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

February 8th, 2016 by witnessla


PERSONS OF INTEREST

Searching for LA County’s Next Probation Chief

by Jeremy Loudenback



LA COUNTY ADVOCATES EYE REFORMERS FOR PROBATION TOP SPOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


OUT OF STATE

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

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

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


IN-STATE

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

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

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

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

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

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


LOS ANGELES

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

February 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS VOTE YES ON EXPLORING OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR LA COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DOJ’S REVIEW OF SAN FRANCISCO POLICE WILL NOT FORCE REFORMS, ONLY SUGGEST THEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LA CITY AND LA COUNTY: WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TACKLING HOMELESSNESS LIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CA BILL TO HELP HOMELESS AND EXPLOITED KIDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

RIVERSIDE COUNTY RUNS THE NUMBERS TO FIND AREAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN NEED OF REFORM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


JUSTICE-SYSTEM-INVOLVED OAKLAND YOUTH GET SECOND CHANCE THROUGH FIRST RESPONDER PROGRAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CA BILL WOULD PROVIDE CRUCIAL MENTAL HEALTH AND TRAUMA SERVICES FOR YOUNG STUDENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits for the state are many, he said:

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

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

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

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


FATHER GREG BOYLE OF HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES TO RECEIVE HUMANITARIAN OF THE YEAR AWARD

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

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

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

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

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Does LA County Probation Need a Watchdog Commission?

January 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Will Los Angeles County’s large and still troubled probation department
get its own watchdog?

The unsettling concerns raised by the recent release of a new audit report that examined probation’s fiscal behavior would, all by itself, strongly suggest that more aggressive oversight is needed. (We wrote about the report’s findings here.)

And then there’s the fact that LA’s probation department has had five chiefs in the last ten years, the last three of which exited under various kinds of clouds.

With these and other issues in mind, LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl will introduce a motion at next Tuesday’s board meeting, which proposes the appointment of a working group to “evaluate the feasibility of establishing a permanent Probation Oversight Commission, similar to that recently established to oversee the Sheriff’s Department.”

If the motion is approved, the working group is to deliver its first report to the board, along with a plan for moving forward, in 90 days.

The exploratory group will also be instructed to make a recommendation to the board as to whether or not this watchdogging of probation should be separated into two separate oversight entities, one for the agency’s youth services, the other for the adult side—”given the different needs of the two populations.”

(On first bounce, WitnessLA leans toward the idea of two separate watchdogs.)

Probation already has a string of advisory bodies including an its own Probation Commission,, and several of its commissioners are very proactively reform-minded. Yet, as the motion notes, “there is no overall, formal assessment and reporting process.”

Hence the motion.

“lt is critical to evaluate the past actions and oversight of the Probation Department, assess ongoing needs and determine what changes might be adopted at this critical time of transformative reform in Los Angeles County,” said Sheila Kuehl in a statement about the motion.

Ridley-Thomas sounded equally firm about the need for a codified process for oversight leading to reform.

So will the motion pass? We hope so.

In any case….stay tuned..


Attractive bulldog photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Newest LA County Probation Audit Finds a Disturbing Array of Problems—Including a $161 Million Hoard of Badly Needed Unspent Cash

January 19th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


As we move forward toward what we hope will be a freshly optimistic and reform-minded era
for Los Angeles County Probation—-led by the as-yet-to-be-located new probation chief who will replace the recently departed Jerry Powers—we think it’s a good time to look at where probation is right now, and where it has been, and where it needs to go in the future.

We’ll examine various parts of those questions in the coming weeks. But, to begin the process, we took a look at an audit of probation’s fiscal behavior delivered to the LA County Board of Supervisors last month by Simpson and Simpson, CPAs. The report, which WitnessLA has obtained, is a summary of “significant findings” of the comprehensive audit ordered by the board last year.

Here are just a few of the issues flagged in the report that particularly caught our attention.


FOLLOW THE MONEY

Most of the audit’s primary findings concern probation’s “accounting records and procedures”, and many these findings suggest that those who were overseeing the department’s budget and finances under former chief Powers were not always the most careful stewards of probation’s funds.

The report’s criticisms of the way probation’s money has been handled pertain to a wide range of dollar amounts— from a few thousand bucks up to more than $140 million.

For instance, at the lower end of the $$ spectrum there was the matter of the phones. Probation, it seems, pays for phones and other wireless devices for many of its employees. During the nine-month period of the audit, the department spent $1 million on Verizon service charges for employees’ phones, et al. However, it turned out that $256,000 of that $1 million in Verizon charges—or more than one quarter—was spent on phones that either no one was using, or that were barely used.

Furthermore, former employees who no longer worked for the department were using 83 of the phones that probation paid for during the audit period. And another 222 probation-supported devices (169 cell phones and 53 other wireless data devices) that showed up on the Verizon bills, couldn’t be accounted for at all. No one knew who had them, only that the department was paying their bills.

And then there were the smaller irregularities like the $4,650 in roaming charges for calls made by somebody with a probation phone from India, and…well you get the picture.

Cell phone fees were only one of many areas of fiscal carelessness that concerned the auditors.

To randomly choose another, there was the matter of the cash-filled envelopes that were turned in at the six county probation offices by various adult probationers, who were required to make regular payments for things like restitution, fines and similar adjudicated obligations. At both of the two probation offices examined by auditors, staff accepted the payment envelopes without giving receipts to the clients. Nor was there any other kind of internal accounting of the payments received. And the envelopes weren’t stored in a secure location.

Maybe all those unsecured non-receipted payments made it unscathed to the Treasurer and Tax Collector (TTC) every week for processing. Or maybe some of them didn’t. Probation—and the auditors—had no way of knowing.


A DRAGON’S HOARD OF $161 MILLION IN CASH

Yet, while the above irregularities—and many others like them—are admittedly unnerving, some of the really high-ticket monetary issues listed by the audit involved large pots of money that probation should have spent on rehabilitation programs and reentry programs, and other crucial needs, but didn’t.
Instead, they simply sat on the funds.

Most startling of these hoarded mounds of cash is the matter of the county’s unspent SB 678 money.

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

LA County probation began receiving SB 678 funds in FY 2011-2012. But, while they took the money, they did almost nothing at all with it. Thus by May 2015, the audit found, the department had amassed an astonishing $140.5 million in SB 678 funds—which—by the way—Powers and company reportedly told no one about. In other words, instead of spending the funds on crucial programs, either of probation’s own creation or on existing community-based programs, they simply sat on the cash, which—according to our sources inside probation—has now grown to $145 million or more.

The audit noted that, when confronted with their hundred-and-forty million dollar hoarding habit, probation officials said that the primary reason they’d not spent their growing mound of SB 678 money was “due to their inability to properly develop SB 678 programs.”

It was not a confidence-inspiring explanation.

And, even when the county did spend $19 million on SB 678 programs during FY 2012-2013 and FY 2013-2014, they mistakenly charged the LA County General Fund for $10.2 of their SB 678 expenditures, money that probation said they would “determine the feasibility” of recovering for the county.

Yet, the unspent $140 plus million wasn’t the whole of it.

The audit reported that probation was also sitting on $21.7 million in state-allocated juvenile justice funds that were supposed to be spent toward creating a comprehensive plan of youth services that included community-based programs to keep at risk kids out of the county’s justice system—and on related programs to help kids already in the system with reentry so that they don’t bounce right back in again after they are released.

In total, according to the report, the county is unaccountably sitting on more than $161 million in much needed cash. (At least that we know of.)

The source of the $21.7 million comes from a funding stream created by the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), which was itself created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 in order “to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at curbing crime and delinquency among at-risk youth.”

In LA County Probation, however, the funds, which have been piling up at a regular clip since FY 2010/11—like the SB 678 dollars—-were simply sitting in an account doing…well…nothing.

(WLA reported earlier on the unspent JJCPA $ here.)


THE MYSTERIOUSLY HIGH COST OF LOCKING UP LA COUNTY KIDS

While, as we outlined above, probation has failed to spend millions in state funds aimed at helping at-risk youth and AB109 adult probationers, in in other areas, the agency seemed to overspend, with questionable return.

In particular, the audit noted that probation’s daily cost of keeping kids locked up, either in LA County’s youth camps, or its three juvenile halls, was inexplicably high—in spite of the fact that the various camps and halls are reportedly seriously understaffed.

(Probation’s perplexing inability to hire anything close to the number of officers that the department needs is an issue we’ll get into another time.)

According to the audit, the Average Daily Cost Per Youth or (ADCPY) for the county’s juvenile halls is: $640 per kid per day in the halls, and $552 in the camps.

And how does that compare to other juvenile facilities in other counties?

Not well. The auditors found that juvenile facilities in other counties with similar kinds of youth populations spent far less.

For example, San Diego County spends $351 and $206 for camps and halls, respectively.

Orange County spends $497 and $284. Harris County, TX, $232 and $272.

If LA County’s kids were getting more services for that money, it would be one thing. But the audit does not suggest this is the case. In fact, the auditors said that, when all was said and done they weren’t one hundred percent sure about the numbers because, they wrote, “Probation does not adequately track expenditures for juvenile halls and camps.” 



THE MATTER OF THE DOJ

In February of 2015, the monitoring team overseeing reforms in the county’s juvenile probation camps issued a final report that declared probation to be in full compliance with the 73 reforms demanded by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice which had been overseeing the camps since 2008.

In fact, when Jerry Powers resigned last month, one of the main accomplishments he and others trumpeted, was the fact that, under Powers’ watch, the DOJ finally announced that, after seven years of oversight, the feds were satisfied.

According to the December summary’s findings, in the audits performed since the DOJ signoff, rather than continuing the progress made while the feds had a metaphorical gun to probation’s head, once the various boxes were properly checked to the DOJ’s satisfaction, the backsliding reportedly began.

On April 6, of last year the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office put out their own report about the matter of probation’s compliance in the department’s operational juvenile camps and facilities and found that probation was not, in fact, so wonderfully compliant.

(We wrote about the April 2015 audit here.)

The December audit summary reiterated the problem: “Probation did not maintain substantial compliance for six (86%) of the seven provisions we reviewed,” wrote the auditors.

Five—or one third—of the 15 probation camps examined “did not maintain substantial compliance with Provision 17—which had to do with rehabilitative programs for the youth in the camps.

And none of the camps maintained compliance with the DOJ’s requirements for staff training and supervision of the kids in the camps.

Have things gotten better at all since the April report? The new audit doesn’t say.


THE VIEW UNDER THE HOOD

Apart from the audit, certainly, there have been accomplishments at probation in the past few years. Kilpatrick, the new model probation camp that will be focused on rehabilitation, not punishment, is scheduled to open in 2017. The educational programs in the camps, while not perfect, have taken large strides forward, particularly in the two girls’ camps, Scott and Scudder.

And, on the adult side, there are AB109 teams who are reportedly doing a great job helping their clients overcome the challenges of reentry.

In general, the department has many talented people who bring a great deal of expertise and dedication to their jobs every single day.

Yet, all that said, when one looks under the hood, so to speak, of the Jerry Powers-run department of probation, which is what this new report has done, the view is—in a great many ways—alarming.

Posted in Probation | 3 Comments »

Should LA County Probation Be Split Into 2 Agencies? Youth & Adult?

January 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


The idea of splitting LA County’s large and complicated probation department into two agencies
—one overseeing adults, the other juveniles—has been talked about for years, but never seriously. The proposed split had many fans, but up until recently, advocates say, the funding streams for the adults and kids were too interdependent to easily separate.

Yet, with Monday’s departure of probation chief Jerry Powers, plus the advent of newer sources of funding like AB 109-related dollars and other distinct income streams—together with a more urgent emphasis on rehabilitation not punishment for kids in the county’s care—the LA County Board of Supervisors appear poised to take a new look at the possibility of making two agencies out of one.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has a story that provides a good initial rundown on issue that will be an important topic of conversation among the supes in the months to come—thus we didn’t want you to miss it.

(The possibility of splitting probation is, of course, a matter that we will be tracking closely as it unfolds.)

Here are some clips from Sewell’s story:

The idea has been floated for years by advocates who say the nation’s largest probation system is too unwieldy to address the different needs of the adult and juvenile populations. Opponents say breaking up the department, which has an annual budget of more than $800 million, would be too disruptive and costly, and the proposal has never gained a serious foothold with the Board of Supervisors.

But with the impending departure of the agency’s third chief in five years, advocates are once again pushing for restructuring.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is part of a new, more liberal board majority ushered in by the 2014 elections, said he plans to ask for a formal study of the feasibility of separating the adult and juvenile probation operations.

“It’s my thinking that the time has come,” Ridley-Thomas said in an interview. “I do believe very strongly that the probation department is in need of substantial reform.”

[SNIP]

The probation department tracks about 43,000 adult offenders and is responsible for 9,000 juveniles, both in and out of custody. It runs three juvenile halls, primarily for youths awaiting trial, and 14 camps for those ordered to longer stays in a locked setting; it also contracts with group homes and substance abuse treatment facilities to house other youngsters.

Although adults make up most of the population supervised by the department, three times as many staff members are assigned to dealing with minors as to the adult probationers, and the juvenile system has been in many ways the most problematic. The department emerged in the spring from six years of federal monitoring of conditions in the juvenile lock-ups, prompted by repeated reports of abuse and poor conditions.

[SNIP]

Advocates for a less-punitive approach support the project and acknowledge progress in lowering the population of juveniles in lock-up, but they say the pace of reform has been too slow.

Kim McGill, an organizer with Youth Justice Coalition, an advocacy group for youths who have been in the criminal justice system, said her group is “100% in favor” of having a separate juvenile agency. She wants it housed in an office of youth development that would also run a network of youth community centers, job training and recreational programs.

In the current department, she said many probation workers come from a criminal justice background and take a more punitive approach to kids. “Punishment doesn’t really work for anyone, but especially for young people,” she said.

The proposal has drawn some initial skepticism within the department.

Ralph Miller, president of the probation officers’ union — which was at odds with Powers — said he thought such a split was unnecessary and would only result in “competing budgets and just fracturing things.”

“It would be too disruptive,” he said. “We’ve been through enough stuff…. You properly train and equip and support people and the rest will kind of work out by itself.”

[SNIP]

San Francisco’s chief of juvenile probation, Allen Nance, said the state’s complex requirements make it difficult for a single agency to both handle young people and keep up with changes in the adult criminal justice system. For juvenile offenders, there are educational requirements, standards for camps and halls and steps to place young people in group or foster homes if they can’t return to their families.

“I can’t imagine how, in a medium to large county, a single chief probation officer can keep track of it all,” Nance said…

Posted in Probation | 1 Comment »

A Generous Exit $$$ Package for Embattled Probation Chief Powers

December 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EXIT PRICE

LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers will be leaving his post as head of the agency on Monday, January 4, 2016, right after the upcoming New Year’s weekend.

Ever since the news of his leave-taking was confirmed, the question that many of us have been asking is: what kind of exit package is Powers being given on his way out the door?

In case you’ve forgotten, Powers was not-so-gently persuaded to resign due, primarily, to allegations that he was engaged in an inappropriate romantic relationship with another probation employee, Kym Renner, whom it appears that he hired after he had become involved with her. It is further reported that Powers may have circumvented the proper vetting process in getting Renner hired to begin with. Moreover, although Renner, 42, was originally hired to be a close aid for Powers, 53, in short order, she was moved up the power ladder to oversee the $820 million budget, accounting and expenditures for the nation’s largest probation department—never mind that Renner appeared to have no appreciable experience in the realm of budget and finance.

For her work, Renner was paid a base salary of $159,660, plus benefits—-bringing the total package well past $200,000, nearly nearly twice what she was making in her prior long-term position in Stanislaus County. (Powers, if you’ll remember, was the probation chief for Stanislaus County before assuming the head position in LA in December 2011. Renner, who was married when Powers took the LA job, worked in Human Resources for the same county with a base salary of $87,812 then, as her marriage split up, very briefly took a similar position in Redondo Beach before Powers brought her to Los Angeles.)

The final straw for the supervisors was reportedly when county attorneys informed the board that, by his alleged behavior, Powers was putting the county at risk of being hit with a very large, very nasty sexual harassment lawsuit by Renner, should she be so inclined, along with exposure to similarly unpleasant lawsuits that could conceivably brought by other probation employees claiming favoritism, et al.


THE ACTUAL PACKAGE

When Powers was first hired to take the helm of LA County’s large and troubled agency in late 2011, his contract stipulated that whenever in the future it came time for him to leave, he would receive an exit package that was equivalent to six months worth whatever monthly salary he was currently making.

Q: So, what about now? Will Powers still get that very generous six month farewell payment, despite the circumstances of his departure?

A: Yes—and a lot more.

WitnessLA has learned that, in addition to a nice six month salary parachute, which amounts to a payment of $147,125.88 (or half of Chief Powers’ current base salary of approximately $294,252 per annum), the Supes also voted in a closed door session to give Powers a second six months worth of salary, as a good-by gift, meaning he will now get two payments of $147,125.88.

Or to put it another way: Powers is getting paid more now that allegedly problematic behavior has precipitated his retreat, than he would have received had all gone swimmingly.

The vote, reportedly, was not unanimous.

In the months to come, while the county’s supes and the CEO engage in a national search to find Powers’ successor, former Ventura County probation chief, Cal Remington, will act as interim chief for LA, a position he has held twice in the past.


POST SCRIPT: Yes, we’re still technically on a break until January 4. But sometimes news, as they say, must out.

Posted in Probation | 5 Comments »

Who Will Lead LA County Probation After Jerry Powers?

December 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WHO’S NEXT?

Now that LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers has officially announced that he is stepping down as of January 4, 2016, one of the primary topics of discussion in and around the nation’s largest probation department is the matter of who will be chosen to succeed Powers.

And there’s also the question of the interim chief–the man or woman chosen to temporarily hold the reins of the large, complicated and troubled organization during the period between Powers’ departure, and when a new chief is sworn in.

Powers—as most of you know—formally resigned on Tuesday in a closed door session with the county’s five supervisors, who unanimously accepted his letter of resignation (which he characterized as retirement). Powers’ exit occurred within the context of allegations that he was engaged in an improper romantic relationship with his direct subordinate, Kym Renner, whom he hired at close to double her previous salary, first to work with human resources, and then—astoundingly—to oversee the department’s $820 million budget, although Ms. Renner appeared to have zero professional background in budgeting and finance.

So who will come after Powers? And how will the LA County Supes go about finding that person? Will they look in-house, or will there be a national search? Or do they have someone in mind already?



THE INTERIM CHIEF

According to our sources, the question about the interim chief, at least, appears to have been answered. Cal Remington will fill the gap between Powers and whoever comes next.

Remington’s name is a familiar one to those at probation, and he is generally well-liked by those within the department , as well as juvenile advocates, and the supervisors.

For a decade or so, he was Probation Chief of Ventura County, coming up through the ranks to take that spot. He was asked to come to Los Angeles as the acting chief when Powers’ predecessor, Donald Blevins, was ousted in 2011. Remington was also acting chief when Blevins’ predecessor, Robert Taylor, was shoved into retirement in 2010 leaving behind an impressive list of departmental scandals, that included probation officers getting caught having sex with teenagers in their care, beating probationers in the juvenile camps and halls, drinking on the job, and/or collecting paychecks while absent from work for months at a time for indistinct reasons….and more.

In both cases, Remington acted as a smart, steady and calming presence who was accessible to the wide variety of stakeholders who interact with the department. He is also known and well respected throughout the state. In other words, bringing him on a third time makes excellent sense.

Remington, who is coming in on January 18, isn’t the only interim. Assistant Chief Margarita Perez will take over until Remington arrives, and will reportedly work closely with him during his temporary tenure. Perez worked in State Parole prior to coming to LA County in 2012, and has reportedly earned a great deal of respect from the rank and file during her time here.

Perez is also known among reform advocates for her willingness to push for promising prison reentry programs to help the AB 109 population have a better chance at success when they return to their communities.


A NATIONAL SEARCH FOR A “TRANSFORMATIVE LEADER”

When Powers was selected, and Blevins before him, the County CEO and the board of supervisors decided not to do a national search as they were looking for a new head of probation. Taylor moved into the top slot with even less of a search. He was the county ombudsman when he was asked step in to lead probation after then-Chief Paul Higa had a fatal stroke.

This time, however, the Supes reportedly will do a serious national search. After the less-than-happy exits of three probation chiefs in a row, that would seem to be the prudent choice. A national search does not, of course, preclude the selection of some capable someone from within the department. (Several people presently in upper level management are believed to be interested in the top spot.) But whether the candidates come from out-of-state or close-by, talent, vision, and suitability should guide the supes final choice, not proximity.

So what kind of person should we be looking for?

In response to Powers’ resignation Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California, has written down some of his ideas as to what kind of new chief is needed.

Because of his work at the Children’s Defense Fund, Johnson naturally is most concerned with any candidates’ views on juvenile justice issues. But most of his points also apply to the adult side of the agency as well.

Here are some of Johnson’s thoughts:

“As Los Angeles County is set to identify its sixth probation chief in ten years,” he writes, “it has never been more important to ensure this new leader is committed to investing in youth and uplifting promising, community-based solutions. While recent progress has been made… deeper change is needed for the nation’s largest juvenile justice system.”

As examples of areas in which change is needed on the juvenile side of probation, Johnson mentions “solitary confinement and other inhumane practices inside LA County juvenile justice system,” along with closing some of the low-population juvenile facilities in order to re-invest the cost savings in community-based alternatives. “The next probation chief must be committed to: an explicit focus on rehabilitation and not incarceration; identifying community-based alternatives to incarceration focused on prevention and diversion; utilizing data collection in a meaningful way that promotes accountability and tracks progress toward reducing recidivism…”

Most of all, Johnson says, the next probation chief must be “a transformative leader who recognizes the disproportionate impact of race as a structural pillar in the prison pipeline, and also understands what experts who study adolescent brain science tell us – that we must treat the young people in our juvenile justice system not as adults but as youth who require healing from the trauma that landed them inside a locked facility in the first place.

In general, Johnson writes, “the time is ripe for an innovative leader dedicated to ensuring justice for system-involved youth. I urge the County, under the leadership of the Board of Supervisors, to conduct a national search with opportunities for meaningful community input from those most impacted by the juvenile and criminal justice system. True reform is not simply aspirational, it is attainable and a fundamental necessity.”

We would agree.

It was also be nice if such a leader knew how to challenge and inspire the best from the rank-and-file working under him or her now, while also making it a priority to attract and hire new talent who view probation as a calling.

More as the situation—and the search—unfolds.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE….THOUSANDS OF JUSTICE INVOLVED YOUNG MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR COMMUNITY-BASED MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENTS

Recent studies suggest that american adolescents and young adults are 3-4 times more likely to be affected by a mental or emotional health issue than any other health condition. For kids involved in the juvenile justice system, those numbers shoot even higher. Unfortunately, very few of those justice involved kids get appropriate treatment.

A new report by the nonprofit, Young Minds Advocacy, is outlined in the Chronicle of Social Change, and it suggests that resources exist in California that could start to fill that gap.

Here’s a clip:

Incarceration instead of treatment doesn’t make sense as a health care practice. Providing intensive mental health treatment to youth when it’s needed ensures that young people are developing the social and emotional skills they need to be positive members of our communities. A service array in California, called ‘Katie A.’ services, could meet this critical need for care and better support the state’s most vulnerable youth.

To date, these intensive home and community-based services have only been available to child welfare-involved youth. Last month, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) publicly acknowledged, for the first time, that Katie A. services must be provided to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries under the age of 21 for whom these services are medically necessary, including juvenile justice-involved youth.

Even prior to the state’s recent acknowledgment that Katie A.’s scope should be wider, Young Minds Advocacy set out to evaluate what it would take to expand access to intensive home and community-based services.

The resulting report – Fulfilling Medi-Cal’s Promise: Extending Home and Community-Based Mental Health Services to Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth in California – finds that thousands of juvenile justice-involved youth in California should be eligible for these services, and that delivering them to this population could greatly improve the lives of young people.

Incarceration rather than treatment doesn’t make fiscal sense. Because the federal government reimburses about half of the cost of Medi-Cal, providing Katie A. services to juvenile justice-involved youth is less expensive than business as usual.


THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE FREDDY GRAY MISTRIAL

The first of the six trials in the case of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, resulted in a hung jury, thus a mistrial. But as the New-Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes, despite the tragic pattern of brutal, careless and uncaring actions that appear to have resulted in Gray’s death, the legal puzzle faced by the prosecution is…. complicated.

Here’s a clip from Wallace-Wells’ story:

Cases of police killing often hinge on the psychology of a particular officer—on his ability to manage his own fear, on his history of bias—but these issues have so far not been central to the Freddie Gray case. It’s hard to argue that Gray was killed by one bad cop. For the same reasons that Porter’s prosecution is tricky, Gray’s death is close to the issues at the heart of the Black Lives Matter protests. Gray, a young African-American repeat offender in a heavily policed neighborhood, was detained with no suspicion that he’d committed a meaningful crime, and treated roughly although he posed no threat. He died because he was handcuffed and shackled in a police van but not properly secured, leaving him vulnerable to crashing around. In Baltimore, there is a history of “rough rides” like this. Gray didn’t die because of one individual officer but because of institutional neglect. The pattern was the problem.

Posted in Probation | 4 Comments »

Embattled LA Probation Chief Jerry Powers Resigns – UPDATED

December 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: POWERS RESIGNS, SUPES UNANIMOUSLY ACCEPT RESIGNATION

Late Tuesday afternoon, all five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors accepted the resignation of LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers.

As WitnessLA reported earlier, Powers is scheduled to leave his post on January 4.

Powers reportedly has negotiated what is said to be a generous exit package, although details have not yet been made public. This is despite the report that he was asked to resign around the issue of his alleged romantic relationship with his aide, Kym Renner, which sources close to the board said could open LA County to risks of high ticket lawsuits for sexual harassment, or related allegations, should Renner or other employees decide to sue.

In addition, county officials are also looking into reports that Powers bypassed the usual background checks to hire Renner, according to the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf.


POWERS TO EXIT

LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers is expected to announce his resignation on Tuesday.

Rumors had been swirling about whether or not Powers would step down as, in recent weeks, the the embattled chief reportedly negotiated privately with county officials about the terms of his possible exit.

Yet, although no announcement has been made in Los Angeles, we have learned that, when he saw a group of colleagues at a meeting for the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC),where he serves on the executive committee, Powers chatted about the fact that he was leaving his post as the head of the nation’s largest probation department. Meanwhile, back in LA, his agency’s rank and file still didn’t know if their boss was staying or going.

The idea that Powers might be leaving his LA post sooner than planned began surfacing in late October of this year due to allegations of a personal relationship between the chief and his top administrative aide, Kym Renner.

The relationship was considered problematic, not merely because Renner, 42, is his subordinate, but because there was evidence that the 52-year-old Powers began the relationship prior to Renner joining the LA County Probation Department. In addition, Powers reportedly brought Renner on board at a salary that is now nearly twice what she was making in a prior position in Stanislaus County.

Powers, if you’ll remember, was the probation chief for Stanislaus County before taking the job in LA in the fall of 2011. Renner, who was married when Powers took the LA job, worked in Human Resources for the same county with a base salary of $87,812. In August of 2013, Renner—who was then still going by her married name of Vieira—-left Stanislaus to take a job as director of human resources in Redondo Beach, at a base salary of $32,505.

Four months later, on December 16, 2013, Vieira/Renner went to work at LA County Probation as Chief Powers’ closest aide. At present, Renner oversees the department’s $820 million budget, accounting and expenditures, for a base salary of $159,660, plus benefits—bringing the total package well past $200,000.


LEGAL EXPOSURE

Due to concern that Powers’ alleged relationship with Renner could potentially leave the county exposed to a large sexual harassment lawsuit, should Renner wish to take legal action, LA County officials hired an outside law firm to look into, among other things, whether any romantic relationship preceded her hiring.

One of the elements that caused the relationship rumors to hit critical mass in October was when each member of the board received an anonymous email that contained what were purported to be scans of receipts for three-different purchases and deliveries of flowers sent by Powers to Renner, each complete with a mushy message along the order of: I LOVE YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL.

(WitnessLA too received the mailing with the flower receipts.)

The first of the supposed flower deliveries took place on December 6, 2013, when Renner was still working at Redondo. The second floral arrangement was supposedly delivered to Renner at probation headquarters on January 8, 2014. The third delivery of two dozen long-stemmed roses was again supposedly sent to Renner at probation headquarters, this time on February 11, 2014, in advance of Valentine’s Day.

In addition to the flower orders, WitnessLA, along with at least some of the supervisors, received a copy of what appears to be a receipt for COSCO-purchased airline and accommodations reservations for a trip for two to Jamaica booked for May 8-15, 2015, in the names of Jerry Powers and Kym Renner, for a total package price of $4277.98, with Powers listed as the purchaser.

WitnessLA also has a copy of a receipt for a 2014 trip to Mexico, with both Powers and Renner listed on the reservations.

More tellingly, perhaps, in addition we have a receipt showing flowers and candy sent to Renner, along with a note signed: JP (YOUR HERO). The delivery date for the items is October 15, 2013, two months before Renner was hired at LA County Probation.

Word is that Powers may leave his post as chief as soon as January 4.

Posted in Probation | 22 Comments »

Custom Realignment Probation in San Luis Obispo, Digging Into the OC Snitch Scandal, Death Row Art, and Prop. 47 Success in San Diego

December 15th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HOW AB 109ERS IN SAN LUIS OBISPO STAY OUT OF JAIL BY FOLLOWING THE REQUIREMENTS OF THEIR RISK-BASED COMMUNITY SUPERVISION

A two-part San Luis Obispo Tribune series by Matt Fountain explores the county’s use of funds from California’s Public Safety Realignment (AB 109) for customized post-release supervision of low-level offenders.

(We pointed to part one in Monday morning’s California Justice Report news round-up, which you can access here, and sign up for here.)

Part two of the series takes a look at what the probationers must do to fulfill the requirements of the risk-assessment-based probation program, which is individually tailored to each person under supervision.

The probation program requires participants go to regular counseling sessions (often geared toward substance abuse treatment) and submit to unannounced probation checks. The program also provides custom services and resources, like sober living housing, help with job training, and other support systems to better equip the former offenders to successfully remain in their communities and out of trouble.

Here’s a clip:

When state lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 109 in 2011, the goal was to reduce severe overcrowding in California’s prisons by sentencing nonviolent low-level offenders to county jails and sending nonviolent prison parolees to county probation departments for post-release supervision.

To sweeten the deal, counties got state funding to handle the influx. In San Luis Obispo County, millions of dollars have been spent to create programs to help the offenders stay on track once they are released.

The individualized programs help offenders navigate the rough waters of finding housing, transportation, counseling for substance abuse or mental health issues, and steady work.

But post-release offenders are far from coddled. There are rules to follow, meetings to attend and goals to meet. Most will be regularly visited by their probation officers, who can show up at their homes, their jobs or anywhere else, dressed in full tactical gear.

For John Stafford, 51, the abundance of services was in stark contrast to his previous experiences on parole for a string of low-level crimes fueled by drugs and alcohol. This time, he said, “I noticed the difference right away. My P.O. was going to help me succeed.”

Once post-release offenders begin their supervision, most are required to attend regular group counseling sessions, many of which are related to substance abuse treatment.

Alcohol and drug abuse have been identified as high-risk factors in more than half of the people on post-release community supervision (PRCS) and 33 percent of those under mandatory supervision, according to the county Probation Department.

On a recent Friday evening, about 12 people on post-release supervision — some had gotten out of prison just a few weeks prior — met for a “Power of Addiction” meeting at the San Luis Obispo County Drug and Alcohol Services building in San Luis Obispo.

The group had become tight over the weeks and months they got to know each other. Stafford is one of the more outspoken members of the group.

“When I drink, I drink to get drunk. It’s made a mockery out of everything,” Stafford said. “I know if I drink again, it’s either death or life in prison.”

Many of the stories shared around the circle were similar.

“My addiction has killed and stolen everything I ever loved,” another client said. “It keeps you sick, keeps you dead.”

Group members credited county services available thanks to AB 109 funding for helping them get through those pivotal first days and weeks out of custody.

“I was so scared. I had no job, but the program paid for the first three months (at a sober living home). That way my only care is staying sober. It gave me a buffer,” one said.


A LOOK AT A QUESTIONABLY “SOLVED” OLD MURDER CASE IN LIGHT OF THE JAILHOUSE SNITCH SCANDAL PLAGUING ORANGE COUNTY

OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley digs deeper into the Orange County District Attorney snitch scandal in a not-to-be-missed story about one of the murder cases “solved” by OC DA Tony Rackauckas in the 80′s, through heavy (and questionable) use of eleven different jailhouse informants. (Backstory on the DA’s snitch scandal: here.) Here’s a clip (but be sure to read the whole wild story):

Two gunmen wearing wigs, sunglasses and grotesque facial makeup entered John Seigman’s unlocked Los Alamitos-area residence not long after sunset in August 1976. Startled family members had been watching television in the den when the intruders ordered them to lie on the floor, then tied their hands behind their backs with twine. Hoping for a $70,000 windfall, the bandits ordered Seigman, the manager of a Long Beach grocery store, to return to the business, empty the safe and, without contacting police, surrender the ransom. In exchange, they promised to release his family—wife Johann and three kids—who were placed in back of the family’s van and taken away.

Seigman drove to his store, retrieved about $8,000 in cash and waited for a call at a nearby, outside payphone. But he’d disobeyed orders by contacting cops, who sent an undercover narcotics crew to stake out the area. Perhaps keen to the hastily arranged trap, the thieves never called. A few hours later, authorities found the abandoned van with Seigman’s unharmed children. Two days later, their mother’s corpse was spotted in an oil field ditch adjacent to the Long Beach freeway near Dominguez Hills. She’d been shot five times in the head at a range of less than 10 inches.

Although suspects were arrested and sent to prison, they steadfastly maintained their innocence. Now, 39 years later, the issue of whether the Seigman murder case was actually solved remains an open question, one that has everything to do with a major, ongoing law-enforcement crisis in Southern California.

[BIG SNIP]

By early 1984, Rackauckas juggled several cases while working on the Seigman murder. The major contributor to his file remained Eddy. But detectives had accumulated other snitches. Their statements were contradictory, suspiciously vague and, as you might expect, given with expectations of benefits to make their own incarcerations shorter or more comfortable. Some claimed Gullett bragged about being the shooter. Others said he’d bragged about being an accomplice. All described him as remorseless, a line sure to inflame a future jury if deemed believable.

For example, a month after the murder, Orange County Jail inmate Richard Allen Robledo told investigators his story: “I says, ‘You shot her?’ and [Gullett] says, ‘Yeah, I shot her.’” That same month, other snitches joined the bandwagon. Inmate Carl Richards alleged that somebody in prison named Bill admitted killing Seigman; a police detective noted the rumor in an official report and added, “possibly Gullett.”

And William Earl Archibald, another inmate, reported he’d had “a long conversation” with Gullett in preceding days. “I can’t recall all of it,” Archibald stated, according to an interview transcript obtained by the Weekly. “Just, I think . . . [pause] . . . I’m convinced in my own mind that’s what he said, although he didn’t come out and say, ‘I killed the woman.’ He said enough to indicate that he did actually, you know, he was actually involved in it. Whether he was the one who pulled the trigger or not, I don’t know. Uh, that’s about it. That’s what he had to say.”

By the time he was done, Rackauckas had stockpiled a whopping 11 informants and, rightly or wrongly, accepted all their incriminating assertions as truthful. The most troubling snitch might have been James Dean Cochrum, who’d been placed in what we didn’t know then but know now was an informant tank run by deputies inside the Orange County Jail (OCJ). That area housed more than half a dozen accused killers awaiting trial—including Gullett and, oddly, Cochrum.

The identity thief, forger and drug addict, now deceased, would have had us believe he was incredibly lucky. In a span of a few years, Cochrum claimed he repeatedly entered and exited jail and accidentally overheard five separate murder confessions…


FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE…AND ART: VISIT A DEATH ROW ART EXHIBIT IN LA THROUGH THIS WEEKEND

Around 70 framed drawings and paintings by death row inmates as well as political cartoonists from across the nation currently line the walls of USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

The exhibit, called “Windows on Death Row,” is meant to spark conversation on the polarized issue of capital punishment in America, which “touches politics, race, morality, and the question of equality under the law.” The exhibit will be open to the public in Los Angeles until December 18, after which it will travel to North Carolina and Ohio.

KQED’s Avishay Artsy has more on the art. Here’s a clip:

Kevin Cooper has been on death row in San Quentin State Prison for 30 years. He’s on a short list of at least 17 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals and would be the first to be put to death if executions resume in California. He spends much of his day in his cell.

“I live in a cage that is 4½ feet wide by 11 feet long,” Cooper says. “And everything that I do within this cage I do mostly to stay sane. But I have a TV, a typewriter, my art supplies and my books.”

There’s a tray slot in the door where guards pass him his meals or a cellphone. In 1985, Cooper was convicted of murdering four people in the Chino Hills area of Southern California. His case is controversial. People have marched to have him executed, while others have protested to demand his release. He has always maintained his innocence.

In 2004, Cooper was scheduled to be executed. Less than four hours before he was set to receive a lethal injection, it was postponed to allow for more DNA testing, which still failed to exonerate him. Still, he’s become a figurehead in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

“I knew after I survived that stuff that my life wasn’t my own no more, that it belonged to this movement. And I’ve been involved in this movement for a very long time. And that is where I get my strength,” Cooper says.

Cooper is one of a couple dozen inmate artists represented in “Windows on Death Row,” an exhibition at the University of Southern California. His acrylic paintings draw connections between slavery and prison labor. One, called “It’s a Generation Thing in America,” shows three black men — a grandfather, father and son — all wearing prison uniforms. Another piece, “Free Me,” shows a man cupping his hand to his mouth and shouting.

“Sometimes when you’re in a place like this and you tell people certain things, it’s just like they don’t hear. You have to scream it,” Cooper says. “And sometimes when you scream, they still don’t hear you.”


IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS STORY IN OUR NEWSLETTER… IN SAN DIEGO, PROP. 47 HAS ELIMINATED THE NEED FOR EARLY RELEASE

Following the 2014 passage of Proposition 47, California counties, including San Diego saw considerable drops in jail populations. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore says that thanks to the law—which reduced six low-level felonies to misdemeanors—the county has been able to do away with early releases (caused by jail overcrowding).

The vacant jail beds have also allowed the county to book people for misdemeanor offenses, rather than handing out citations to people accused of misdemeanors. (Note: Los Angeles has had a much different reaction to Prop. 47. In LA, officers have stopped booking people on these reduced offenses, instead handing out citations. In a series of video op-eds, LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell says the low-level offenders are receiving the citations because Prop. 47 did away with consequences for those crimes.)

But as more offenders are serving their whole sentences, and more misdemeanor offenders are booked into the jails, there has also been an uptick in the number of inmates in need of mental health services.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dana Littlefield has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Prison overcrowding has long been a problem in California, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to approve a plan known as Public Safety Realignment, which became law in October 2011. By shifting responsibility for housing and monitoring certain nonviolent offenders from the state to the counties, the law helped California comply with a federal court order to trim the prison population by tens of thousands of inmates.

While no offenders were moved directly from state prison to county jail, realignment allowed certain offenders to be sentenced to years in local custody. It also allowed people who had completed their prison terms to be sent to jail if they violated parole.

A consequence of that law was that the number of inmates in the county jails throughout the state rose quickly. In September 2014, the total inmate population in San Diego’s jails reached a high of more than 5,800 inmates, well over the state-mandated cap of roughly 5,300.

“Historically, we did not book for misdemeanors in San Diego County because of our overcrowded situations in our jails,” said Gore, who noted exceptions for arrests in certain types of cases, including domestic violence and DUI.

In most cases, people accused of misdemeanor offenses were cited then released.

That’s no longer necessary, Gore explained, because there is room in the jails.

He said he decided shortly after Proposition 47 passed that all of the detention facilities would continue to accept bookings on those crimes — such as drug possession and thefts of property valued less than $950 — that had once been felonies but are now misdemeanors.

“We said we would continue the same standards in our facilities,” the sheriff said, adding that it took some time for all agencies to adapt. “If you arrest somebody for a theft of $800, which used to be a felony now it’s a misdemeanor, or drug possession, we’ll continue to book them.”

And no more early releases. Except for the credits inmates earned for good behavior, “you’re doing all your time,” Gore said.

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