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LAPD Misclassifying Violent Crimes as Minor Offenses, Programs for CA Lifers, Supe. Hopeful Bobby Shriver Discusses Child Welfare…and More

August 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD MISREPORTS 1200 VIOLENT CRIMES AS MINOR CRIMES, SAYS LA TIMES INVESTIGATION

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly changing the city’s crime statistics, according to an LA Times investigation by Ben Poston and Joel Rubin. The wrongly reported crimes were almost always aggravated assaults that were knocked down to simple assaults, and thus not included in the city’s serious crime count. Between October 2012-September 2013, the misclassifications created an aggravated assault tally 14% lower than if the crimes were reported correctly, and a 7% lower overall violent crime total.

Some officers said the misclassifications stemmed from pressure from the top to hit crime reduction quotas. Others, including Chief Charlie Beck have blamed it on human error. But, the investigation found that nearly every inaccurately reported crime was misclassified as a lesser crime, not a more serious offense.

The crime statistics play a role in how departments, captains, and chiefs are evaluated. This investigation comes just days before the police commission’s expected vote on Chief Beck’s reappointment.

Here’s a clip from Poston and Rubin’s story. Here’s a clip:

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found.

The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.

Nearly all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults. If those incidents had been recorded correctly, the total aggravated assaults for the 12-month period would have been almost 14% higher than the official figure, The Times found.

The tally for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher.

Numbers-based strategies have come to dominate policing in Los Angeles and other cities. However, flawed statistics leave police and the public with an incomplete picture of crime in the city. Unreliable figures can undermine efforts to map crime and deploy officers where they will make the most difference.

More than two dozen current and retired LAPD officers interviewed for this article gave differing explanations for why crimes are misclassified.

Some said it was inadvertent. Others said the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.

At the start of each year, top LAPD officials set statistical goals for driving down crime in the city. As part of that process, the department’s 21 divisions are given numerical targets for serious crimes each month.

Division captains, their command staff and other senior officials worry constantly about hitting their targets, officers said.

“Whenever you reported a serious crime, they would find any way possible to make it a minor crime,” Det. Tom Vettraino, who retired in 2012 after 31 years on the force, said of his supervisors. “We were spending all this time addressing what the crime should be called, instead of dealing with the crime itself. It’s ridiculous.”

In a written response to questions from The Times, LAPD officials said the department “does not in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data.”

Deputy Chief Rick Jacobs defended the crime-reduction targets, saying they are an important tool for tracking the department’s performance and holding division captains accountable. Captains are not judged solely on the numbers, but on the crime-fighting strategies they use, Jacobs said.

LAPD officials also say classification errors are inevitable in a department that records more than 100,000 serious offenses each year. They say the department has tightened its safeguards and improved its reporting accuracy.

“We recognize there is an error rate,” said Arif Alikhan, a senior policy advisor to Police Chief Charlie Beck. “It’s important to us to do what we can to reduce that error rate.”

The department “is relying on that data to determine where we are going to send cops … how we actually do things to prevent crime,” he added.

Alikhan, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, said the rate of misclassification has held steady or even declined over the years, so the public can trust figures showing that crime in L.A. has fallen in each of the last 11 years.

Beck declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said classifying crimes is “a complex process that is subject to human error.”

If the misclassifications were mainly inadvertent, police would be expected to make a similar number of mistakes in each direction — reporting serious crimes as minor ones and vice versa, said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But The Times’ review found that when police miscoded crimes, the result nearly always was to turn a serious crime into a minor one.


PRAISES AND CONCERNS REGARDING LAPD CHIEF BECK AS VOTE ON REAPPOINTMENT DRAWS NEARER

As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck heads into the police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint him for a second 5-year term, Brenda Gazzar of the LA Daily news looks at criticisms and praises of the chief. Here are some clips:

At a housing project in Watts earlier this year, gang expert Jorja Leap was leading a weekly support group for fathers that included former gang members and parolees when the topic turned to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck.

There had been a spike in gang violence that week, Leap recalled, and some of the men in Project Fatherhood were concerned that the LAPD would go back to its old, heavy-handed ways and “come down hard” on African-Americans. The adjunct professor for the UCLA Luskin School for Public Affairs was stunned, she said, when others in the group strongly disagreed, arguing that Beck would never do that because “he was different.”

“I’ve worked in South Los Angeles all my life — all my professional life — and there has always been mistrust and outright hatred of the LAPD and its chief,” said Leap, noting that this predominantly black neighborhood in particular had witnessed decades of police brutality dating back to the 1965 Watts riots. However, “there’s something about (Beck) that has fostered great trust in the community. He has to always be respectful of that and how he uses that.”

[SNIP]

The Rev.[sic] Greg Boyle, founder of the renowned L.A.-based anti-gang program Homeboy Industries, said Beck “has a reverence for the complexity of things — and the root of gang crime and kids’ involvement in it.” Boyle said his wish is that law enforcement will now realize that gang crime is really a community health issue.

“It’s not enough for law enforcement to keep saying (endlessly) that we ‘can’t arrest our way out of this problem,’” Boyle wrote in an email. “Usually, after saying this, it proceeds to try and solve this problem alone. L.A. is ready for the wider, more aerial view … and Charlie can bring the city to that place.”

But in addition to the new issue of the wrongly categorizing crimes, some commission members still expressed concerns.

“There are a number of (discipline) decisions that trouble me, partly because I felt they were too lenient and partly because I felt they were inconsistent from cases otherwise similar,” said Commissioner Robert M. Saltzman, who has served on the panel for seven years and declined to identify the specific cases due to “personnel matters.”

Meanwhile, Soboroff has publicly disagreed with the chief on two discipline cases, one involving Officer Shaun Hillman, who was given a suspension of more than two months after he allegedly called an African-American a “monkey” in an off-duty incident and lied to investigators. The chief overruled a disciplinary board’s decision to fire Hillman, whose father is a retired LAPD officer and whose uncle is a former deputy chief. The other case involved Beck’s decision to return to duty eight police officers who mistakenly fired more than 100 rounds at a pickup truck carrying two women delivering newspapers during the search for cop killer Christopher Dorner. Beck acknowledged the officers violated department policy but opted to retrain them. However, those decisions are taken against Beck’s total performance over five years, Soboroff said.


CLASSES FOR INFLUX OF LIFER INMATES WINNING PAROLE

Over the last five years, around 2,300 California inmates serving life with the possibility of parole have been released into supervision—more than twice as many as the preceding twenty years combined.

The new population of lifers winning parole has triggered a wave of programs to help these inmates—who have been locked up for decades—successfully reenter their communities and adjust to life on the outside.

KQED’s Scott Shafer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On a recent weekday morning at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, inmates lined up to receive certificates. They had just completed classes that help them understand how they ended up here. The special guest is not a typical graduation speaker. Instead, they hear from Teresa Courtemanche. Six years ago, her son, Matt, who was on the Fairfield City Council, was shot and killed. He was 22 — a victim of mistaken identity. She recalls that night when her home phone rang.

“It was my friend Terri and she said, ‘I think Matt got shot,’ ” Courtemanche remembers. “ ’What?’ ‘I think he got shot.’ I said, ‘OK, let me go. Let me call his phone.’ And I kept calling his phone and he didn’t answer.”

She goes on to describe through tears how the murder tore through her family — and still does. The audience, 40 or so lifers, sits quietly, many of them nodding slowly as she speaks. It’s one of the ways inmates hear about the impact that crime has on their victims and their families. Afterward, one of the inmates, James Ward, speaks passionately about the unfairness of violent crime.

“When I hear us complaining about how unfair we are treated — you want to see how unfairness is?” Ward says, pounding the podium for emphasis. “Look at her experience. When we talk about, ‘Oh, the police didn’t let me out on the yard or came to search my house.’ How messed up that is. That is not unfair!”

Ward has spent half his life in prison after stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death over 30 years ago. After being turned down for parole five times, he was finally found suitable earlier this year. Standing in a prison courtyard, Ward says unless that his parole is reversed by the governor, he’ll leave Solano Prison Nov. 5.

“I have mixed feelings about it, actually,” he confides. “There’s the elation of being found suitable but then the sobering realization of what this has cost — in my girlfriend’s life and her relatives’ lives and my family’s lives. So, the impact is widespread, so I can’t be too celebratory.”

A couple years ago, Ward was trained to be a drug and alcohol counselor at Solano, as well as a mentor for other inmates.

“Doing this work is part of that making amends in a kind of indirect way to my victims,” Ward says. “But there’s more that I think I could do out of the confines of this limiting environment.”

Programs like these are part of a different approach that Gov. Brown has brought to criminal justice. For the first time in decades, inmate rehabilitation is a funding priority. The inmates learn things like anger management, what leads to criminal thinking, the impact crime has on victims and how to reconcile with their own family members if they’re released.

Rodger Meier, deputy director for rehabilitation with CDCR, says the goal is “to try to make sure that they are suitable for parole, that they don’t impact public safety, and they can successfully go out into society and lead a productive life.”

Nearly half of Solano’s 3,300 inmates are lifers, and many will eventually be paroled. And the hope is that programs like these will help them make better decisions than they did before they were sent here.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE BOBBY SHRIVER ON CHILD WELFARE

Last month, Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback talked with Sheila Kuehl, one of the candidates running for LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, about what she would do, if elected, to push through much-needed Dept. of Children and Family Services reforms—particularly those recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety.

Now, Loudenback has interviewed Kuehl’s opponent, Bobby Shriver, about his thoughts on creating a better child welfare system for LA County’s most vulnerable.

Shriver discussed fixing DCFS’ outdated computer systems, staying on an issue—calling people “all day long and on the weekend”—until it is corrected, and finding innovators within the system to come together as champions for change.

Here are some clips:

Growing up as the son of Special Olympics founder and social worker Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Shriver says that the struggles of caseworkers in the child welfare system remind him of his mother.

“As a kid, I remember my mom was frustrated with the way with the way things were happening,” Shriver said, recalling his mother’s work in the Illinois juvenile justice system in the 1950s. “I grew up watching her assemble social workers at our house and figure out how to create programs for whatever funding streams in Illinois in the ‘50s and then in D.C. later.”

[SNIP]

Shriver has made the pursuit of new ideas at the core of his campaign for the Board of Supervisors. A self-described “innovation person,” Shriver says Los Angeles County needs to be shaken up.

“I’m more disposed emotionally and intellectually to solve a problem with a new idea that hasn’t been tried before,” Shriver says.

“I don’t want to be sitting here in 10 years with a new study showing me how the child welfare system has yet again failed this group of children. We’ve got a series of those studies already.”

“There’s has to be something that can be done that will shift us out of that and if that’s performance-based contracting in part, we have to take a serious look at it,” said Shriver.

Shriver points to a discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 29 about creating a mental-health diversion program that would route some offenders into mental-health programs instead of the county’s overcrowded system of jails as an example of how the long-serving board has not always been open to hearing new ways to address the county’s enduring issues

“Supervisor Yaroslavsky said at the meeting that the conversation about diversion was the first discussion of the topic he had heard in the 20-plus years he’s been on the board,” Shriver said. “It’s incredible to me that none of supervisors had brought forward that suggestion in 20 years.”

[SNIP]

“I would stick a fork through my hand if the computer system hasn’t been fixed in four years if I’m there, running for re-election,” he said, referring to the outmoded computer system used by county social workers. “I do have a plan, but the most important element of the plan is that when I say I’m going to absolutely do something, I mean it. I’m going to call people all day long and on the weekend. It has to be followed through on a daily basis. I’ve just never seen [change happen] by committees or consultants, that kind of way.”



See the original LA Times investigation for more LAPD documents.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, Reentry | 11 Comments »

PBS Documentary on Juvenile Life Without Parole…NY Times Supports Marijuana Legalization….Paul Tanaka’s Retirement Take-home Pay….and More

July 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PBS’ “POINT OF VIEW” LOOKS AT LOCKING KIDS UP FOR LIFE WITHOUT A CHANCE OF PAROLE

Next Monday, August 4, PBS will air “15 to Life,” the story of Kenneth Young, who received four consecutive life sentences for committing several armed robberies as a teenager. Kenneth thought he would never make it out of prison alive, until the US Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that kids could not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes.


NY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD CALLS FOR END TO FEDERAL BAN ON MARIJUANA

On Sunday, the NY Times editorial board officially came out in support of repealing the federal marijuana ban, which is something of a big deal. The editorial was also the starting point for a six-part opinion series on legalizing marijuana. (In part one, NYT’s David Firestone argues in favor of the feds stepping back and letting states decide.)

Here’s a clip from the editorial board’s significant endorsement:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.


PAUL TANAKA’S 2013 FINAL PAY WAS NEARLY $600,000

Between seven months of salary pay and 339 days of unused paid leave accrued over his 31-year career, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka took home $591,000 as final pay in 2013. This number was only surpassed by one county employee, the chief neurosurgeon at the biggest county-run hospital.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has the story. Here’s a clip:

Including his seven months of wages and benefits, the county paid $591,000 for Tanaka in 2013, according to payroll records provided to the Bay Area News Group, part of the Daily News’ parent company. This made him the second-highest compensated employee, next to the chief neurosurgeon at the largest county-administered hospital.

A certified public accountant (whose license is inactive), Tanaka did not violate any rules, county officials said.

Nor did he “spike” his pension. None of the 339 days leave he cashed out applied toward his retirement income, officials say. The county code limits that widely criticized practice of boosting one’s final salary.

Six-figure payouts aren’t rare at the Sheriff’s Department, though Tanaka topped the 2013 list. There were 500 other sheriff’s employees — more than at all other county departments combined — who received one-time payments in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 data. For some county employees, those checks may have included bonuses or other taxable cash payments in addition to leave time.

Tanaka, who did not respond to requests for comment, was pushed out of the department by Sheriff Lee Baca following a series of scandals. Federal authorities are investigating whether high-level sheriff’s officials were involved in witness tampering. During recent testimony, Tanaka told a prosecutor he was aware he’s a subject of the probe, and denied any wrongdoing. He is facing Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election.

An employee with McDonnell’s standing would be eligible to cash out a maximum of 60 days vacation and holiday time upon retirement, Long Beach administrators said. Also, when he left the Los Angeles Police Department in 2010, after 28 years, McDonnell cashed out his unused sick time, vacation and overtime hours for $90,825, according to the City Controller’s office.

Some argue that such payouts unnecessarily strain local government finances.

“They earned the benefits, and they’re entitled to it, but there’s no reason the benefits should be inflated to the top rate,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They should be paid based on the value of the benefit they earned, at the time they earned it.”

While we’re on the subject of LASD retirement packages, a number of the department’s scandal-plagued supervisors have been able to retire ahead of being demoted or terminated.

This, for example, is what we wrote a year and a half ago about Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram’s sudden retirements—and their estimated yearly retirement pay.


BREAKING FREE OF THE “INCARCERATION ONLY” APPROACH

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Timothy P. Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, says our warped criminal justice system should be remodeled into a system that bosts public safety while turning lives around. In his essay (inspired by Shaka Senghor’s powerful TED talk, above), Silard says we must keep pushing for sentencing reform—reducing the number of low-level drug offenders and mentally ill in prison—and reinvest money saved through lowering incarceration rates back into programs that rehabilitate and help former offenders successfully return to their communities. Here’s how it opens:

I got a first-hand look at how our criminal justice system could be used to transform lives — not just punish — while serving as a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

In one case, an 18-year-old young woman was arrested for selling drugs on a San Francisco street corner. She normally would have ended up behind bars for a felony conviction that would have followed her for the rest of her life. Instead, she pled guilty, accepted responsibility and entered an innovative re-entry program for nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. During the program, she was closely supervised and provided the resources and support she needed to turn her life around. Among the requirements: enrolling in school, performing community service and getting a full-time job. She thrived in the program. After graduating, she received a full scholarship to attend a university and finished her first semester with a 3.8 GPA.

The program, called Back on Track, was one of the first re-entry programs in a District Attorney’s Office. It would go on to become a national model, reducing re-offense rates from 53 percent to less than 10 percent while saving tax dollars — the program cost about $5,000 per person, compared to more than $50,000 to spend a year county jail. Perhaps even more importantly, it helped save lives and strengthen families and communities. The power of second chances was never more evident than at the yearly Back on Track graduation ceremonies. There, smartly dressed mothers, fathers, siblings, children and community members celebrated the young graduates as they prepared to embark on much more hopeful futures.

For far too long, our criminal justice system has been stuck using one gear – the incarceration gear. We lock up too many people for far too long, for no good reason, and we’re doing so at great economic, human and moral cost. As a prosecutor, I saw the same offenders arrested, prosecuted and locked up, only to come back time and time again. I saw low-level, nonviolent offenders return from prison and jails more hardened and posing a greater threat to our communities than when they went in. And I saw African Americans and Latinos arrested and jailed at egregiously greater rates than whites.

Posted in LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 15 Comments »

Double Charged: CA’s Unlimited Juvie Restitution…Supes Votes Put Off On LASD Citizens Commission & Mental Health Diversion…John Oliver on America’s Prisons….& More

July 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

The Cost of Court Involvement


WHEN KIDS ARE DOUBLE CHARGED: SHOULD RESTITUTION CHARGES FOR KIDS HAVE A CEILING?

In an investigative series called Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice, Youth Radio has looked into some of these suprise costs that suddenly are levied against a kid and his or her parent when that kid finds himself caught up in the juvenile justice system, as the infograpic above shows. (We highlighted an earlier segment here.)

The newest Youth Radio show segment, written and produced by Sayre Quevedo, and co-published by the Huffington Post, looks at how, for many kids in California, in addition to the myriad court and lock-up charges, there is restitution, which can be staggaringly high priced.

Here’s the story:

It is generally agreed that restitution is, in principle anyway, a good and healthy idea for both victims and lawbreakers. For victims, restitution makes up, at least in part, for whatever damage was done them. For lawbreakers it is a tangible reminder that their actions did harm to an actual person or people, and provides them an opportunity to take real world responsibility for their acts.

The principle holds true for juvenile lawbreakers as well as a adults. But when it comes to kids, should there be a limit? States like New York and Missouri say yes. In Missouri caps restitution for juveniles at $4000. New York sets the limit at $1500.

In California, there is no limit—a policy that many juvenile justice activists contend can result in unpayable amounts that do far more harm than good.

Here are some clips:

Ricky Brum stood with one of my producers in an alleyway behind a furniture store in Manteca, California, and to be honest, it was a little awkward. He didn’t really want to be there. Last February, Brum set some cardboard boxes on fire just a few feet away.

“Just that right there,” he said, pointing to a black spot on the pavement. “Just a little burn mark on the floor.”

One match did the trick, said Brum. “Like I just sat there and was like ‘Bam!’”

That “bam” changed Ricky Brum’s life. He was 15 when he set the fire. It was his first time getting in trouble with the law. He was lucky: his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Brum went on probation, and didn’t serve any time in juvenile hall.

Brum, and his mom Leanne, thought the worst was behind them. But then, while meeting with their public defender, they found out about restitution.

“We thought it was a joke,” said Leanne Brum.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Ricky Brum flipped through the restitution claim. Even though the fire department report said there was no damage to anything in the furniture store, the owner claimed his entire inventory of nearly 1400 items was smoke damaged.

The bill came out to $221,000….

[SNIP]

Payment is rare. There are no statewide statistics on juvenile restitution, but Youth Radio collected numbers from three of California’s largest counties and found that less than 30% of restitution amounts are paid.

“I think that people recognize there are certain dollar amounts that are not going to be paid at all, ever,” said Roger Chan, who runs the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland. Juvenile law, said Chan, is about reform, giving young people a chance to start over. However, Chan argues that restitution too often gets in the way because it saddles kids with unreasonably high debt.

“If you order such a huge amount of restitution to a young person who has no ability to pay it, how meaningful is that as a consequence,” asked Chan. “Is that really an effective way for the young person to be rehabilitated and is that really beneficial to victims?”

Chan is trying to change California’s law to let judges consider a kid’s ability to pay. It’s not just for the benefit of young offenders. Chan says it’s for victims too, because when restitution sums are realistic, he says victims are more likely to get paid.


BOARD OF SUPERVISORS’ VOTES PUT OFF BOTH ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION…AND A CITIZENS COMMISSION TO OVERSEE THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The members of the LA County Board of Supervisors were originally scheduled to vote on two closely watched motions, but both votes have now been postponed:

First of all there was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s motion of last week, which would cause the Supes to allocate at least the beginning sum of $20 million to launch a “coordinated and comprehensive” mental health diversion program in the county. It has been postponed until next Tuesday, July 29. (You can read the motion here.)

The motion has already attracted letters of support from such organizations as the National Alliance for Mental Illness Los Angeles County Council, and others, urging the board to commit the funds necessary to the kind of diversion programming that has been shown to save money—and suffering—in other counties, most notably Miami-Dade.

(We’ll update you on how the vote is looking as we get closer to next Tuesday.)

At the same time, the vote on the motion to create a citizens commission to provide community oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—which is co-sponsored by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina—has been put off until August 5.

This column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton looks at topic of the citizens commission, whether is a good idea or not, and whether the motion has a chance of passing.

Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:

The board is split: Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina have expressed support for the commission; supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich have indicated their opposition. (Jim McDonnell, leading candidate for sheriff, announced his support for the commission this month; Ridley-Thomas endorsed McDonnell a few days later.)

That leaves Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. When we spoke last week, he said he was still pondering the matter, but he’s clearly leaning against it. “I’m reluctant to create structures that have no power and no authority,” he said, adding that such a commission “will ultimately disappoint.”

That may be enough to scotch the idea for the moment, but perhaps not for long. Yaroslavsky is termed out, as is Molina. Molina’s replacement, Hilda Solis, has indicated she supports establishing a commission, so one supporter will arrive as another leaves. More important, the two challengers in a runoff for Yaroslavsky’s seat, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and former state legislator Sheila Kuehl, both told me last week that they too support a citizens commission. So even if Ridley-Thomas falls short this time, his third vote may well be on the way.


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM

Almost certainly the year’s best 17 minutes of news and information on the American prison situation was contained in a segment shown on Sunday night on….a comedy show, specifically John Oliver’s new-this-spring Last Week Tonight, on HBO.

Oliver hit nearly all the important points brilliantly and hard—using humor to carry all his sharpest points:

“We have more prisoners than China. China. We don’t have more of anything than China, except of course debt to China.”

“Our prison population has expanded 8 fold since 1970. The only thing that has grown at that rate since the ’70′s is varieties of Cheerios!”

And why has it grown? For a number of reasons, he says.

“…From the dismantling of our mental health system, to mandatory minimum sentencing laws….to, of course, drugs. Half the people in federal prison are there on drug charges. And it counts for a quarter of the admissions to state prisons. And, of course, it’s tricky to know how to feel about this because, on the one hand, the war on drugs has completely solved our nation’s drug problem, so that’s good!

“But on the other hand, our drug laws do seem to be a little draconian and a lot racist. Because while white people and African Americans use drug about the same amount, a study has found that african Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses up to 10 times the amount—-for some utterly known reason.

From there Oliver brought up the prison system’s reluctance to deal with prison rape, the tidy profit made by prison venders—many of whom have been found to boost their bottom line by horrific cuts to basic services, like…um. food—to the inherent unholy conflict of interest that occurs with prison privatization—and more.

In short, the segment is filled with excellent reporting and commentary combined with excellent comedy, all of which serves to illuminate some crucial issues that many of us are unfortunately too content to ignore. Watch and you won’t be sorry.


NEW WEBSITE URGES LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS TO GIVE $$$ SUPPORT TO LASD 6 CONVICTED BY FEDS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

A new website called Support Our 6 has appeared in the past few days, urging LASD members to give monetary support to the six members of the LA Sheriff department who were convicted earlier this month.

(Although the website mentions Deputy James Sexton, whose trial ended with a hung jury but who is being retried by the government in September, it isn’t clear if he is included in the fundraising efforts.)

The site’s organizers contend that the 2 deputies, 2 sergeants and 2 lieutenants were following lawful orders, which was not at all what the jury concluded.

We don’t yet know who is behind the website, but we’ll let you know when we know more.

In the meantime, the organizers’ POV is presented here.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 14 Comments »

Realignment and Untapped Solutions to Overcrowding at the Local and State Levels, Federal Sentencing Reforms Stalled, and More

June 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT THREE YEARS IN: STILL OVERCROWDED WITH MINIMAL SAVINGS

California prison realignment, AB 109, (which diverts lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision) was supposed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding while saving the state money. Three years into the implementation of AB 109, however, California is spending $2 billion more per year locking people up, jails are overcrowded, and the state prison population is on the rise, once again.

Through realignment, counties were allotted money to spend on things like community-based alternatives to incarceration, but some counties (Los Angeles, for instance) have failed to use available methods like split-sentencing and other programs to lower recidivism.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the realignment issue. Here are some clips:

Nearly 15 months after launching what he called the “boldest move in criminal justice in decades,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades.

Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation.

“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said in early 2013.

The numbers tell a different story.

Today, California is spending nearly $2 billion a year more on incarceration than when Brown introduced his strategy in 2011. The prisons are still overcrowded, and the state has been forced to release inmates early to satisfy federal judges overseeing the system.

Counties, given custody of more than 142,000 felons so far, complain that the state isn’t paying full freight for their supervision. Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more.

“The charts are sobering,” Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said at a hearing this year on crime, prison costs and inmate numbers.

Still, Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. “It is not going to create miracles overnight,” he said as he returned to his office from a Capitol rally for crime victims earlier this spring.

The governor’s office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state.

Putting prisoners back in local hands “is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives,” he said.

[SNIP]

The prison population fell sharply at first, dropping from 162,400 to 133,000, but it is rising again. There now are 135,400 inmates in state custody, a number expected to grow to 147,000 in 2019.

The state Finance Department originally projected that realignment would reduce prison spending by $1.4 billion this fiscal year and that about two-thirds of that savings would be passed on to counties to cover the costs of their new charges.

Instead, the state’s increased costs for private prison space and the compensation it pays out for county jails, prosecutors and probation departments adds up to about $2 billion a year more for corrections than when Brown regained office.

Without stemming the flow of prisoners into the system, the problems created by crowding continue. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state agency that investigates government operations, said in a May report that realignment simply “changed the place where the sentence is served.”


OVERCROWDING AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, AND WHAT LOS ANGELES COULD BE DOING ABOUT IT

Los Angeles County is facing A $1.7 billion (or more) plan to tear down and replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail. Currently, 4,000 more men are crammed into the facility than allowed by the government. There is no question that the aging and grossly overcrowded facility needs to be replaced, but there are ways to fix the population problem.

Before we get to that, LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story on the overpopulated jail. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Dyer, commanding officer of the downtown Men’s Central Jail, couldn’t help but grimace during a recent inspection of Dorm 9500.

More than 200 low-security inmates were crammed inside the room, every now and then tripping over each other’s bunks spaced a foot apart.

The space was not originally intended to serve as living quarters, so toilets were an afterthought, installed haphazardly in the middle of a row of bunks in the 1980s. They’re exposed to the room with no stall walls and only a few feet from the nearest bunk.

“That’s just wrong,” Dyer said, gesturing toward the inmates who have to eat and sleep next to the toilets.

[SNIP]

“We are at serious risk of litigation,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald warned. “If the courts take over, we’ll end up spending a lot of money which could have gone toward rehabilitation and treatment.”

County Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop said Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 decision to ease overcrowding in state prisons by diverting inmates to county jails created a crisis.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” he said. “Something must be done.”

Alsop called for additional funding support to ensure inmates’ “appropriate and effective supervision and rehabilitation.”

[SNIP]

The jail population peaked at about 23,000 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sheriff’s Lt. Sergio Murillo recalled, “We used to have inmates all over the place — they were on the roof, in the chapel, on the floors of the cells.”

The number dropped to about 15,000 three years ago, but AB 109 pushed it up to 19,000 currently. That’s 4,000 more than government regulations allow.

“That’s horrific, horrendous and unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a court-appointed monitor of the jails.

“It raises very significant questions as to whether this is an unconstitutional level of overcrowding, especially when they have space they are not utilizing,” he added.

Dyer admitted the East Facility at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic has room for 1,500 inmates but isn’t being used because of budget problems.

SoCal ACLU Director Peter Eliasberg told WLA that if LA County is worried about getting sued by the federal government, we might want to find a way to use those 1500 beds in Pitchess.

Eliasberg also shared three ways to further lower the jail population, including amping up the county’s currently minimal use of split-sentencing (dividing sentences into part jail time, part probation):

1. Have the Board of Supervisors authorize the Sheriff to do risk-based pretrial release, rather than having the county rely on the bail system, which is not risk-based and leaves lots of poor low risk individuals in jail awaiting disposition of their cases. If the Sheriff were to use a sound risk assessment tool to do non-bail pretrial release, it would likely lower the average daily jail population by about 1,000.

3. If the proposed state criminal justice trailer bill (AB 1468) passes, it will likely increase the amount of split sentencing in LA County significantly because it contains the presumption that an N3 [a non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender] will receive a split sentence “Unless the court finds, in the interest of justice, that it [a split sentence] is not appropriate in a particular case…”

Los Angeles has one of the lowest, if not the lowest rates of split sentencing in California at about 3%. By contrast, 87% of the N3s in Contra Costa receive split sentences; the figure is 67% in Riverside and 39% in Orange County. The best estimates are that if LA raised its rate of split sentencing to 30%, it would lower the average daily jail population by about 900 a night.

If the District Attorney achieves her goal of cutting the number of inmates with mental illness by about 1,000 through a diversion program, the Board of Supervisors gives the Sheriff pretrial release authority, and LA raises its level of split sentencing to 30%, the County would be looking at a reduction of the average daily jail population of about 2,900 below the projections that were used to justify the jail plan the BOS voted to move forward on in May.


BIPARTISAN SENTENCING REFORM BILLS DELAYED IN CONGRESS

Over the last few years, there has been a significant bipartisan push to reduce incarceration. Unfortunately, two promising and far-reaching criminal justice reform bills have stalled in Congress.

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.


An NY Times editorial explains why the bills have stalled,
and calls on Congress to “do its job” and fix the defective laws feeding our over-stuffed prison system. Here’s a clip:

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal inmates — many of whom have already served years of unjustly long drug sentences — continue to sit in overstuffed prisons, wasting both their lives and taxpayer dollars at no demonstrable benefit to public safety.

The slowdown is all the more frustrating because there is mounting evidence that criminal justice reform works. States from South Carolina to Ohio to Rhode Island have cut back on mandatory minimums, improved rehabilitation services and reduced their prison populations while seeing crime rates go down, or at least not go up.

So why the delay? One major factor has been resistance from members of the old guard, who refuse to let go of their tough-on-crime mind-set. In May, three senior Republican senators — Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama — came out against the sentencing reductions, arguing that mandatory minimums are only used for the highest-level drug traffickers. This assertion is contradicted by data from the United States Sentencing Commission, which found that 40 percent of federal drug defendants were couriers or low-level dealers.

Another factor was the Obama administration’s April announcement that it would consider clemency for hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates currently serving time under older, harsher drug laws. Republicans complained that this — along with other executive actions on criminal justice by Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. — took the wind out of reform’s sails.

But with the exception of some old-line prosecutors and resistant lawmakers, everyone still agrees on the need for extensive reform…


LA PROGRAM HELPS PARENTS COMBAT EFFECTS OF TRAUMA IN BABIES AND TODDLERS

A Children’s Hospital Los Angeles program is targeting trauma and toxic stress experienced by babies, in hopes of averting mental health problems as they get older. The program provides in-home therapy and coaching for parents of babies and toddlers exhibiting signs of toxic stress. (For more WLA posts about trauma and toxic stress in children, go here and here.)

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Through its “early childhood mental health program,” the hospital sends therapists into the homes of hundreds of kids who are showing signs of anxiety, trauma and stress that can pile up causing what experts call “toxic stress.”

…counselors in this program teach parents how to diffuse stress in the home and to understand and meet their children’s emotional needs. About 400 families are served every year.

Among them are Shantoya Byrd and her toddler, Anmarie Paz.

When Anmarie was just weeks old, her aunt committed suicide in the home they shared.

“I was so, so, sad,” Byrd said. “And then you feel really bad because you’re like, now I have a baby, and the baby sees you so sad.”

Byrd was also living with her mother, who was struggling with drug addiction. When Anmarie was six months old, social workers found the home unfit and removed her. She was reunited with her mother a few days later, when Byrd moved out on her own.

“When I got her back, I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without her like following behind me screaming,” she said. “If she could not like touch me, she would scream, she would cry.”

Anmarie was suffering from severe anxiety. She cried and yelled nonstop. Byrd didn’t understand why or how to deal with it.

[SNIP]

Child welfare workers referred Byrd to the program, which sent psychotherapist Lorena Samora to her Los Angeles apartment.

During weekly visits, Samora was able to coach the young mother on techniques for helping her toddler to self-soothe and lessen anxiety.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health, prison, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma, War on Drugs | 3 Comments »

Detained Kids More Likely to Die Violently….Audit on Illegal Sterilizations of Female Prisoners….Criminalizing Truancy….and More

June 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

KIDS IN JUVENILE DETENTION HAVE MUCH HIGHER RISK OF VIOLENT DEATH THAN PEERS

Kids who are detained in juvenile facilities have a much higher likelihood of dying an early, violent death than kids who are not involved in the juvenile justice system, according to a new Northwestern University study.

The study looked at 1,829 kids, ages 10 to 18, who had been housed at a Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998 and followed them until 2011. The detained girls tracked in the study were nearly five times more likely to die than their peers in the general population. Minorities also died at a rate much higher than the general population.

NPR’s Maanvi Singh has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

The researchers interviewed 1,829 people, ages 10 to 18, who were detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998. The young people were arrested for a variety of reasons, but they weren’t necessarily convicted of a crime.

The researchers continued to follow up with them over the years. By 2011, 111 of them had died, and more than 90 percent of them were killed with guns. The findings were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

“I would have anticipated the death rate to be somewhat higher [than that of the general population], but not the figures that you see,” [lead author of the study, Linda Teplin,] tells Shots.

Young women in the study died at much higher rates than their peers in part because the rate of violent death among women in the general population is relatively low, the researchers say.

Delinquent youths from every demographic group died at significantly higher rates than their peers from the Chicago area. And their death rates were nearly twice those of combat troops in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan, the researchers say.

But minorities were at particular risk. African-American men in this study had the highest mortality rates, and they were 4 1/2 as likely as the white men to die of homicide. Latino men were five times as likely to die as the general population, and Latino women were nine times as likely to die early.

Lack of access to mental health care and other resources may be an important factor. The vast majority of these young delinquents come from poor communities, Teplin says. “Detention centers are where poor kids go. Wealthier kids have other options.”

The researchers never encountered a juvenile from the affluent suburbs of Chicago, she says. Even though young people from wealthy families may abuse and sell drugs, they generally have better support systems and access to treatments.

The kids who end up in juvenile detention often have mental health or substance abuse problems, Teplin notes, but they don’t get the care they need.


STATE AUDIT ON CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ UNAUTHORIZED STERILIZATIONS OF FEMALE INMATES

Last summer, Corey Johnson from the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered evidence that, between 2006 and 2013, 144 women in California prisons were sterilized against state policy.

Now, a state audit has come back with some startling details on the sterilizations. For instance, 39 of the surgeries were performed without proper legal consent from the women, and that all 144 inmates had been incarcerated at least once before.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has more on the audit. Here are some of the other findings:

Inmates receiving tubal ligations typically were between 26 and 40 and had been pregnant five or more times before being sterilized. Fifty white women, 53 Latino women, 35 black women and six women classified as “other” received the procedure.

Most of the women tested at less than a high school level of reading proficiency, the report stated, with about one-third of the inmates who received the surgery reading below the sixth-grade level.

In 27 cases, the inmate’s physician – the person who would perform the procedure in a hospital or an alternate physician – did not sign the required consent form asserting that the patient appeared to be mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure and that the required waiting period had been satisfied.

Read on.


DEBTOR’S PRISON FOR IMPOVERISHED PARENTS OF TRUANT KIDS

A Philadelphia mother serving a two-day sentence for her child’s truancy died in her jail cell on Saturday. Incarcerating impoverished parents for their inability to pay truancy fines is yet another example of America’s modern debtors’ prison. (Here is another example.)

In a story for the Chronicle of Social Change, Carla Benway (Vice-President, Employee and Program Development, Youth Advocate Programs) explains why criminalizing truancy is a harmful practice that does not actually reduce absenteeism, because it fails to address the underlying reasons why kids miss school. Here are some clips:

A stay-at-home mother of seven children died in a Berks County jail this week. The cause of Eileen DiNino’s death is unknown. The reason for her incarceration is.

Eileen DiNino was jailed because she was poor. She was serving a 48-hour sentence to erase about $2,000 in court costs and truancy fines for several of her children dating back to 1999 that she was unable to pay.

Incarcerating the poor for their inability to pay fines is a real and current issue in America highlighted in a series last month by NPR and in this short documentary by Brave New Films. Berks County, the economically depressed area of Pennsylvania where DiNino lived with her seven children, has jailed more than 1,600 parents since 2000. Two-thirds of them are women.

Maryland, California, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina and other states have also used truancy laws to send parents to jail. Millions of dollars in fines are collected annually for truancy. Parents who end up in jail for truancy are those who can’t afford to pay the court-imposed fines or the risk of harsher sentences that may be imposed through trial.

In a recent example in Arizona, a mother “chose” to accept one day in jail as opposed to going to trial. “If she had gone to trial, it’s a trial by judge, not by a jury, the judge could have chosen whatever. She could have given her the full 15 days.”

Is that a choice, really? How many mothers can risk being away from their children for 15 days?

[SNIP]

I am not clear on how the “blunt instrument” of parental incarceration is effective at fighting future truancy. Frankly, the research and my own experience suggest the opposite.

In our work at Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., we see many issues affecting school attendance. For some, the challenges are concrete: lack of winter clothing or inability to pay for a bus pass.

For others, it is more complex. The reasons include:

Older siblings taking care of younger siblings while their parent(s) work because they can’t afford child care

Youth working to help financially support the family

Youth with legitimate safety concerns, severe anxiety, or other emotional or learning challenges that find school a hostile or unsafe environment

Parents with severe mental health needs or addictions that impact their ability to provide the structure and support their children need; and parents who are simply overwhelmed with their various economic and life stressors.

If we fail to understand and address the reason a youth is truant, we will fail to reduce truancy.

Be sure to read the rest.


SCOTUS MOVES TO PROTECT PUBLIC EMPLOYEE WHISTLEBLOWERS

On Thursday, the US Supreme Court voted to protect public employees from being fired or disciplined for testifying in court about misconduct in the workplace. This decision could be vital for whistleblowers in law enforcement, where the code of silence is particularly pervasive. (WLA has already gotten emails from relieved LASD employees.)

The LA Times’ David Savage has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9-0 decision bolsters the rights of tens of millions of government employees, but its reach is narrow. The ruling covered only those who are ordered to give “truthful testimony under oath.”

“Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the 1st Amendment,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. “This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment.”

The unanimous ruling revived a free-speech lawsuit by a former Alabama community college official who said he lost his job for telling the truth.

Edward Lane had been appointed to direct the college’s program for underprivileged youth and soon learned that an influential state representative was drawing a paycheck but doing no work. Lane told Rep. Suzanne Schmitz she had to report for work or be fired. His superiors warned him to be cautious, because she could cut funds for the college system.

Undaunted, Lane fired Schmitz, and the FBI later launched a corruption probe. Lane was ordered to testify, and the state representative was convicted and sentenced to prison.

When funding for the college was cut, Lane was dismissed. He sued several college officials, alleging he was a victim of illegal retaliation…

Posted in juvenile justice, prison, Supreme Court, Violence Prevention, women's issues | No Comments »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF ELECTION UPDATES: MEDIA BANNED FROM TANAKA’S ELECTION NIGHT PARTY…AND MORE

On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.

[SNIP]

Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


150K BALLOTS STILL UNCOUNTED

There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


TEDxIRONWOOD: FIRST EVER TED TALKS EVENT IN A PRISON

On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.

[SNIP]

TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WLA ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND

WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


GRAY WOLF GETS ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS IN CALIFORNIA

It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

Supes Terminate Contract with LA Works over $1M in Overcharges, San Quentin’s Award-Winning Newspaper, and an Arts Initiative for Low-Achieving Schools

May 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AUDITS FIND LA WORKS OVERCHARGED LASD (AND ANOTHER COUNTY DEPT.) A WHOPPING $1M, SUPES END CONTRACT WITH AGENCY

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to end LA County’s contract with LA Works, an agency that provides employment training services to inmates and the unemployed, after audits found the organization had overcharged the Sheriff’s Dept. and the Dept. of Community and Senior Services nearly $1 million. The job training jail classes run by LA Works will likely be suspended for two weeks while the board negotiates a contract with the second lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

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

LA Works, an Irwindale-based joint-powers agency that provides workforce development services, was given a sole source contract in 2011 to teach job training and life skills classes in the jails. A recent county audit found that it had overbilled the Sheriff’s Department by about $133,000 for staff time spent on non-sheriff’s programs and for vacation, sick and holiday leave costs that were earned before the contract started.

A separate audit found LA Works had overbilled the county’s Department of Community and Senior Services more than $850,000 on an on-the-job training program for unemployed and underemployed residents. Under that program, LA Works was to help people find jobs and would then pay a portion of their wages during their training period.

Auditors found that the agency billed the county for training people who had already been hired, including nurses making $32 an hour, which the auditors noted “is well over the self-sufficiency wage of $11.84 per hour” that is the most someone can earn and still qualify for the program.

LA Works initially argued that the on-the-job training bills were proper, but after auditors released a follow-up report, the agency changed its stance and agreed to repay the money. The agency did not dispute the overbilling in the Sheriff’s Department and has repaid the money, according to an audit report…

The contract for programming in the jails expires this month. LA Works was the lowest bidder on a new $32-million, six-year contract to provide the services.

But county Supervisor Gloria Molina, citing the “significant and unallowable” overbilling, proposed Tuesday that the board direct the Sheriff’s Department to instead negotiate a contract with the next-lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

(LA Daily News’ Richard Irwin also reported on this issue.)


A LOOK INSIDE SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON’S AWARD-WINNING, INMATE-RUN NEWSPAPER

San Quentin State Prison may be notorious for being California’s only death row facility for male prisoners, but it is also home to the state’s only prisoner-run paper, San Quentin News. The monthly paper is circulated among 17 other prisons thanks to subscriptions, grants, and donations. San Quentin News, which recently won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, provides inmates with an important creative outlet and helps build writing and communication skills. (You can read the current issue on the newspaper’s website here.)

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the paper and the men who run it. Here are some clips:

Founded in 1940 and then revived as a serious journalistic enterprise six years ago, the monthly News, which bills itself as “The Pulse of San Quentin,” is the state’s only inmate-produced newspaper and one of the few in the world. The paper’s 15 staff members, all of them male felons, write from the unusual perspective of having served an estimated 297 ½ years collectively for burglary, murder, home invasion, conspiracy and, in one case, a Ponzi scheme.

In a notorious prison best known for its death row, the men are committed to what Juan Haines, the 56-year-old managing editor, who is serving 55 years to life for that 1996 bank robbery, calls “boots on the ground” journalism, accomplished without cellphones or direct Internet access. “It’s about being heard in a place that’s literally shut off from the world,” he said.

From their newsroom trailer next to the prison yard, where inmates work out amid spectacular views, the reporters and editors delve into issues at “the Q,” as San Quentin State Prison is sometimes called, as well as those far beyond its walls. They have covered a hunger strike, crowding in California’s women’s prisons and a federal court order concerning mental health care for California death row inmates.

But the paper specializes in stories that can be written only by journalists with a “uniquely visceral understanding of the criminal justice system,” said Arnulfo T. Garcia, the paper’s editor in chief, who is serving 65 years to life for a long list of crimes that includes burglary, robbery and skipping bail to flee to Mexico.

Lately, the paper seems to be gathering momentum. Editors, who sometimes work through dinner over ramen noodles, are talking about expanding the current circulation of 11,500. Students from the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, have helped them develop a 12-year business plan that would increase the number of paid subscribers to help subsidize the free copies for inmates.

[SNIP]

Robert L. Ayers Jr., a former San Quentin warden who retired in 2008, said that positive outlets were important for prisoners. He said he decided to revive the publication as a quality journalistic endeavor rather than what he called an “inmate rant rag.”

“When they get involved and see they’re accomplishing something, that could be the one positive tick mark in the ‘good’ column for them,” he said. In learning how to write, he added, “they start expressing themselves in ways other than physical or violent means.”


ART EDUCATION PROGRAM EXTENDS TO TEN OF CALIFORNIA’S HIGH-POVERTY, LOW-ACHIEVEMENT SCHOOLS

On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the expansion of Turnaround Arts, an initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, that uses art education to help bridge the academic achievement gap at low-performing schools nationwide. Ten high-poverty California schools serving 6,000 kids will receive musical instruments, art supplies, and other help from art organizations. (Turnaround Arts was piloted in 2012 at eight schools, helping to bring up attendance, lower discipline numbers, and boost kids’ grades.)

KPCC’s Mary Plummer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The program infuses arts education access into struggling schools by providing musical instruments, art supplies, professional development for teachers and help from arts organizations. It began as a national initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and expands into six new states in the Fall.

California’s program will be the largest, serving 6,000 students in Kings, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, Humboldt, Jan Joaquin and Contra Costa counties this fall. All of the schools are within the bottom five percent of the most challenged schools in the country, according to the selection criteria.

“I hope it means that arts education will become a model for all schools in the future,” said architect Frank Gehry, one of several high-profile artists recruited to work with the schools. Gehry and former California Arts Council chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver are spearheading the effort in California.

Other big names that have signed on include Jason Mraz, Forest Whitaker, Rashida Jones, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marc Anthony, Tim Robbins, Chad Smith, Kerry Washington and Russell Simmons.

Turnaround Arts launched in May 2012 at eight low-achieving schools across the country. Officials said discipline dropped by nearly 80 percent at some schools and that English and math scores rose. They also credited the arts instruction with bringing up attendance and enrollment numbers.

Posted in arts, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | No Comments »

Supervisors on Recommended Foster Care Reform, From Prison to Campaigning for State Assembly, Federal Recidivism Study…and More

April 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RESPONDS TO COMMISSION’S FINAL FOSTER CARE REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors responded to final recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. The Supes did not all agree on specific DCFS reforms—Supe Zev Yaroslavsky called the creation of a separate oversight panel “a non-starter”—but did agree to study the final report before acting on any recommendations.

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

Citing years of reforms, reports, and even court cases aimed at overhauling the Department of Children and Family Services, commissioner Leslie Gilbert-Lurie told the board that the county needs an oversight team to make sure the reform proposals don’t gather dust on the shelves in the county building.

“Recommendations will come and go,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “As we can all now recite in our sleep, there have been hundreds of them. The problem fundamentally is not a lack of good ideas or of good people.”

An oversight panel is the reform several commissioners called the most important. It’s also the most controversial among county leaders.

The panel has also suggested creating an Office of Child Protection to coordinate amongst the numerous agencies (DCFS, law enforcement, District Attorney, Department of Health) that touch on child welfare going forward.

“A solid structure that takes in good ideas, assesses them, funds them, implements them, and holds people accountable for better results than in the past will lead to sustainable change,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted against creating the blue ribbon panel in the first place, called the idea a “turkey.”

“What this issue needs is not more bureaucracy and more commissions, it needs results,” Yaroslavsky said.

The supervisor said moving resources from one under-funded department to a brand new one is hardly a solution.

“It’s a non-starter with me,” he said, though he said many of the ideas contained in the report were worth pursuing and more practical.

Board President Don Knabe has also expressed skepticism that more county agencies and commissions is that way to go.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pushed for the blue ribbon panel, said he’s “undeterred.”


PROPHET WALKER: FROM LOCKUP TO RUNNING FOR STATE ASSEMBLY

To say that Prophet Walker had a rough beginning, would be a rather large understatement. He grew up in the projects in Watts, was abandoned as a young child by his mother, and landed himself in prison at age 16. While in prison, Prophet made impressive use of his time, getting a college education, and helping to persuade the CDCR to allow certain young offenders to pursue education in lower security prisons.

Now, ten years later, Prophet is running for a state Assembly seat with the help of some serious mentors and supporters (namely “Hangover” producer Scott Budnick and Carol Biondi, commissioner of the LA County Commission for Children and Families).

James Rainey has a very cool Column One story about Prophet. Here’s how it opens:

The kids at Compton YouthBuild can be a tough audience. Many come from broken homes, flunked out of multiple schools, even spent time in jail.

By the last day of Black History Month, some at the alternative school — which looks boarded shut from Compton Boulevard — had gotten their fill of talk about hope and perseverance.

On this late Friday afternoon, though, a tall young man strode into their big multipurpose room and flashed a flawless smile. He looked a bit like the rapper Drake. Or so said a girl near the front, giggling.

When the visitor began, “How many people here are familiar with Nickerson Gardens?” some of the students stopped mugging and poking one another. They not only knew the housing project where their guest came up, they knew other young men not unlike him whose mothers struggled with addiction, who had children while still nearly children themselves, who had let violence win them over.

But his story didn’t end like most. He found a way to keep learning while behind bars, went to college, then got a job overseeing big-ticket construction projects. He told the students of knowing Kendrick Lamar from back in the day and how he recently visited the hip-hop star backstage at one of his shows. Hearing that, one boy in the audience whistled in admiration and exclaimed: “Damn!”

Not only had their visitor played fate for a fool, he had a name that seemed plucked straight from a Spike Lee drama: Prophet. Prophet Walker.

“A lot of people who came from the ‘hood don’t do anything. But he came back,” student Jonathan Chase Butler said after Walker’s talk. “He is trying to speak to us and inspire us, and I see I can actually push forward and keep going. That is huge.”

Now Walker, just 26, is trying to build on his unlikely story. With no experience in politics or government, he’s running for the California Assembly, hoping to represent a district that stretches from South L.A. to Compton, Carson and a slice of Long Beach.
Such is the power of his resurrection tale that actor Matt Damon has donated to his campaign and television pioneer Norman Lear sponsored a fundraiser.

His high-powered supporters tend to focus on Walker’s inspiring rise out of bleak beginnings. As he steps onto a bigger public stage, though, he will also have to address more directly what happened during his fall…

Read on.


NEW FEDERAL STUDY ON RECIDIVISM

Two-thirds of inmates released in 2005 were rearrested within three years, and three-quarters were rearrested within five years, according to a new study released by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The study samples former prisoner data from 30 states, including California, between 2005-2010, and is the first large-scale federal study of its kind in almost 20 years.

Here’s a clip of some of the study’s key findings from the BJS announcement:

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year…

During the five years after release, prisoners in the study were arrested about 1.2 million times across the country. A sixth (16 percent) of released prisoners were responsible for nearly half (48 percent) of the arrests. About two in five (42 percent) released prisoners were either not arrested or were arrested no more than once in the five years after release.

The longer released prisoners went without being arrested, the less likely they were to be arrested at all during the follow-up period. For example, 43 percent of released prisoners were arrested within one year of release, compared to 13 percent of those not arrested by the end of year four who were arrested in the fifth year after release.

Among prisoners released in 2005 in 23 states with available data on inmates returned to prison, about half (50 percent) had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new crime within three years that led to imprisonment, and more than half (55 percent) had a parole or probation violation or an arrest within five years that led to imprisonment.

Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.

Released prisoners who were incarcerated for a violent, property or drug crime were more likely than other released inmates to be arrested for a similar type of crime. Regardless of the incarceration offense, the majority (58 percent) of released prisoners were arrested for a public order offense within five years of release. An estimated 39 percent of released prisoners were arrested within five years for a drug offense, 38 percent for a property offense and 29 percent for a violent offense.

Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.


MAN WITH ALCOHOLIC TRIAL LAWYER STILL HEADED FOR EXECUTION

In yet another example of a flawed capital punishment system, a “borderline” mentally disabled man, Robert Wayne Holsey, faces execution in Georgia—a fate he would not likely be faced with had he been provided competent counsel. Instead, Holsey was represented by Andy Prince, a lawyer who says he drank a quart of alcohol per day during the death penalty trial.

Mother Jones’ Marc Bookman has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the early hours of December 17, 1995, Robert Wayne Holsey was arrested and charged for the murder of Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson, who pulled over Holsey’s car following the armed robbery of a Jet Food Store in the county seat of Milledgeville. As with any killing of a police officer, it was a high-profile affair. Most of the county’s judges attended Robinson’s funeral, and many sent flowers. To ensure an impartial hearing, the trial had to be moved two counties away.

Like the great majority of people arrested for serious crimes, Holsey could not afford a lawyer; he had to depend on the court to appoint one for him. But it is reasonable to wonder why any court would have chosen Andy Prince for the job. Beyond his chronic alcohol problem and the financial judgments piling up against him, Prince did not generally handle cases in the Milledgeville area.

As it turns out, little thought was given to his suitability. The selection process in the Holsey case conjures up the old military trope about volunteering by means of everyone else taking a step backward. “Because of who the victim was, nobody within the circuit wanted to be appointed to this case,” Prince later testified. “And I told [the judge], sure, I’d take it.”

On one condition: He insisted on picking his co-counsel. Prince had handled capital cases before, and with some success, but he’d only worked on the more traditional guilt/innocence part of the representation—never the crucial sentencing phase. He contacted Rob Westin, the lawyer he’d collaborated with previously. Westin said he’d do it, but then reversed himself in short order. Westin “had gone to the solicitor’s office in Baldwin County,” Prince later explained, “and had been told that they couldn’t believe that he was representing Mr. Holsey and that if he continued to represent him he would never get another deal worked out with that office.”

His next attempt to secure co-counsel failed as well; the lawyer quit after a few months on the case and took a job with the state attorney general’s office. Seven months before the trial date, Prince finally found his “second chair” in Brenda Trammell, a lawyer who practiced in Morgan County, where the case was to be tried: “She was about the only one that would take it.”

As for Trammell, she assumed she was selected “based on proximity,” as she later testified. “I had not tried to trial a death penalty case and I waited for him to tell me what to do, and there really was not a lot of direction in that way.”

There was still one thing missing. What distinguishes capital murder trials from noncapital ones is the penalty phase, wherein the jury hears additional evidence and determines the appropriate punishment—usually choosing between death and life without parole. During this phase, a “mitigation specialist,” whom the American Bar Association (ABA) describes as “an indispensable member of the defense team throughout all capital proceedings,” gathers information that might convince jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Indeed, the court provided Holsey’s defense team with sufficient funds to hire a mitigation specialist, but no one was ever able to account for the money. Prince later said that he didn’t remember what happened to it, only that he was certain no mitigation specialist was ever hired. Which may explain Trammell’s response to this question from Holsey’s appeals lawyer.

Q: When you got into the case, was there any theory with respect to mitigation in the event that he was convicted?

A: No, sir.

Mitigation theory or not, Holsey went on trial for his life in February 1997.

Read the rest.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

Are We Creating “Monsters?”….Education: The Next Juvenile Justice Reform….A Former “Bad Child” Speaks Out…Oregon Prisons Rethink Their Family Visit Policy

April 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


MAKING MONSTERS: A NEW LOOK AT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Beginning on Tuesday, April 22, PBS’s Frontline takes a look at the consequences of the use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

In addition to examining the effects that solitary has on prisoners, Frontline looks at what it does for the rest of us. Do we gain anything by imposing this kind of extreme isolation on those whom we lock up? This is a question that is particularly relevant when we isolate prisoners who will one day be released.

Admittedly, the matter of the use of solitary confinement is not simple.

As California in particular has struggled with the hold that prison gangs have on all of our lock-ups, solitary has has been viewed as one way to keep the various gangs’ shot callers from communicating with their troops. (Not that it appears to have worked. But that’s another conversation altogether.)

The truth is, most people in prison eventually will be released, and that includes those in solitary. And even in the cases of those who will never leave prison, do we have the moral and legal right to impose conditions so dehumanizing that they produce mental illness and the disintegration of an individual’s personality?

While the Frontline broadcast doesn’t air until Tuesday, the Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen has seen it it, and here’s a clip from his musings about what the program presents.

“This is what they create in here, monsters,” one inmate tells Frontline’s reporters. “You can’t conduct yourself like a human being when they treat you like an animal.”

“It’s like being buried alive,” another prisoner says off camera.

Now, every inmate in the history of the world likely has complained about the conditions of his confinement. But the point of the film, I think—and perhaps the best argument against the continued use of solitary—is that regardless of how inmates feel about it, there is no redeemable value to it to the rest of us.

Solitary confinement surely makes prisons safer—that’s the argument wardens use over and over again to justify its continued use. But it also creates or exacerbates mental illness in the men who are condemned to it. And that illness, in turn, pushes inmates in solitary to engage in harmful or self-harming conduct that, in turn, prompts a severe disciplinary response from prison officials.

That, in turn, causes the men to turn deeper into their own insanity. And then these broken men are released back into the world without adequate mental health treatment or “step down” services that will help reduce their chances of recidivism. It’s a cycle everyone recognizes but cannot seem to change. It’s madness upon madness.

Adam Brulotte, one of the inmates featured in the film, gets caught in this cycle. He’s a young man who says he wants to study for his GED so he can get a real job, instead of selling drugs, when he is released. Because he has broken the rules, he is placed in isolation. And because he is in isolation, he goes mad. And because he goes mad, he breaks more rules. The prison is safer but we see Brulotte broken before our eyes. If this young man is not treated now, how much will the rest of us pay when he is ultimately released?

Also, on April 29, Frontline begins airing a second documentary that looks at our reliance on incarceration in general.


THE NEXT JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: A FOCUS ON EDUCATION

The new study released last week by the Southern Education Foundation looking at how poorly kids are being educated in the nation’s juvenile lock-ups—California’s kids priminently listed—has been stiring up a lot of well-deserved attention. (We linked to the study last week here.)

Among the commentary the study stimulated was Sunday’s New York Times editorial stating that education should be the next area of focus for juvenile justice reform. While the essay is slightly clumsy in places, its primary point is an important one. Here’s a clip:

…It is a mistake to assume that all children held in juvenile facilities represent “hard cases” beyond redemption. Indeed, a new study, by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta, shows that nearly two-thirds of the young people who were confined in 2010 were confined for nonviolent offenses.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Even those kids who are in for violent offences, do not represent "'hard cases' beyond redemption. Good grief, NYT Ed Board! What are you thinking??]

Moreover, disproportionate numbers of these young people have special needs. Federal data from 2010 show that 30 percent had learning disabilities, 45 percent had problems paying attention and 30 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse. It should come as no surprise that most of the young people entering juvenile residential institutions are behind in reading and math.

These children do not get the attention in school that they need to succeed and get even less of it in juvenile justice facilities. A federal study showed that in 2009, fewer than half of students in state juvenile justice programs earned even one course credit and that fewer than one in 10 earned a high school diploma or a G.E.D. This makes it unlikely that most of them will succeed at school once they are released and more likely that they will get in trouble again.

The good news is that it is possible to create strong schools inside juvenile facilities that actually help the most troubled children. This can be done by improving coordination between the public schools and the juvenile justice system. States can also seek to emulate models like the one used at the Maya Angelou Academy in a juvenile facility in the District of Columbia, which hires talented teachers with high expectations, uses individualized instruction to meet particular student needs and weaves special education services throughout its lessons.

It is also good news that, while it has a long way to go, LA County Probation and its partner in the matter, The Los Angeles County Office of Education, has taken important steps forward in instituting some new and effective educational programs in some of its juvenile probation camps, and it is expected to take still more steps in the fall.

More on all that soon.


CAN A CHILD BE BORN BAD?

Juvenile justice advocate, Xavier McElrath-Bey, was sentenced to 25 years in prison at age 13 after he was involved in a gang-related murder. In this recent TEDX talk at Northwestern University he discusses his early life, the physical abuse by his father, worse abuse by his step father, his mother’s mental illness, the horror of his foster care placement that should have provided safety, and his eventual path to a string of criminal convictions, involvement in a murder, and prison.

Underneath all his trauma, McElrath-Bey was a smart kid and, at 18, he managed to find enough sense of self to turn his life around when he was inside. By the time he was released at age 26, McElrath-Bey had acquired a degree in social science and a Master of Arts in human services, both from Roosevelt University.

These days, he works for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing for Youth. And just prior to his new job, McElrath-Bey worked for five years on a clinical research project at Northwestern where he conducted more than 800 clinical field interviews with formerly incarcerated teenagers as part of a longitudinal study of the mental health needs and outcomes of individuals who are locked up for long periods as kids.

He was startled to find how similar the backgrounds of those in the study were to his own. Kids “who had been virtually abandoned.”

“Despair was the dominant theme of my life and the lives of my friends,” he said. “….It was natural for me to join a gang. …I felt safer in the streets than I did in my home.”

Listen to his story.


OREGON PUSHES INMATE FAMILY VISITS BECAUSE RESEARCH SHOWS—IT WORKS: CONTACT HELPS PRISONERS DO BETTER ON RELEASE

The whole thing started after Oregon Department of Corrections officials read a November 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections that concluded “visitation significantly decreased the risk of recidivism,” and that “visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in reducing the risk of recidivism…” (Interestingly, visits from ex-spouses, did not have such a positive effect.)

This is not the only such study. For years, research has shown that family contact is one of the most important predictors of who is going to do well on the outside, and who is likely to cycle right back in. But the Minnesota study was a large, new longitudinal study that followed 16,420 offenders from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007, and came up with some significant data. So the Oregon folks paid attention.

Bryan Denson of the Oregonian has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Oregon Department of Corrections officials read the Minnesota study and were staggered when they crunched the numbers and found that 59 percent of the roughly 14,000 prisoners in their lockups got no visitation.

Officials looked at their own visitation policies, according to spokeswoman Betty Bernt, and asked themselves tough questions: How much of the poor visitation rate was their fault? What were their policies on keeping nuclear families together? What about their policy of not allowing people with criminal backgrounds to visit?

Corrections officials from across the state set up a working group to improve the dismal percentage of inmates connecting with their families.

They recently passed out a survey to a large segment of inmates to help guide ways they could improve visitation. The questionnaire asked them questions about what type of support might be helpful to their transition from prison to home. Responses are due by April 30.

Corrections officials also considered setting up prisoners with trained volunteer mentors and relaxing visitation rules for inmates who are in disciplinary housing units.

They also increased visiting hours and special events. Salem’s Santiam Correctional Institution, for instance, began Thursday visiting hours earlier this year designed for inmates to spend time with their children.

One of the most startling and intriguing things about the way Oregon officials approached the matter was that they aggressively questioned their existing policies rather than assuming that the reasons for the lack of prisoner visits should be laid solely at the feet of the prisoners and their families.

The new programs have not been in place for long enough for Oregon to determine if the family contact will affect prisoners’ outcomes when they are released.

But more prisoners are getting visits from family members. More prisoners are having contact with their children. The first step has been taken.



Solitary photo/Frontline

Posted in crime and punishment, Education, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

Isolation’s Effects on Kids…LAPD Motorcycle Officer Christopher Cortijo Has Died…Dismantled LAPD Dash-Cam Update…What’s Really Blocking Child Welfare Reform…and a New Prison Overcrowding Compliance Officer

April 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHILD PSYCHIATRIST SAYS LOCKING KIDS IN SOLITARY IS “THE ULTIMATE MESSAGE THAT WE DON’T CARE FOR YOU”

Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy, who has consulted on Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, and several other catastrophic events involving children.

In a Q&A with Trey Bundy of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Dr. Perry explains in clear terms why solitary confinement is so psychologically damaging to the kids unlucky enough to get locked inside.

Here’s a clip:

We hear a lot of stories about prolonged isolation, but what are the effects of just a few days of solitary confinement on kids?

They end up getting these very intense doses of dissociative experience, and they get it in an unpredictable way. They’ll get three days in isolation. Then they’ll come back on the unit and get two days in isolation. They’ll come back out and then get one day. They end up with a pattern of activating this dissociative coping mechanism. The result is that when they’re confronted with a stressor later on, they will have this extreme disengagement where they’ll be kind of robotic, overly compliant, but they’re not really present. I’ve seen that a lot with these kids. They’ll come out, and they’re little zombies. The interpretation by the staff is that they’ve been pacified. “We’ve broken him.” But basically what you’ve done is you’ve traumatized this person in a way that if this kid was in somebody’s home, you would charge that person with child abuse.

Kids in isolation must lose all sense of control. What’s the impact of that?

One of things that helps us regulate our stress response is a sense of control. With solitary, when you start to take away any option, any choice, you’re literally taking somebody with a dysregulated stress response system, like most of these individuals in jail, and you’re making it worse. The more you try to take control, the more you are inhibiting the ability of these individuals to develop self-control, which is what we want them to do.

How does it affect a kid’s sense of self-worth to be locked away from everyone else?

Most of these kids feel marginalized to start with. They feel like they’re bad, they did something wrong, they don’t fit in. And isolation is essentially the ultimate marginalization. You’re so marginalized you don’t even fit in with the misfits, and we are going to exclude you from the group in an extreme way. In some ways it’s the ultimate message that we don’t care for you. We are neurobiologically interdependent creatures. All of our sensory apparatus is bias toward forming and maintaining relationships with human beings. When you are not part of the group, it’s a fundamental biological rejection.

Do go read the rest of this worthwhile Q&A.


WELL-LIKED LAPD MOTORCYCLE OFFICER CRITICALLY INJURED IN CRASH, HAS DIED

Christopher Cortijo, an LAPD motorcycle officer, who was struck on Saturday by a driver allegedly under the influence of drugs, has died.

Cortijo, who was assigned to DUI enforcement, was stopped at an intersection in North Hollywood when a driver hit his motorcycle, pinning him between her SUV and the Honda in front of him. Officer Cortijo lost the fight for his life Wednesday.

Our hearts go out to Cortijo’s family, friends, and fellow officers. The death of a law enforcement officer is an unimaginable loss for loved ones, but it is also a blow to the greater community.

The LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar and Kelly Goff have the story. Here’s a clip:

Officer Christopher Cortijo was a 26-year police veteran who was assigned to DUI enforcement. He was gravely injured and went into a coma after a Chevy Blazer slammed into his motorcycle, which was stopped at a red light at Lankershim Boulevard and Saticoy Street, around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The driver, a Pacoima woman whose license had expired years ago, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. After several days in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, with officers or family at his bedside around the clock, Cortijo was taken off his ventilator on Wednesday, officials said.

The 51-year-old North Hollywood resident, who had served in the U.S. Marines, was married with adult children.

“It’s a tremendous sadness for all of us,” Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, who oversees the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, said in a telephone interview. “He was not only a great officer, but a great person. Everyone’s thoughts are with his family. His family will be our family forever.”

About 100 officers lined the walkway outside the ICU at Providence in Mission Hills as Cortijo’s body was taken to the coroner’s van, wrapped in a flag. Nurses similarly lined the hallways inside the building, according to hospital spokeswoman Patricia Aidem.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by about a dozen LAPD motor officers who worked with Cortijo, spoke to reporters late Wednesday afternoon in downtown.

“I was devastated when I heard the news,” Garcetti said. “My heart sank when the chief called me.”

Garcetti said Cortijo’s death was a reminder of the “sacrifice that our bravest heroes make.”

Garcetti said he ordered city flags lowered to half-staff in Cortijo’s honor.

Cortijo was twice named Officer of the Year as a motorcycle cop, Beck said. He arrested more than 3,000 people driving under the influence during his career, Beck said.

“The ultimate irony is that Chris spent his life keeping all of us safe from people who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol,” Beck said.


IN OTHER LAPD NEWS…

Yesterday, we pointed to a story about the unauthorized dismantling of 80 LAPD in-car surveillance cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate.

Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the LAPD union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League), has a story from February on the union’s blog that gives a little bit of extra context—another piece of the puzzle. Ingemunson says that many officers feel the tool is being used against them unfairly, in instances other than “crime documentation and prosecution.”

Read Ingemunson’s story about an officer who was punished for an accident that would have likely been considered non-preventable, if not for a questionable conversation he had with his partner (recorded by the dash-cam) right before the collision.

Here’s a small clip:

The accused officer and his partner engaged in a conversation that higher management did not like and felt reflected on the cause of the accident. This, of course, ignores another special order regarding the DICVS. Special Order 45 states “The Digital In Car Video System is being deployed in order to provide Department employees with a tool for crime documentation and prosecution and not to monitor private conversations between Department employees.”

While it does not excuse the officers who tampered with the cameras, it raises an issue that management might want to think about.


BUREAUCRACY IS THE TRUE KILLER OF DCFS REFORM

Later this month, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, established by the LA County Board of Supervisors, will present their final report, chock-full of recommendations for reforming the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. But these recommendations may not be all that new. The commission found 734 recommendations presented over the years, either not in play at all, or stuck in the beginning stages of implementation.

On March 28, at second-to-last meeting of the LA County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, commission-member Andrea Rich said that bureaucracy, itself, is what’s blocking past and present child welfare reforms.

Two members of the Board of Supervisors (Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina) are terming out and new faces will take their seats. Two years from now, two more supervisors will be replaced (Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe).

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says this change-up is a real opportunity for reform, if only the supervisor candidates will rise to the challenge. Here’s a clip:

“Bureaucracies not carefully managed and consistently improved have characteristics that are destructive to client-oriented services, impede innovation, stifle efforts at self-improvement,” she said. “This sort of narrow span of control and bureaucratic risk-aversion typical of the bureaucratic process constantly thwarts efforts toward meaningful reform. And we’ve seen it over and over in our studies here and in testimony.”

Commission Chairman David Sanders also headed an L.A. County department – the often-criticized Department of Children and Family Services – but he said Monday that he was surprised at the extent of the dysfunction he saw from his new perspective compared with what he saw at DCFS.

Translation: The county is messed up. Efforts to reform the child protection system are doomed without a thorough overhaul – not of DCFS but of the entire county governmental edifice, the way it thinks and the way it works.

So how can that kind of overhaul happen? There are two ways to answer the question. One way is to look at the list of 734 recommendations for improving the child protection system offered to the Board of Supervisors and various county departments over the years that the commission found gathering dust on shelves or at best stalled in some early stage of implementation, and conclude that county government is hopeless.

The other is to look at the looming change in county leadership, with two of the five supervisors leaving office this year – the first time there has been that sweeping a change since Michael D. Antonovich ousted Baxter Ward and Deane Dana booted Yvonne Burke a generation ago, in 1980 – and candidates vying to replace them. Antonovich, still serving on the Board of Supervisors 34 years later, and Don Knabe, who succeeded his boss and mentor Dana, will likewise be replaced in two years.

Los Angeles County can have the exact same government and culture with slightly different faces, or it can embrace an opportunity for new thinking.

It’s fine for candidates to talk about how they would hire more child social workers, although the county is already on track to do that. Or how they would change deployment, although those kinds of changes are constantly discussed and always seem to be in the works.

In the view of the commission – this is preliminary, because the final report is yet to be adopted – there is an even more global mandate, and while members of the panel may insist that their recommendations are all about ensuring child safety, a closer look suggests that they go to the heart of numerous challenges that this big, awful bureaucracy faces in order to accomplish anything: Explicitly define its mission; put someone in charge of executing it; measure success and failure.

Sitting supervisors may well protest that these things are already being done, and candidates may be puzzled at marching orders that sound more like a homework assignment in an MBA student’s organization behavior class than social work.

But that’s the point. The county has grown and segmented itself so quickly that it has lost its sense of priorities; or rather, its sense of priorities is set by news headlines, scandals, outrages and political campaigns.

Read the rest.


CALIFORNIA GETS A NEW PRISON POPULATION COMPLIANCE OFFICER

On Wednesday, federal judges named Elwood Lui California’s prison population “compliance officer.” Lui, a former associate justice of the California Court of Appeal, has been tasked with releasing prisoners if the state fails to comply with the judges’ population deadlines throughout the next two years. (Backstory here.)

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lui was one of two candidates for the position suggested by lawyers representing the state. He has agreed to serve without compensation but to have reasonable expenses reimbursed, according to the order from the panel issued Wednesday afternoon…

The judges originally ordered California in 2009 to cut its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, but appeals delayed that and resulted in the Feb. 10 order giving the state two more years to comply.

The February order also gave the compliance officer authority to release the necessary number of inmates to ensure that California meets the court-ordered deadlines.

The compliance officer now has the authority to release inmates if the prison population is not cut to 143 percent of capacity by June 30 (or 116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, solitary | No Comments »

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