member Gilbert-Lurie argued that the team needs additional resources and support in the form of an executive director to accelerate efforts at implementing further recommendations.

“You have herded a group with a wide range of talents—we have doctors, Ph.D.s, judges, lawyers,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “But we need someone whose eye is on the ball of moving this forward. We believe there’s a lot of information that could be helpful in working with department heads. [We could] leverage the best of what you have in the county if there is someone available to take our ideas and help implement them when we’re working in our day jobs. We don’t believe we have access to that sort of person with that executive experience right now on a full enough time basis.”

Posted in DCFS, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Police, prison, women's issues | 18 Comments »

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