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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 »

Formerly Locked-Up LA Youth Tell How to Build a Better Juvenile Justice System

February 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


LOOKING FOR THE LA MODEL

Los Angeles County is at a critical stage in reforming its juvenile justice system, which is the largest in the nation. Juvenile crime is down, and more kids than in the past are being given probation for non-serious infractions, rather than being sent to locked facilities.

Yet, still nearly 1000 young people are spending their time daily in LA County’s 3 juvenile halls or in one of its 9 probation camps that are still in operation. (It has 14 total.)

Locking kids up is a costly matter. The average daily tab to house a youth in one of LA County’s camps is $329.61. If he or she stays in camp for six months, that’s over $60,000 to keep one teenager for one-half year—far in excess of what it would cost to send that same kid to a high priced private university.

Yet, the recidivism rate of kids coming out of the camps, according to probation’s own numbers, is 40 percent. Not an encouraging success rate. Moreover, some researchers claim that the return-customer percentage is really much higher.

Five years ago, things were spectacularly worse in the campswith conditions that were, frankly, unconscionable. But, due to nearly eight years of oversight by the Department of Justice, plus several big, bad lawsuits, there have been heartening improvements.

There is still a long way to go. Even Probation Chief Jerry Powers described the design of the probation camps, in a report to the LA County Board of Supervisors, as “creat[ing] an image of a jail-like environment.”

The good news is that there’s a scheme in the works, which many believe could usher in truly profound changes in the way LA treats its law-breaking young. Officials at LA County Probation, along with participants from a gaggle of other agencies, plus university researchers, policy makers and advocates— are in the midst of hammering out the finer details of a plan to build a new kind of probation camp, a $48 million pilot project that everyone hopes will become a model that can be replicated throughout LA County’s juvenile system—and, with luck, beyond that to the rest of the state, or maybe even the nation.

As we’ve reported in the past, the new pilot facility is to be built on the site of the now-closed Camp David Kilpatrick, the system’s oldest such facility, located in the rural hills above Malibu. The idea is to transform the run-down Kilpatrick—which, prior to teardown, resembled a group of dilapidated prison barracks——into a cluster of homelike cottages that sleep a maximum of 12. Thus both the structure and the programmatic strategy of the new facility will theoretically be designed to promote rehabilitation and healing, rather than simply behavior control, as has been too often the emphasis in the past.

But the details of this brand new programming strategy—which is slated to be called The LA Model—are, in many ways, still very fluid.

Part of the issue is the fact that the project is an unusually collaborative one, with planning committees that include juvenile justice advocates from various nonprofits, along with representatives from the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), the Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Arts Commission, the Juvenile Court Health Services, the Department of Public Works, researchers from UCLA and Cal State LA, and so on.

And in the end, it is LA County Probation’s project, and probation is, of course, overseen by the LA County Board of Supervisors, which holds the purse strings on the enterprise. Additionally, on anything regarding staffing, probation has to answer to its unions, which—naturally—want a say in the matter.

Getting this diverse array of people, agencies, and interests to agree has reportedly been challenging. As a consequence, although progress is being made, there have been repeated delays. As it stands now, the LA Model camp is set to be completed in late 2016 and open in January 2017.


A TEAM OF UNCONVENTIONAL EXPERTS

With all of the aforementioned in mind, some of the researchers and policy advocates involved—namely a UCLA-affiliated research team working under Dr. Jorja leap (whose CV you can find here), along with policy analysts Michelle Newell and Angela Chung from the California branch of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF-CA), decided everyone might benefit from the opinions of a very different group of advisors—specifically kids who have been locked up in the probation camps, thus have personal experience with the system.

And so it was that last spring Leap’s team, together with the CDF-CA policy analysts, coordinated a series of five focus groups with 48 teenagers and young adults, each of whom had spent time in LA County’s long-troubled camps. At every meeting, the participants were asked various versions of the same question: “How can Los Angeles County’s probation camps provide a more positive experience for youth?”

The focus groups were turned out to be quite productive. So the researchers and analysts decided to go a step further. They selected five young men and women from the groups and made them “policy fellows.” The idea was that the five would help take the material gained thus far from the focus groups, and distill it, and turn the youth-generated information into a policy brief.

The fellows—three males and two females—ranged in age from 18 to 27, and collectively had spent a total of 102 months—8.5 years—in LA County’s juvenile camps. Their names are Karla Fuentes-Quiroz, Raul Barreto, Ralphica Garnett, Daniel Bisuano and James Anderson.

“Too often we have policy briefs authored by people who don’t have any real world connection with the subject,” said Dr. Jorja Leap. Everyone was pleased that this time it was different.

After their selection, the five spent several months going to workshops to learn the nuts and bolts of research, analysis and policy writing. Then they were mentored by CDF-CA’s juvenile justice policy team through the process of conceiving and writing a brief that outlined a five priorities that the youth fellows and their mentors concluded must be at the top of the list for the LA Model planners.

The completed 34-page brief—titled Rising up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System—was presented to the various Kilpatrick planning entities early this year, and reportedly was warmly received.

“The response has been overwhelming and positive,” said Leap. “There is tremendous support for the youth voices and how important these are in the process.”

Before we get to the details of the youth brief, however, it might be helpful to meet one of the fellows, Raul Barreto, whose backstory represents the kind of life experience that the five brought to the table.


EXPERTISE GAINED THE HARD WAY

When Raul Barreto was a pre-teen, a lot of the kids around him were joining street gangs, yet he did not. Like the other boys, he was curious about the gang world. But his over-stressed and distracted mother moved her eight children around far too often for him settle comfortably into any group—gangs included.

“My mom did her best. I love and admire her so much for that,” he said. “She always fed us. She washed our clothes. But she could never afford to stay in one place.” The frequent moving was compounded by the fact that there were no rules in the household. No boundaries, Raul said. No emphasis on school. No protective parental focus that helped her children feel secure and emotionally tethered.

It didn’t help that Raul had no dad around for most of his upbringing. When he was seven-years-old, his father vanished into prison.

In the father’s absence, Raul’s oldest brother became his role model, imparting to the younger boy the only gifts he had to give, which were primarily the ability to be tough, even when you didn’t feel tough, and instructions about how to get by on the street.

When Raul was in 8th grade, he put those lessons to work by attempting to form a clique of his own. When a boy from another clique “disrespected” Raul’s newly formed group, Raul did what he thought he had to do. He whacked the kid with a heavy chain, and was quickly arrested and charged with assault. And so it was that, at age 13, he was sentenced for nine months to an LA County probation camp.

“Basically, it was gladiator school,” said Raul of his first camp stay. The staff offered little help. “They didn’t do much more than herd people. They were essentially guards.”

Raul’s brother, who’d been to camp before him, told him how to navigate the place without being bullied. It was not honorable to back down, his older brother said, even if you got beat up, even if you got hurt badly. “There was a certain pride that I held in having never backed down,” Raul said.

Raul was sent to LA County camps a total of four times, although the last three stays were for probation violations, not for additional charges. Between camp stays, Barreto’s adored older brother, who was nineteen at the time, was arrested and sentenced to prison for more than 100 years.

The brother’s sentence slammed Barreto far more than his father’s exit had but, as with the camp fights, he took the blow with as much stoicism as he could muster.

His last stay in camp was at Camp David Gonzalez, then the system’s most progressive, volunteer-heavy facility, located in the hills off Malibu Canyon. There Barreto met a mentor who would change his life, a volunteer named Dan Seaver who ran the camp’s unique, kid-produced newspaper.

Seaver repeatedly told Raul that he was smart, and had potential, and urged him to take advantage of the camp’s various activities. “He talked to me about college. He talked to me about work. He talked to me about those and other things in a way that made them real for me,” he said.

During his stay at Gonzalez, Raul learned he had a knack for writing, and soon became the newspaper’s editor. While in camp, he also read like crazy. Fantasy was his favorite genre. “I read all the Harry Potter books, and a whole lot of others,” Raul said. “I wanted read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they didn’t have it in the camp library.” Reading was a way he could escape from being locked up” Raul said. “It also helped me become a better writer.”

Seaver’s mentorship at Gonzales didn’t magically solve all of Barreto’s problems. It took a couple additional incarcerations, this time as an adult. It also took knowing someone who, over time, refused to give up on him.

Fast forward to the present. Raul, now has a good job working for Martin Outdoor Media, the company that sells advertising on those green bus benches that bloom around the city. He has also done some crew work in the film industry and has plans to do more.

In his off time, he does advocacy work for an organization called Anti-recidivism Coalition—or ARC—through which he makes visits to the county’s probation camps to talk to kids who remind him of his younger self, telling them not to give up, that they can do it, that it’ll be okay.

And, now of course, there is his involvement with the policy fellowship.


FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR TRANSFORMATION

In all, the youth fellows came up with five primary areas of change that they believed were most essential.

“These are very realistic recommendations,” said Michelle Newell of the Children’s Defense Fund who, like Leap, feels that the youth-informed policy brief has been well received.

“Things have gotten a lot a lot better in the camps,” continued Newell, But, in a lot of ways, she said, they were “still operating on a punitive incarceration model.”

Probation had worked to hit all the marks that the various big lawsuits, and the years of oversight by the DOJ have required, and that has helped, Newell said. “But compliance-based reactive change isn’t going to get us where we want to go.”

Hence the brief, the five primary points of which are the following:

1. Increase the availability and diversity of programs.

• Implement programs at all camps that are youth-centered and tailored individually for a youth’s strengths, skills and interests. Programs should be scheduled in ways that encourage youth participation, making efforts to address gaps in scheduling and ensure equal access across the camps.

• Provide camp programs that prepare young people to successfully transition back into their communities, such as higher education workshops, work and technical skill-building, and job search and interviewing workshops.

• Provide high quality education in probation camps, including utilizing the 300 minutes of instructional time for supportive and advanced curriculum, better textbooks and more avenues to establish stronger credit recovery. Continue to expand successful educational models such as Road to Success Academy, a project-based learning model that was piloted in the two girls’ camps and is currently being expanded.

• Expand partnerships with community-based organizations at all camps to provide a diverse array of programs for young people to develop pro-social skills and connections with mentors (e.g., Camp Gonzales, arguably the most resourced camp,12 has many such partnerships and can serve as a model).

2. Foster mentorship and supportive relationships with probation officers.

*Hire, invest in and retain probation staff who are not trained only as guards but rather who also want to work with youth and rehabilitate them. These efforts have already begun but need to be deepened; probation should reevaluate job descriptions and hiring practices to ensure the best staff is recruited and retained.

* Train and provide technical assistance for probation staff on all levels in trauma-informed approaches, positive youth development and other therapeutic approaches to communicating, managing and working with youth. Los Angeles County should invest in trainings such as those run by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network or other violence intervention programs that prevent re-victimization and train staff in the role trauma plays in brain development, adolescent development and behavior.

*Build a mission, culture and operations centered on positive approaches to safety and building relationships, moving away from correctional approaches that emphasize control and supervision.

• Foster activities, routines and spaces for probation staff and youth to engage in positive ways (e.g., in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, at the maximum security facility for youth who have committed serious and violent crimes run by the nonprofit Alternative Rehabilitation Communities (ARC), staff sit and eat with the young people at the dining table for all meals, creating a family feel).

• Establish a working schedule for probation staff that supports a small group treatment model and is consistent with relationship building20 (e.g., reevaluate the 56-hour staffing shift and determine whether a different schedule would allow for closer relationship building with youth).

3. Cultivate the dignity of youth at camp through increased privacy, cleanliness and nutrition.

• Provide access to healthier food, more food and better quality food. This includes providing more snacks, removing expired food and having equal access to seconds (i.e., not providing reward systems for youth to have seconds).

• Increase hygiene by providing youth with individual towels and soaps, better quality hygiene products, including feminine products, cleaner and nicer clothing, and better quality and cleaner bedding (e.g., Santa Clara County’s William F. James Enhanced Ranch provides each youth his or her own regular commercial hygiene products).

• Create physical layouts of camps that provide more privacy in bathrooms (for toilets and showers), as well as dorm rooms with less crowding, homelike furniture and better quality beds (e.g., The Missouri Model created homelike pods that fit 12 youth in one setting rather than 100 beds in one dorm with a single control center.

4. Increase connections with family and community.

• Provide regular visits (i.e., more than one a week) for families and include flexible times to accommodate families’ schedules (e.g., North Carolina state facilities provide visitation seven days a week, which helps youth build closer relationships with their families.)

• Provide access to transportation, given that most probation camps are in
remote locations where public transportation does not exist. This could be through transportation stipends, rides to camps or alternative meeting places where youth are transported closer to home for supervised visits (e.g., in Virginia, the Transportation Program provides low-cost transportation for family members who need it29). Sending youth to facilities in remote areas that are not accessible to families or community services also needs to be re-evaluated.

• Create alterative mediums for families to communicate with youth, such as Skype and video chat. Camps should consider home passes or “furloughs,” which are used in many model juvenile justice programs, including Santa Clara County, California, Missouri and ARC in Pennsylvania.

• Eliminate any practices that limit or remove visitation, phone calls or mail from family as punishment.

• Create physical spaces and procedures in camp that make families feel welcomed, valued, less intimidated and open to staff interaction.

• Expand the definition of family and allow visits from non-relatives; mentors, siblings under 18 years old and other loved ones play an important role in youth’s lives and should be allowed to visit.

5. Improve camp discipline and management procedures.

End regimented, boot camp-like camp procedures (e.g., marching with hands behind the back, sitting on bunks to be counted, and running to and from buildings) that demean youth and convey control and coercion.

• End punitive practices, including solitary confinement, use of force and pepper spray, and replace them with positive behavior support systems. Nationally recognized models demonstrate successful methodologies for crisis and safety management that are not deficit-based, such as Positive Youth Development, Trauma-Informed Care, New York State’s Sanctuary Model37 and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

• Adopt practices that let youth feel normal and valued, including recognizing normal adolescent developmental milestones — celebrating birthdays, acknowledging losses such as deaths, and recognizing accomplishments, such as graduations.

• Allow for personal space and freedom by developing camp routines and structures that allow for youth to experience a sense of calmness, privacy and reflection, which is critical to their development and the progress they make with their treatment.


LIVES SAVED—AND NOT

Each of the five fellows wrote a personal introduction for one of the five categories. It is likely not a surprise that Raul was the person in charge of the chapter on relationships and mentoring.

As a part of the introduction to his section, Raul wrote the following:

“I was 13 my first time in camp and was sentenced to nine months. During those nine months I didn’t get counseling, I didn’t learn a trade or any new skills and, probably most importantly, I never made a connection with a positive adult or anyone I trusted who could give me life advice. I had myself and my peers. When I wasn’t worried about my peers doing something, I was worried about staff and vice versa. I learned to survive in so many unnecessary ways that are only useful in institutions.

“Every time I was released, I remained unguided and misinformed and, usually, I ended up recidivating. Luckily, I eventually broke that pattern. Many of the kids I met, fought with, laughed with and lived with throughout my many stays in juvenile detention are now dead, heavily drug addicted or serving life in prison.

“The difference between me and them is that during my last camp program, I met a volunteer who became my mentor, a person who until this very day will answer my call, listen to my problems and give me the best possible advice he can offer. I firmly believe it was this simple, consistent act that saved my life….

“And while my camp experience happened a lot longer ago than many other youth in the focus groups, the need for connection and mentorship continues to remain a problem for youth at camps today. My experience simply shows just how important it is when just one person makes a connection with a young person….”

Hard to argue with that.


Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | 1 Comment »

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

September 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

But the teachers are ready to make them dig.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundbreaking for New “LA Model” Youth Probation Camp….CA’s Racial Divide in School Truancy…. Does Childhood “Toxic Stress” Fuel Poverty?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



FRIDAY CEREMONY KICKS OFF WORK ON A NEW MODEL FOR HELPING LAW-BREAKING KIDS IN LA AND BEYOND

“Rehabilitative, not punitive. That’s the message,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the demolition and replacement of Camp Vernon Kilpatrick.

The now-closed camp, located in the rural hills above Malibu, will be rebuilt as a new kind of juvenile facility that, if all goes as hoped, will not only positively redirect the lives of the kids it serves, but will also fundamentally reboot the direction of LA County’s juvenile probation as a whole.

Camp Kilpatrick is the county’s oldest juvenile camp, and its most run down. So when Probation (with the approval of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and aided by a $29 million state grant) began to develop ambitious plans to completely rethink and rebuild one of its juvenile facilitates, the half-century-old, 125-bed camp Camp Kilpatrick was an obvious choice.

The idea is to transform the aging Malibu facility—which, at present looks like a series of dilapidated prison barracks— into a cluster of homelike cottages that sleep a maximum of 12. Thus both the structure and the programmatic strategy of the new facility will be designed to promote a relationship-centric, therapeutic and educational approach to helping kids, rather than simply trying to control their behavior.

The $48 million project will borrow some elements from the famed “Missouri Model”—-developed by the State of Missouri, and long held up as the most widely respected juvenile justice system for rehabilitating kids in residential facilities. Planners also looked at innovative programs in Santa Clara County, and Washington D.C..

Yet, nearly everyone present on Friday was quick to emphasize that Los Angeles has a particularly diverse youth population, and so needs its own specially-tailored approach.

The goal, therefore, is to create a unique “LA Model,” which borrows from other successful programs, but imagines into being its own original strategy. Ideally, it is hoped that this LA Model will be comprehensive enough that it can be replicated throughout the county system and, with any luck, serve as a model for the state and the nation.

That is, of course, a tall order.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers pointed out that the project—which he calls “a blueprint for our future”—is an unusually collaborative one, with a planning committee that includes juvenile advocates like the Children’s Defense Fund (among others), along with the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), the Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Arts Commission, the Juvenile Court Health Services, the Department of Public Works, and so on.

There are even two formerly incarcerated youth who are part of the planning group.

Plus, in the end, it is probation’s project.. And, finally, there is the LA County Board of Supervisors, which has say-so over probation.

Getting this diverse array of people, agencies, and interests to agree on a coherent direction, without that direction becoming hopelessly homogenized, has reportedly been—and still is—challenging, and there have been a plethora of delays. (The new Kilpatrick is set to be completed in late 2016 and open in January 2017.)

All that said, a genuine sense of optimism and we-can-do-it commitment seemed to rule the day on Friday in Malibu.

“If we are going to remove young people from their homes and schools and community at a pivotal time in their development, we better get it right,” said Carol Biondi, of the Los Angeles Commission for Children and Families. Biondi is part of the planning group and was one of the day’s speakers. “There will be no warehousing in the LA Model because we know children do not thrive in storage.”

Indeed they do not.

Alex Johnson, the new head of California’s Children’s Defense Fund, put the optimism of the afternoon in context. “Today’s initiation of demolition efforts at Camp Kilpatrick marks an important step forward for Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system,” he saidy. “However, much work remains to ensure that all justice system-involved youth are treated humanely and fairly. We applaud the County’s leadership and vision on this initiative, and look forward to continuing to work together to make sure that the Camp Kilpatrick project becomes a springboard for system wide reform.”

Naturally, WLA will be reporting a lot more on this high importance, high stakes project as it progresses.


NEW STATE REPORT SHOWS CALIFORNIA’S DRAMATIC RACIAL DIVIDE WHEN IT COMES TO SCHOOL TRUANCY

On Friday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris released her 2nd annual report on school truancy. This time she also broke the numbers down according to race and income.

The results showed that african American students are chronically truant at a rate that is nearly four greater than California students as a whole. Researchers flagged poverty and school suspensions as significant causal factors.

The report also noted that this attendance crisis has largely remained hidden, simply because the critical data has not previously been tracked. And although the causes of the racial divide require further study, we do know, wrote the researchers, “that African-American children experience many of the most common barriers to attendance—including health issues, poverty, transportation problems, homelessness, and trauma_–in greater concentration than most other populations.”

Julie Watson of the AP has more. Here’s a clip:

The report by the California attorney general’s office is the first time the data has been broken down according to race and income levels. Officials say such data is needed to address the problem.

It comes as new research from the U.S. Education Department’s civil rights arm earlier this year has found racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, begin at the earliest grades.

Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools — even as tiny preschoolers, according to the March report by the Education Department’s civil rights arm.

The Obama administration has issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. And even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students. Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.

The data doesn’t explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended.

In California, the study found 37 percent of black elementary students sampled were truant, more than any other subgroup including homeless students, and about 15 percentage points higher than the rate for all students.

Overall, more than 250,000 elementary school students missed 10 percent or more of the 2013-2014 school year or roughly 18 or more school days. The absences were highest at the kindergarten and first-grade levels when children learn to read, according to experts.

Statewide, an estimated 73,000 black elementary students were truant last school year.


TOXIC STRESS: THE WAY POVERTY REGENERATES

The New York Times Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn have an op-ed essay on the effects of “toxic stress” in a child’s early life, how it helps fuel the cycle of poverty, and what can be done about it.

It’s not a cheery read, but it’s an interesting and makes some important points. Below are a couple of clips to get you started, but it’s really worth it to read the whole thing.

AS our children were growing up, one of their playmates was a girl named Jessica. Our kids would disappear with Jessica to make forts, build a treehouse and share dreams. We were always concerned because — there’s no polite way to say this — Jessica was a mess.

Her mother, a teen mom, was away in prison for drug-related offenses, and Jessica had never known her father. While Jessica was very smart, she used her intelligence to become a fluent, prodigious liar. Even as a young girl, she seemed headed for jail or pregnancy, and in sixth grade she was kicked out of school for bringing alcohol to class. One neighbor forbade his daughter to play with her, and after she started setting fires we wondered if we should do the same.

Jessica reminded us that the greatest inequality in America is not in wealth but the even greater gap of opportunity. We had been trying to help people in Zimbabwe and Cambodia, and now we found ourselves helpless to assist one of our daughter’s best friends.

[BIG SNIP]

The lifelong impact of what happens early in life was reinforced by a series of studies on laboratory rats by Michael Meaney of McGill University in Canada. Professor Meaney noticed that some rat mothers were always licking and grooming their pups (baby rats are called pups), while others were much less attentive. He found that rats that had been licked and cuddled as pups were far more self-confident, curious and intelligent. They were also better at mazes, healthier and longer-lived.

Professor Meaney mixed up the rat pups, taking biological offspring of the licking mothers and giving them at birth to the moms who licked less. Then he took pups born to the laissez-faire mothers and gave them to be raised by those committed to licking and grooming. When the pups grew up, he ran them through the same battery of tests. What mattered, it turned out, wasn’t biological parentage but whether a rat pup was licked and groomed attentively.

The licking and grooming seemed to affect the development of brain structures that regulate stress. A rat’s early life in a lab is highly stressful (especially when scientists are picking up the pups and handling them), leading to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. In the rats with less attentive mothers, the cortisol shaped their brains to prepare for a life of danger and stress. But the attentive mothers used their maternal licking and grooming to soothe their pups immediately, dispersing the cortisol and leaving their brains unaffected.

A series of studies have found similar patterns in humans

[SNIP]

Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, founder of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, has been a pioneer in this research. He argues that the constant bath of cortisol in a high-stress infancy prepares the child for a high-risk environment. The cortisol affects brain structures so that those individuals are on a fight-or-flight hair trigger throughout life, an adaptation that might have been useful in prehistory. But in today’s world, the result is schoolchildren who are so alert to danger that they cannot concentrate. They are also so suspicious of others that they are prone to pre-emptive aggression.

Dr. Shonkoff calls this “toxic stress” and describes it as one way that poverty regenerates. Moms in poverty often live in stressful homes while juggling a thousand challenges, and they are disproportionately likely to be teenagers, without a partner to help out. A baby in such an environment is more likely to grow up with a brain bathed in cortisol.

Fortunately, a scholar named David Olds has shown that there are ways to snap this poverty cycle.

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County, Probation, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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