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

February 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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


LASD LIFE-SKILLS PROGRAM FOR EX-OFFENDERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baca sought out Terry after the implementation of AB 109.

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


LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN FUND NUMBERS

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Tanaka shared the news on Twitter, as well:

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

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

Help for San Diego’s Jailed Vets, Prop 36 Outcomes, and SCOTUS Lets Alabama Continue Controversial “Judicial Override”

November 19th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

A SAN DIEGO JAIL’S ENCOURAGING NEW PROGRAM FOR VETERANS

San Diego County’s Vista Detention Facility has a separate wing (called the N-Module-3) for veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The N-Module-3 program “Veterans Moving Forward” offers the incarcerated vets—often wrestling with any combination of PTSD, substance abuse, and other issues—a chance to deal with the the struggles of life after active duty that helped put them behind bars, through daily classes, and by being in the company of other veterans.

The LA Times’ Tony Perry has the story. Here’s a clip:

Thirty-two veterans serving sentences or awaiting trial have volunteered to live in the module separate from the other prisoners and participate in classes meant to increase their chances of making a law-abiding return to civilian life.

“We’re all dedicated to making this work, nobody wants to go back,” said Jeremy Thomas, 22, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and lost his left hand when a roadside bomb exploded.

Each of the veterans has agreed to take classes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to assist with problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, substance abuse, parenting and other issues.

“We hope that by putting them together we can rekindle that esprit de corps they had when they were serving their country,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department runs the jails. “It’s a great population to work with.”

The program was spurred both by a sense of obligation toward the veterans and also an increased need to reduce recidivism to accommodate the state’s prison realignment program that threatens to overwhelm the capacity of local jails.

“We’ve got to do things differently,” Gore said.

Angela Simoneau, a social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego, said she and others participating in the program will be watching for numbers to support expanding the program to other local jails. “Data is on everyone’s mind,” she said.

And here’s a snip of what’s being done for incarcerated vets in LA County and the California prison system:

The California prison system does not house veterans separately from other prisoners but does encourage formation of veterans-only discussion groups at its 34 institutions, a spokesman said. VA “reentry specialists” regularly meet with prisoners on the verge of being released to tell them of benefits and therapy programs.

In Los Angeles County, where the Sheriff’s Department runs the largest jail system in the country, 291 prisoners are housed in veteran-only dorms where they participate in programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and classes in art, computers and relationship counseling.

The most recent national data is, unfortunately, almost ten years old (and doesn’t offer county jail statistics): a 2004 DOJ report revealed that one in ten federal and state prisoners had prior military service. Programming for these locked up veterans is a good step toward reducing recidivism in California’s overcrowded facilities and an important tool to help vets successfully return to civilian life.


FORMER 3RD-STRIKERS: A YEAR INTO PROP 36′S REFORMS

Since California’s three-strikes reform legislation passage about a year ago, over 1,000 people have been resentenced and subsequently freed.

KQED’s Michael Montgomery kept in touch with three men released under the measure. In this California Report story, Montgomery says Prop 36′s results are generally good so far, but many of the former third-strikers have served so much time, they are not put under county or state supervision, and often miss out on crucial reentry programs.

Here are some clips (but you should also listen to the podcast):

Convicted of stealing two car alarms from a Walgreens store, Richard Brown spent 18 years in prison under California’s notorious Three Strikes law. Then, quite suddenly, he was standing outside the gates of San Quentin earlier this year, a free man.

“They told me to get off the property,” he says. “I asked if there was a phone booth or something. They said no.”

For Robert Watts, who served 13 years for receiving stolen property, getting out of prison involved an emotional legal tangle with local prosecutors who insisted he was an unredeemed career criminal and should remain behind bars.

“It was unpleasant,” he says. “But at least it’s over.”

For both men, freedom came as the result of Proposition 36, the ballot initiative approved last year by voters in every county in California.

The measure changed the 1994 law that had allowed judges to impose life sentences for low-level felonies such as petty theft and drug possession. The new law focuses on serious and violent crimes. It’s also retroactive, allowing current inmates whose third strike was non-violent and non-serious to petition the courts for resentencing and possible release.

Opponents of the measure have argued that the original Three Strikes law worked well and contributed to a dramatic fall in violent crime over the past two decades. Granting some inmates early release, they said, would lead to a spike in crime…

But so far, Prop. 36 does not appear to be endangering public safety, according to a recent report by Stanford Law School and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Citing state data, the report concluded that of the more than 1,000 inmates released from prison under the measure, fewer than 2 percent have been charged with new crimes. By comparison, the average recidivism rate over a similar time period for non-Prop. 36 inmates is 16 percent.

[SNIP]

Several former three strikers say their challenge has been coping with life on the streets without the structure of prison and support normally provided to newly released felons.

Most three strikers who qualify for release have served so much extra time they’re not placed on parole or probation. Often that means that don’t have access to substance abuse, mental health and other re-entry programs as well as housing.

“They give you $200 and kick you out, and they don’t give you any type of papers to indicate that you can go down to this program or (that) program,” said Brown. He considers himself lucky to have a job, home and support network.

“For many people coming out, it’s a nightmare,” he said.


SCOTUS DISMISSES CASE CHALLENGING ALABAMA JUDGES’ ABILITY TO OVERTURN JURY DEATH PENALTY DECISIONS

On Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of an Alabama man who was sentenced to life in prison by a jury, only to have it overridden by the trial judge who then sentenced him to death. (Alabama is one of only three states that allows judges to reverse a jury’s decision in death penalty cases.)

Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen says the court should have heard the case (Woodward v. Alabama) and ceased the state’s use of “judicial override.” Here are some clips:

If (as Alabama has done) you give judges the power to override jury verdicts in capital cases, and if (as Alabama also has done) you then make those judges accountable to public opinion by having judicial campaigns and elections, you are going to end up (as they have in Alabama) with judges who disproportionately feel it is in their self-interest to sentence people to death even when a jury has recommended a sentence of life.

Citing the trenchant work done in this area by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, Justice Sotomayor wrote that such a scenario must be unconstitutional…

One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment. One of these ads boasted that he had “‘presided over more than 9,000 cases, includ­ing some of the most heinous murder trials in our history,’” and expressly named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death, in at least one case over a jury’s contrary judgment…

By permitting a single trial judge’s view to displace that of a jury representing a cross-section of the community, Alabama’s sentencing scheme has led to curious and potentially arbitrary outcomes. For example, Alabama judges frequently override jury life-without-parole verdicts even in cases where the jury was unanimous in that ver­dict.In many cases, judges have done so without offering a meaningful explanation for the decision to disregard the jury’s verdict. In sentencing a defendant with an IQ of 65, for example, one judge concluded that “‘[t]he sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.’”

Another judge, who was facing reelection at the time he sentenced a 19-year-old defend­ant, refused to consider certain mitigating circumstances found by the jury, which had voted to recommend a life­ without-parole sentence. He explained his sensitivity to public perception as follows: “‘If I had not imposed the death sentence I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.” (citations omitted by me).

(There’s more. Read on…)



Photo taken from the San Diego Sheriff’s website.

Posted in Death Penalty, PTSD, Reentry, Sentencing, Supreme Court, Veterans | 1 Comment »

Victims of Bullying More Likely to End Up In Criminal Justice System…Child Abuse in Army Families Up 40%…and “Orange is the New Black”

August 5th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

VICTIMS—NOT JUST THE BULLIES—HAVE A HIGHER RATE OF CRIMINAL INVOLVEMENT LATER

Victims of chronic childhood bullying (especially women) have significantly higher rates of substance abuse, arrest, incarceration, and more, according to a new report by University of North Carolina associate professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology Michael G. Turner.

Here’s a clip from the Crime Report’s story on the study:

For the analysis, researchers broke respondents into four groups: non-victims, those who were bullied before the age of 12, those who were bullied after the age of 12 and those who were bullied throughout their youth.

Of the 7,335 youths surveyed, almost 14 percent of those who reported being bullied throughout their childhood and teen years were incarcerated as adults. Just 6 percent of non-bullying victims, 9 percent of childhood-only victims and 7 percent of teen-only victims spent time in prison.

The analysis also notes that women bullied throughout their youth are more likely to be arrested and convicted than men who experienced regular bullying.

And here’s a clip from the report itself:

Despite sustained decreases in rates of violent offending, scientific attention remains focused on understanding the causes and consequences of violence, as well as evaluating efforts to prevent such behaviors. One violent-related behavior that continues to receive significant attention is bullying and bully victimization.

Identified as the persistent harassment (physical, verbal, emotional, or psychological) of one individual over another, accompanied by a power imbalance, bullying has been documented as affecting approximately 30 percent of youth in the US population. Empirical evidence related to the impact of bullying indicates those who bully and/or experience a bully victimization reportdisproportionately higher levels of adverse social, psychological, legal, and mental health outcomes.

[SNIP]

Compared to non-victims, subjects who were repeatedly victimized by a bully reported significantly higher rates of involvement in each of the legal outcomes(i.e., substance use, delinquency, arrest, conviction, incarceration).


ARMY CHILD ABUSE SKYROCKETED 40% IN 3 YEARS

Reported cases of child abuse in active duty Army families were 40% higher in 2012 than in 2009, according to a recent Army Times investigation. The Army Times suggests that the spike may be attributed, in part, to the return of thousands of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan (a number of whom suffer from PTSD), but that spouses of deployed Army soldiers left to take care of the household are often the culprit in child abuse cases.

The Huffington Post’s Eleanor Goldberg has more on the child abuse upsurge. Here’s a clip:

While the military has not drawn any concrete conclusions as to why such crimes are on the rise, some experts say that abusers may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which could lead to their taking their frustrations out on their children. Others cited in the report were quick to note that this type of maltreatment doesn’t always come at the hands of the spouse wearing a uniform.

A 2007 Pentagon study concluded that mothers were three times more likely to mistreat their children while their soldier husbands were away, than when they were home.

Whatever the cause, the disturbing spike raises questions about how the Army investigates such cases of child abuse and the effectiveness of its advocacy programs.

And here are a couple of clips from the Army Times investigation:

The causes are not fully explained or understood anywhere, but the spike in abuse and neglect cases dovetails with the grind of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a policy of allowing people with criminal backgrounds into the ranks.

The Army offers a number of programs providing support resources to Army parents under stress, but officials concede difficulties in preventing abuse cases.

“We have problems identifying them before it becomes a tragedy,” Robichaux said.

[SNIP]

The 2009-12 spike coincides with the end of combat in Iraq, a drawdown in Afghanistan and the return of tens of thousands of troops to their homes. Some soldiers who harmed children may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress.

But child abuse cases plagued the Army even as the wars were at their peaks and stateside posts were practically ghost towns. The stress on spouses left to deal alone with domestic issues often was at the root of child abuse cases.


“ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” A GLIMPSE INTO WOMEN’S PRISON

Recently released Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black” follows yuppie (and one-time drug money smuggler) Piper Chapman’s fifteen month incarceration in a low-security women’s prison. While still maintaining a healthy amount of humor, “Orange” effectively portrays real issues US prison inmates face and makes the locked-up women relatable through the eyes of Piper.

Aimee Lee Ball has an interesting comparison of “Orange” the show, with the realities of women’s prison experienced by the real Piper (Piper Kerman) whose memoir the show is based on. Here’s a clip:

Most treasured are photographs of the women with whom she served, women who, despite the counsel of her lawyer to remain aloof, became friends. As she reviewed them, she mentioned sad details: one who was bipolar, another who got pregnant shortly after being released. “The backgrounds of women in prison include physical abuse, addiction and mental health issues, to a much larger extent than male prisoners,” she said. “Larry was phenomenal, but there were plenty of women in Danbury whose husbands were locked up in other prisons. One of the heartbreaking things I saw was the envelopes in the mailbox with kiss marks on them, addressed to another federal penitentiary.”

Much of “Orange” presents what she calls the astonishingly low standard of living for prisoners: rats in the dorms, mold in the showers, inedible food. (She developed a recipe for prison cheesecake, using confiscated margarine, vanilla pudding and powdered coffee creamer.) But she’s well aware that many people do not care about the quality of life for prisoners.

“As one warden said, we’re throwing people in jail that we’re mad at instead of people we’re scared of,” said Ms. Kerman, who serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association, an advocacy group founded in 1845. “Most women are not there for violent offenses. Like almost all the women in that place, I endured things like groping from the guards, but no prisoner ever laid a hand on me, and I didn’t witness any physical violence.”

Posted in children and adolescents, prison, PTSD, social justice | No Comments »

Supremes & the Voting Rights Act…Kids Witnessing Violence…And More

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE SUPREME COURT COULD STRIKE DOWN PART OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT

The U.S. Supreme court will hear arguments Wednesday about a particular part of the voting rights act that conservatives see as intrusive to state’s rights and liberals see a crucial to prevent state laws aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.

Lawrence Hurley at Reuters explains the central issues that will be heard on Wednesday. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether to strike down a key provision of a federal law designed to protect minority voters.

During the one-hour oral argument, the nine justices will hear the claim made by officials from Shelby County, Alabama, that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.

The key issue is whether Congress has the authority under the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters.

Conservative activists and local officials in some jurisdictions covered by the provision have long complained about it, saying that it is an unacceptable infringement on state sovereignty.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation who formerly worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said that the “terrible history” that warranted Section 5′s intrusion on state authority was over.

Adam Liptak at the NY Times has a Q & A that lays out the basic facts of the Voting Rights Act, its history, its importance, and the heart of Wednesday’s question.


ALEX KOTLOWITZ TALKS ABOUT THE PRICE OF PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Author/journalist Alex Kotlowitz has written a must-read op ed for Sunday’s NY Times that I didn’t want you to miss.

Kotlowitz wrote the award-winning classic, There are No Children Here, and was one of the reporters on This American Life’s 2-part series on the affect of violence on the students of Harper High School in Chicago.

The Op Ed is about the effects that witnessing violence has on anybody, and in particular kids who live in high violence areas.

As he makes his point, Kotlowitz uses facts and figures from his home city of Chicago, where violent crime is way up right now. But the same principals he talks about certainly hold true in Los Angeles. Ditto Oakland, and so on.

Anyway, here’s a clip from Kotlowitz’s essay.

EVERY year, the Chicago Police Department issues a report with the macabre title “Chicago Murder Analysis.” It’s a short but eye-opening document. Do the calculations and you realize that in the past 15 years, 8,083 people have been killed, most of them in a concentrated part of the city. There’s one particularly startling revelation that gets little notice: in 2011, more than four-fifths of all murders happened in a public place, a park, an alleyway, on the street, in a restaurant or at a gas station.

When Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old public school student and band majorette who just a week earlier had performed at President Obama’s inauguration, was killed on Jan. 29, she was standing under an awning in a park with a dozen friends. They all saw or heard it when she was shot in the back. One of them, in fact, was wounded by the gunfire. Which brings me to what’s not in the “Chicago Murder Analysis”: Over the past 15 years, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, an estimated 36,000 people were shot and wounded. It’s a staggering number.

We report on the killers and the killed, but we ignore those who have been wounded or who have witnessed the shootings. What is the effect on individuals — especially kids — who have been privy to the violence in our cities’ streets?

I ask this somewhat rhetorically because in many ways we know the answer. We’ve seen what exposure to the brutality of war does to combat veterans. It can lead to outbursts of rage, an inability to sleep, flashbacks, a profound sense of being alone, a growing distrust of everyone around you, a heightened state of vigilance, a debilitating sense of guilt. In an interview I heard recently on the radio, the novelist and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien talked about how the atrocities and nastiness of battle get in your bones. The same can be said for kids growing up in Hadiya’s neighborhood.

The ugliness and inexplicability of the violence in our cities comes to define you and everyone around you. With just one act of violence, the ground shifts beneath you, your knees buckle and all you can do is try the best you can to maintain your balance. But it’s hard.

There’s lots more, and I recommend reading the whole thing. But here’s one more clip from the end of Kotlow essay:

In the wake of Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting, we’ve talked about stiffer gun control laws, about better policing, about providing mentoring and after-school programs, all of which are essential. But missing from this conversation is any acknowledgment that the violence eats away at one’s soul — whether you’re a direct victim, a witness or, like Anita Stewart, simply a friend of the deceased. Most suffer silently. By themselves. Somewhere along the way, we need to focus on those left behind in our cities whose very character and sense of future have been altered by what they’ve experienced on the streets.


MALIBU/LOST HILLS SHERIFF’S STATION TAKES PART IN “ACTIVE SCHOOL SHOOTER TRAINING

Early this past Saturday, around 30 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies and supervisors from Malibu/Lost Hills Station engaged in an “active school shooter” training on site at Topanga Elementary School in Topanga Canyon.

The LASD teams were joined by personnel from other agencies like the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, writes David Katz for the Malibu Times.

The training was part of the Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing efforts to prepare and train for events involving active shooter incidents at schools or other locations.

More than 30 officers and deputies cycled through several training scenarios involving armed shooting suspects with multiple adult and child victims.

Department sources say such exercises with “training scenarios’ are very valuable in fostering cooperation and communication between agencies likely to be called out, as well as giving officers practice in these high intensity emergencies and their specialized challenges.

(Full disclosure: Topanga Elementary where my son went to elementary school. I’m only sorry I wasn’t there on Saturday morning to observe.)


Photo of LBJ signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, by Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

Posted in campus violence, PTSD, race, race and class, racial justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Congressional Hearing on “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Correctional Guards and PTSD…and More

December 5th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SEN. DURBIN TAKES ZERO-TOLERANCE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE ISSUES TO THE NATIONAL STAGE

Senator Dick Durbin will be holding a hearing on ending the “school-to-prison pipeline” next Wednesday. We’re heartened that this issue is being taken seriously on a national level and hope it leads to effective policy change.

Here’s a clip from the announcement from Sen. Durbin’s office:

The first-ever Congressional hearing on the matter will investigate the troubling increase in the number of young people sent to the juvenile delinquency system as a result of relatively minor school discipline issues. Since the 1990s, many students nationwide have been pushed out of the classroom and into the courts for relatively minor, non-violent offenses. Once young people enter the criminal justice system, they are more likely to fail in school and commit new crimes, creating increased public safety risks.

This “school-to-prison pipeline” also wastes scarce government resources on ineffective policies and has led to striking racial disparities. Over 70 percent of students in school-related referrals to law enforcement are African-American or Latino. The hearing will explore the problems with the pipeline as well as successful reforms and new initiatives to help end it.


PTSD SURPRISINGLY RAMPANT AMONG CORRECTIONAL GUARDS

Thirty-one percent of guards in correctional facilities suffer from PTSD, a number higher than any other law enforcement personnel, according to a fascinating new report from Desert Waters Correctional Outreach.

Salon’s Natasha Lennard has the story. Here are some clips:

The most recent National Comorbidity Study asserted that the prevalence of PTSD in the general population in 3.5 percent — nearly 10 times less prevalent than in prison security guards. 14.3 percent of New York firefighters were found to suffer from PTSD — a prevalence rate nearly half that of correctional officers. A National Institutes of Health study from 2009 put the prevalence rate of PTSD in Iraq war veterans (20 percent) below that of prison security officers.

[SNIP]

“Corrections environments represent uniquely unsafe workplaces due to repeated exposure to trauma, compared to most occupations. While not widely recognized, corrections professionals are exposed to the same types of VID-related events as are emergency responders and war-time military personnel, and they are potentially exposed to even more life-threatening experiences than law enforcement personnel over time,” the study noted.


CA’S BAN ON GAY CONVERSION THERAPY FOR MINORS GETS TANGLED IN CONTRADICTORY FEDERAL RULINGS

A federal judge upheld California’s ban on gay conversion therapy for minors Tuesday, in a case brought by former patients and their parents against the new legislation. This ruling came just a day after a different federal judge declared the ban a violation of the therapists’ First Amendment rights. The conflicting rulings likely mean that the the new law will be tangled up in the courts over the coming months.

NY Times’ Erik Eckholm has the story. Here’s a clip:

Because Monday’s ruling by Judge William B. Shubb, of Federal District Court in Sacramento, was applicable only to three plaintiffs in the suit before him — two practicing therapists and a former patient — it appeared the state’s ban would take effect on Jan. 1 as planned.

But the contradictory rulings, and the prospect of appeals from both sides of the issue, suggested that the law, the first of its kind, could be embroiled in the courts in the months ahead.

The ban had been hailed by gay rights advocates and mainstream mental health groups that call therapies that try to alter the sexual orientation of youths potentially damaging.

Judge Shubb’s ruling sharply challenged the law, and left little doubt that in his court, as he put it, “the plaintiffs are likely to succeed” with their argument that the law violates free speech.

But on Tuesday, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, in another federal court in Sacramento, held that the plaintiffs in her case — two former patients and their parents, who also challenged the law — were unlikely to prevail and refused to prevent the law from taking effect. While the law’s supporters appeared to have the upper hand, advocates on both sides said they planned to keep fighting in court.

California’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, said, “My office will continue to protect California minors by vigorously defending this law.”


CA ATTNY. GEN. HARRIS SAYS LAW ENFORCEMENT DOESN’T HAVE TO KEEP IMMIGRANTS LOCKED UP FOR ICE

CA Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Tuesday that local law enforcement agencies are not required to comply with ICE’s requests for law enforcement to hold immigrants for deportation under Secure Communities.

LA Times’ Lee Romney and Cindy Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

It was Harris’ first public assessment of Secure Communities, under which all arrestees’ fingerprints are sent to federal immigration officials, who then may ask police departments to hold suspected illegal immigrants so deportation proceedings can begin.

While the intent may have been to improve public safety, Harris said that a review of data from March through June of this year showed that 28% of those targeted for deportation in California as a result were not criminals. Those numbers, she noted, changed little since Immigration and Customs Enforcement pledged a year earlier that the program would be reformed to better target the most serious criminals.

“Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be,” Harris said. The law enforcement bulletin she issued Tuesday stated that “immigration detainer requests are not mandatory, and each agency may make its own decision” about whether to honor them.

Some elected officials and local law enforcement agencies have complained that — in addition to pulling in those arrested for minor offenses — Secure Communities had made undocumented immigrants fearful of cooperating with police, even when they themselves were the victims.

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, law enforcement, LGBT, PTSD, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

The Push to Make PTSD a Qualifier for OR Medical Marijuana, the Dangers of Being a Confidential Informant in the War on Drugs…and More

August 28th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

VETERANS’ PTSD NOT YET A QUALIFIER FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA USE

Right now, Oregon veterans seeking to use medical marijuana to treat their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder must have a different qualifying condition to legally receive the drug. Veterans and advocates of medical marijuana are pushing to get PTSD on the list of approved conditions, but are being met with political opposition.

The Oregonian’s Noelle Crombie has the story. Here are some clips:

As with virtually all marijuana-related matters in the United States, the debate over expanding Oregon’s program to include PTSD is politically charged. The drug’s outlaw status under federal law makes it a lightning rod for controversy. Two previous attempts to add PTSD to Oregon’s program have failed, and Colorado and Arizona officials recently rejected efforts to add the condition to their medical marijuana programs.

Law enforcement in Oregon generally opposes the expansion of the program. Some drug treatment providers caution against treating PTSD sufferers with what they view as an addictive drug.

Oregon is home to an estimated 300,000 veterans, including more than 20,000 from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, according to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. A 2008 Rand Corporation study found nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets reported PTSD symptoms.

Jason Hansman, senior program manager for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said medical marijuana’s potential to help sick veterans deserves serious examination.

“We treat it like any other new treatment technique: We want to see it studied. We want to see increased research to see if it’s a viable solution,” said Hansman, whose group represents 145,000 veterans.

[SNIP]

States considering whether to add PTSD to their medical marijuana programs face a lack of research on the topic, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Dr. John H. Halpern, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and researcher at McLean Hospital outside Boston, one of the country’s leading psychiatric hospitals, said there’s an “overabundance of case reports” suggesting marijuana aids PTSD sufferers. In a recently published paper, Halpern presented a case study he helped conduct on a PTSD sufferer whose marijuana use dramatically eased his symptoms.

But the politics of marijuana bogs down any meaningful examination of its benefits, Halpern said.


CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS OFTEN REPLACE UNDERCOVER OFFICERS IN DANGEROUS DRUG OPERATIONS

Sarah Stillman has an excellent article for The New Yorker called “The Throwaways” on the unchecked use young confidential informants in the war on drugs and the life-threatening situations they are often put in. Even if you don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, find a way to get a hold of this article (found in the Sept. 3rd issue). Here is a clip from the abstract:

On the evening of May 7, 2008, a twenty-three-year-old recent Florida State graduate named Rachel Hoffman got into her Volvo sedan and headed north to a public park in Tallahassee, Florida. On the passenger seat beside her was a handbag that contained thirteen thousand dollars in marked bills.

She was not a trained narcotics operative. Perhaps what put her at ease was the knowledge that nineteen law-enforcement agents were tracking her every move, and that a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance plane was circling overhead.

Three weeks earlier, police officers had arrived at the door of her apartment after someone complained about the smell of marijuana. The cops seized slightly more than five ounces of pot and several Ecstasy and Valium pills. Hoffman could face serious prison time for felony charges.

The officer in charge, Ryan Pender, told her that she might be able to help herself if she provided “substantial assistance” to the city’s narcotics team. She believed that any charges against her could be reduced, or even dropped.

The operation did not go as planned. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. By the evening of her disappearance, Rachel Morningstar Hoffman had been working for the Tallahassee Police Department for almost three weeks. In bureaucratic terms, she was Confidential Informant No. 1129. In legal parlance, she was a “coöperator,” one of thousands of people who, each year, help the police build cases against others, often for the promise of leniency in the U.S. criminal-justice system.

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s are an inexpensive way of outsourcing the work of undercover officers.

Unlike wiretaps and other highly regulated investigative techniques, informants can be deployed without a warrant. Often, their efforts involve no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny. Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, sometimes as young as fourteen or fifteen. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used with striking disregard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.


CA DEATH SENTENCE OVERTURNED

The CA Supreme Court overturned Miguel Bacigalupo’s death sentence Monday due to unearthed evidence that the prosecution failed to present to the defense during the double murder trial. The court determined that there was a probability that the jury would have recommended life in prison without parole had the jurors heard the missing evidence.

The San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here are some clips:

In a unanimous ruling, the seven-member court, which seldom overturns California death sentences, ordered a new penalty phase trial for Miguel Bacigalupo, who was sent to death row for the 1983 slayings of two brothers in their San Jose jewelry store. The Supreme Court left Bacigalupo’s murder convictions intact, but concluded that prosecutorial misconduct could have altered the jury’s death sentence recommendation.

The Supreme Court largely followed the findings of a superior court judge assigned to explore allegations that the lead prosecutor, current Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joyce Allegro, and her lead investigator decades ago did not reveal crucial evidence to the defense that a Colombian drug cartel was involved in the crime.

“Substantial evidence supports the (lower court’s) determination and it is reasonably probable that petitioner’s penalty phase jury would have returned a verdict of life in prison without parole had it heard the evidence withheld by the prosecution,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote for the court.

[SNIP]

As with most of California’s more than 720 death row inmates, Bacigalupo’s appeal has languished in the state Supreme Court for more than 20 years, and his case has never even reached the federal courts, where cases typically take another decade to resolve.

Proposition 34 backers say this bogged-down system has become too costly for California to maintain. But death penalty supporters argue the punishment is still justified for the state’s most heinous murderers, and that the system would cost less if the courts processed appeals more swiftly.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Marijuana laws, PTSD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

Veteran PTSD Stigma, Homeboy & the Solar Industry, and Twitterature…

May 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


VETERANS COME HOME FROM BATTLE TO FACE PTSD STIGMA

In honor of Memorial Day–and because it’s an issue of great import–we thought veteran PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the attached stigma an appropriate topic. PTSD is not given the same validity as visible injury. Veterans who return home from service with invisible injuries such as PTSD are often perceived as weak, instead of deserving of honor and support. Maybe if we were to stop stigmatizing our veterans, we could move next to understanding our inner city kids with PTSD on par with that of service members.

Time’s Frank M. Ochberg addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

There are a few dozen of us who are considered the pioneers of the modern era of traumatic-stress studies, and most of us are worried  – deeply worried — on behalf of the current generation of veterans with invisible wounds.

We thought that by now there would be access to care whenever needed. We thought that by now there would be clear understanding that PTSD is a wound, not a weakness. We thought that a veteran who served honorably and received a compensable medical diagnosis for PTSD due to his or her service on the field of battle, would receive a medal for sacrifice.

But instead of honor, there is stigma. And this stigma must stop.


HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES MAKES FRONT COVER OF SOLAR ENERGY MAGAZINE

Chris Warren, editor of a photovoltaic magazine called Photon, chanced upon two seemingly out of place Homeboys at a solar panel convention in Huston, TX. Warren approached them and learned of Homeboy Industries and the Homeboys’ preparatory training for careers in the solar power industry.

Photon’s Chris Warren’s editorial introduction to the article, alone, is a very worthwhile read. Here’s a clip of the actual article (which made the cover story, but is not available online without a subscription):

In a weak economy, many struggle to get jobs. But the task is much more daunting for those who have been in prison or involved with gang activity. Since 2008, Los Angeles, California-based Homeboy Industries has provided in-depth training for former inmates and gang members to become PV installers. Despite successes, placing graduates in jobs remains difficult.


PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR JENNIFER EGAN POSTS NEW STORY ON…TWITTER?

The New Yorker is testing out Twitter literature with Jennifer Egan, author of 2010′s big prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad‘s new story Black Box. The New Yorker fiction feed (@NYerFiction) will tweet 10 daily installments (the first was May 24th), each beginning at 5:00p.m. PST and lasting an hour.

The L.A. Time’s book blog has more details. Here’s a clip:

Each evening’s Twitter postings constitute one installment, and that installment will appear on the New Yorker’s revamped book blog, Page-Turner, after the installment has finished. Read it there or complete, in the magazine, when it hits newsstands May 28 — look for the science fiction issue, dated June 4 and June 11.

That’s the logistics: In real time (or real-ish time) on Twitter over 10 nights, or serialized on a blog, or all at once in print. It’s an interesting experiment, one which seems designed to cover all the bases — if you don’t have the patience for the online serialization, just read the printed version.


ARMY PHOTO / SPC. RYAN HALLOCK

Posted in Books, Gangs, Homeboy Industries, medical care, PTSD, Uncategorized, War | 1 Comment »

Devils, Dust…and the US Army

April 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon



There’s a lot in the weekend’s papers and around the blogs that should not be missed.

*The LA Times has an important editorial about the necessity to define and standardize just what we mean when we say “drop out,” so that school districts (LAUSD a notable example) can no longer play Hide the Dropout. The Times rightly gives credit to US Education Secretary Margaret Spelling for calling for the standardization.

*On Saturday, Glenn Greenwald at Salon notes the frequency with which the media
mentions Barack Obama’s bowling score and the fact that the Clintons are rich, but how comparatively rarely our media managed to comment on the declassification of John Woo’s torture memo that makes clear that the Bush administration “…declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to ‘domestic military operations’ within the U.S.

*The LA Times also has a smart and thoughtful Op Ed
by novelist Rabih Alameddine about the dangerous and prejudicial way we use the words “God” and “Allah” in this country.

*But for me the weekend’s most upsetting and essential read
is the report in the New York Times that Army leaders are worried about the mental health of our troops when they are subjected to repeat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are some relevant clips:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Elections '08, National issues, National politics, PTSD, War | 17 Comments »

Suicide, PTSD and War – The New Cost of Doing Business

November 14th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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On Tuesday night, CBS News announced the devastating results
of a five-month investigation into the incidence of suicide among American war veterans. Until the CBS folks did their own count using existing state death records (that no one had bothered to gather together and analyze), little information existed about how many suicides among veterans there were nationwide.

The numbers CBS found are extremely disturbing.
In 2005, 6256 veterans killed themselves—an average of 120 suicides each week. Furthermore, the CBS researchers found that veterans age 20-24 had the highest suicide rate of any age group. These, of course, are the Iraq and Afghani war kids. Whereas other veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide than the non-veteran populace. The new, young vets were three or four times more likely.

The examples CBS used to illustrate the problem
, for me as a mother, were nearly unbearable to watch.

Twenty-three-year-old Marine Reservist Jeff Lucey hanged himself with a garden hose in the cellar of this parents’ home – where his father, Kevin, found him.

“There’s a crisis going on and people are just turning the other way,” Kevin Lucey said.

Kim and Mike Bowman’s son Tim was an Army reservist
who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road.

“His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” Kim Bowman said.

Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim shot himself. He was 23.

Diana Henderson’s son, Derek, served three tours of duty in Iraq. He died jumping off a bridge at 27.

Meanwhile, in related story reported in this morning’s LA Times, a new study was released on Wednesday showing that post-war emotional stress and depression caused by combat in Iraq often don’t appear until months after a soldier has returned home.

Overall, about 20 percent of active-duty soldiers and more than 40 percent of National Guardsmen and reservists were referred for care or had sought care on their own, a military team reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Psychologists hope that catching incipient problems early and getting soldiers into treatment will prevent the type of long-term mental health problems that afflicted many soldiers who fought in Vietnam, said Dr. Charles S. Milliken of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who led the study.


Yes, but are we really catching
things early—or at all?

The story excerpted below ran in the Texas Observer this summer. It’s a portrait of three different service people who have come back from Iraq, and it It suggests we aren’t doing quite so swimmingly at the Walter Reed guy would have us believe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in mental health, PTSD, Public Health, War | 9 Comments »

The Coming Storm

April 5th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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[NOTE:
Sorry about the disappearing post today. When I corrected something this morning, I must have hit some wrong key because this post automatically marked itself "private," and vanished. Thanks to commenters Woody and rlc who let me know, as I've been away from my laptop all day. In any case, I called Mr. Kid (that would be my 21-year-old son) and he restored it in my absence. Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.]

Over the last few days, I’ve talked to a number of people who are expert in veterans affairs, PTSD and homelessness, and they tell me they are growing increasingly worried
because the percentage of soldiers returning home from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is far higher than seen in past wars, and the nature of the PTSD appears to be more severe. To make matters worse, according to veterans support and advocacy groups, due to the government’s outmoded, unresponsive, and overloaded system for dealing with PTSD cases, only a fraction of the PTSD vets are getting the help they need.

After reading report after report of how we are already failing our veterans in the area of PTSD treatment, one wonders what’s going to happen when the real bulk of the soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan?

“At least 30 percent of Iraq or Afghanistan [veterans] are diagnosed with PTSD, up from 16 percent to 18 percent in 2004,” said Charlie Kennedy, PTSD program director and lead psychologist at the Stratton VA Medical Center. The most conservative estimates project that, when the rest of the troops come home, roughly 250,000 Iraq war veterans will come back to their communities dealing with major depression and/or debilitating anxiety brought on by the trauma and carnage of war.

“One of the things we’re noticing, says Tony Reinis, the executive director for New Directions, a West Los Angeles shelter and rehab program focused on veterans., ”is that the kind of PTSD they display is different from what we’ve seen in the past. In Vietnam, the personal threat was intermittent, not constant. But in Iraq, because of the IEDs, these kids are on constant alert, 24 hours a day. No matter what their jobs in the military, they are all combat soldiers because of the nature of this conflict. And that 24/7 sense of threat produces a different kind of trauma”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Liberties, PTSD | 2 Comments »