Thursday, April 24, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

prison


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

March 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GETTING TO KNOW LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JAMES HELLMOLD

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

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

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

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

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

When the questions persisted from deputies, Hellmold challenged them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BIG SNIP]

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

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

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

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

The First Debate Between Sheriff’s Candidates, Rikers Island & Solitary, San Diego Prosecutors Admit to Cheating, Raising $$ for the Sheriff’s Campaigns… & More

March 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE ACLU AND THE LEAGUE OF WOMAN VOTERS ANNOUNCE FIRST BIG DEBATE BETWEEN CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF, MARCH 20

The first of two debates between the seven men who each hope to be elected LA County sheriff will take place on Thursday, March 20, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 at the Mercado La Paloma, at 355 Grand Street, LA.

(There will be a second debate in the Santa Monica area on Thursday, April 24. Don’t worry. We’ll remind you as the date gets closer.)

The debates are organized and sponsored by the Southern California ACLU and others, and moderated by the League of Women voters.

(It could get crowded, so an RSVP online here is recommended.)

This is the first wide open election for LA County Sheriff in….well….a very, very long time. (The ACLU points out that more Catholic Popes have been selected in the last 80 years than there have been different LA sheriffs.)

We are therefore grateful for these debates that will allow LA County voters to become better informed about their choices.

Happily, all seven candidates have agreed to participate in the debates. This includes: Patrick Gomez, Jim Hellmold, Jim McDonnell, Bob Olmsted, Todd Rogers, Paul Tanaka, Lou Vince

Other debate sponsors are: Dignity Now, The Black Community & Labor Alliance, Justice Not Jails and The Los Angeles Regional Reentry Program


TEENAGERS & SOLITARY ON RIKERS ISLAND

On any given day, around 100 teenagers may be found in solitary confinement at New York’s Riker’s Island. Because Rikers is a jail, not a prison, many of the 400 to 800 16 and 17 years housed inside its walls are there are awaiting trial and are only locked up because they can’t afford bail, writes Trey Bundy for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

CIR has put together an excellent and disturbing multimedia report on the use of solitary on teenagers at Rikers and how the practice stresses adolescents mentally and emotionally sometimes to breaking. Here’s a clip:

There’s not much inside “the box.” Cinder block walls rise up and close in. There’s a bunk, a sink, a toilet and a metal door with a small mesh window. Food comes through a slot. Sometimes, mice and roaches scamper through.

Teenagers kept in the box sometimes hallucinate and throw fits. They splash urine around or smear their blood and shit on the walls. The concrete room gets so hot in the summertime that the floor and walls sweat.

Ismael Nazario’s longest stretch in the box lasted four months. He paced a lot, talking to himself and choking back tears and rage. He tried to block out the screaming of the teenage boys in other jail cells in his unit, but he couldn’t. Sometimes, he would stand at the door of his tiny cell and yell.

“You just get angry with hearing people constantly hollering all day,” he says. “There’s so many people that have been in that cell and screamed on that same gate, it smells like a bunch of breath and drool.”

Nazario is one of hundreds of teenagers sent in recent years to solitary confinement at Rikers Island, the massive jail complex in the middle of New York City’s East River. Teenagers at Rikers call solitary confinement the box: 23 hours a day in a 6-by-8-foot cell.

“There came a time when I cried when I was on Rikers Island, in the box, when I was there by myself,” Nazario says. “There’s times, you know, sometimes you need a good cry.”


SAN DIEGO PROSECUTORS ADMIT TO CHEATING: THE “HOLY SHIT” FACTOR

The Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen writes about a recent instance when prosecutors in San Diego admitted to cheating. This is a distinctly good news/bad news kind of story—since the admission was so appallingly unusual.

Here’s a clip:

The story of a prosecutor doing an honorable thing, a courageous thing, should not be a news story. It should happen every day. But too often prosecutors do not act honorably. Too often they make mistakes and do not admit them. Too often they cheat, at trial or afterward on appeal, in their zealous attempt to secure or to defend a conviction. And too often our nation’s judges are unable or unwilling to identify these instances to bring a measure of justice to the wrongfully convicted.

So the story of Laura Duffy, the prosecutor, and John Maloney, the wrongfully convicted man, is inspirational. Not because Duffy acted professionally throughout this case—she and her colleagues surely did not. Not because prosecutors promptly acknowledged their error and quickly moved to correct it—they didn’t. But because in the end they did do the right thing.

What we have here, then, is the public acknowledgment by a prosecutor that an injustice was done in a pending case. More than that, we have a glimmer of the process by which this reckoning occurred. This is no small thing. One longtime defense attorney, who has evaluated countless trials including many in which prosecutors engaged in the type of official misconduct we see here, emailed back “Holy Shit” when I wrote to him about the results of this case. That gives you a sense of how remarkable United States v. Maloney turned out to be….

Read the rest.


MORE SHERIFF’S ELECTION NEWS: “INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEE” IS FORMED FOR SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

We know that the seven candidates are each engaged in the difficult but necessary task of fundraising for their respective campaigns.

Jim Hellmold had a big fundraiser on Feb 23 at the Pacific Palms Resort.

Paul Tanaka tweeted photos of volunteers working the phone banks at his headquarters, and hit the fundraising trail over the weekend.

Bob Olmsted is having a fundraiser on March 15.

Todd Rogers just had his fundraiser over the weekend.

Jim McDonnell has a high ticket event planned for tonight.

Pat Gomez asks you to call his campaign office to participate in one of his small private fundraisers.

Lou Vince has taken to social media to ask for donations.

AS OF LAST WEEK, HOWEVER, JIM MCDONNELL will get the benefit of a fundraising committee called an “Independent Expenditure Committee.”

As its name suggests, an Independent Expenditure Committee can’t raise money at the request of a campaign or candidate, or coordinate with a campaign committee.

But on its own, it can raise and spend money in behalf of a candidate. The IEC that has joined together for fundraising purposes in McDonnell’s behalf, includes such members as LA City Council persons Mitchell Englander, Herb Wesson, Nury Martinez, Felipe Fuentes, & Tom LaBonge, former LA mayor Richard Riordan, former chairs of both the Republican and Democratic party in California…plus Supervisor Don Knabe and others.

There may also be other IECs fund raising for other candidates. But this is the first one we’ve seen.

As the election heats up, there may be more.


IS NEW YORK A MODEL FOR FIXING CALIFORNIA’S PRISONS?

Steven E. F. Brown of San Francisco Business Times writes about law professor Jonathan Simon’s claim that California’s eyes should be on NY. Here’s a clip:

Law professor Jonathan Simon at the University of California, Berkeley pointed to prison reforms in the Empire State as a model that should be followed here in the Golden State.

Simon, who teaches an undergraduate course on prisons, wrote on UC Berkeley’s official blog that although New York has a long history of “bad penal policy choices,” it also tends to fix those bad choices more quickly than other states, particularly California.

Even as California Gov. Jerry Brown spars with the federal government over court-ordered changes to the state’s prisons, which are badly overcrowded, New York has moved away from automatic sentencing that overfilled its prisons.

Here’s a link to Simon’s whole essay.


Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, LASD, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | 40 Comments »

After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

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

March 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BIG SNIP]

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

Again: Why?

Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.

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

A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California

(Read on.)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[BIG SNIP]

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

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

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

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

LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and More

February 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES

The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”

[SNIP]

E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.

This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.

“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.

E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:

“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”

But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.

By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)


CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK

In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.

Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.

DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…

Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.


SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY

On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.

In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.

The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…

Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…

But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.


QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:

“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”

He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.

Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.

He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.

“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”

(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott | No Comments »

NY Ends Solitary Confinement of Kids, LA Times Book Award Finalists Announced, People of Color in Private Prisons…and More

February 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NY BECOMES LARGEST PRISON SYSTEM IN THE US TO BAN ISOLATION OF INCARCERATED KIDS

On Wednesday, the state of New York agreed to stop using solitary confinement as a punishment for inmates under 18, in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The state will also limit its use of solitary confinement for other inmates: it will no longer be an option for disciplining pregnant prisoners, and isolation of the developmentally disabled will be capped at 30 days.

NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

State correction officials will also be prohibited from imposing solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for inmates who are pregnant, and the punishment will be limited to 30 days for those who are developmentally disabled, the court filing says.

The agreement imposes “sentencing guidelines” for all prisoners, specifying the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run, the civil liberties group said. No such guidelines exist, except in cases involving certain violent and drug-related offenses.

“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort” in the state’s prisons, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the organization.

Several states, including Colorado, Mississippi and Washington, had begun to address the issue of how to reduce the use of solitary confinement; a Senate judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing next week on the issue.

Taylor Pendergrass, the lead lawyer in the case for the civil liberties group, said a small number of states had also banned or limited the use of solitary confinement for inmates under 18, in adult or juvenile detention facilities.

But given New York’s size and visibility, the agreement places the state “at the vanguard” of progressive thinking about how to move away from “a very punitive system that almost every state has adopted in one form or another over the last couple of decades,” Mr. Pendergrass said.

[BIG SNIP]

Under the agreement, 16- and 17-year-old prisoners who are subjected to even the most restrictive form of disciplinary confinement must be given at least five hours a day of outdoor exercise and programming outside of their cells. The state must also set aside space at designated facilities to accommodate the minors who would normally be placed in solitary confinement.


LA TIMES BOOK AWARD FINALISTS

The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Wednesday.

This year, WLA’s editor judged Current Interest in nonfiction, of which there were five outstanding books shortlisted:

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink (Crown)
“Thank You for Your Service” by David Finkel (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff (The Penguin Press)
“Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom” by Barry Siegel (Henry Holt & Co.)
“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf)

There are a number of great books in every other category, as well, so go check out the rest of the finalists. Award winners will be announced on April 11 (followed by the LAT Festival of Books on April 12-13 at USC).


HIGHER RATE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR HELD IN PRIVATE PRISONS THAN PUBLIC PRISONS

An even larger racial disparity exists in private prisons than in public prisons, according to a new study by UC-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella. All nine states analyzed in the study, including California, showed higher percentages of people of color in private prisons than in public facilities.

Mother Jones’ Katie Quandt has more on the study’s implications (including some very helpful graphs). Here’s a clip:

Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma. According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly “colorblind” policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry’s prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

(Read on.)


ASSEMBLING AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

In an LA Times editorial (part two in a series this week), Robert Greene says that a civilian oversight commission for the LASD should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five LA County Supervisors. This format would not be far enough removed from the influence of the Board of Supervisors to provide real, independent oversight, he says. Instead, the board should consider a larger number of commissioners, appointed, in part, by people other than the Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The size and composition of a citizens’ oversight body is inextricably linked both to its mission and to the nature of the authority to which it reports. If it’s a five-member panel, with each member appointed by and answerable to the supervisors, why not just have the supervisors exercise oversight directly? Isn’t that what we already have, and what already failed to hold the sheriff to account for the beatings of jail inmates, the inept hiring of deputies, the enormous liability payouts?

In fact, such a commission might be even worse than the status quo, because it would provide a misleading veneer of independence and lend political cover to the supervisors, who could attempt to pull the sheriff’s strings via their commission appointees without being quite as obvious about it.

Consider, for example, the 10-member redistricting commission that the supervisors appointed in 2010 to redraw the county election map. In this case, each supervisor got two appointees, all of whom are fairly well-regarded people, but all of whom were selected to in at least some sense do the bidding of the supervisor who appointed them. They voted accordingly, becoming proxies for the supervisors. It was obvious whose bidding they were doing. Why bother with such a commission?

No doubt members of the Board of Supervisors would protest: We never told our Boundary Review Committee appointees how to vote! But they didn’t have to. The appointees knew who they were working for, and they knew that they could be replaced.

There was far less of a concern with the seven-member Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the panel that the Board of Supervisors created and appointed in 2011 to examine improper use of force in county jails and recommend corrective action.

Yes, each of five members was appointed by a county supervisor. But then those five appointed two more, establishing a measure of separation from the board.

[SNIP]

The mission was limited, as was the panel’s duration. And because the same news stories and lawsuits that moved the board to create the commission also focused public attention on its proceedings, there was little chance of supervisors trying to sway their appointees without being noticed.

But a permanent commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department would continue to operate during times of both great and paltry public attention, and would have to resist influence by the Board of Supervisors or, again, what’s the point?

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

New LA Program for Child Victims of Sex-Trafficking, Reopening LAUSD Libraries, Holder Takes on Disenfranchisement, and Jerry Brown—Prisons and Playing Cards

February 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO AID VICTIMS OF CHILD SEX-TRAFFICKING

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the launch of an innovative program to help kids victimized by sex-trafficking, called the First Step Diversion Program.

The DA’s office is partnering with local law enforcement and DCFS to identify girls under the age of 18 who have been arrested for prostitution. For a year after entering First Step, young participants will receive services such as counseling, substance abuse treatment, and education programming. At the end of the year, those who complete First Step will have the arrest cleared from their record.

Here are some clips from Jackie Lacey’s announcement:

Until now, minors between the ages of 12 to 17 who were arrested for sex-related crimes were deemed juvenile delinquents. Between 2000 and 2010, the Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed 2,188 petitions against minors caught soliciting or loitering for solicitation.

Those arrested were processed through juvenile courts with little or no resources devoted to addressing the underlying issues that forced them into prostitution.

“We believe that minors who engage in sex for pay are victims not criminals,” District Attorney Lacey said during a news conference. “We believe that we should help these children, not detain them.

[SNIP]

Lacey said the District Attorney’s Office is joining forces with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Probation Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to identify girls under 18 who have been arrested for sex related offenses.

First Step will be rolled out in two Juvenile Division Branch Offices – Sylmar and Compton. These juvenile offices were selected due to the volume of arrests and because those girls arrested actually reside in that community.

A supervising deputy district attorney will be assigned to oversee First Step within each juvenile office.

For a period of one year, minors who agree to enter the First Step program will receive referral services, such as crisis intervention, sexual assault and mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, education and other appropriate social services.


SHUT DOWN LAUSD LIBRARIES MAY REOPEN THEIR DOORS

In December, we pointed to a story about the inordinate number of LAUSD school libraries that have been shuttered because there’s no staff to run them.

On Tuesday, the LA Unified school board approved the creation of a task force to address the issue. The task force will draft a library funding plan and present a budget to the board within 90 days.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has a welcome update on her previous story. Here’s a clip:

There are only 98 librarians in a district 768 school libraries. Many elementary schools opt for library aides instead – a lower-pay, part-time position. But even with aides, 332 school libraries do not have staff. State law says only librarians or aides can run school libraries.

“We all know that one immediate solution is the staffing of all our libraries,” said board member Monica Ratliff, who authored the task force resolution. “Few are openly opposed to the concept of staffing all our libraries and many are currently interested in addressing the current system of inequity in which some students have access to library books and others don’t.”


ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER CALLS FOR AN END TO FELON DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Earlier this week, US Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights to the millions of felons who are still disenfranchised after serving their time.

The NY Times’ Matt Apuzzo has the story. Here are some clips:

In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Holder described today’s prohibitions — which in some cases bar those convicted from voting for life — as a vestige of the racist policies of the South after the Civil War, when states used the criminal justice system to keep blacks from fully participating in society.

“Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Holder said. “They could not vote.”

Mr. Holder has no authority to enact the changes he called for, given that states establish the rules under which people can vote. And state Republican leaders made clear that Mr. Holder’s remarks, made to a receptive audience at a civil rights conference, would not move them.

“Eric Holder’s speech from Washington, D.C., has no effect on Florida’s Constitution, which prescribes that individuals who commit felonies forfeit their right to vote,” said Frank Collins, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

[SNIP]

Like mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses, laws banning felons from the voting booth disproportionately affect minorities. African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting.

Nearly every state prohibits inmates from voting while in prison. Laws vary widely, however, on whether felons can vote once they have been released from prison. Some states allow voting while on parole, others while on probation.

Some states require waiting periods or have complicated processes for felons to reregister to vote. In Mississippi, passing a $100 bad check carries a lifetime ban from voting.

In four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia — all felons are barred from the polls for life unless they receive clemency from the governor.

“This isn’t just about fairness for those who are released from prison,” Mr. Holder said. “It’s about who we are as a nation. It’s about confronting, with clear eyes and in frank terms, disparities and divisions that are unworthy of the greatest justice system the world has ever known.”

And here’s what an NYT editorial had to say about Holder’s move:

Despite some progress, the United States remains an extreme outlier in allowing lifetime voting bans. Most industrialized nations allow all nonincarcerated people to vote, and many even allow voting in prison.

Adding insult to injury, felon disenfranchisement laws — which are explicitly permitted by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — are devoid of both logic and supporting evidence. They undermine the citizenship of people who have paid their debt to society, and possibly at a cost to public safety. As Mr. Holder pointed out, a study by a parole commission in Florida found that formerly incarcerated people banned from voting were three times as likely to re-offend as those who were allowed to vote.

[SNIP]

Regardless of which party might benefit most at the polls, repealing felon disenfranchisement laws is in the interest of upholding American ideals. And it has increasing bipartisan support; Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, Republicans who have promoted criminal-justice reform on a larger scale, are also pushing to scale back or end these laws. Even after someone has completed a sentence, Senator Paul said in September, “the punishment and stigma continues for the rest of their life, harming their families and hampering their ability to re-enter society.”


TWO LA TIMES ESSAYS WITH DIFFERENT VIEWS ON GOV. JERRY BROWN’S TWO YEAR PRISON OVERCROWDING REPRIEVE

George Skelton in his Capitol Journal column says California’s deadline extension is a “win-win” for all parties involved. It’s an obvious victory for Governor Jerry Brown, who fought an uphill battle to gain the extra time, but Skelton says everyone—including inmates, lawyers and taxpayers—will benefit from the judges’ ruling.

Here’s a clip:

The judges, lawyers and inmates will gradually obtain — although not as quickly as they’d liked — more breathing room in the lockups and, consequently, better medical and mental healthcare. Moreover, the felons will be provided improved rehab, education, job training and treatment for drug abuse.

And some prisoners will be given early release, although Brown certainly won’t be calling it that.

The taxpaying public will be saving money in the long run. They’ll be paying for incarcerating fewer prisoners. And those released will be more likely to go straight and not return as expensive wards of the state.

At least that’s the theory. And it’s worth trying, given that California’s old stack-’em-like-cordwood mentality resulted in a recidivism rate — repeat lawbreaking — of 70%, twice the national average.

A Times editorial does not share Skelton’s optimism, and suggests that the judges should not have been quite so lenient with the governor, but pushed him to lock more rehabilitation into his plan.

Here’s how it opens:

There’s always one kid in class who gets away with it. You know the one. The teacher says the homework is due Friday and if you don’t turn it in, you flunk. But this kid pleads for more time. Just give him the weekend and he promises to get it done. The teacher says OK, then Monday comes and he asks to be given until the end of the week. And then he promises to turn it in at the end of the year. Then he says he can get it done by next April. Promise.

Now, how about two years from now?

Gov. Jerry Brown is the kid who got away with it, persuading a three-judge federal court panel to give him until February 2016 — long after this year’s elections — to reduce the state’s prison population by 5,500 inmates and to put in place anti-recidivism programs to keep the numbers down permanently. Even the judges expressed surprise at their own leniency, acknowledging that they’ve heard similar promises from California governors many times since 2009, when they ordered the state to shrink the inmate population to comply with constitutional strictures against cruel and unusual punishment. The judges noted that in the intervening years, prisoners have continued to be mistreated, that Californians have paid a financial price for the state’s delay, and that “this court must also accept part of the blame for not acting more forcefully with regard to defendants’ obduracy in the face of its continuing constitutional violations.”


AND A VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE ON THOSE SUTTER BROWN PLAYING CARDS

California’s first lady, Anne Gust Brown, came up with the adorable corgi playing cards with a state deficit chart on the back that were handed out during the governor’s State of the State speech.

The cards were such a massive hit that there may be a reprint in the works.

The SF Gate’s Carla Marinucci has the story. Here’s a clip:

She said the brainstorm had occurred to her as her husband was writing his speech. “This was about the governor sending a message … actually, not to the whole public,” but specifically to the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Gust Brown said.

And “how do you keep getting a message out to a group that wants to declare victory?”

Certainly, state legislators “made a lot of hard decisions to get us to a surplus,” and had reason to want to celebrate, she said. “We’ve done a lot to get out of these horrible deficits,” she said.

But Brown wanted to “keep reinforcing the decisions” based on fiscal prudence, she said.

And the challenge: Talking about issues like a rainy day fund “is boring,” she said. “People roll their eyes. You can say it in a speech, or put it in a chart, and they forget it.

“So I liked having some way where Jerry could reconfirm the point … and Sutter being there, I knew, would make it more memorable.”

Along with the dog’s photos on the front of the card, she added a flip side: a chart showing the persistence of the state’s deficits.

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LAUSD, prison | No Comments »

Two Extra Years to Ease California Prison Overcrowding, More Than a Child Welfare Czar, and DOJ Sez: Equal Rights for Same-Sex Couples

February 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGES GRANT GOV. BROWN TWO MORE YEARS TO REDUCE PRISON POPULATION

On Monday, the federal three-judge panel agreed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a two year extension on the state’s deadline for reducing the California prison population to 137% capacity. The judges’ order calls on the state to begin Gov. Brown’s proposed parole expansion and early release credit program immediately. Among other stipulations, the order says that Brown cannot increase the number of inmates in out-of-state facilities, and says the state should try to bring the current number (8,900) down.

The state’s final deadline will be Feb. 28, 2016, but there will be two smaller targets to hit—the first is a 1000-inmate reduction by June 30, 2014.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, has more on the judges’ decision. Here’s a clip:

Monday’s ruling comes with new conditions: The judges will appoint a compliance officer with the power to release inmates if the state misses interim deadlines for easing the overcrowding. And even as they granted more time to comply with the court order, they criticized the state’s efforts to delay the release of inmates, who remain packed into prisons at more than 144 percent of capacity.

[SNIP]

Had the judges refused to extend the deadline, Mr. Brown had planned to spend about $20 million this fiscal year and up to $50 million in the next to house prisoners in out-of-state facilities. California currently houses about 8,900 inmates in other states, and Monday’s order prohibits the state from adding to that number.

Now, instead, Mr. Brown has proposed spending $81 million in the next fiscal year for the rehabilitation programs intended to reduce the recidivism rate and help bring the prison population down over time. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” Mr. Brown said.

[SNIP]

“This extension means two more years of suffering for inmates that should not have been granted,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for some inmates.

Mr. Bien said that to keep the prison population from continuing to rise, California would have to reform its sentencing laws. The state has agreed to consider establishing a commission to recommend reforms of state penal and sentencing laws, according to Monday’s court order…


CREATING LASTING FOSTER CARE REFORMS

In December, the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection handed the Board of Supervisors a set of preliminary recommendations for reforming DCFS. While the final recommendations will be issued in April, the commission urged the board to implement the early recommendations immediately, including choosing a lead agency (or child welfare czar) to oversee the suggested DCFS reforms.

During last week’s meeting, the Supervisors moved forward with just two of the recommendations, citing a lack of extra funds. The board requested a fiscal analysis for the other recommendations, and will wait until April to make their next move.

In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has some insightful suggestions for both the commission and the Board of Supervisors, moving forward:

As the Board of Supervisors and the commission moves forward, they should consider four key elements to success. These are:

Lessons from child welfare reform initiatives that hinge on cross-agency collaboration.

The value of putting front-line workers from various child-serving departments in the same building.

The power and necessity of incorporating youth in the process.

The role of the news media in ensuring that all the players involved are getting the job done.

And here’s a clip expanding upon the third and fourth ideas in Heimpel’s list (but do go read the rest):

Youth as Part of the Solution

This is not the first time Los Angeles has seen a Blue Ribbon Commission and unless we finally get it right, it won’t be the last. As far as I see it, there has to be a fundamental change in the strategy for protecting children.

Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is the point of doing any of this if it is not guided by the young people who experience the system? The commission should recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay for youth to be a part of the decision-making process under any eventual czar. It can’t only be a bunch of grayhairs calling the shots.

The Press

The very existence of the Blue Ribbon Commission is attributable to the press’ role in compelling the Board of Supervisors to act. And it wasn’t until the press took notice of the commission’s preliminary recommendations that the debate about spending money or designating a czar became real. The commissioners shouldn’t forget this when laying out their final recommendations.

They should recommend that press coverage of child welfare is expanded. The commission should advocate for the easing of confidentiality laws on the state level, the continuance of Judge Michael Nash’s blanket order giving greater access to the media in juvenile dependency courts after he steps down next year, and the creation of a fund to support journalism projects that cover the system and the Board of Supervisors independently.


US AG ERIC HOLDER ANNOUNCES NEW JUSTICE DEPT. POLICY: EQUAL PROTECTION FOR SAME-SEX MARRIED COUPLES

On Saturday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice will extend equal protection to same-sex married couples who encounter the criminal justice system. (Woohoo!) For instance, couples will now have the right to refuse to testify against their spouse, the federally incarcerated will receive the same visitation and furlough rights as heterosexual married couples, and death benefits for surviving spouses of peace officers will be extended to same-sex couples.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the Justice Department policy, federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in heterosexual marriages, including visitation by a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.

In addition, an inmate in a same-sex marriage can be furloughed to be present during a crisis involving a spouse. In bankruptcy cases, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly. Domestic support obligations will include debts, such as alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse. Certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses should be excepted from discharge.

“This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where he announced the new policy.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”


Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, prison | No Comments »

Convictions in Coast Guard Killing, Probationers Jailed for Inability to Pay for Supervision, Admissions Blocked at New Stockton Prison, and Jobs for Justice-Involved Kids

February 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

US ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES CONVICTIONS IN DEATH OF CALIFORNIA COAST GUARD

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed while intercepting a suspected drug-smuggling boat in the Channel Islands National Park in December of 2012. Horne and four other officers left their Coast Guard cutter Halibut and deployed a small inflatable boat to approach the Mexican fishing boat (called a “panga”). When the coast guards identified themselves, the two suspects manning the vessel sped up, and rammed the officers’ boat, sending Horne and another officer overboard. Horne sustained a fatal head injury from the boat’s propeller.

Today prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office announced two convictions in this heartbreaking case.

One of the Ensenada men operating the panga, Jose Meija-Leyva was convicted of murder, plus two counts of failure to heave to (or slow the vessel for law enforcement boarding), and four counts of assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The other man, Manuel Beltran-Higuera, was convicted of the two counts of failure to heave to, and the same four counts of assault. He faces up to 60 years in federal prison.

Here’s a clip detailing the events from the US Attorney’s Office, Central District of CA:

“We are pleased with the verdict and that those responsible for Senior Chief Horne’s death will be held accountable,” said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard. “While the conviction of Senior Chief Horne’s killers cannot make up for the loss of a family member, friend and shipmate, we do hope that the conclusion of this case provides some level of comfort and closure to his loved ones. The Coast Guard will continue to honor the legacy Senior Chief Horne and his selfless service to our nation.”

Chief Petty Officer Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the Coast Guard cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified another suspicious vessel nearby in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, The airplane reported that the suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove was an approximately 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

Coast Guard officers aboard the Halibut launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. The Coast Guard small boat crew located the panga boat approximately 200 yards from the eastern shore of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 1:20 a.m. on December 2. As the Coast Guard’s small boat approached the panga boat, the officers activated the boat’s police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement. The crew members of the panga boat then throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat. As the panga boat rapidly approached the Coast Guard’s small boat, the officer at the helm attempted to avoid a collision by steering the small boat out of the path of the panga boat.

Despite these efforts, the panga boat rammed into the Coast Guard’s small boat, ejecting Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. Chief Petty Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a fatal injury. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.

Horne, a 34-year-old, well-liked father of two (with a baby on the way) was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927. Horne’s death was an unimaginable blow to his family of course, but also to his fellow Coast Guardsmen and the greater community.

“To call him a shipmate, to call him a big brother, doesn’t do him justice,” said Lt. Stewart Sibert at Horne’s funeral, reported the Daily Breeze. “In reality, he was closer to our guardian angel…he never turned down anyone who needed help.” Sibert was the skipper of the Coast Guard Cutter Halibut on the day Horne died.


FOR PROFIT PROBATION COMPANIES CHARGING PROBATIONERS FOR THEIR SUPERVISION, AND LOCKING THEM UP WHEN THEY CAN’T PAY

In some states, particularly Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, probationers under the supervision of private probation companies are being incarcerated for the inability to pay their (often exorbitant) supervision fees, according to a report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Watch.

Here are some clips from the report’s summary:

This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US. It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors. It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this. It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay. In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.

The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se. Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protec probationers from abusive and extortionate practices. All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.

[SNIP]

Traditionally, courts use probation to offer a criminal offender conditional relief from a potential jail sentence. If the offender meets regularly with a probation officer and complies with court-mandated benchmarks of good behavior for a fixed period of time, they escape a harsher sentence the court would otherwise impose. Courts in some US states charge offenders fees to help defray the costs of running a probation service. This is called “offender-funded” probation.

Probation companies offer courts, counties, and municipalities a deal that sounds too good to be true—they will offer probation services in misdemeanor cases without asking for a single dime of public revenue. All they ask in return is the right to collect fees from the probationers they supervise, and that courts make probationers’ freedom contingent on paying those fees. Those fees make up most probation companies’ entire stream of revenue and profits.

[SNIP]

Many courts have repurposed probation into a debt collection tool and are primarily interested in the services of probation companies as a means towards that end. In what is euphemistically referred to as “pay only” probation, people are sentenced to probation for just one reason: they don’t have money and they need time to pay down their fines and court costs. Pay only probation is an extremely muscular form of debt collection masquerading as probation supervision, with all costs billed to the debtor. It is essentially a legal fiction and it is the cornerstone of many probation companies’ business.

Offenders on pay only probation could wash their hands of the criminal justice system on the day of their court appearance if only they had the money on hand to pay their fines and court costs immediately and in full. Because they can’t, they are put on probation for periods of up to several years while they gradually pay down their debts to the court. Each month, they are charged an additional “supervision fee” by their probation company, whose only task is to collect their money and monitor whether they are keeping up with scheduled payments.


CALIFORNIA’S NEWEST PRISON FACILITY ORDERED TO HALT ADMISSIONS

The federal Receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, halted admissions at the state’s newest prison facility located in Stockton after reports of unsanitary living conditions and medical negligence.

An inspection commissioned by prisoners lawyers found inmates were left to sleep overnight in their own feces, that some had to towel off with dirty socks or forego showering, and that one inmate allegedly bled to death when nurses did not heed his calls for help. (This is not a particularly encouraging sign, to say the least.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

After meeting last week with corrections officials, Clark Kelso, the court-appointed medical receiver, ordered admissions stopped at the 6-month-old California Health Care Facility in Stockton and the opening of an adjacent 1,133-bed prison facility put on hold.

In a report to federal courts Friday, Kelso said the prison’s inability to provide adequate medical and hygiene supplies and unsanitary conditions “likely contributed to an outbreak of scabies.”

Kelso said the problems at the Stockton prison call into question California’s ability to take responsibility for prison healthcare statewide. He accused corrections officials of treating the mounting healthcare problems “as a second-class priority.”

An inspection team sent in by prisoners’ lawyers in early January found that inmates had been left overnight in their feces, confined to broken wheelchairs or forced to go without shoes.

A shortage of towels forced prisoners to dry off with dirty socks, a shortage of soap halted showers for some inmates, and incontinent men were put into diapers and received catheters that did not fit, causing them to soil their clothes and beds, according to the inspection report and a separate finding by Kelso.

The inspectors also found that nurses failed to promptly answer call buttons in the prison’s outpatient unit. Inmates told the inspectors of a bleeding prisoner on the unit who died Jan. 8 after nurses disregarded his repeated attempts to summon help.

[SNIP]

The report said there were so few guards that a single officer watched 48 cells at a time and could not step away to use the bathroom. The prison relied on other inmates — also sick or disabled — to assist prisoners. One man in a wheelchair with emphysema said he had been assigned to push the wheelchair of another disabled inmate. Nurses told the inspectors they were “unclear” how soon they should answer call buttons.


JOB PROGRAMS CRITICAL FOR YOUTH RE-ENTRY

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake explains the importance of making job programs available to at-risk kids. Here’s a clip:

…job readiness is critical to achieving self-sufficiency for our citizens – young and old alike. For kids involved in the justice system, employment is clearly a positive outcome and a part of a normative approach and environment.

How do we create in young people the understanding that work is normal and desirable; that awaking at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. is necessary; that absences are not allowed and that you do not get to choose everything that you must do on the job?

One common system response is to organize summer jobs programs. Too many such efforts are created by finding unspent money in other government programs and slapping together a summer jobs program close to the end of the school year. Administrators scramble to find willing employers, and politics influences who gets the programs and whose kids get the jobs. Although not well planned, these summer efforts are well-intentioned, and any job experience will help the teenaged employee along his or her way to understanding that reliability and willingness to undertake job duties is a normal way to get ahead.

However, there are effective and evidence-based models for youth employment. YouthBuild, the U.S. Department of Labor’s extraordinarily successful approach to job readiness, is one. Youth who are school dropouts, including kids involved in juvenile justice systems, are provided with substance abuse treatment, GED preparation and real job skills. Volunteers and employees from the building trades and social services move students along a trajectory to finishing school and getting a job. This highly structured and well-financed approach produces thousands of new employees each year.

Not every community has YouthBuild, but all can learn from its lessons…

(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)


The above photos of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne were both taken by U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Lt. Stewart Sibert.

Posted in Human rights, juvenile justice, prison, Probation, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

PTSD Epidemic in Violent Neighborhoods, New California Rules Regarding Prisoners with Gang Ties…and More

February 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

POPULATIONS OF UNDIAGNOSED, UNTREATED VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA LIVING IN HIGH-CRIME NEIGHBORHOODS

Emerging research shows that people who live in violent neighborhoods have rates of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rivaling that of war veterans. While much progress has been made regarding treatment available to veterans with PTSD, there is virtually no support for those who experience serious trauma in their own neighborhoods.

ProPublica’s Lois Beckett has the story. Here are some clips:

Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, treating about 2,000 patients a year for gunshots, stabbings and other violent injuries.

So when researchers started screening patients there for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011, they assumed they would find cases.

They just didn’t know how many: Fully 43 percent of the patients they examined – and more than half of gunshot-wound victims – had signs of PTSD.

“We knew these people were going to have PTSD symptoms,” said Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the hospital. “We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive.”

What the work showed, Joseph said, is, “This is a much more urgent problem than you think.”

Joseph proposed spending about $200,000 a year to add staffers to screen all at-risk patients for PTSD and connect them with treatment. The taxpayer-subsidized hospital has an annual budget of roughly $450 million. But Joseph said hospital administrators turned her down and suggested she look for outside funding.

“Right now, we don’t have institutional support,” said Joseph, who is now applying for outside grants.

[SNIP]

Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least 1 in 3 of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives – and that’s a “conservative estimate,” said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.

“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.”

[SNIP]

“Neglect of civilian PTSD as a public health concern may be compromising public safety,” Ressler and his co-authors concluded in a 2012 paper.

For most people, untreated PTSD will not lead to violence. But “there’s a subgroup of people who are at risk, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, of reacting in a violent way or an aggressive way, that they might not have if they had had their PTSD treated,” Ressler said.

In 2007, SF Chronicle’s Jill Tucker wrote an excellent series of articles on PTSD in urban areas, with a focus on kids suffering from the disorder.

In one of the other articles, Tucker tells of LAUSD’s findings regarding PTSD among LA students:

In Los Angeles, school officials and researchers wanted to know if the rate of PTSD quoted by experts and the federal government held true in their hallways.

They wondered if it were possible that up to 35 percent of “urban youth exposed to community violence” had PTSD, a statistic cited by the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, part of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

In 2000, they joined UCLA researchers in screening students from 20 schools in violence-prone parts of the city.

Of the 1,000 students randomly selected, 90 percent were a victim of or a witness to community violence, and 27 to 34 percent had PTSD, said Marleen Wong, director of the district’s Crisis Counseling and Intervention Services.


NEW CDCR RULES WOULD ALLOW SOME INMATES TO LOSE GANG MEMBER STATUS ON THEIR RECORDS, AND LEAVE ISOLATION

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced new rules that would allow inmates in solitary for gang association or leadership to earn their way out of isolation, and regain regular privileges. After completing a three year rehabilitation program both associates and leaders may be released from solitary. A gang associate would have to go an additional six years without a gang-related infraction to have the gang designation removed from their record. A designated gang leader would have to go 11 more years without incident.

Although a step in the right direction, prisoner advocates are not impressed by the new rules that still leave inmates locked in solitary for years at a time.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here are some clips:

Prison officials consider more than 2,800 of California’s nearly 134,000 inmates to be gang members or associates, and say they direct much of the violence and contraband smuggling both behind bars and on the streets.

Until now, once inmates were confirmed to be in a prison gang or other “security threat group,” the label stuck throughout their time behind bars. The designation required those inmates to remain housed under greater security and barred them from some programs like firefighting camps.

The new regulations are an extension of a 15-month-old pilot program that has allowed gang members to get out of isolation units at Pelican Bay in far Northern California and other prisons without renouncing their gang membership.

Since the start of the pilot, the department has reviewed 632 gang members who were in isolation units. Of those, 408 have been cleared to be released into the general prison population and 185 were given more privileges but remain in isolation.

These 2012 policies, which are being updated in Friday’s filing with the Office of Administrative Law, let the gang members and associates gain more privileges and leave the isolation units in as little as three years if they stop engaging in gang activities, and participate in anger management and drug rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

If the committee decides to remove an inmate’s gang designation, that decision would be reviewed by the department’s Office of Correctional Safety. If the inmate starts associating with gangs again, he would again be validated as a gang member and start the process over.

“As long as they keep indefinite solitary (confinement), as long as they have these decade-long processes … I think it’s woefully inadequate,” said Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.


LASD LIFE-SKILLS PROGRAM FOR EX-OFFENDERS

A successful LASD education program, the Emerging Leaders Academy, gives former offenders tools to successfully reenter their communities. The program, started by LASD Sgt. Clyde Terry, teaches life-skills, along with business and financial education, and helps students receive their GEDs and other certificates. Since it began in 2009, 465 people have graduated from Emerging Leaders Academy. Only 33 have gone on to reoffend.

Emerging Leaders has grown to four Los Angeles locations over the last few years, but the program faces an uncertain future. Whoever is elected in December (or the June primary) will decide the fate of the Emerging Leaders Academy. Terry says he will run it in his off time, as he did before former Sheriff Lee Baca made it Terry’s full-time position, if it is not supported by the new leadership.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s Jason Henry has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Emerging Leaders Academy started in 2009 with the goal to give adults on probation or parole a different outlook on life. Of the 465 graduates since inception, only 33 have re-offended and class sizes grow every year, according to coordinator Sgt. Clyde Terry.

Emerging Leaders recently opened its fourth Los Angeles County location in La Puente at the Twin Palms Recovery Center with the help of Councilmember David Argudo. Other classes exist in Culver City, North Hollywood and Long Beach.

Terry taught in his free time, to the chagrin of his superiors, before Baca turned it into a full-time job. Terry said he’ll go back to doing it off the clock if Baca’s resignation leads to the defunding of the program.

The program puts deputies at the head of classrooms of ex-offenders with the curriculum focused on keeping the students out of a cell. The academy heavily focuses on life coaching, but also includes practical elements of career development, entrepreneurship, literacy and financial education.

Baca sought out Terry after the implementation of AB 109.

“Sheriff Baca made it into an actual job, he saw the effectiveness of it and it was in line with what he was doing with education-based incarceration,” Terry said. “If they decided they want to get rid of the program, I’ll have it survive.”


LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN FUND NUMBERS

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has an update on LA Sheriff campaign funds. Thus far, Paul Tanaka’s $381,000 and Bob Olmsted’s $240,000 are the only two figures we have until the campaign report numbers are made available. (Candidates who entered the race late—Jim McDonnell, Jim Hellmold, and Todd Rogers—were not required to file disclosures, according to the LA Times’ Abby Sewell, Robert Faturechi and Catherine Saillant.) Here’s a clip:

Friday, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who’s been campaigning for six months, announced he’s raised $381,000. A spokesman for former Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted said he’s raised more than $240,000.

So far, Tanaka’s been the only candidate to advertise, and it’s been entirely online. Its nearly impossible to search online for anything related to the Sheriff’s Department without seeing one of his political ads pop up.

Two lesser-known candidates, former Sheriff’s Lt. Patrick Gomez and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince, have yet to say how much money they’ve raised.

The big question: how much money will it take to run a competitive campaign? With no incumbent in the race, estimates range from a few hundred thousand dollars to one million dollars.

Paul Tanaka shared the news on Twitter, as well:

Paul Tanaka ‏@TanakaLASheriff
Check out this article by @KPCC announcing my strong momentum in the race for #Sheriff.
http://on.fb.me/1ifcoE3

Posted in CDCR, Gangs, LASD, prison, PTSD, Reentry, Trauma | 13 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »