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LA County Board of Supes to Consider Funding Homeboy Industries to Do the Job It’s Been Doing for Free for the County for Years – UPDATED

May 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors
passed the motion described below, with four of the board members voting yes. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.

On Tuesday the board of supervisors will vote on an unusual motion, which proposes offer a yearlong, $1.5 million contract to Homeboy Industries to do the work that they’ve been doing anyway for the county, which is helping formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women in LA County by giving them the tools and support to allow them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community—instead of cycling in and out of jail or prison or both.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the details of what Homeboy does, you can find it here.)

The motion is co sponsored by Supervisor Don Knabe, and Supervisor Hilda Solis. You can find the text here, but it amounts to this:

LA County Probation is sitting on an absurd pile of unused state money that is mandated to be used on programs that do exactly what Homeboy provides.

Here’s the deal.

As we’ve reported in the past, LA County receives a yearly bunch of cash from California’s SB 678 fund, which is a performance-based program that shares with California’s counties some of the money saved by the state through AB 109 prison realignment. The counties are, in turn, supposed to spend their SB 678 dollars on “evidence-based” programs to help adult probationers restart their lives and to avoid future visits to jail or prison, thus saving the state and county additional money.

LA County probation began receiving SB 678 funds in FY 2011-2012. But, while they took the money, they did almost nothing at all with it. Thus by May 2015, a county audit discovered that department had amassed an astonishing $140.5 million in SB 678 funds—which former probation chief, Jerry Powers and company reportedly failed to mention to the board of supervisors or anyone else. Meanwhile, instead of spending the funds on much-needed programs, either of probation’s own creation or on existing community-based programs, they simply sat on the cash, which—according to our sources—has now grown to $145 million or more.

Now, as AB 109/prison realignment moves into its 5th year of operation, and Prop. 47 moves is one and 1/3 years old, it’s in everyone’s best interest that the county takes some of those SB 678 bucks that its been stuffing under the mattress, and use it on evidence-based programs aimed at the people for which it was intended—programs like Homeboy Industries provides to hundreds of men and women every year.

(By the way, did I mention that the $140 plus million has been languishing all this time in a non-interest bearing account? Who in the world was overseeing these decisions? Oh, yeah, right. Never mind.)

Which brings us back to the motion pertaining to Homeboy.

According to Nick Ippolito, Assistant Chief of Staff for Supervisor Knabe, the motion accomplishes a couple of things. First of all it would allow the county to start funding a program, and then over time, multiple programs, that work with the population that the county is most interested in working with—namely former and current offenders released from jail or prison who, if they can be prevented from recidivating, while save the county and the state a bunch of money, and will contribute greatly to the cause of public safety..

With this in mind, “we’ve been trying to form a strategic relationship with Homeboy for some time,” Ippolito said. “I don’t know of any other organization that works with their documented level of success with individuals who have been hardcore gang members.” But, he said, “Homeboy industries clients aren’t sent to them by a judge or a probation officer, they come in on their own, when they’re ready.”

There are plenty of organizations “who work well with non-violent AB 109-ers,” Ippolito continued, “but not with this population. And we want to figure out the best service model to help this population. But we want to do that without trying to turn Homeboy into a fee-for-service agency,” which are the kind of programs that probation generally contracts with, Ippolito said. “But that’s not how Homeboy turns lives around.”

Yet, despite the fact that Homeboy has been helping the men and women that the county most wants to reach, the county has rarely given the organization even the smallest about of funding.

“Homeboy has done their work almost exclusively through private donations, and through their enterprises like their bakery” said Ippolito, not government money. “So how do we support them without screwing up their model?”

Enter Tuesday’s motion—which, if it passes, would allow the board to take a small portion of that hoarded 678 money and enter into an agreement with Homeboy for 12 months, a contract that would establish a pilot that will allow the county, according to Ippolito, to figure out how to work with Homeboy and other “innovative organizations whose work the county should be funding,” but whose model doesn’t fit into the county’s neat little funding boxes.

Or, as the motion says, Homeboy offers “a service template that doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional, referral-based models the County is accustomed to administering.”

According to both Ippolito and Supervisor Knabe, the sort of “sole source” funding the motion proposes, where a contract is offered to one program specifically, with no competitive bidding, is also not usually the kind of thing the supervisors the county does. But, this situation warrants it, they say.

And in the next round, according to the motion, after a year of the pilot program with Homeboy, the county would open the opportunity, through a conventional competative bidding process, to other programs that, like Homeboy, utilize “the elements of research based, best practice models to address behavior change in previously incarcerated men, women and high-risk youth seeking reentry services.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

We’ll let you know what happens.


We will also be closely tracking the vote on another very important motion proposed by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to “end juvenile solitary confinement in LA County.” More on that after we see how the vote goes. (It is expected to pass.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the interest of transparency, I need to disclose, for those who don’t already know, that I have a strong bias in the direction of Homeboy Industries, mainly because I wrote a book about Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder, and have been reporting on him, and the organization that he built, and the homeboys and homegirls who’ve come in and out of Homeboy, since 1990.

But this also means, I’ve had a front row seat to watch hundreds of people manage, with Fr. Greg’s and Homeboy’s help, to reroute the trajectory of their lives against staggering odds. In a bunch of cases, I’ve tracked those same people over time—which means sometimes, I’ve seen them backslide, occasionally tragically. But most of the time, the stutter-step back was just a normal part of the complicated and very human task of making one’s way into a transformed and hopeful future. To put it another way, in more than a quarter century of observing Homeboy Industries, I’ve gotten to witness a whole lot of real, no-kidding miracles.

So, yes, speaking personally, I really hope this motion passes.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Probation | 7 Comments »

FOLLOW THE MONEY: Who Makes the Decisions About How to Spend LA’s Juvenile Justice Millions?

April 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


There are various large pots of state and national dollars that are funneled to Los Angeles and most of California’s other 57 counties to be spent on juvenile justice and other justice reforms.

Yet, the issue of who decides what money is sent where and then, at a local level, how those dollars get spent, are both matters that largely fly under the radar when it comes to public awareness.

With a new WitnessLA series called Follow the Money we aim to change all that.


Earlier this month, on Monday, April 6, a mutiny occurred in the world of juvenile justice spending at the meeting of something known as the LA County Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council or JJCC.

(Our OpEd last week by Children’s Defense Fund-California executive director, Alex Johnson, talked about some of what occurred at the April 6 meeting, and what needs to happen next. Today we’re going further.)

The primary job of the JJCC—a group most of you have likely never heard of—-is to decide how a pot of around $30 million in juvenile justice money is spent each year by LA County Probation to—at least theoretically—help the county’s at risk kids.

The pot of money that the JJCC votes on annually about this time is called JJCPA funding.

(Yes, I realize that all these similar acronyms—-JJCC and JJCPA—are confusing, but stay with me.)

In the past, the JJCC has voted—with no objections, and with very few questions—to approve the yearly juvenile justice budget exactly as LA County Probation presents it.

But not this time.


To understand the nature of the mutiny that took place on April 6, it helps to have a little history:

The Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) program was created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at keeping kids who’ve tangled with the juvenile justice system from returning, and to help kids at risk of winding up in the system from entering it in the first place.

The main source of income for this stream of money is our vehicle license fees.

As mentioned above, every year, LA County gets around $30 million in JJCPA dollars from the state.

Although each county gets to decide the specifics of how it spends its JJCPA money, there are strict parameters that govern that spending—as dictated by the legislation that created the funds to begin with. For example, the state requires any and all county funded JJCPA programs to be “modeled on strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in curbing juvenile delinquency.”

In other words, the funds may only be used on programs that have been proven to actually work. To make sure California’s counties abide by the rules, the legislation also requires counties to collect and document what outcomes their various JJCPA programs have produced.

Again, the local body that is supposed to be making decisions and overseeing all this on a local level is the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council (JJCC).

To make sure the local JJCCs aren’t being controlled by any particular vested interest as they decide how to give out their JJCPA money, the state mandates the make-up of the council to be as follows:

[It] shall, at a minimum, include the chief probation officer, as chair, and one representative each from the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, the sheriff’s department, the board of supervisors, the department of social services, the department of mental health, a community-based drug and alcohol program, a city police department, the county office of education or a school district, and an at-large community representative. … [The] coordinating council shall also include representatives from nonprofit community-based organizations providing services to minors.

And a lot of counties do just that.

For instance, in Ventura County (where LA’s interim probation chief, Cal Remington was the probation chief from 1997 to 2007, the JJCC is quite active and transparent.


Los Angeles, however—which has the state’s largest juvenile justice system, the most kids under the supervision of the county’s probation department, and is in receipt of the largest yearly pot of JJCPA money—seems to make only a half-hearted effort to follow some of the state rules. The rest of the JJCPA rules, not so much.

Specifically, when it comes to the JJCC, Los Angeles County is not in legal compliance. Period. There are exactly zero representatives from the LA County Board of Supervisors on the JJCC, zero from social services (Department of Children and Family Services), zero from any community based drug and alcohol program, zero in the way of an at-large community representative and, most importantly, zero, zip, nada and nobody from the community based organizations that are required to be—but assuredly are not—partners in the endeavor—all despite years of memos, emails, in-person complaints, and random begging for probation to follow the state’s legal rules.

Moreover, some of the existing members don’t bother to show up to many of the meetings.

And those who do show up reportedly do little more than simply rubber stamp what LA County Probation presents, according to juvenile advocates and others who make a point of attending the JJCC meetings to observe.

On April 6, the council was expected to vote to approve the most recent JJCPA budget, as outlined by probation, and everyone assumed the vote would move forward without a hitch.

But, this time, before the council could vote, some of the juvenile advocates again made the point that this was not a “legally constituted council,” that the council’s make-up was against what the state law requires. In particular, they said, there were no representatives from the supes offices on the council, and nobody from the community-based organizations, and no at-large community representative.

Unlike in the past, however, this time some of the council members paid attention. So when it came time to vote on the two scheduled agenda items, one of them the new yearly JJCPA budget—which had to be sent to the state by May 1—all at once there was not the normal level of blind cooperation.


Anne Tremblay, a bright and very capable woman who is on the JJCC by virtue of being the director of Mayor Garcetti’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD), was alarmed at what she was hearing about the group not being a “legally constituted council.” Tremblay explained that, under the circumstances, she did not feel she could vote to approve anything—or words to that effect—-so was going to abstain.

Tremblay’s action was contagious. Suddenly there were more abstentions than there were yes votes. This unexpected mutiny spelled big trouble for probation, given the must-pass nature of the budget.

Finally someone suggested that the council could, in part, rectify the situation by electing a community-representative-at-large from those in the audience. After that, they could also draft at least someone from one of the supervisors’ offices. Then,in the very near future, maybe the council could finally make themselves fully legal by adding the rest of the needed members.

With this in mind, one of the council members nominated Carol Biondi to serve as the community representative at-large. Biondi is a member of the Children’s Commission, and one of the juvenile advocates who was observing. Biondi agreed to serve, at least on an interim basis.

Next, someone from Supervisor Hilda Solis’s office, who was also observing, called to get emergency permission from her office to join the council for a vote.

And so it was that the latest JJCPA budget was passed and—after years of flouting state requirements—LA County’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council finally took some steps in the direction of legality. Plus some of the council members seem to have, at least for now, snapped to something resembling wakefulness.

It was a small step in the right direction.

Yet, it’s essential that the trend continues.

In the meantime, next we’ll look at some of the larger issues—like the problems with how LA County will actually be spending its recently budgeted JJCPA money.

And more.

So stay tuned.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Probation Chief Cal Remington Moves Quickly to Investigate Report of “Deplorable Conditions” In LA County’s Juvenile Hall

March 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Earlier this week we wrote about the release of a report that described “deplorable” conditions in some of the units where kids are living in LA County’s Central Juvenile Hall, which at present houses around 200 kids, both male and female. The report was written by Azael “Sal” Martinez, a member of LA County’s 15-member civilian probation commission, after he made an unannounced visit to the system’s largest juvenile hall on February 14, Valentine’s Day, and documented his observations, some of which were quite alarming.

Martinez’ report alleged, among other things, that there was a great deal of graffiti—much of it gang graffiti—on the walls and other surfaces of several of the units he inspected, including in the kids’ individual rooms, in the bathrooms and elsewhere.

Martinez also wrote about appallingly filthy bathrooms, and clogged toilets and urinals that filled one unit with an awful stench.

And there was lots more, including allegations of a kid kept in the hall’s solitary unit for an extended period of time over something trivial.

(You can find additional details here.)

After our story ran, we spoke at length with interim Probation Chief Cal Remington, who talked about the immediate steps he and the department have taken to investigate Martinez’ allegations, and then to remediate problems, as necessary.

Remington, if you’ll remember, is the interim replacement for former LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers who officially left his position on January 4. The highly regarded and well-liked Remington will be the person guiding the department until a national search results in the hiring of a new permanent chief to lead ongoing reform efforts at the nation’s largest probation department.

“We’re going to be transparent about these kinds of issues,” Remington said of Martinez’ report. “We don’t want to hide anything.” Remington said he welcomes input from the probation commission and its commissioners, but would like the process to be more formalized, to insure that staff doesn’t feel blindsided. “We all have the same purpose. We want things to improve. “

At Remington’s direction, the department’s internal affairs investigators divided Martinez’s complaints into eleven allegations, which investigators then scrutinized and, where necessary, corrected.

The confidential report that resulted from the investigation was delivered to each of the five members of the board of supervisors, the county CEO, Sachi Hamai, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Levanas, and others.

The three page report found four of the eleven allegations to be “substantiated.”

For example, as Martinez reported, the investigators found there was plenty of graffiti and the affected surfaces were washed and painted.

Similarly, investigators found that the tile floors surrounding some of the toilets were indeed filthy, and other bathroom areas afflicted with “grit, calcification, rust and corrosion.” The bathrooms were reportedly subsequently scrubbed and, in some cases, tiles flooring was scheduled for replacement, and a quarterly deep cleaning service is being procured.

Internal affairs and company marked as “unsubstantiated” Martinez’ allegation of a boy being wrongly put into in juvenile hall’s SHU for 16 hours, although the report offered no details as to the reasons behind findings.

Still, Chief Remington spoke to us about the changes that are in motion regarding the department’s policy when in comes to solitary confinement.

We’e going through a process right now where we’re going to get rid of solitary confinement,” he said. “You just don’t need to do it. You need some kind of time out. But you don’t need solitary. And we’re developing protocols to make sure that kids are only in for short periods. We’re going to change that culture.”


In addition, investigators reportedly found no evidence of the “stench,” that Martinez reported coming from the toilets.

Another allegation that was confusingly listed as “unsubstantiated” was Martinez’ report that probationers’ personal possessions were being used as doorstops to prop open doors in the purportedly stench-afflicted unit. These personal items included a kid’s shoe, and most alarmingly, a personal Bible.

While investigators did find the shoe and a book resembling a Bible were being used as doorstops, according to the internal affairs report, it turned out the offending doorstop was not actually a Bible, but rather some other kind of book with a binding that made it look like a Bible. In any case, real doorstops have now replaced probationers’ personal items to hold upon the unit’s doors.

And, on the topic of the “stench,” another probation source whom we spoke told us that, indeed, there has been an awful smell in one of the hall’s units, but it was due to the age of some parts of the building and its plumbing.

(Central Juvenile Hall is a badly aging complex that is overdue to be replaced, and Chief Remington said that proposals for renovation or replacement are in the works.)

Our source also reported that, in the case of Martinez’ visit to the hall, supervisors on duty failed to accompany him on his inspection, and the line staff in some of the problematic units he visited were mostly new and inexperienced, so were not able to provide needed information.

“The probation commissioners have every right to come unannounced to the facilities, since their job is to advocate for the kids,” said our source, who asked not to be named. But some of the staff, he said, foolishly see the commissioners as an inconvenience. “And that’s a big mistake. They are a reminder that we have a standard and we need to uphold it.”

John Tuchek, 1st vice president SEIU 721, the probation supervisors union, agreed. “I know that some of the staff doesn’t like what Sal [Martinez] wrote. But we need to hold staff accountable.” And things like graffiti on the walls, and filth around toilets in probationer’s living spaces, have a corrosive affect, he said.

“We owe it to a kid to have a clean environment.” But graffiti left unremoved “turns an area into a hostile environment for kids who have come out of a hostile environment at home,” said Tuchek who is also a longtime supervising probation officer who worked in the department’s gang unit earlier in his career.

Otherwise, he said, “a kid looks at the walls and thinks, ‘If they allow this go on, and they can’t stop it, how are they going to keep me safe?’ And it’s our job to make these kids feel safe.” A kid who doesn’t feel safe is more likely to act out, he said. “Staff needs to understand that.”

Near the end of our conversation, Cal Remington emphasized similar points. “We can’t forget that some of these kids have been through a lot of trauma in their lives,” he said. “We are finally understanding that.” The department is working to train staff to understand the role of trauma in kids’ behavior, Remington said. “A knowledgable staff makes a big difference.”

Likely so. Even when it comes to making sure layers of graffiti, grit and grime without reports having to force the issue.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Report Alleges Deplorable Conditions, Misuse of Solitary Confinement, and Leadership Failure at LA County’s Juvenile Hall

March 14th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Valentine’s Day of this year, which was a Sunday, Los Angeles County Probation commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez showed up unannounced at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall to do an inspection, and what he discovered alarmed him.

Much of the reason Martinez came to LA county’s largest juvenile hall that day was to bring bags full of valentine cards and candy for the kids who were locked up in the place. But he also came to juvenile hall to review conditions at the facility itself.

“My role is to make sure that the kids are okay, and that the plant is livable,” he has said in the past about these site reviews.

According to the official report he wrote after his visit, Martinez found instead “deplorable conditions” throughout much of the facility.

Sal Martinez is a former teenage gang member and drug dealer who rerouted his life to become a highly respected community activist who is on his second term as a member of the LA County’s Probation Commission, appointed for a seat on the 15-member body by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

(Former supervisor Gloria Molina selected Martinez for his first term on the commission.)

Martinez does not take his responsibilities lightly. In addition to attending the commission’s twice-monthly meetings, he is also what he describes as “a field commissioner.” In practical terms, this means he makes unannounced visits to the department’s various juvenile facilities, like central juvenile hall.

After each visit, he writes a report about what he sees, which is distributed to his boss, Supervisor Solis, to higher ups inside the probation department, including to the chief. And then, eventually, it goes to the commission, where it enters the public record.

Probation department officials who work at the sites Martinez visits are reportedly not always entirely thrilled by the commissioner’s habit of parachuting in without advance warning. But Martinez wants to see the house as it really is, so to speak, not after it has been tidied up to impress the guests.

Last year, for example, Martinez made unscheduled visits to four of the county’s regional offices where juvenile probation officers are supposed to meet with their young clients as part of the department’s new Camp Community Transition Program (CCTP). The program, which was put into place two years ago, is meant to provide services for young people transitioning from a juvenile camp, hall or other placement to their home community. However, what Martinez found at the four CCTP offices he visited, raised “serious issues and concerns,” he wrote. “The visit was alarming and extremely unacceptable.”

(WitnessLA has the full story on Martinez’ site visits to the CCTP offices here.)

Then, in February of this year, Martinez made the Valentine’s Day visit to Central Juvenile Hall, and the subsequent report describing “deplorable” conditions that he compared to a “Third World country prison.


This was not Martinez’ first site visit to Central Juvenile Hall, as he noted in his latest report. He comes here with some regularity. Thus he expected to find some of the improvements promised at the last visit.

Instead he found a startling list of problems, and what his report alleges to be the failure of leadership to take appropriate steps to solve the problems.

In one unit, for example, there was a pervasive “stench,’ due to urinals and toilets that were “broken, backed up, not cleaned and unsanitary.”

Some were so bad, he wrote, that if a kid attempted to actually use the urinal for its usual purpose, “fermented urine” would “splash back on their shoes and pants.”

When Martinez asked whose job it was to clean the toilets and urinals, he evidently got blank looks. “….No one knew,” he wrote.


And there were other issues, like the use of kids’ possessions as doorstops to keep some of the probationer’s rooms open in order to let air in, because of the aforementioned ghastly smell that permeated the unit because of the clogged toilets.

“Due to the unbearable stench,” wrote Martinez, “the doors to the rooms are propped open.” But the items used as doorstoppers were the belongings of the probationers. In one case, Martinez noted, the doorstopper was “a minor’s shoe.”

In another case, he wrote, the item on the floor holding open the door was a probationer’s Bible.

Several units of 14-15 boys per unit had no running water at all except in the staff bathrooms.

All 54 of the girls out of the 200 minors in the hall on Valentine’s Day didn’t get their scheduled activity for the day. Instead, according to Martinez’s report, the girls sat around for the activity period, while the staff talked among themselves.

The list goes on.

Martinez also found graffiti—in particular gang graffiti-–in the children’s units, rooms and bathrooms. When he asked staff about this and other issues, according to the report, the staff he spoke with either seemed to feel powerless to change anything, or “saw no problems,” or viewed the issues as “not part of my job.”

Martinez wrote of a “disconnect” between “administration and staff,” leaving the staff with low morale, “complacent,” and feeling “that there will be no accountability.”

“…It appears that no one cares,” Martinez wrote.


In his report, Martinez made a point of praising some of the county’s other probation facilities for doing a consistently good job, including Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, located in Sylmar, and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, located in Downey.

“Los Padrinos” he wrote, “has a daily graffiti inspection for both living rooms and bathrooms, and [the] rooms are spotless.”

Martinez also noted that not all the units at Central Juvenile Hall were in the same condition of filth and disrepair as those units that caused him such concern. Certain other units were clean and graffiti free.

So why were the bad units allowed to get so bad?


Another distressing part of Martinez’ Valentine’s Day report pertained to a boy who was sent for 16 hours to juvenile hall’s Special Housing Unit (SHU), which means solitary confinement. The boy’s offense was trading a carton of milk with another boy for a carton of orange juice—or vice versa.

Food trading with other kids is evidently against the rules. But, there are plenty of ways to appropriately sanction a boy who simply wants a little more of healthful beverage. Sixteen hours in solitary confinement is not one of them. Furthermore, it is against the department’s own rules—which are reportedly to send a kid to solitary for no more than a few hours as a time out, barring an exceptional situation. Martinez wrote that the juvenile hall director he spoke with about the matter admitted that he didn’t believe that the boy should have been sent to the SHU to begin with for such a trivial infraction. Yet, it appears that the boy might have been in isolation far longer than 16 hours, had Martinez not specifically asked for him to be sent back to his home unit.

Common sense suggests that, in all likelihood, if an abuse of solitary confinement for kids occurred during Martinez’ recent visit, it has also occurred in other instances. How many other instances, we have no way of knowing.

The truth is, any one of a number of mid and high level supervisors in the department could or should have walked through juvenile hall and seen these entirely unacceptable problems.

So why didn’t they?

Getting a plumber in to fix toilets and making sure gang graffiti is immediately removed from any wall or floor surfaces is hardly an impossible task.

And, when we have been assured that, in LA, the juvenile SHUs are not being used for prolonged isolation, why are we finding out due to Martinez’ surprise visit, that in fact the practice is still being wrongly used—and for the most preposterously trifling of infractions?

Certainly, there are many things going right in probation, including in juvenile probation. (And we’ll be running some articles on some of the success stories later this year.) But there is still a lot going wrong—especially on the juvenile side, as other reports we’ve covered here, here, and here have made clear.

For these reasons we are grateful to the dedication of probation commissioner Sal Martinez, for his willingness to go to bat for the kids who, as he wrote at the end of his report, “have no voice.”

Martinez, of course, was once one of those kids who spent time in the county’s juvenile halls and camps and felt he had no future—-until a dedicated and talented probation officer took the time to reach out to him and, he says, saved his life.

“I believe I got a second chance,” Martinez tells kids he meets in juvenile hall when he visits. And he wants to make sure they also get the help that they need to stay out of places like juvenile hall in the future.

“That’s why supervisor Solis appointed me.”

We’re very grateful that she did.

Now we wait to see what concrete change comes of Sal Martinez’ latest report.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Are LA’s Locked Up & Traumatized Girls Getting the Help They Need?

March 11th, 2016 by witnessla


Incarcerated girls are more traumatized than boys, and less likely to get adequate treatment

by Xin Li and Phillomina Wong

Moriah, then 14, woke up to burns on her body one night along with physical evidence that she had been raped. She had been invited to a party the night before by someone she considered a friend. (We are just using Moriah’s first name to protect her privacy.)

She eventually came to realize that she had almost been looped into a human trafficking scheme. This event, among many other traumatic events, affected Moriah mentally, physically and emotionally.

“I just felt neglected,” Moriah said of her childhood.

When she was growing up her father was in and out of prison, and she turned to other kids in her neighborhood for comfort. She says she felt like she had no protection and felt lost. While she was never officially in a gang, she did hang around friends who were gang members when growing up in Fullerton, California. Many of those neighborhood friends had problems of their own.

With them Moriah started using drugs and soon struggled with addiction, she said. In high school she got hooked on methamphetamines. On one occasion, when she and her friend were trying to come up with money for drugs, they decided to steal a car.

Two days later, she was arrested for grand theft auto and spent eight months in a juvenile corrections facility. After getting out, Moriah was determined to turn her life around, but soon she started using again. She became friends with gang members and started stealing cars again for drug money. When she was 17, she was sentenced to Los Padrinos and then Camp Scott.

Girls like Moriah who experience high degrees of trauma are statistically more likely to act out than kids with fewer childhood traumas. As a result, they are also far more likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system, according to a growing body of research.

When girls come in contact with the justice system, however, new reports show it is usually for acts that present little or no threat to public safety, and for behavior that’s largely a reaction to “abuse, violence and deprivation.”

Yet, while girls are disproportionately pulled into the system, new juvenile justice reforms rarely focus on the specific needs of troubled girls or on the underlying reasons they landed in the justice system in the first place.

For example, when Moriah recalls her experience at Camp Scott, what stands out to her the most from the group counseling sessions she was encouraged to attend was how many girls in the camp revealed they had been sexually abused, or were in camp for being sexually trafficked, or both.

“I thought it was really crazy,” she said. The sex-trafficked teenagers “were basically brainwashed by people who these girls thought were their boyfriends.”


The number of girls in the U.S. juvenile justice system has been rising steadily in the last decade. Trauma is now increasingly being recognized as a driving factor for pushing girls into the system.

According to a study by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), youth in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to significantly higher rates of traumatic childhood events than youth with no contact with the justice system, with rates of trauma exposure ranging from 70 to 96 percent.

The NCTSN study also shows that girls in the justice system have experienced even higher rates of victimization than their male peers.

Nationally, more than one-third of girls in the system have a history of sexual abuse, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Similarly, a 2014 study of 64,329 kids involved in the justice system in Florida found that 31 percent of the girls surveyed reported having been sexually abused, 41 percent reported physical abuse, and 84 percent reported family violence—-as opposed to 7 percent, 26 percent, and 81 percent for boys in those same categories.

There are no definitive statistics showing the degree to which girls in the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles have experienced high degrees of trauma.

But a unique program called the Girls Health Screen, which has been running as a pilot program in one of LA’s juvenile probation camps for girls, reports that one-third of the girls tested report “urgent health needs” such as a recent history of sexual assault, a chronic sense of hopelessness and recent suicidal thoughts and actions.

The Los Angeles County Probation system as a whole is making some effort to include trauma-informed programs in its juvenile camps — both the boys’ camps, and the two facilities catering solely to girls. Probation officials hope that a brand-new boys camp facility due to open next year, Camp Kilpatrick, will provide a model of therapeutic and rehabilitative programing.

However, a prominent report released last year by the National Women’s Law Center suggests that, both nationally and locally, the mental and emotional health concerns specific to females are largely ignored by juvenile justice systems — including LA’s system. And girls suffer as a consequence.

Still, the LA-based Girls Health Screen is one promising new program that many local advocates hope will make a difference in outcomes for the county’s justice-involved girls.


The Girls Health Screen (GHS) is a gender-responsive medical health screen that assesses the physical and emotional health needs of girls entering juvenile justice facilities. It was developed by the Girls Health and Justice Institute and its founder Leslie Acoca.

The GHS, given on a laptop, requires girls in camp to respond to 117 questions that cover multiple areas of their lives. According to Acoca, the GHS is designed to be non-intimidating. The questions are worded simply, and require only Yes/No answers that the girls self-report. Even the look of the test, which includes inviting graphics, is designed to prevent an institutional appearance. Because of the test’s design and the way it is administered, said Acoca, girls are able to share their experiences privately, without feeling that they are being judged. Even the act of simply taking the GHS has its own therapeutic effect, she said.

Since 2012, Acoca said, approximately 400 girls at Camp Scudder, the second of LA County Probation’s two camps for girls, have been given the health screen. But the GHS has yet to move beyond the pilot stage in LA, due to bureaucratic roadblocks and lack of funding, she said. All that is due to change this year thanks to a much-needed $20,000 cash infusion that LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has managed to shake free from the county’s probation department.

“We are hoping the $20,000 will allow the program to roll out in all the juvenile halls in LA,” said Kuehl, who is one of the program’s strong supporters. The idea, she said, is that the information will connect girls to programs and health services they need while in camp or in juvenile hall, and that the information, while private, will also follow those same girls as they return to their communities, so that they can also be connected to needed programs when they come out of lock-up.

“The ETA for the Girls Health Screen to be ready to screen every incarcerated girl in LA is June/July of 2016,” Acoca said.


When Moriah was at Camp Scott, she said there were a number of programs that helped her work through her emotional issues, including writing workshops and counseling groups. One of the programs she said influenced her the most was run by an organization called Girls and Gangs.

“I just loved the support,” Moriah said. “The impression [the Girls and Gangs staff] gave me was that they genuinely cared.”

Girls and Gangs provides rehabilitation and transition services for girls who become involved in the juvenile justice system. Their model, which operates under the nonprofit umbrella of the Youth Policy Institute, focuses on pairing girls with mentors starting from their stay at the probation camps all the way through re-entry into their community. According to the Girls and Gang staff, matching each girl with a caring adult makes the program effective and positive for young women transitioning from camp to home.

Moriah was paired with mentor Vanessa Gutierrez while she was still in camp. Then, after Moriah left Camp Scott, she explained, Gutierrez helped her with getting clothes and generally provided support.

“I just got so much support from her and she did so much for me. I didn’t really know why,” Moriah said.

According to Ana Aguirre, program director of Youth Policy Institute’s YouthSource & Education Department, Girls and Gangs works because it encourages girls to share their painful experiences in a safe place where they don’t feel judged.

“They want to be heard. They want to express how they feel,” Aguirre said. “They’re carrying a lot of weight,” yet they often don’t understand the emotional weight they carry. “They might not understand that it’s trauma” they are dealing with, “but we’re able to identify that this was a traumatic experience that has shaped who [they] are.”

The next step in helping the girls heal, Aguirre said, is to ask them, “How can we use this to make you grow and make you stronger?”

Belinda Walker, who serves on the board for Girls and Gangs, said boys in the juvenile justice system have a high degree of trauma too.

Yet, in her observations about the nature of girls’ trauma, Walker echoed what Moriah and Acoca had described. “If you were to drop into any girls’ probation camp,” she said, “you would find that 70 to 90 percent of those girls have been sexually abused in their early adolescent years by trusted adults. In the conversations I have had with probation officers, they’ve said that every girl [they work with] has experienced some form of trauma or abuse. It can be emotional, physical or sexual.”


Discussions surrounding trauma and trauma-informed practices are relatively recent, according to Dr. Marleen Wong, the associate dean for field education at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, and a nationally known expert in the field of psychological trauma and recovery.

All service sectors have begun looking at this issue of trauma and how to factor it into their services, she said.

“You can look at the national scene and see the Department of Labor talking about traumatized environments. How do you create a trauma-informed workplace? U.S. Department of Education is talking about trauma-informed schools,” Wong said. “Health and Human Services is talking about trauma-informed services. This is how our research is coming into its own, forming the foundation and the basis for thinking about ways to change the way we provide health and human services.”

A landmark legal settlement for which Wong served as the subject matter expert is helping to precipitate one of the most significant changes to how schools treat trauma.

In May 2014, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Compton Unified School District by Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm, and Irell & Manella LLP. The suit was filed on behalf of five students and three teachers, charging that the school system had not properly educated students who have experienced repeated trauma and violence. Their argument was based on research showing that exposure to trauma and repeated violence harm a child’s abilities to learn and function in school properly.

(WLA wrote about the lawsuit here.)

“All of the studies show that the kids with PTSD can’t concentrate because they have flashbacks, they think constantly about their safety, they never feel safe, they’re always anxious,” Wong said. “It’s generalized anxiety, even when they’re not in a dangerous situation.”

In October 2015, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald ruled that students who experience traumatic events while growing up in poor, turbulent neighborhoods could be considered disabled. (However, this does not mean any exposure to trauma can guarantee a child will have a disability and be afforded the protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

The settlement sought mandatory trauma-informed training for teachers, adequate mental health and counseling services, and classes teaching students how to cope with anxiety and their emotions.

According to Wong, looking at how trauma affects children is a way to address why some schools may have huge dropout rates and how those rates factor into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“It’s time for us to step up in the right way,” Wong said.


On Nov. 3, 2015, the National Crittenton Foundation published a toolkit to help identify children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Crittenton’s mission is to help girls and young women affected by violence and adversity become stronger, healthier and more engaged. The foundation has published a series of studies and reports relating to girls and trauma (the most recent in September 2015).

They found that girls and young women in the justice system had disproportionately high ACE scores, but were often marginalized and overlooked by that same system. The consensus is that young girls should not be given the same treatment as boys if they are to successfully heal from emotionally toxic experiences of their childhood and adolescence, according to Crittenton.

As for the Girls Health Screen, once Leslie Acoca gets the GHS to all the girls entering LA County’s juvenile facilities, she intends to take it nationwide.

Supervisor Kuehl said she is very aware that LA’s juvenile facilities are not doing all that is needed for girls.

“One of the interesting things I heard from women I’ve spoken to who’d been released from prison, who had also been in juvenile camps, and then had offended again as adults,” Kuehl said, “they said there were much better programs in prison for women than they ever had in camps. So they felt like they had a better chance to turn their lives around in prison. That really told me that we’re not seeing a lot of what is possible to really help our girls.”

Accoca went still further. “It’s impossible to do trauma care if you don’t know what traumas the girls have experienced,” she said. “With the level of injury we see with incarcerated girls, both emotional and physical, it is immoral to do anything less than identify those injuries so we can address them.”

Nevertheless, for Moriah, getting some of the proper care and guidance she needed through Girls and Gangs and her own mentor has helped her move forward. She is currently working full time and has plans to go back to school. She is also an ambassador to the Road to Success Academy at Camp Scott.

“A lot of girls got the same extended hand, but I grabbed it,” Moriah said. “You could have all the same things but if you’re not ready, it’s not going to happen.”

Moriah has come to realize that admitting the effects of trauma is not easy. Now that she has taken her own concrete steps into a better future, Moriah’s advice to girls is this: “Never quit on yourself. Your past does not define you.”

This story by Xin Li and Phillomina Wong is the third in a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The series is part of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

The photo of Leslie Acoca is by Jenny Gold/Kaiser Health Network

Posted in Probation, Trauma | 4 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes Tells Probation to Sign Over the Hoarded Juvie Justice $$—Now!

March 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Last Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, telling LA County Probation to stop dragging its feet and fork over the $5 million in juvenile justice money that has been approved since last summer, but still somehow hasn’t gotten to the designated youth programs in each supervisor’s district, each of which desperately need the funds in order to help justice involved kids heal past traumas and reboot their lives in healthy directions.

Interim Probation Chief Cal Remington is to report back to the board in 30 days that the deed has been done, contracts have been signed, and the money has been delivered.

Why this has taken so long is unclear—or that than to say that wei
Last July, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that LA County Probation was sitting on $21.7 million in state-allocated juvenile justice funds that were supposed to be spent toward programs and services that were aimed at keeping kids out of the county’s juvenile justice system—or from returning to the system, if they’d already been in.

When the Supes \ learned of the nearly $22 in hoarded cash that was supposed to be helping LA County’s youth, they voted last July 14 to instruct the Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Probation Officer to work out a spending plan that would trigger “the immediate allocation of $1.0 million” per Supervisorial District “to fund critical programs and services delivered by community-based organizations”—for a total of $5 million to be used for needed youth programs countywide.

On November 2, 2015, the county CEO reported to the board that all the necessary local and state groups had signed off on the $5 million, and on the “critical programs and services” and the community-based organizations slated to provide those services within each district.

And then….nothing.

Last month, Jeremy Loudenback reported in WitnessLA about Centinela Youth Services (CYS) and its unique juvenile diversion program, which is one of the programs slated to receive some of the log-jammed money.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes most of South L.A., pledged his $1 million to support the CYS’s programs in South Los Angeles. Supervisor Kuehl has committed half of her allotment—$500,0000—to CYS in order to expand the juvenile diversion programs in the San Fernando Valley.

Kuehl also designated some of her $$ to a program called the Girls Health Screen (GHS), “the first evidence-based and gender-responsive medical screen developed exclusively for girls 11-17 years old who enter detention and other juvenile justice residential programs. The Girls Health Screen, which was developed by the Girls Health and Justice Institute, is now part of the standard medical intake for all girls entering the Los Angeles county juvenile justice system. (WLA will have more on the GHS and its importance later this month.)


The source of probation’s nearly $22 million in unspent juvenile justice funds 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.

Last summer, when WLA asked Supervisor Ridley-Thomas why so much money that was slated to be used for the benefit of LA County’s at-risk kids had not beeen 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.”

Hopefully, this time the board’s action will succeed in dislodging at least $5 million of the withheld funds to do so.

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 1 Comment »

LA County Supes Vote to Explore Idea of Splitting Probation in Two

February 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

At Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ meeting,
the board voted 4-0 in favor of triggering a report to explore the idea of splitting the nation’s largest probation department into two separate agencies—juvenile and adult.

(Supervisor Mike Antonovich was not present, thus did not vote.)

The motion that was passed on Tuesday merely allowed the county CEO to hire an expert consultant to analyze “the logistics” of chopping the county’s sprawling and chronically troubled department in half—one for juveniles, the other to serve adults. Yet, judging by the statements made by the supervisors present, plus the thoughts put forth by the panel of juvenile advocates who were invited to speak to the issue during Tuesday’s discussion, it appears that breaking up probation is an idea that is gathering velocity.

Right now, Los Angeles has the nation’s largest probation department, with an annual budget of more than $840 million, 6,600 employees, and over 70,000 youth and adults who are either being monitored by the department, or are in one of probation’s residential placements, including such locked facilities as the county’s juvenile halls and camps.

By comparison—according to the motion co-authored by supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas—the next largest probation department in California, is the San Diego County Probation Department, which has a budget and staff only one-fourth the size of LA’s department.

“We are at a critical moment in our criminal justice reform in LA County,” said Ridley-Thomas, as he introduced the motion. “After the development of the office of the Inspector General [for the LA County Sheriff's Department], and the creation of the civilian oversight commission, now we have turned our full attention to the probation department.”

Sheila Kuehl, the motion’s co-author, agreed. “I think this exploration is going to be very important as we elevate the scrutiny of the probation department in a way that most other states and counties haven’t done,” she said.

Supervisor Don Knabe was also positive. “This is an issue I’ve been concerned about for a long time,” Knabe said. “So much of the emphasis when you hear what is going on in probation is… on the adults. I really don’t think it’s in the right place when it comes to the youth. I think we have a real opportunity here as it relates to dealing with the culture inside the department….”

Cal Remington, who is the interim chief of probation while the search is on to replace former chief Jerry Powers, was more circumspect than the supervisors. But he still appeared to be at least open to the idea.


When the supervisors and Remington had finished, the panel of invited youth advocates spoke. The line-up included representatives from Homeboy Industries, Scott Budnick’s Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Kim McGill from the Youth Justice Coalition, Javier Stauring from the Office of Restorative Justice, which provides pastors for the county’s various juvenile halls and camps…and more.

Panelists spoke about the damage done by what they described as the “adultification” of California’s juvenile systems.

“It is unclear to me,” said Javier Stauring, “why there was ever a need for scientific research to prove that children are different than adults, but nevertheless this is a fact that has finally has virtually unanimous consensus.

Another area of consensus among juvenile experts and advocates, said Stauring, “is the fact that there is a great need for a radical shift in the current culture of the probation department. If inside our halls and camps there is a culture that denies the inherent dignity and potential of every child, it doesn’t matter how many proven programs we research, and how good they look on paper,” he said, “it’s not going to make a difference inside.”

Patricia Soung, a senior staff attorney for the California Children’s Defense Fund described a boy whom she represented when he was 15-years-old, who had been in the county’s juvenile system since he was thirteen. At one point, Soung said, she had gathered a bunch of letters of support for the boy from different people who had “interfaced with him while he was incarcerated and before..describing his stength, his positive attributes” and his potential.

“I handed them to this client,” she said. “He read through them then he whispered to me, ‘See, I’m not all bad.’ That moment,” said Soung, “reflected to me something deeply disturbing and entrenched about his interactions with probation, that he had internalized.”

After the meeting, Cyn Yamashiro, who was one of the panelists, spoke to WLA about the proposal to split LA County probation. Yamashiro is now an attorney in private practice, and a two-time president of the Probation Commission. Previously, he was the founding executive director of Loyola Law School’s Center for Juvenile Law and Policy and, before that, a juvenile public defender. He said, he’d been mulling over the issue of dividing probation for a long time.

“It will be interesting to to see if the consultant can find a reason not to divide the department,” Yamashiro said. When researching the idea, Yamashiro said he’d found an array of reasons in favor of dividing the department. “But I honestly haven’t heard a single good reason for keeping it together.”

Like many of the other panelists, Yamashiro emphasized the pressing need to address what he and colleagues described as the problematic culture inside the county’s juvenile facilities, and the opportunity to address the issue presented by splitting the agency.

“The role of officers working in juvenile facilities is very different from that of officer working with adults,” he said. “Juvenile probation needs to recruit people who specifically want to do rehabilitative work with kids.” Instead, he said, too often the department has hired people who primarily want to be law enforcement officers, to whom the idea of rehabilitation is not part of the job. “These people have no business working with juveniles.”

We’ll continue to track the possibility of splitting probation as the matter unfolds.

Posted in Probation | 3 Comments »

Persons of Interest: Who Will Be LA County’s Next Probation Chief – by Jeremy Loudenback

February 8th, 2016 by witnessla


Searching for LA County’s Next Probation Chief

by Jeremy Loudenback


The Los Angeles County Probation Department has cycled through five probation chiefs in just over a decade. This time, juvenile justice advocates hope the county will attract someone with the desire, experience and aptitude to oversee the reform of the nation’s largest juvenile-justice system, as well as the state’s larges adult probation program.

“[Candidates] need to hear why this is a potentially exciting time in juvenile-justice reform in the county,” said Children’s Defense Fund-California Executive Director Alex Johnson. “This board has been moving in a progressive, reform-minded manner. If that message is conveyed, about why this is such a good opportunity, I think it will help start to pull in some people who would otherwise take a pass or who might be on the fence.”

The department has been shaken by one scandal after the other in recent years. In December, former Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers resigned after he was accused of improperly promoting his mistress. In 2008, the Department of Justice placed the county’s juvenile camps under federal oversight after horrific reports of the mistreatment of youth by staff members along with commonplace assaults and other violence. L.A. County officials also settled a major class-action federal lawsuit brought in 2010 over educational failures and “Dickensian” conditions at the six Challenger Camps.

Then there was the release of a December audit showing that the department has hoarded $22 million in funds earmarked for community-based programs, among other questionable fiscal actions. The audit, in turn, prompted the Board of Supervisors to vote to explore the creation of a permanent Probation Oversight Commission last week.

Now, instead of business as usual in the long scandal-plagued department, advocates are hoping the next chief has a working knowledge of trauma, mental health and youth rehabilitation and development.

“Often, many of these kids [in the juvenile-justice system] come from very dysfunctional backgrounds with a lot of toxic stress, and they’ve had all sorts of serious psychiatric issues,” said Jacqueline Caster, who serves on the Los Angeles County Probation Commission. “If you don’t understand that and come from that angle, it’s going to be a disaster. Most people in probation don’t have that background.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl says that the board has revised the job posting for the incoming probation chief to reinforce the county’s interest in a new approach for its juvenile-justice system.

“When the human resources team first developed the outreach brochure for the new probation chief, it didn’t really talk about restorative justice, it didn’t really talk about second chances. So we rewrote it,” Kuehl said. “The brochure that eventually went out made it clear that anyone applying for probation chief should understand— and hopefully embrace— these approaches.”

Overseeing the probation department in Los Angeles is also a job that requires administrative experience. The department supervises 46,000 adults and more than 7,800 juvenile offenders, including 1,400 in its 14 juvenile camps and three juvenile halls. It employs nearly 7,000 people, with a budget of about $860 million.

“Running L.A.’s probation department is like running an agency in a mid-size state,” said Shay Bilchik, director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. “It has to be someone who is committed to being on the west coast and willing to follow through on reform and not just for a couple years.”

Following is a look at some of the most mentioned candidates for the job, based on conversations with officials and advocates close to the hiring process.


A prominent name high on the lists of many advocates is Vincent Schiraldi. Before stepping away to head a criminal justice think tank at Harvard, he was director of juvenile corrections in Washington, D.C., and commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. After turning around D.C.’s troubled juvenile-justice agency, Schiraldi has been an influential voice for community-based alternatives to juvenile incarceration that emphasize positive youth development and keeping juveniles close to home.

But like other high-profile national names who have entered the conversation—such as the Justice Policy Institute’s Marc Schindler and Wayne Mackenzie from the New York City Department of Probation—it is unclear if East Coaster Schiraldi would consider coming west.

Candice Jones, director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, is another reform-minded possibility for Los Angeles County, though she was only recently appointed to her current position. One advocate described her as the “leading reformer in the country” for her efforts to support rehabilitation and policy changes to sentencing.


Among the in-state candidates, the name most frequently cited is Sheila Mitchell, the former probation chief in Santa Clara County, and Deputy Chief of Probation in Alameda County before she took the Santa Clara job. Mitchell resigned in 2013, but her nearly decade-long stint there was marked by a decrease in the number of youth incarcerated in the county and use of positive youth justice-informed services offered at the county’s facilities, including the much-praised William F. James Ranch. Mitchell is now heading the Namaste Leadership Institute in North Carolina, but some wonder if she could be lured back to California. Recently, Mitchell has provided technical assistance to Los Angeles County as part of ongoing efforts to create an innovative new facility on the site of the old Camp Vernon Kilpatrick, using the “L.A. Model,” which is partly based on her efforts to adapt the Missouri Model in Santa Clara County. The Missouri Model is a therapeutic approach to rehabilitation in juvenile detention that favors smaller-sized facilities in community settings.

David Muhammad, who has helped direct juvenile-justice reforms in New York City and Washington, D.C. with Schiraldi before heading the probation department in Alameda County, threw his hat in the ring the day after Powers resigned when the Los Angeles Times called to gauge his interest in the position.

“I have close friends and family who think I am crazy to consider it,” Muhammad said. “But this position is so important, [and] I am crazy enough to think I could pull it off.”

Now a partner at the Oakland-based nonprofit Impact Justice, Muhammad earned plaudits from a wide number of advocates for his efforts to provide Alameda County with increased alternatives to juvenile incarceration. But his tenure there was also clouded by sexual harassment allegations. Alameda County investigators found the allegations to be “unsubstantiated,” yet even the suggestion of impropriety may knock him out of the running, say insiders.

“Maybe if Jerry [Powers] hadn’t gone out like he did, David would be our person for sure,” said a source close to the hiring process who declined to go on the record.

Another potential candidate is Sacramento County Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale. Since heading to Sacramento in 2013, Seale has been touted for his ability to work well with unions and the introduction of rehabilitative programs at juvenile halls. Under his watch, the probation department has reduced the use and duration of solitary confinement and has explored alternatives to incarceration, especially for low-level offenders.


In Los Angeles County, a pair of senior probation employees has been mentioned in conversations, though neither of the two appear to fit the mold of reform that many advocates are hoping for.

Assistant Probation Chief Margarita Perez is said to enjoy support from probation rank-and-file and has been working closely with current Interim Chief Cal Remington. But critics say that, while Perez has reformist leanings on the adult side of probation, her experience with juveniles is nearly non-existent. In addition, the fact that she was brought to the agency by the recently departed Powers, might unfairly tarnish her, at least for now.

Felicia Cotton, deputy chief for juvenile institutions in Los Angeles County, is intimately familiar with the county’s probation system, and is credited with having helped bring its probation camps into DOJ compliance. (The county exited six years of special federal oversight in April 2015.) Yet, reform advocates note that a more recent county audit of progress in the camps—or lack thereof—has found the county “out of compliance,” on many of the very issues that the agency supposedly corrected when the feds were still in residence.

Johnson, a longtime observer of juvenile-justice issues in Los Angeles County, received some mention as the type of reform-minded leader in Los Angeles who might be able to navigate the county’s politics. But the former education and public safety deputy for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he has no interest in the position.

“I’m flattered, but I think there are other folks who are far better suited to lead the department,” Johnson said. “I view my role as being an external partner and thought leader for the department and that’s the role that I see myself playing best.”

Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change

Loudenback’s story was adapted from an article originally produced for The Chronicle of Social Change.

Candidates pictured in photo, clockwise from top left: Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Director Candice Jones, Sacramento County Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale, Sheila Mitchell, Vincent Schiraldi, David Muhammad and Los Angeles County Assistant Probation Chief Margarita Perez.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Probation Oversight, the SFPD Review, Homelessness in LA, and a Bill to Help Homeless Kids

February 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas to form a working group to look into establishing a civilian oversight commission for LA County Probation Department similar to that of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The working group will report back to the board in 90 days with a plan for moving forward.

“This motion is an essential next step in ensuring that the County’s Probation Department is willing and able to provide services needed to support the new and innovative criminal justice policies being adopted at the County and state levels,” said Supervisor Kuehl, the motion’s primary author.

The Supes’ decision follows the release of a fiscal audit two weeks ago that found problematic spending (and non-spending) in the probation department. The largest red flag was an unspent $161 million that should have gone to much-needed rehabilitation and re-entry efforts for adults and kids.

Probation has also gone through a pile of probation chiefs in the last ten years.

The county’s most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers, was persuaded to resign after allegations surfaced that he was involved romantically with another probation employee, whom he hired, and who was inappropriately placed in charge of the department’s $820 million budget without any prior related experience.

Cal Remington, who took over as interim chief upon Jerry Powers’ exit, expressed his support of creating oversight. “The Probation Department is making a commitment to this Board and the public that we will become more transparent, and this is one way to do that. I’m looking forward to this period of study.”

Supe. Ridley-Thomas pointed out that the mission of probation—rehabilitation—has, in some ways, been forgotten. “The fundamental mission [of probation] is to engage in rehabilitation of the youngsters and, for that matter, the adults who are under the supervision of probation,” said Ridley-Thomas. “It is almost as if the language of rehabilitation is an afterthought, in many respects. And I would like to see us return to that fundamental mandate and mission.”

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California, said the timing is right for a “bold” effort to reform probation in LA County as the state and the rest of the nation shift into a focus on rehabilitative reforms. “There’s a climate shift—a national climate shift, and a statewide climate shift—for the criminal justice and juvenile justice reform era,” said Johnson. Government agencies, advocates, community-based organizations, and the public at large already demonstrated care and commitment to coming together for reform.”


Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice announced it would launch a review of the San Francisco Police Department following the controversial shooting of Mario Woods.

Normally, when the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.

But this time, the DOJ will be conducting the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that was used for the first time in 2011. This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.

Frontline’s Sarah Childress has more on the collaborative review process, including where it has worked, and where it has failed. Here’s a clip:

The reform process doesn’t preclude federal officials from opening a pattern-or-practice investigation later on, if they deem it necessary, as they did in Baltimore last year.

In October 2014, the Justice Department began a review of the Baltimore police department amid residents’ complaints of police misconduct. But then in April 2015, after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, died in police custody, federal officials decided to open a pattern-or-practice investigation.

In explaining the decision at the time, Lynch told reporters that the collaborative review process needed support from the police and city officials, but also local residents. Community trust in the police had been “severed” in Baltimore, she said, and the issues facing the police department were “much more serious, and they were much more intense” than when the review process began.

Lynch said that federal officials would seek a court-enforceable agreement in Baltimore. The investigation there is still ongoing.

The Justice Department has had the ability to investigate departments since 1994, but the collaborative reform initiative only started in 2011. Just one department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan police, has completed the process so far, and data there suggests some progress.


The LA Times’ Robert Greene says LA County, rather than city, holds the largest share of culpability for—and obligation to reverse—LA’s homelessness crisis. Although in the past the supervisors have avoided the responsibility, the county’s current homelessness plan, which the board is expected to consider next week, looks promising. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County government handles jails, foster care, emergency rooms and, in large portions of the county, law enforcement. But the county — with its 100,000 employees, its $26.9-billion budget and its five-member Board of Supervisors — is almost unknown compared with the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council. The city gets the headlines for its emergency declarations and its promises of funding. The county is mistakenly seen as an obscure bystander.

Yes, the city of Los Angeles has an important role in meeting the homelessness challenge. City laws and police practices determine whether people living on streets and sidewalks will be arrested and whether their belongings will be confiscated. City leaders have to figure out how to meet the need for housing units, how to pay for them and how to overcome community resistance to new buildings and new neighbors who have histories of homelessness and, perhaps, mental illness or addiction.

The same is true for Long Beach, the next most populous city in Los Angeles County. And for Glendale, the next biggest after that. And for the next, and the next – Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale, Pomona and in fact each of the county’s other municipalities. Their local policing and land use ordinances have a direct bearing on the fate of people who live on the streets of each of those cities. Any solution to L.A.’s homelessness necessarily includes all 88 city halls.

But county government has by far the largest responsibility for homelessness and for solutions meant to address it. The county is on the supply side, because county institutions feed the streets and stoke the misery when they discharge people who have nowhere to go: Young adults who age out of foster care with no home and no income. Medical patients who are discharged from county hospitals. Inmates leaving jail. Patients leaving mental health clinics. And the county bears at least partial responsibility for people such as domestic violence victims who leave shelters but can’t go back home, and young sex trafficking victims who flee from their abusers.

Because it operates the jails, foster care and all those other institutions, it is the county as well that holds the key to ending much of the misery. County government is the chief provider of social services and has the obvious responsibility for people who are discharged to the streets. The county has the same responsibility that cities do to site and build affordable housing; but it also has the ability to craft solutions that require no new housing and little new money for people like the inmate returning from jail, wanting to get his kids back.

The county may lack the tools to deal with more systemic problems like poverty and inequity, both of which push people to the streets. But apart from the federal government, the county has the chief role in dealing with the fallout.

There are many ways the county can abdicate that responsibility, and it has tried most of them…


On Wednesday, Assemblymember Young Kim (R-Fullerton) announced a bill that would ramp up emergency services, including temporary housing, for California’s homeless and trafficked kids.

The money will go specifically to the Homeless Youth and Exploitation Program and the California Youth Crisis Line.

According to California Homeless Youth Project estimates, in 2014, over 298,000 kids in grades K-12 experienced homelessness at some point during the year.

Together the two programs only receive $1.3 million in state funding, which allows the programs to serve around 5,000 kids per year. Kim’s bill would increase that number by $25 million.

“The number of homeless youth in California is staggering. In my district alone, there are nearly 8,600 homeless public school children,” said Kim. “Current services for homeless youth aren’t getting the job done in providing them with the basic necessities like food, shelter, job training, and basic life skills. By providing them with our love and support while young, we can put our homeless youth on the road to successful careers and bright futures.”

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Riverside Probation Tackles Recidivism, a Second-Chance Firefighting Program, Mental Health in Schools, and Father Greg’s Humanitarian Award

January 29th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


With the help of CA Fwd’s Justice System Change Initiative, Riverside County has been proactively searching for ways to reduce a jail population inflated by California’s prison realignment. CA Fwd’s project focuses on reducing incarceration by finding areas of the criminal justice system in need of recalibrating, and helping counties adopt alternatives to lock-up for the mentally ill, substance-abusers, and juveniles.

When Riverside’s Probation Department gathered and analyzed data regarding probationers’ recidivism rates, the numbers revealed that most arrest warrants for probationers were for violations like missing a meeting with their probation officer, not for committing a new crime. And 80% of those probation violators later appeared in court, and exhibited a desire to fix the issue.

The data led Riverside Probation to refocus probation officers’ efforts toward helping people complete the terms of their probation and successfully re-enter their communities. Since the county started working with CA Fwd on these issues, arrest warrants for probation violations have dropped 25%.

(San Bernardino County is also working with CA Fwd to reduce incarceration.)

CA Fwd’s Nadine Ono has more on Riverside’s reform work, and the Probation Department’s culture-shift. Here’s a clip:

The data analysis showed that the probation department was cycling thousands of people through the courts and jails for violating the conditions of their release, not for committing a new crime. The most common violation was failing to show up for a meeting with their probation officer. Not only was this increasing the demands on a costly and overcrowded jail, but it meant increased work for the probation staff and increased caseloads for the court system.

“If you have data, data will make the decision for you,” said Riverside County Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake. “It just allows us to more effectively manage the resources that we have. It allows us to target the specific problem areas or it allows us to better focus resources where they’re most needed.”

Chief Hake was not surprised by the results, but it did make him and his staff think about what their department could do to lessen the burden on the jails. Using the numbers from the report as a baseline, the probation department assembled a workgroup to determine how to tackle the problem.

One of the main areas on which the workgroup focused was the need for a department culture change for both supervisors and line staff. The data showed that staff needed to be more engaged with their probationers and become a positive resource to help them re-enter society. The analysis also allowed the staff to redouble some of their earlier efforts to help the probationers successfully complete their probation and stay out of jail…

“I think for Riverside County, it’s a shift in the mindset,” said Chief Hake. “It’s a shift in the focus from processing cases and moving files across your desk without much concern on how it gets off your desk to one of we want to see people succeed and in order to see people succeed, you’ve got to do more than just push paper.”

In the year since the report was issued, the probation department has realized a 25 percent decrease in warrants issued for probation violations. Without the baseline numbers, this data point would not have been discovered. And, without this discovery, jails beds would continue to be filled by probationers returning for technical violations, probation staff would continue to spend hours processing paperwork, and the courts would continue to be overbooked handling the cases.


A documentary called In the Red follows three young Oakland men, Joseph Stubbs, Dexter Harris, and Justin Mayo, as they complete an 18-week free fire camp for at-risk 18-24-year-olds put on by Bay EMT.

The program participants, many of whom are recruited from an Alameda County’s Probation Camp, say they find new hope and a sense of purpose in the job training Bay EMT provides. The program was founded by firefighter Wellington Jackson, whose secondary purpose in founding Bay EMT was to boost diversity in first responder jobs. Since the program’s inception three years ago, 41 young men have graduated, five have gotten jobs as firefighters, and many others are in the middle of the hiring process (or completed the EMT course that’s also offered).

Chronicle of Social Change’s Melinda Clemmons has more on the program and the documentary. Here’s a clip:

With a soundtrack by Raphael Saadiq—who grew up in East Oakland with Lieutenant Sean Gascié, director of the fire academy—Chakarova’s film documents the rigor of the program as well as minute details of the cadets’ personal lives, filming them at the training ground and also in their off-hours at home, in the barbershop and at family gatherings.

The young men share their challenges, those they faced growing up and those they are still striving to overcome. For Harris and Stubbs, both of whom spent time at Camp Sweeney, Bay EMT provides that rare second chance. Their classmate Justin Mayo is just looking for a first chance. In one scene, he makes his grandmother a cup of coffee, then sits down to describe how he believes a firefighter uniform will change the way people see him.

“I would get on BART with a backpack,” he says, “and I could be dressed in something simple… people just looked at me as a Black kid, didn’t know what I was about…people would rather stand up for forty-five minutes than sit down next to you, and that’s kind of depressing, honestly…if I’m wearing that uniform, people could see me, I don’t know, as possibly a hero.”

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson, who previously served as the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court and is a central figure in the film as well as in the lives of many young people who have participated in Bay EMT, told The Chronicle of Social Change she has seen young people transformed by the program.

“Transitioning into stable employment means people are happy to see them as opposed to clutching their purses,” Thompson said. “To walk into a room and know that people are glad to see them translates into enormous and intangible benefits for these kids. It’s something you can’t even quantify.”

Joseph Stubbs, who describes getting arrested during a chaotic time in his adolescence, says, “I’m trying to do something other than the streets.” He later explains that he wants to be a firefighter “because I want to show my kids that they can become anything they want to be.”

“These are kids who want to do something. They are trying to find the road map to get there,” Thompson said. “And the film shows the transformation that can take place when the community stops long enough to listen to our young people, give them something to say yes to and make a commitment to be present in their lives.”


An important California bill introduced earlier this month would reintroduce trauma-informed mental health services for kindergartners and students in grades 1-3, as part of the Early Mental Health Intervention program, which was defunded in 2012.

AB 1644 introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) would require the state health and education officials to launch a state-funded 4-year pilot program, that would provide outreach, training, and technical help to schools providing the mental health services to young students.

The bill would be an important step toward identifying and treating California kids’ trauma and toxic stress. In a recent youth well-being report card, Children Now (a national, state and local research, policy development, and advocacy group) gave the state a D- in the category of childhood trauma and resilience.

California HealthLine’s David Gorn has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The medical community uses a scale of ACE indicators — for adverse childhood experiences — to measure that higher risk category. People with four or more childhood traumas, such as physical abuse or having a family member with a drinking problem, have a much higher prevalence later in life for a host of health issues — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, kidney disease, stroke, depression, dementia and other maladies.

“We see childhood trauma and ACEs as a public health crisis that is critical for the state to address,” said Ben Rubin, senior associate of neurodevelopment and health at Children Now, a children’s health advocacy group based in Oakland.

“More and more ACE indicators have been gaining traction,” Rubin said, not just in the medical community but in criminal justice and legislative circles as well. “We think [addressing] this has been a big deficit in the state. This bill is a good step toward providing services.”

Bonta’s legislation would establish a four-year pilot program to help some schools and communities provide mental health services with the state chipping in funds, training and technical assistance. It also would commit state money for the Early Mental Health Initiative, which was cut by the governor in 2012.

The benefits for the state are many, he said:

- School classrooms would be more effective if teachers are better able to screen and help children who exhibit symptoms of adverse childhood experiences;

- Dealing with children’s trauma now could mean big savings in health care spending in the future, as ACE indicators are one of the telling signs of those who are the heaviest users of the health care system; and

- The ability of children to become adults who contribute to society goes down among those with a number of ACE indicators, so there are a strong economic and workforce reasons to address those problems earlier.

“It’s true, it’s our moral imperative to do something about it, to protect our children,” Bonta said. “But there’s also a financial imperative, because early prevention saves dollars down the road.”


The James Beard Foundation has chosen Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries to receive its 2016 Humanitarian of the Year award. (If you’re unfamiliar, Homeboy Industries is a Los Angeles gang recovery program that has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life.) According to the foundation’s website a recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year award is someone “whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large.” Father Greg’s nurturing leadership has grown Homeboy’s culinary presence from it’s Homeboy Bakery origins to include Homegirl Cafe (and catering), Homeboy Diner in LA City Hall, and beyond.

Here’s a clip from the Beard Foundation’s announcement:

A Jesuit priest, Father Boyle has dedicated his life to helping those in need. In 1992, in the aftermath of the civil unrest in Los Angeles, he launched Homeboy Bakery, where former rival gang members worked side by side and learned both business and baking skills. Its success laid the groundwork for additional social enterprises within the Homeboy brand, including Homegirl Café & Catering, Homeboy Diner in Los Angeles City Hall, and a retail presence at Los Angeles–area farmers’ markets. Every year more than ten thousand formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women come through Homeboy Industries’s doors.

“I am honored and humbled by this recognition,” Father Greg said, “but also heartened, because it acknowledges, as well, a community on the margins that has long been demonized. This award, then, imagines a circle of compassion outside of which no one is left standing.”

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