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The Commish: How a Former Gangster Became an LA County Probation Commissioner…and a Savvy Advocate for Locked-Up Kids.

August 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



When Sal Martinez, whose full name is Azael “Sal” Martinez Sonoquí,
was sworn in on August 9, 2015, for his second term as a Los Angeles County Probation Commissioner, he insisted on having the ceremony take place inside LA’s Central Juvenile Hall, where he gave several dozen of the hall’s teenage residents front row seats at the well-attended festivities.

If some of the dignitaries, who were also in attendance, thought the place an unusual environment for a county official to give a party, Martinez, 45—whom personal friends often refer to as The Commish—soon disabused them of that notion. It perfectly symbolized the work he intended to do in his next round as commissioner and it was, after all, a location he knew intimately, he said.

The first time Martinez entered one of the county’s juvenile lock-ups was in 1984 when he was 14 years old. He’d been arrested for GTA—grand theft auto. He and a friend jacked somebody’s tricked out Ford truck right out of the owner’s driveway. They did so at the request of a chop shop owner who recruited young Martinez and his buddy to steal the vehicle for him. The chop shop crook even helpfully pointed out the exact truck he wanted. More accurately, it was the parts of the truck that he ardently desired.

However, while the underage thieves did manage to steal the truck, they did not deliver it.

“The police got us first,” Martinez told me. So the Ford owner got his truck back, and Martinez went to juvenile hall.

Martinez passed through the hall, as local kids then called LA County’s main short term juvenile facility, four more times. His last residence began in mid October, 1987, when he was seventeen. On that occasion, he’d just gotten out of Los Angeles County-USC hospital, where he’d been taken after he had been shot in the neck by a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. (In total, Martinez has been shot twice, and stabbed four times.) It was a gunshot that should have killed the teenager, but instead the wound was a through-and-through. The bullet entered on the right side of his neck, just under his ear, and emerged out the right back side of his neck, less than an inch from his spine. It’s trajectory just missing his carotid.

By that time Martinez had graduated from occasional lawbreaking to active gang membership and serious drug dealing. Interestingly, his drug dealing boss wasn’t an older gangster higher up on the gang food chain. His boss was his mother. In her daytime hours, she had a legal job sewing piece goods for Levi Strauss, Guess, and a few other downtown LA clothing manufacturers. With the rest of her time, she ran a wholesale rock and powder cocaine distribution business that supplied drugs to many of Boyle Heights’ most notorious street gangs. (His father, a Pentecostal minister, had long ago left the family.)

To juggle the legal and illegal sides of her life, the mom had all three of her sons on a well-organized schedule that she noted carefully on a calendar in the family kitchen. On the first week of every month—Sunday night through the following Sunday morning—Martinez’ elder brother made the drug deliveries. The second week was Sal’s. The third week belonged to his younger brother. The last week, the mom delivered the goods.

The day that Martinez was shot, his mother was scheduled to drop off an order of PCP to a woman client. But the woman, who was also supposedly a personal friend, had asked to meet her at State Street public park. It wasn’t Martinez’ week, and he was slated to take his younger brother to the doctor that day, but he would pass right by the park, so he agreed to do his mom a favor with the drug drop.

When he arrived at the designated area of the park, he spotted the woman standing near to her Mustang. But rather than come to meet him, she instead gestured toward him with her hand. A millisecond later, Martinez saw the hoards of cops that seemed to emerge from nowhere and everywhere at once, racing toward him in cars and on foot.

It was, of course, a sting. Martinez ran. As he ran, the drugs scheduled for delivery threatened to fall out of the pockets of his baggy Guess jeans. (His mother brought home Guess seconds for her sons.) Mid-run, he reached a hand toward the falling drugs hoping to secure them, and one of the officers shot him.

Despite his wounds, in less than a day, he was transferred in leg irons and chains, from the jail section of County USC Medical Center, to the infirmary of juvenile hall, where he remained for several weeks. When he’d recovered enough to go to court, he was sentenced to 7-9 months in county custody, and shipped to Camp Mendehall, a juvenile probation facility located in the chaparral-covered hills north of Castaic Lake and South of Lake Hugues. He liked the quiet of the place. As his release date approached in late May of 1988, Martinez became anxious. He didn’t want to go home. His mother had only visited him once in seven months and even then it was under duress. He wanted desperately to be done with his old gang and drug-dealing existence.

But he didn’t know what to do about it.


ENTER MARY RIDGWAY

Martinez met the person whom he credits with both rerouting and saving his life on the second to the last day of his term. That was when a probation officer who was scheduled to have his case after his upcoming release, showed up at camp. She was a formidable-looking, middle-aged blond with a penchant for amethyst-colored dresses, good jewelry, most notably jade, and was famous inside probation as the ne plus ultra of experts when it came to eastside gangs and gang members. Police came to her for insider information, not the reverse. Her name was Mary Ridgway.

At the time, Martinez, a natural leader, had been named camp “mayor.” When Ridgway bustled his direction, she said, with a challenging raise of one eyebrow, that she’d been looking forward to meeting this “mayor” she’d heard so much about. Before she left him, she told him he was not “meant for a life behind bars,” and that he had to come to see her first thing when he got out, but to come near the end of the day, as she would make him her last appointment

At the initial meeting in her office after his release, Ridgway read him the conditions of his probation, then told him she knew where he lived and that she could bust him at any time. Finally, she marched Martinez across the street and got him enrolled in an alternative school run by the Soledad Enrichment Action program.

After that, she never let up on him. In addition to the required weekly check-ins, she took him and other probationers on field trips to museums, movies, to try playing golf, whatever she thought would help. Her encouragement was relentless.

It worked. Martinez never dealt drugs again. Like the rare drunk who can quit cold turkey, Martinez simply walked away. ¡Ya estuvo! Enough was enough. He wanted something better.

His mother tried to talk him out of the straight life. ‘We need you,’ she said. His older brother told him he was a fool. But Martinez was finished. A year into his probation, he went to work for Sears for $5.04 an hour. He was proud of himself for doing it.

“I wanted Mary’s world,” he said.

In the years that followed, he got a good job working for a beverage distribution company, where he’s been for the last two decades. He got married, had kids, learned the joys of parenting, and began working evenings and weekends as a volunteer in the same communities where he’d once dealt drugs.

All the while, he stayed close to his former probation officer whom he regarded as his tough-talking surrogate mom, his mentor, his savior.

When Mary Ridgway died on Feb. 21, 2009, of a fast moving cancer, a devastated Martinez was one of her pall bearers.

Although I’d heard about him for years from Ridgway, I met Martinez for the first time at Mary’s funeral where we talked urgently for more than an hour in the rain.


THE COMMISH BECOMES THE COMMISH

Even after her death, Ridgway’s impact on Martinez’ life continued. It was due to her influence, albeit through a series of quirky, back-door circumstances, that the former gangster/drug dealer—who, so to speak, broke good—was selected for his first term as an LA County Probation Commissioner.

Martinez’ road to the position commenced when he began working to find a way to appropriately honor the woman who meant so much to him—and to many other former gang members and at risk young men and woman.

(“I’d be dead if it weren’t for Ridgway,” was the common refrain among former homeboys and homegirls after news of the legendary PO and gang expert’s passing spread.)

Whit honoring in mind, when Martinez heard that there were plans afoot to rename the East Los Angeles Probation Center after some politically-connected person or other, he contacted the office of then-LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina, and suggested that Ridgway was the idea person for whom the place could be renamed. At first, exactly no one in a position of power warmed to the idea. Ridgway was, for one thing, a white lady and this was, after all, East LA. Even worse, nobody outside of law enforcement—and…well…gangsters and former gangsters—had ever heard of her. But Martinez was determined. Make that: unstoppable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Probation | 6 Comments »

Why is LA County Probation Sitting on $21.7 Million in Unspent Juvie Justice Funds?

July 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


A few weeks ago, WitnessLA learned that LA County Probation was sitting on $21.7 million in state-allocated juvenile justice funds
that were supposed to be spent toward creating a comprehensive plan of youth services that prominently includes community-based programs to keep at risk kids out of the county’s justice system—and on related programs to help kids already in the system with reentry so that they don’t bounce right back in again after they are released.

Instead, the funds—which have reportedly been piling up at a regular clip since FY 2010/11—were simply sitting in an account doing…well…nothing.

On Tuesday, however, the news of the nearly $22 million became public when a motion co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl announced the existence of the unused money.

The motion, which was read in and adopted unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting, requires Chief of Probation Jerry Powers and Interim CEO Sachi Hamai “…to report back within 21 days with an amended spending plan that allows for the immediate allocation of $1 million to fund critical programs and services delivered by community-based organizations in each supervisorial district.”

Admittedly, $1 million is less than 5 percent of the entire pot of languishing greenbacks, but it’s a start.


WHERE THE UNDER-THE-MATTRESS $$ CAME FROM IN THE FIRST PLACE

The source of the money in question comes from a funding stream created by the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), which was itself created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 in order “to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at curbing crime and delinquency among at-risk youth.”

The funds, which are allocated on a per capita basis to the state’s 56 participating counties (Alpine and Sierra counties opt out), are mandated to be spent to fund a range of programs that help kids. The methods used are required to be evidence-based—aka programs “that have been demonstrated to be effective…”

Each year the various counties have to propose how they are going to spend the money received—which for LA has been in the neighborhood of $28 million annually. Then at years end, they are expected to document how the funds were, in fact, spent.

Only .5—or less than one percent—of the money is allowed to be used for administrative costs. The rest is supposed to go straight to programs that directly benefit each county’s at risk youth. There is no mention in the regulations about any of the dollars being encouraged to lie fallow in a savings account that, until recently, few people seemed to know existed.


WHY WEREN’T ALL THOSE BUCKS SPENT ON KIDS?

So, should that money have been spent, not saved?

Well, technically, yes. The rules of the JJCPA pretty clearly require it.

However we think the best answer to that question may be found in the county’s own most recent research into the state of its justice-involved kids and their needs:

In April 2015, the release of the excellent and unprecedented LA County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study quantified the daunting challenges and needs of the kids who come in contact with the county’s juvenile justice system.

At the end of the 155-page report, the team of researchers led by Dr. Denise Herz of Cal State LA, summarized in brief the kinds of programs and services that are the most essential if we expect these most vulnerable of our county’s kids to reroute their risk-laden trajectories in order to succeed. They are as follows:

*community-based “front end” prevention and intervention services for youth and families in early stages of Probation involvement to address youth needs and avoid any unnecessary out of home placements;

* transitional services and interventions for families while the youth are in suitable placement or camp, including the ubiquity of certain approaches like individual counseling and the appropriateness of these interventions for most youth; and,

* community-based services for youth who are transitioning back into the community, including current reentry practices like MDTs, school referral and reenrollment processes, family-focused programs, and supportive services for their families during the transition.

In short, all the kinds of programs and services that the JJCPA cash is supposed to be funding.

After Tuesday’s board meeting, I asked Supervisor Ridley-Thomas why so much money that was slated to be used for the benefit of LA County’s at-risk kids was not being put to work.

“I don’t think they have a good reason,” he said. “So, it’s our job to do something about it.”

“The anti recidivism work that we need to do is really very substantial,” Ridley-Thomas continued, “so it becomes a bit problematic to imagine that we are not using all the resources at our disposal to work on the problem. The need is great. And it’s our job to address the need.”

Yep.


NOTE: At Wed 11:05 a.m. this story was updated and corrected to reflect that the Kuehl/Ridley-Thomas motion was read in and adopted at Tuesday’s meeting. In an earlier version we wrote that the motion was scheduled for adoption next week.

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 2 Comments »

Kids, Weapons, and Trauma…Ezell Ford…”Breaking Barriers”…and SF Sheriff Lets More Kids Visit Jailed Parents

June 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: EXPOSURE TO WEAPONS, VIOLENCE LINKED TO TRAUMA, NEGATIVE OUTCOMES

In the US, one-in-four kids between the ages of 2-17–a “disturbingly” high number—have been exposed, either as a victim or a witness, to weapon-related violence, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers collected data from 2011 on 4114 kids from the Second National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence.

One in 33 kids have been personally assaulted with a gun or a knife. Children who had experienced weapon-involved violence were more likely to have more than one instance of victimization in the past year. Kids were also faced with more adversity in that year, and severe symptoms of trauma in just the past month.

The study calls for more rigorous data research on the effects of weapon exposure on kids, including the role it plays in kids’ mental health and wellbeing:

…there is still much we do not know about youth weapon exposure and firearm exposure in particular. For example, firearm factors may play into the victimization accumulation cycle in various, yet undetermined, ways. Negative firearm exposures, for example, may make particularly salient or traumatizing contributions to the cycle. Firearm fascination, acquisition, and carrying may be a response among highly exposed children and youth, which may in turn aggravate the cycle. Positive firearm experiences, on the other hand, for some youth may moderate or buffer the effects of victimization exposure. Findings from the current study suggest the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the range of firearm exposures for youth and the contexts that increase risk of harm and victimization.


LAPD COMMISSION ISSUES DECISION ON EZELL FORD FATAL SHOOTING

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford last August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

The commission used two reports—one from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who found the officers to have acted within department policy, and one from the Inspector General, who said the shooting was justified, but that the officers should have approached Ford differently.

The commissioners made their decision after hearing emotional, and sometimes heated, public testimony, including from Ford’s mother, who begged for the cops to be disciplined in the name of justice.

Now, Chief Beck will have to decide how, and whether, to punish the officers.

The New York Times’ Jennifer Medina has the story. Here’s a clip:

The decision by the committee, known as the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, was initially met with confusion, as angry observers yelled “murderers, murderers” at the commissioners. Steve Soboroff, the commission’s president, said the panel’s findings would be sent to the district attorney, who is conducting a separate investigation and would ultimately decide if charges against the officers were warranted.

Los Angeles has a long history of tense relations between the police and the black and Latino communities, and many community leaders worried that a ruling absolving the officers would set off unrest. Occurring last summer, just two days after the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Mr. Ford’s death set off a wave of protests here.

“Today the system worked the way it is supposed to with an impartial civilian review board,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. While he praised the changes the city has made since the riots of 1965 and 1992, he acknowledged that deep divides remain in the city. “I know it is a painful moment to be a young Angeleno,” he said. “You should always feel safe, you should always feel strong here as well.”

“Ezell Ford’s life mattered, black lives matter,” Mr. Garcetti continued. “We have a system that can work. Every life matters but due process matters, too.”


NEW LA COUNTY PROGRAM AIMS TO BREAK RECIDIVISM CYCLE FOR HOMELESS OFFENDERS

Through the LA County Department of Health Services, 300 people who are homeless and on probation for a felony will receive housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment services, and a personal caseworker.

Approximately 1,400 probationers are homeless out of the 8,000 who are under LA County supervision due to AB 109 (the 2011 legislation that shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders away from the state to the 58 counties). The program, Breaking Barriers, will provide full or partial rent for up to two years, by which time, the program will have hopefully helped participants find employment and become independent.

A combined $6.2 million from the county probation department and the Hilton Foundation will fund the program, which may be the first of its kind, nationwide. If the RAND Corporation determines the program to be successful, probation will likely increase funding and expand to serve more homeless probationers.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the program. Here are some clips:

The program will target high and medium risk offenders recently out of state prison. Under 2011′s AB 109 realignment law, those offenders are supervised by county probation departments, as are offenders on felony probation. Of the 8,000 AB 109-ers under supervision in L.A. County, about 1,400 are homeless.

Previously, such offenders were steered into 90-day transitional housing with services, and were then expected to move on. Perez said that wasn’t working.

“Especially for some of these folks who have significant substance abuse issues or mental health issues, or significant medical issues,” she said. “Ninety days isn’t sufficient time to enable anybody, really, to address all of the issues needed to stabilize these folks.”

[SNIP]

Tyler Fong, program manager with Brilliant Corners, a nonprofit hired to find housing for the participants, said people who work in social services have known for years that being homeless is essentially a full-time job.

“That takes up a huge percentage of someone’s time, and stress, and effort, that they aren’t able to focus on improving their lives,” he said.

Fong also works on Housing for Health, a county health department program up and running for about two years. It gives longterm rental support to patients who frequent the public health system.

That approach attracted the attention of the Probation Department, which asked to make use of the same structure to work with its own population. DHS Director Mitch Katz has said he wants to eventually make 10,000 rental subsidy vouchers available to homeless Angelenos who are frequent users of county services.


IN AN UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, SF SHERIFF, CHANGES POLICY SO 16-YEAR-OLDS CAN VISIT INCARCERATED PARENTS ALONE

On Monday, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi lowered the minimum age to sixteen-years-old for kids visiting parents in jail. No other California county allows jail visitors under the age of eighteen, unless accompanied by an adult. Mirkarimi says his goal is to make it easier for SF kids who don’t have a loved one who can take them to see their incarcerated parents, and to hopefully make family reunification easier when parents are released back into their communities. There are approximately 1,000 children in San Francisco with a parent locked up in county jail.

The sheriff is also establishing “goodbye visits” for kids whose parents are being transferred to state prisons.

SF Gate’s Vivian Ho has more on the policy changes. Here’s a clip:

“We think it’s time that the U.S. criminal justice system from the municipal, state and federal level stops punishing the children of incarcerated parents and guardians,” Mirkarimi said. “The effect has been well-studied and proven, but not well-acted upon — children of the incarcerated have a higher probability of running afoul of the law later on, and also suffer and struggle in ways that I don’t think our society fully understands.”

A systemwide study by the Bridging Group, a consulting organization that studies the effects of incarceration, found that of the 907 San Francisco County Jail inmates it surveyed, 536 were parents or primary caregivers for children under the age of 25.

There are currently about 1,200 inmates in San Francisco County’s jails, according to the sheriff’s department.

However, of the 536 inmates with children, only 34 percent of them reported having jail visits from their kids. Many blamed that on travel and other costs they couldn’t afford, and conflict with caregivers.

[SNIP]

Mirkarimi’s new policy will also establish what are known as “goodbye visits” — in-person meetings for children whose parents will be transferred to state prison. The meetings give the children and parents more time to bond while they strategize on how to communicate while the parent is farther away.

“This allows kids to really understand what is happening, and also allows people to make plans for how to stay connected,” said Sarah Carson, a manager with One Family, which advocates for incarcerated parents and their families. “Because when you get out of prison, the most important thing is that you have family to come home to. That is what makes recidivism rates go down — when there is something there that holds you.”

Posted in ACEs, Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, jail, LAPD, Probation, Reentry | 6 Comments »

The Power of “Freedom Schools” to be in 7 Juvenile Probation Camps in Alameda & LA Counties, But Will Probation Staff Fully Buy In?

June 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Freedom School Program Liberates Kids in Probation Camp from Mark Ridley-Thomas on Vimeo.

This summer, the kids in seven California juvenile probation camps located in LA and Alameda counties will experience something called Freedom School—a combination literacy enrichment program and self-esteem building strategy that is the brain child of the Children’s Defense Fund.

For decades, Freedom school has been used to improve literacy and a love of learning for kids in communities around the nation, through the use of some unique strategies including a sort of noisy, high-energy pep rally called the Harambee (Swahili for Let’s Pull Together) that occurs at the beginning of each school session.

Eight years ago, CDF brought the program to juvenile justice facilities in four states: Minnesota, Texas, Maryland, and New York. Then, in the summer of 2013, with the sponsorship of LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA County Probation agreed to try out Freedom School in two of the county’s juvenile probation camps on a pilot basis—Fred C. Miller Camp in the hills of Malibu and Afflerbaugh Camp in the LaVerne.

Although there was initial resistance from some of the probation staff at the LA camps, particularly during the morning Harambee—which featured cheering, singing, energetic jumping and dancing—the two-camp pilot was deemed a success.

When a team from UCLA, USC and Vital Research evaluated the before and after effect of Freedom School on the camps probationers in the two camps, researchers found that the kids’ reading scores went up an average of 51 points. Their love of/interest in reading increased as well, as did their own anecdotal ratings of their reading ability.

But, the researchers noted that one of the areas was in need of improvement. There was a lack of “buy-in,” they said, by many of the probation officers in the two camps. “The role of Probation Officers was observed as being limited…only sticking to their traditional roles of disciplining and monitoring students,” wrote the evaluators.

More specifically, although some of the staff seemed to embrace the program, others declined to participate in any of the group activities and instead stood off to the side frowning, barking at kids for minor pretexts.

With the idea of improving staff “buy-in,” in preparation for this summer’s expanded Freedom School, the California Children’s Defense Fund (CA-CDF) brought a larger than ever group of probation officers, teachers and others involved in the program, to the week-long preparatory, Harambee-heavy training that began over the weekend in Knoxville, TN, and which featured superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson as one of the weekend’s kick-off speakers.

And this year, the event in Knoxville includes special juvenile justice training sessions, during which those working with the programs inside youth justice facilities can exchange ideas.

“In the CDF Freedom Schools program children learn to fall in love with reading and are engaged in activities that develop their minds and bodies and nurture their spirits,” said Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund. “The children are encouraged to dream about college and set goals for themselves, and for many of them, the program is a life-changing experience.”

The same appeared to be true in 2013 for many of the kids at LA County’s Camps Afflerbaugh and Miller.

“I used to get Ds and Fs in school,” said one sixteen-year-old who participated in the Freedom School pilot at Camp Afflerbaugh. “Now I want my family to know I get Bs and Cs. And I want to go to college and become a counselor so I can help other kids learn how to read.”

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

New Auditor-Controller Report Says LA County’s Juvie Probation Camps NOT in Compliance With DOJ Requirements

April 10th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



SO DOES “COMPLIANCE” MEAN, LIKE “COMPLIANCE?”

Last month we reported that LA County’s juvenile probation camps were in “full compliance” with the 73 reforms demanded by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, after six years of DOJ oversight.

At least, they were in compliance according to the DOJ monitors and according to probation’s own accounting. Having finally met the goals set out by the feds seemed like—and in many ways is—laudable progress.

The bad old days that brought the DOJ into the camps in the first place, were very bad indeed. And probation has worked hard to make improvements, for which they should be given lots of credit.


BUT THEN ANOTHER SHOE DROPPED….

On Monday April 6, however, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office put out their own report about the matter of probation’s compliance in the department’s 16 operational juvenile camps and facilities. WitnessLA has obtained that report.

So was probation in compliance according to A-C’s assessment?

The A-C’s answer: Uh, no.

Here’s the deal: At the direction of the LA County Board of Supervisors, the Auditor-Controller was following behind the federal monitors, double checking to see what was in compliance and what still needed work. The Auditor-Controller’s monitors were not looking at all the items on the DOJ’s check list. They were only keeping tabs on seven provisions of the feds’ list that had been some of the main sticking points near the end of the DOJ’s oversight.

And out of those seven how did probation do? According to the Auditor-Controller’s assessment: not very well.

“Probation did not maintain substantial compliance for six (86%) of the seven provisions reviewed. The areas of non-compliance noted in our review centered on Probation not ensuring their staff complete the ongoing training required by many of the provisions reviewed.

Among the areas where probation reportedly failed to fully comply are the following:


THE MATTER OF REHABILITATION

One of the most important areas in which the DOJ monitors asked for substantial change was article #17, which requires Probation to:

“…provide formal daily programming that incorporates education, recreation, and specialized rehabilitative and/or treatment programs for the minors and incorporate a points-driven behavior management program that addresses negative behavior and rewards positive behavior.”

Number 17 was considered so important because, as probation’s deputy chief, Felicia Cotton said when we talked last month, during the problematic years that so appalled the DOJ, and precipitated their oversight, there was very little that was rehabilitative going on at the camps.

“We used to use a system of custody and control,” Cotton told me. “That’s what it was all about.” And, she said, “…you had kids who rebelled against that kind of control, with not much to lose. And you can’t blame them. That’s not the best approach for angry, traumatized kids.”

Exactly. And, in response to DOJ pressure, probation did finally launch the various required rehabilitative programs,—with more programs still to come. But, according to the Auditor-Controller’s report, there are several problems with the programs’ implementation.

For one thing, the DOJ specified that the staff needed to make sure that the kids in camp actually attended the various classes and activities.

In ten out of the 15 camps that had the programs, the A-C’s report found little or no problem. But in four of the facilities in particular, 30 percent of the kids didn’t attend their classes, and another 36 percent of the kids only attended some of their classes. (They were required to attend 80 percent.)

The A-C monitors also reported that in five of the camps some of the staff reportedly failed to honor the reward system. For instance, they would wrongly reward kids. And in four of the camps, staff would delay rewards and “promotions” for the kids who had actually earned them.

This may sound petty, but for already traumatized kids who are angry and acting out, the adults absolutely must be consistent and trustworthy if any rehabilitation is going to take place.

When the adults can’t keep their collective word, the effect is psychologically corrosive, and you are guaranteed to have problems.


HANDLING KIDS WHO ARE SUICIDE RISKS

On the topic of suicidal kids, the A-C’s people noted that an average of 30 percent of the staff in the 16 camps/units didn’t complete the required training in suicide prevention that teaches them “how to prevent and respond to crises.”

Perhaps that lack of training and understanding accounts for why, later in the report, the A-C monitors noted that, at one camp, in 14 of the staff shifts reviewed, “the managers at one specialized unit did not insure that staff completed Safety Check Sheets for each eight-hour shift.” These were the check sheets that made certain staff were properly looking in on a kid with “persistent suicidal ideation” housed in a SHU—or isolation cell.

Elsewhere in the report, the monitors also found that, in two instances, kids were kept in the SHU for over 8 hours without appropriate documentation. Considering that, right now, the state legislature is considering a bill (SB 124) that would severely limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, hyper-vigilence regarding the proper use of the SHU in LA’s juvenile camps would seem to be a prudent course.


UNDERSTANDING KIDS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AND DISABILITIES

According to the report, the camp staff did slightly better in attending the training designed to give them the “skills and information necessary to understand behaviors of, engage in appropriate interactions with, and respond to needs of youth with mental illness and developmental disabilities.”

Still, however, 20 percent of the staff, according to the A-C, did NOT attend the training.

Even more staff (23 percent or more) in 13 of the 16 facilities appeared to blow off—or not be offered—the required training that would have informed them of the proper “policies, practices, and procedures to define those circumstances in which staff must report allegations of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate external agencies.”

In other words, one fifth or more of the staff in a paramilitary organization that oversees the wellbeing of troubled kids did not manage to get the absolutely required training..

We hate to be harsh, but really. Those of us who have taught at either public or private universities—even as guest lecturers—know that if we haven’t completed the required sexual harassment training we cannot walk into a classroom. Period.

In the camps, the stakes are far higher, and the training is even more critical.

In the case of LA County’s juvenile probation facilities, changing what was a very problematic culture inside the camps that, for years, allowed real abuse to take place, is not an easy process. Training is a big part of making that change.


PROBATION’S REBUTTAL

Included in the Auditor-Controller’s report is a rebuttal from Probation Chief Jerry Powers, who writes that probation “does not agree” with four of the listed six problem areas.

Probation did agree with two of the report’s noncompliance items having to do with the failure of a big chunk of the staff to get required training. One of the “agreements” centered around training that helped staff members better understand “youth with mental illness and developmental disabilities.” Powers basically wrote that, while they weren’t in full compliance, they would be soon.

In the case of the required regular training to give staff “the knowledge and skills needed to effectively manage youth, including de-escalation techniques, crisis interuention, youth development, and supervision,” Powers said there was a scheduling conflict. (It’s more complicated, but that was the bottom line.) But probation will be catching up on the training this year.

As for the other four categories, probation said it is in compliance.

So who’s right? Hard to say. We have calls into both probation and the A-C’s office and didn’t hear back from either in time for publication.

However, at the end of the A-C’s report, in a rebuttal to the rebuttal, Auditor-Controller John Naimo had this to say:

“…we completed our review using the monitoring tools developed by Probation and the DOJ Monitor, and in accordance with the training Probation provided. ln addition, we provided Probation copies of our monitoring tools with the details of our audit results, and the Department did not provide documentation to invalidate our results.

“We also attempted to validate Probation’s results for a sample of provisions to determine why the results of our reviews were different. However, the Department did not maintain sufficient documentation to support the results of their reviews, which prevented us from identifying the cause of the differences.”


A MOTION BY SUPERVISOR MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS

This past Tuesday, a motion to launch a new fiscal audit of the probation department was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with support of Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

The motion, which is to be voted on by the board next week, proposes an audit that would look at, among other things:

*The current cost of operating the camps and halls including the cost per youth, annual maintenance costs and deferred building maintenance costs…”

*Recruitment, examination, hiring and promotional practices to determine whether the Department is effectively recruiting, retaining and promoting the most qualified staff for its operating needs”

*”The Department’s Request for Proposal procedures and its process for examining satisfactory compliance with the statements of work for contracted community-based organizations and agencies.”

When I spoke to Ridley-Thomas about his reason for the motion, he said that although he didn’t make the motion with the Auditor-Controller’s report in mind, he made it “with concern about these issues that the report raises in mind.”

UCLA’s Dr. Jorja Leap, who has been a part of various studies examining aspects of the juvenile camps, had something similar about the Auditor-Controller’s report:

“There is no sign off from vigilance,” Leap said. “It is to the county’s credit that they are carefully examining what occurs in probation camps in an ongoing manner. In particular, there needs to be a consideration of the mental health needs of all youth — something that continues to be sadly lacking!”

So there you have it: Progress has been made. But, perhaps not quite as much as probation hopes. And ongoing oversight would be wise.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

LA Supes End Ban on Parolee/Probationer Eligibility for Subsidized Housing….Steep Tickets Fund Courts and Bury CA’s Poor in Debt….Employment Barriers for Former Offenders…Town Hall Meetings on LASD Citizen’s Oversight Panel

April 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SOME LA PAROLEES AND PROBATIONERS WILL NOW BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE SECTION 8 VOUCHERS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of opening up Section 8 program eligibility to parolees and probationers whose low-level drug crime convictions are more than two years old. Supe. Hilda Solis voted alongside Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas who introduced the motion.

Until now, just one small drug crime, even from five or six years prior, excluded people on community supervision from accessing housing vouchers through the Section 8 program.

Although this is an important step toward reducing recidivism and equipping former offenders with the right tools to successfully reenter their communities, the current waitlist for housing vouchers has 43,000 names on it, and is expected to be closed to new applicants for at least the next few years. And the approximately 1,200 spots expected to open up over the next year will not make a dent.

To be clear, this decision does not change eligibility requirements for living in any of the 3000 public housing units managed by the county. Specifically, it allows people on probation and parole to apply for what are called “housing choice vouchers,” through which participants choose their own residence (as long as the housing meets certain program requirements).

While those on community supervision will no longer be blocked from the voucher program, landlords still have the right to perform background checks on prospective housing voucher tenants.

LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk before the board’s decision. Here are some clips of what Kuehl said about the particulars of the motion and why it’s so important.

[Regarding LA's homeless population]: We hear a lot about veterans, but we don’t hear a lot about people coming out of jail, or for that matter, young people coming out of our probation camps at the age of 18. We didn’t want to bar them if they qualified in every other way for housing vouchers.

[SNIP]

They haven’t shown any proof that public housing is safer because they’re barring people on probation or parole. As a matter of fact, if you ask any of the probation officers, their impression is that it would be safer, because these men and women have to report to them quite often… There’s much more checking-up than there is on any other kind of resident. And having people camping out in the homeless population nearby doesn’t make you any safer either.

The data shows that you’re far less likely to recidivate…if you have a permanent place to live. So it seems like we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face by barring people who have served their time.

Listen to the rest of Kuehl’s interview with Larry Mantle.


REPORT: “NOT JUST A FERGUSON PROBLEM — HOW TRAFFIC COURTS DRIVE INEQUALITY IN CALIFORNIA”

In a system that is not dissimilar to Ferguson, MO’s policing-for-profit strategy, California traffic courts frequently suspend drivers licenses of those who are unable to pay outsized fines for minor tickets, according to a report released Wednesday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s no surprise that the practice has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Californians, costing people their jobs when they can’t drive to work and creating an often insurmountable pile of debt via lost wages and late fees.

According to the report California is home to nearly four million people with suspended licenses (that’s 17% of the state’s licensed adults), and has racked up more than $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt.

The New York Times’ Timothy Williams has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In an Alameda County traffic court case, for example, a $25 ticket given to a motorist who had failed to update the home address on her driver’s license within the state law’s allotted 10 days led a traffic court judge to suspend her license when she was unable to pay the fine.

The accumulation of fees and penalties for late payment increased her fine to $2,900, and the woman — identified in the report only as “Alyssa” — was fired from her job as a bus driver because she no longer possessed a valid driver’s license and is now receiving public assistance, according to the report, which was prepared by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which worked in conjunction with other California legal aid groups.

“These suspensions make it harder for people to get and keep jobs, further impeding their ability to pay their debt,” the report said. “Ultimately, they keep people in long cycles of poverty that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome.”

[SNIP]

Ferguson’s policies, the Justice Department report said, resulted in a disproportionate number of arrests, citations and traffic stops of African-Americans and was among the factors in the public anger that led to weeks of demonstrations there after Mr. Brown’s death.

In California, a 2012 state analysis unrelated to the new report found that assessments tacked onto tickets by California lawmakers meant that a $500 traffic ticket actually cost $1,953 — even if it was paid on time. A $100 ticket for failure to have proof of auto insurance cost $490 — and increased to $815 if the motorist missed the initial deadline to appear in court or to pay the ticket.

Among the fees included in the cost of a traffic ticket were assessments for court operations, court construction and DNA collection.


YEARS AFTER THEIR RELEASE, FORMER OFFENDERS STILL FACE EXTREME HURDLES TO ENTERING (AND STAYING IN) THE WORKFORCE

Al Jazeera America’s Naureen Khan has some excellent reporting on the impenetrability of America’s workforce for former offenders seeking employment.

Khan’s story follows Jesse Killings who has spent years trying to land steady and stable work after fighting over his wife with another man. Jesse wins small victories over the stigma of his criminal record, but when a job or internship ends, he lands right back where he started. And his story is far from uncommon.

Here are some clips:

…on a March night in 2001, he drove to his mother-in-law’s house, he says, to see if he and his wife could work through their problems. Instead, he found another man under the same roof. Killings admits that he was the one to throw the first punch. “My emotions went through the roof,” he said. “I bee lined to where he was. We were two rams.”

In the flurry of fists that followed, Killings’ dreams were caving in around him. He was charged with felony counts of burglary — for entering his mother-in-law’s home — and assault.

“I did that, I’m guilty,” Killings said.

He served for only three months through a plea deal his public defender urged him to take, but Killings says the felony convictions have cast an immeasurably long shadow on his life since then. He lost his scholarship. He’s had to rely on homeless shelters and draw from food banks. In 2005, he was so desperate that he stole $200 from the till of a bookstore he was temporarily staffing after he says his employers did not pay him.

Killings says he accepts responsibility for the mistakes of his past and only wants to rebuild his life. But redemption is hard to find when his decade-old record stands in the way of a steady employment and a decent wage, even after he moved across the country to Fredericksburg for a fresh start.


TONIGHT: FIRST TOWN HALL MEETING TO GATHER INPUT ON CITIZEN’S OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the structure, power, and objective of a civilian oversight commission for the sheriff’s department are holding town hall meetings to gather community input on the issue. Over the next few weeks, in nine different locations across the county, citizens will be able to share comments and recommendations with the working group and thus take part (or take an active role) in the creation of the oversight panel.

Here’s the info for a few of the upcoming meetings (the first one is tonight):

April 9: Florence Firestone Service Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Community Room
7807 S. Compton Ave.
Los Angeles, 90001

April 14: El Cariso Community Regional Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
13100 Hubbard Street
Sylmar, 91342

April 15: Bassett Community Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
510 North Vineland Ave.
La Puente, 91746

For those who care about this oversight issue, find the location nearest to you and contribute to the discussion. Here’s the full list.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, parole policy, Probation, Reentry | 21 Comments »

Study Shows LA County Probation Kids Not Getting Needed Help…. Mass Murder Meets Prosecutorial Madness….Local FBI Agent Indicted

March 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



INFORMATION LACKING FOR LA COUNTY PROBATION KIDS

Up until now, LA County juvenile probation—the largest juvenile justice system in the nation—knew very little about the kids in its care, what challenges those kids faced, which methods might be best suited to address a kid’s challenges, and whether or not those methods were actually working—and if not, why not.

On Thursday, however, all that changed with the release of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study, a 155-page report that took almost four years to complete, and that will hopefully be difficult to ignore.

The report shows, for example, that one-third of the kids who wind up in the county’s juvenile camps or the probation run group homes, get arrested again within a year of their release. But we pretty much already knew that. So it is more interesting to note that nearly all of the kids in either the homes or camps had been on probation prior to the arrest that sent them into the county’s care, and had not gotten the help they needed when on home probation either. Moreover, the report digs into what broke down in the kids’ lives that could have and should have been addressed for better results for all concerned.

Yet, in addition to delivering those and other pieces of bad news, the report looks deeply at the kinds of problems these youth face, then makes a series of recommendations designed to improve the probation kids’ chances of rebooting their lives. The researchers also lay out what they call “targeted reforms” to help LA County Probation fundamentally transform its approach to the youth it serves.

DATA MATTERS

In many ways, the best news out of this study is the fact that the study was done at all. Prior to its release this week, there was—as mentioned above—very little to tell us about the LA County kids who land in LA County’s care, what got those kids there, and how well or poorly they did when they got out.

As a consequence, nearly all the decisions made about how LA County Probation dealt with the kids in its care were, up until now, done flying blind. (Not that this is surprising news in that we are talking about the same probation agency that a few years ago misplaced a full third of their workforce. But those were very dark times, so we won’t return there.)

Now, thankfully, we have a rigorous piece of research and data gathering to provide a baseline, and that, by its existence, demands ongoing research and data gathering.

Moreover, the study was led by Cal State LA’s Dr. Denise Herz, who is considered one of California’s go to researchers in the realm of juvenile justice, gang violence and the like. Plus, the report was a collaborative effort that included other top notch researchers as consultants, plus youth advocates such as the Children’s Defense Fund, with the Advancement Project providing oversight in addition to getting the money to fund the thing (from the W.M. Keck Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation).

To their credit, probation fully cooperated—even if, at times, reluctantly..

“What is encouraging,” said Michelle Newell from the Children’s Defense Fund, who was one of the study’s authors, “is that many county leaders, including the Board of Supervisors, probation, and judges, seem committed to using the findings in this study to both strengthen data collection, and to improve outcomes for youth.”

We’ll have more about the study early next week. So stay tuned.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….HOW DID ORANGE COUNTY’S WORST MASS SHOOTING TURN INTO A PROSECUTORIAL DISASTER?

Impossible though it sounds on its face, Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas and his prosecutors managed to spectacularly blow the sentencing hearings in a high profile mass murder case in which the murderer confessed. The OC Weekly’s Scott Moxley lays it all out for you, and it makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s how the story opens:

Orange County’s worst mass shooting, the so-called 2011 Seal Beach hair-salon massacre, began as a traumatizing event for all, but it has devolved into one of the most polarizing legal struggles to hit our legal system. The question isn’t about Scott Dekraai’s guilt. Dekraai admitted to police that he was the killer within minutes of the shooting. Controversy swirls, however, around the tactics of prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies trying to impose a death-penalty punishment rather than a 200-plus-year prison sentence without the possibility for parole. With one embarrassing revelation after another, the battle has grown painful, especially for the baffled families of the victims. To help understand why Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, himself an accomplished former prosecutor, this month made a historic decision to recuse Tony Rackauckas and his district attorney’s office (OCDA), we are providing a chronology of events:

Read on.


LOCAL FBI AGENT INDICTED FOR….LOTS OF THINGS

On Thursday, a local FBI agent (who had a very, very small part in the feds’ investigation of the LASD) was indicted for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and more. In short, he got WAY more involved than was even vaguely appropriate with a federal witness.

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley has the story. Here’s a clip:

FBI Special Agent Timothy Joel worked out of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office. The indictment relates to Joel’s alleged relationship with a woman who was arrested at the Otay Mesa border in 2007. The woman, a Korean national, was being smuggled into the United States to work as a prostitute. Joel allegedly helped her stay in the U.S. by claiming she was an important witness in a human smuggling investigation.

According to the indictment, Joel provided the woman with regular cash payments from his personal bank account totaling nearly $20,000 and later moved in with her in an apartment in Los Angeles.

In 2013, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Joel’s alleged actions.

Here’s the full text of the indictment. Special Agent Joel Indictment

Posted in children and adolescents, crime and punishment, FBI, juvenile justice, Probation, Prosecutors | No Comments »

LA County Probation Reaches for New Goals for Juvie Camps as Feds Pack Up

March 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


FULL COMPLIANCE

Earlier this week we learned that the LA County’s Juvenile Probation camps have finally reached “full compliance” with the 73 reforms demanded by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice.

This is, of course, very good news. While LA County’s 9 camps currently in operation are not yet the model facilities we hope they will become, the improvements are many and notable, with a heartening list of additional reforms in the works, including the $48 million transformation of Camp David Kilpatrick scheduled to open in January 2017.

“It’s a great relief, for the department and for the county as well,” said Felicia Cotton, probation’s assistant chief in charge of juvenile facilities, when we talked about the feds signing off on conditions at the camps. “It marks our progress and certainly charts our next steps—where we need to go. We’ve been able to put some critical pieces in place. Now it’s time to start building on that foundation.”

In meeting the federal requirements, the county had done far more than simply checking boxes, Cotton said.

Yet at one time, she admitted, probation was mostly checking boxes when it came to trying to satisfy the DOJ monitors

“The approach was, ‘Let’s be perfect when DOJ comes,’” Cotton said. “But in order to make real progress, we needed to do more than just appeasing. We had to start saying ‘This is our system.’ We had to really take ownership and ask, ‘How can we make it better?’ And when we find something that is broken, we have to be able figure out how to fix it—and not wait for the DOJ.”

“These are our kids,” said Cotton. And we need to be part of the team that’s helping them.”


THE BAD OLD DAYS

Indeed, when probation first began this reform process, it did so only because the feds held a metaphorical gun to its head after the DOJ conducted a civil rights investigation in 2006, and found LA’s juvenile facilities rife with horror.

Probation officers were batting kids around, slamming them against walls, calling them names, and instigating fights (some of which were caught on video and wound up on YouTube). Staff also made kids stand or sit in body-stressing positions for long periods, kept them in solitary confinement for even longer periods as punishment, randomly denied them bathroom breaks, recreational time and/or medical treatment, failed to check on kids who were on suicide watch, pepper sprayed teenagers over trivialities, and took kids’ personal possessions “without adequate justification”—-among other transgressions and illegalities.

In order to dodge a nasty lawsuit from the feds, in 2008, the Board of Supervisors sign a Memorandum of Understanding obligating the county to substantial changes in 41 “areas of concern ” that included such issues as: “Threats and Intimidation,” “Uses of Force,” “Supervision of Youth at Risk of Self-Harm,” “Suicide Prevention”—and, astonishingly, “Consumption of Alcohol By Staff.”

When the county was slow to make corrections, the feds amended the MOU twice to make additional demands. Specifically, the amendments insisted that Los Angeles County do more than merely stop harming its juvenile charges, but actually to try to help them with rehabilitative and therapeutic practices that could aid kids in healing and in turning their lives around.

The feds also asked the county to institute programs that better allowed kids to succeed when they left the camps and went back home.

The fact that LA County has succeeded enough to cause the DOJ monitoring team to pack up and return home has yet to be made public officially. However probation chief Jerry Powers said as much in a February 13 confidential letter informing the LA County Board of Supervisors that federal supervision of the camps was finally and satisfactorily at an end.

NOTE: Although WLA has obtained the memo sent by Powers to the supes, it was first brought to our attention by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze, who reported on the matter here.

“While this is certainly an important milestone,” Powers wrote, “it does not signify an end to our efforts…In the very near future I will bring forward a proposal for an independent monitoring system that will allow us to continue to monitor our progress and improvements.”


CUSTODY & CONTROL

I asked Cotton (who came on board at juvenile probation in 2010) what had caused things to become so dysfunctional and so harmful to the kids in the county’s care, that the department of justice had to step in.

“We used to use a system of custody and control,” she said. “That’s what it was all about.” Cotton also pointed out that, at the time, there were 1500 to 2000 kids in the county’s camps on any given day, with another 1500 in the county’s juvenile halls.

“So you had staff who were mostly trying to control kids. And you had kids who rebelled against that kind of control, with not much to lose. And you can’t blame them. That’s not the best approach for angry, traumatized kids.

Yes, but some of the staff did more than simply try to control kids’ behavior. Some of the camp staff was abusive, and the MOU—along with some high profile lawsuits—made clear that a systemic culture existed in the camps that allowed the abuse to continue.

“I think the majority of our staff were good people who got caught up in custody and control,” said Cotton.

But some went further, she admitted. “We didn’t have training to combat that culture. We didn’t have a philosophical framework to combat it.”

Now the county does have a “best practices” framework, said Cotton, “which came about during the years of DOJ oversight, and it has allowed upper management to begin to weed out “those who don’t find working with kids an honorable profession.” The weeding has, in turn, made room for those who do really want to work with kids, said Cotton.


TRAINING HELPS

Probation is trying out a number of rehabilitation strategies for the young people in its care including
cognitive behavioral therapy, aggression replacement therapy (the system that Santa Clara’s James Ranch has used with success) and Adapted Dialectal Behavior therapy.

Cotton noted, however, that when the camps’ control methods of the past were traded for more therapeutic “evidence-based” methods, there was pushback from some of the staff, who were not in favor of the change.

Instituting rehabilitative programs for the kids in the camps called for the staff to be trained in new methods, said Cotton. “It called for buy in. It called for a change in culture.”

As a consequence, she said, there was push back. “There were those who didn’t believe in the evidence-based approach. And I know I have pockets of those people still.” But those staffers are in the minority according to Cotton.

“I think deep down inside most of the staff want to be given the skills and the resources to do a good job.”


ONWARD TO THE FUTURE

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund–California, praised probation’s progress in the camps that has triggered the federal sign off.

“However, LA County’s compliance with the federal memorandum of agreement is only a first step,” Johnson cautioned. “Systemic reform of the juvenile justice system will require a more comprehensive approach to protecting and healing our justice-involved youth. If we are truly vested in the rehabilitation of young people, we must eliminate punitive practices like solitary confinement, overhaul our countywide data collection systems, continue to increase educational opportunities for youth who are incarcerated, and invest in community based alternatives to incarceration and supportive reentry services…Efforts such as creating a new model at the former Camp Kilpatrick and CDF Freedom Schools are steps in the right direction, but true transformation in the movement to restore youth begins by ending the punitive incarceration model.”

Cotton essentially agreed. “This is by no means the end of what we intend to do,” she said. “It’s a starting place to reach for higher goals, and quality of treatment for our kids, as well as better training for our staff to get them the skills they need that the work that we’re going to be doing, going forward.”

Sounds good to us. And naturally we’ll be watching.


AND A QUICK ROUND UP OF OTHER NEWS…

AN LA MAN IS CHARGED AFTER 9-YEAR-OLD BOY TAKES GUN TO TARZANA SCHOOL

The AP has this story that is loaded with a host of troubling features.


AG ERIC HOLDER CONDEMNS IN HARSH TERMS THE SHOOTINGS OF OFFICERS IN FERGUSON

NRS’s Carrie Johnson has the story about what Holder and others have said to condemn on strongest terms the awful ambush shooting of two police officers in Ferguson.


AND MORE FERGUSON NEWS

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker in is Ferguson with more on the shooting and related issues

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

OP-ED: Movement to Restore Youth Begins by Ending the Punitive Incarceration Model

February 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



OP -ED:  MOVEMENT TO RESTORE YOUTH BEGINS BY ENDING THE PUNITIVE INCARCERATION MODEL

by Raul Barreto and Alex M. Johnson


LOS ANGELES — To restore the dignity of youth in our juvenile justice system, the Children’s Defense Fund-California (CDF-CA) is calling for an end to the punitive incarceration model and a fundamental transformation in how we treat youth.

We recently released a significant policy brief co-written by CDF-CA and five formerly incarcerated youth who did time in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system. Based on a youth focus group study conducted by UCLA’s Dr. Jorja Leap, youth shared their experiences and recommendations for changing juvenile camps.

The brief, entitled “Rising Up, Speaking Out! Youth Transforming Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System,calls on Los Angeles County and the state of California to take aggressive measures to forever end the outdated, harmful, boot-camp model of juvenile justice and fulfill the original mandate of the juvenile justice system — the promise of rehabilitation.

With this call to action, we decided to collaborate on this op-ed. The paths we took to advocate for reform are very different. Raul, a co-author of “Rising Up, Speaking Out!” and a social justice advocate, had his own encounters with LA’s juvenile facilities as a teenager. Alex, a former prosecutor and policy advisor, is now leading a child advocacy organization.

We are both working diligently in pursuit of a transformed juvenile justice system and a nation that ends its addiction to incarceration. We both are clear about the fact that the overincarceration of youth has failed us as a society.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the nation, and one that has long been plagued with alarming abuse. While some changes have been made, it is time to end the piecemeal approach to reform.


RAUL BARRETO

I have experienced time in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system and am struck by the continuing challenges young people face inside. Currently, I have an older brother who is doing life in prison and a younger friend who is on probation and heavily addicted to methamphetamines. All three of us were incarcerated on multiple occasions in juvenile probation camps. My brother Albert is 34, I am 27, and my friend is 19. We grew up in extreme poverty where our single mothers were the sole providers. My normal environment was surrounded by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence. It did not include high-quality education.

While our upbringing and our time incarcerated was almost a mirror image, one key difference that has separated our trajectory was my mentor. On my fourth and final stay in camp — after enduring months of learning to walk in a straight line and remaining silent just to survive, avoiding intimidation tactics and staying out of solitary confinement — I encountered a volunteer who was open to building a relationship with me. He gave me the best advice he could.

Dan Seaver became my mentor and has stayed in close contact with me through my successes and failures to this very day. Eleven years later, I am successfully living on my own, working full time, involved in social justice issues and traveling around the world.

I was lucky. While it took me four stays in camp to meet my mentor, that encounter fundamentally changed my life. The sad reality is that so many just like me are not so lucky. Should the opportunity to change a youth’s life be dependent on luck?

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if my brother had also gone through a program where he learned about his potential and was given the direction and connection that I got from a volunteer. Would he be doing life today? What if my young friend spent nine months developing relationships, learning daily about addiction triggers and recovery, and building the job skills or the understanding of how to enroll in college or the benefits of getting a degree? Would he be in a better place?


ALEX JOHNSON

Stories like the one recalled by Raul Barreto are commonplace. We have far too many what if moments and far too few occasions of rising to the challenge of tackling our systemic problems. In 2004, when Raul was at his last juvenile camp, the average Los Angeles County juvenile probation camp warehoused 120 youth in one large dorm room, with only a few probation officers to herd them throughout the day. Programs were sparse and access to education was poor. Raul attributes his ability to survive and change his life to the luck of encountering a mentor. But luck is not a strategy or a plan for restoring and investing in youth.

For years, the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles County was mired in lawsuits and federal monitoring. Today, the narrative has changed, albeit incrementally. “Rising Up, Speaking Out” underscores the fact that despite changes for the better, an overwhelming number of youth continue to struggle with adequate nutrition, privacy, dignity and opportunities to be placed on a pathway to pursue a quality career or continued education.

All young people can thrive if they are given the opportunity and hope that the future can be more than a cot, communal shower and officers observing your every move. Transformation begins with the recognition that throughout the juvenile justice system, every young person should have the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential.

California and other jurisdictions across the United States tout the decline in the number of youth in the juvenile justice system. Yet, despite some incremental improvements, the youth who remain in most county juvenile systems are still being subjected to a punitive incarceration model for reasons that have little to do with public safety.

Young men are less likely to commit crimes than they were three decades ago but more likely to be placed in a correctional facility. For African-American and Latino boys, the disproportionate frequency of incarceration is jarring. In Los Angeles County, African-American youth comprise only 8 percent of the total population but make up 32 percent of youth incarcerated in the halls and camps.

Study after study demonstrates that when you uplift youth, build on their strength and address their trauma, they are statistically far more likely to succeed and to avoid the vicious cycle of recidivism.

Los Angeles County is on the brink of piloting the LA Model, a trauma-informed approach that does just that. This pilot project is a unique collaboration of key county agencies and youth, community leaders and advocates. If successful, this could be implemented throughout the county and become a model for reform in California.

Los Angeles County spends more than $100,000 to incarcerate a young person for a year, compared to the $32,000 a year that tuition, textbooks and an on-campus room costs at in-state colleges. We are wasting money and lives.

Raul Barreto’s success should be the rule, not the exception. Let’s uphold our responsibility as adults to keep more kids out of the system and ensure that youth incarcerated in juvenile probation camps are given the opportunity to restore their dignity and humanity and thrive. Leaving the lives of youth to luck and chance is a risk we cannot afford.


Raul Barreto is a co-author of the Children Defense Fund–California’s policy brief “Rising Up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System” and a member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Alex M. Johnson is the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund–California.


This essay also appears in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and Youth Today.

Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice, Probation, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

Are LA’s Foster Care & Juvie Justice Kids Being Over Drugged?….When Experts Recant in Criminal Cases….The Flawed Science of Bite Mark Evidence…..TAL’s Series: “Cops See Things Differently”

February 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



As you know, we’ve been following San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá’s important series on over drugging in California foster care system.

Then, late on Tuesday, the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that the kids overseen by LA County’s juvenile probation system plus LA County’s foster care children are being drugged in greater numbers than was originally thought.

Here’s are some clips from Therolf’s story:

Los Angeles County officials are allowing the use of powerful psychiatric drugs on far more children in the juvenile delinquency and foster care systems than they had previously acknowledged, according to data obtained by The Times through a Public Records Act request.

The newly unearthed figures show that Los Angeles County’s 2013 accounting failed to report almost one in three cases of children on the drugs while in foster care or the custody of the delinquency system.

The data show that along with the 2,300 previously acknowledged cases, an additional 540 foster children and 516 children in the delinquency system were given the drugs. There are 18,000 foster children and 1,000 youth in the juvenile delinquency* system altogether.

If we are reading this right, that means that more than half of LA County’s kids in the juvenile justice system are being given psychotropic medications. Is that possible?

State law requires a judge’s approval before the medication can be administered to children under the custody of the courts, but a preliminary review showed no such approval in the newly discovered cases.

Child advocates and state lawmakers have long argued that such medications are routinely overprescribed, often because caretakers are eager to make children more docile and easy to manage — even when there’s no medical need.

We’ll get back to you as we know more on this disturbing issue.


NEW CALIFORNIA LAW HELPS IN CASES WHEN EXPERTS REVERSE TESTIMONY

A new California law, which took affect in January, makes it easier to get a case overturned when experts recant. But will it help the man whose case inspired the law?

Sudhin Thanawala of the AP has the story.

Here’s a clip:

This much is not in dispute. William Richards’ wife, Pamela, was strangled and her skull smashed in the summer of 1993. A California jury convicted Richards of the slaying after hearing now-recanted bite-mark testimony.

But California judges have disagreed about whether that change in testimony was grounds for tossing Richards’ conviction. Now, almost two decades after Richards was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, his attorneys are hopeful a new state law inspired by his case will set him free.

The law, which took effect in January, makes it easier for a defendant to get a conviction overturned when experts recant their testimony. It prompted attorneys for the 65-year-old Richards, who has always maintained his innocence, to again ask the California Supreme Court to throw out a jury’s guilty verdict.

Legal experts say the law will impact a wide variety of cases where experts later have second thoughts about their testimony. And it gives attorneys fighting to exonerate their clients an important new tool.

“More and more, experts are reconsidering their opinion not because they have pangs of guilt, but because in fact the science changes,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School. “You want a legal system that recognizes that reality.”

A San Bernardino County jury convicted Richards in 1997 of first-degree murder following expert testimony that a mark on his wife’s hand was consistent with a unique feature of Richards’ teeth. That expert, a forensic dentist, later recanted, saying he was no longer sure the injury was even a bite mark.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE SCIENCE OF BITE MARK MATCHING….

According to the Innocence Project, 24 people have been exonerated after they were either convicted or arrested because of the analysis of a bite mark analyst.

Director of special litigation for the Innocence Project, Chris Fabricant, who specializes in bite mark evidence, estimates that there are still hundreds of people in prison today due to bite mark testimony, including at least 15 awaiting execution, writes the Washington Post’s Radley Balko.

Balko’s story on the flawed “science” of bite-mark matching, and those who still go to great lengths to defend it, is both important and alarming.

Here’s how it opens:

Before he left the courtroom, Gerard Richardson made his mother a promise. “I told her that one day she’d see me walk out of that building a free man,” he says.

Her response nearly broke him. “She said, ‘Gerard, I’ll be dead by then.’”

Richardson, then 30, had just been convicted for the murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes, whose half-naked body was found in a roadside ditch in Bernards Township, N.J. The year was 1995, and Richardson had just been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

There were only two pieces of evidence implicating him. One was a statement from Reyes’s boyfriend, who claimed to have heard Richardson threaten to kill her. But that statement was made only after police had shown the boyfriend the second piece of evidence: a finding from a forensic odontologist that a bite mark found on Reyes’s body was a match to Richardson’s teeth. Dr. Ira Titunik, the bite mark expert for the prosecution, would later tell jurors there was “no question in my mind” that Richardson had bitten Reyes.

“I thought it was crazy,” Richardson says. “There was no way it was possible. The FBI looked at hairs, fibers, blood, everything the police found at the crime scene. None of it came from me. Just this bite mark.”

Two decades later, DNA technology was good enough to test the tiny amount of saliva in the bite found on Monica Reyes body, resulting in the overturning of Richardson’s conviction.

Here’s Part 2 of Balko’s series on bite mark evidence telling how the bite mark matchers went on the attack when subjected to scientific scrutiny as American courts across the country welcomed bite mark evidence


THIS AMERICAN LIFE TAKES ON THE DIVIDE IN AMERICA ABOUT POLICING AND RACE

After the conflicts caused by events in Ferguson, along with the death of Eric Garner in New York, and other controversial shootings by police, Ira Glass and the producers of This American Life noted that there seemed to be a huge divide in the nation about how people view the issue of race and policing.

The TAL producers originally intended to a single show on the issue of these intense differences in views. But they ran across so many relevant stories, that they devoted two shows to the complex tales that they found.

In the first episode This American Life looks at one police department—in Milwaukee-–which had a long history of tension with black residents, and a chief of police committed to changing things. But although some things change, others do not. And nothing is simple. When an unarmed black man is killed by police in controversial circumstances, the battle lines form, and the two groups opposing groups agree on only one thing: they want the chief out.

By the show’s end, we glimpse change in Milwaukee, yet it comes not in steps, but in inches.

A week later, in the second hour of stories about policing and race, This American Life reporters tell about one city where relations between police and black residents went terribly, and another city where they seem to be improving remarkably.

We highly recommend both programs. They are designed to start conversations.

Posted in children and adolescents, FBI, Foster Care, How Appealing, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Probation, race, racial justice | No Comments »

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