Jumpstarting Foster Care Reform, Kamala Harris’ New Initiative, the NYPD Protest, Indigent Defense, and HomeboyJanuary 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
NEW LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY RESUSCITATE DCFS REFORM PUSH
The two recently-elected LA County Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, help form a new majority focused on implementing foster care reforms recommended by a blue ribbon panel last April. Two critical reforms in particular have hit a wall after the approval of all 42 recommendations last year: the creation of a child welfare czar, and boosting the use of county “Medical Hub” clinics that provide medical and mental health screenings for foster kids as a means of detecting abuse and neglect.
Kuehl and Solis, joined by Supervisor Don Knabe, are also in favor of hiring more social workers to offset current DCFS workers’ unmanageable caseloads.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he hopes the arrival of the two new supervisors will rebuild the board’s lost momentum.
The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
The board majority said they want to look again at recommendations made by a blue-ribbon commission that includes proposals to expand the use of county clinics for medical assessments of abused and neglected children and to appoint a child-welfare “czar” to coordinate services across departmental lines.
They are even considering going beyond the commission’s recommendations to significantly increase the number of social workers and finally erase long-standing disparities in the quality of service provided in different regions of the county. Although the supervisors say they won’t commit to a specific hiring target, their deliberations will occur at the same time the social workers union is pushing to hire 450 more staffers in 2015 — a proposal that would cost $60 million.
Recently elected Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis are among those saying the additional hiring must be reconsidered. Their predecessors, reluctant to add new costs, had argued that the Department of Children and Family Services needed only to better use the roughly 7,500 employees and $1.5-billion budget it already has.
“I’ve said all along that the caseloads are so high that it is virtually impossible for social workers to say that they’ve investigated nearly every possibility in a child’s case,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl and Solis, who campaigned with financial support from the social workers union, have joined hold-over Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to call for a fresh review of dozens of recommendations introduced a year ago by a blue-ribbon commission appointed in the aftermath of the beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez…
In recent interviews, Supervisor Don Knabe joined Kuehl and Solis to say the county should consider adding more social workers. Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich declined to state their positions on new hiring, but aides to Antonovich said he would be willing to examine the proposal.
“Los Angeles County social workers have caseloads that are among the highest in the nation; they need our support,” Solis said. “We need to look at how they’re deployed, trained, supervised and equipped. Hiring more social workers is one of the options that needs to be in the mix for consideration.”
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING KIDS…
On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is expected to announce the creation of a new state Department of Justice bureau to combat crimes against kids. The new bureau will target the exploitation of foster kids, child sex trafficking, child labor, as well as truancy.
AP’s Don Thompson has more on Harris’ initiative. Here’s a clip:
She plans to announce during her swearing-in Monday that she is creating a bureau within the state Department of Justice that will focus on crimes against children.
Some of its work will expand on priorities during Harris’ first four years, including deterring school truancy and the trafficking of young women for sex, domestic labor or sweat shops.
The bureau also will tackle what Harris says are “tragically flawed” foster care and adoption systems and fight discrimination in schools, such as bullying.
“In the coming term, we’re going to double down. We’re going to use the power of this office to lift up the next generation of Californians,” Harris said in remarks prepared for her inauguration speech. She added later that, “We can’t keep letting down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and expect a different outcome next week.”
A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE NYPD PROTEST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
Protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alleged disloyalty to law enforcement, the New York Police Department slowed down work considerably, ticketing and arresting people “only when they have to.” Because of cops’ refusal to make arrests or hand out tickets for minor infractions, parking and traffic violations dropped 92% and 94% respectively, summonses went down 94% and overall arrests dropped a whopping 66%.
The Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has an interesting alternate take on the NYPD’s “work stoppage.” Taibbi says that while not the aim of the NYPD officers, the protest has put a spotlight on the police-citizen interactions—costly tickets, summonses, and arrests for quality-of-life offenses—that inflame communities and pad the city’s pockets. Here are some clips:
First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”
It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.
I’ve met more than a few police in the last few years who’ve complained vigorously about things like the “empty the pad” policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.
It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people “when they have to.”
Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.
FOUR CRITICAL THINGS THE INCOMING US ATTORNEY GENERAL MUST KNOW ABOUT THE STATE OF INDIGENT DEFENSE
Across the country, poor defendants guaranteed public legal counsel, receive a less than adequate defense—sometimes, no defense at all.
Current US Attorney General Eric Holder has made considerable efforts to reform the indigent defense system, increasing funding and grants for public counsel, holding a 50-state symposium, and creating the Access to Justice initiative.
The Marshall Project’s David Carroll applauds Holder’s efforts, but says that more must be done by the next Attorney General.
Carroll shares four specific things the next AG must know to accomplish lasting change. Here are the first two:
#1. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … judges do.
Though the speeches of Attorney General Holder and the other high-level DOJ officials define the problems perfectly in speech after speech, the DOJ most often talks about the crisis before the public defense community or at indigent defense summits hosted by groups like the American Bar Association. Those organizations and communities already know that the right to counsel is eroding in America. Judges do not.
The most prevalent manner for delivering indigent defense services in the United States is for a private attorney to handle an unlimited number of cases for a single flat fee, under contract to the judge presiding over the lawyer’s cases. (We estimate flat fee contracts are used in 64 percent of all counties). Generally, all trial expenses (experts, investigators, etc.) must be paid out of the same flat fee, meaning the lawyer’s take-home pay is depleted for seeking outside assistance. When judges are allowed to hand-select defense counsel in this manner, the judiciary is interfering with a lawyer’s ability to make independent decisions.
Judges need to hear that the independence of the defense function is not just a good idea – it is the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “independence of counsel” is “constitutionally protected,” and that “[g]overnment violates the right to effective assistance when it interferes in certain ways with the ability of counsel to make independent decisions about how to conduct the defense.” A lawyer operating under a flat fee contract to a judge necessarily takes into his consideration what must be done to please the court in order to get his next contract, instead of operating solely in the interests of his client. Judges must stop flat-fee contracting and hand-selecting attorneys, and the next Attorney General needs to be the one leading the call.
#2. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … prosecutors do.
Most people may be shocked to know that tens of thousands of poor people are convicted, and serve jail time, every year without ever having spoken to a criminal defense attorney. Every single one of those defendants had a right to a public lawyer, but in many of those courts, there may not even have been a defense lawyer in the courtroom. The Sixth Amendment Center calls them “no counsel courts”…
Read the rest.
THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ VISITS HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES
In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez introduces us to Rudy Martinez, a security guard for Homeboy Industries, who, after spending the majority of his adult years in lock-up, found his way to Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Ind., and a new perspective on life.
Lopez also tells of how it came about that Father Greg agreed to meet Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, in hope of engaging the Pope in mutual projects to change the world.
Here’s a clip from Rudy’s story:
“When I first went to county jail, it was like an accomplishment. Yeah, a badge of honor. And then I made it to the Big House,” said Martinez, who figures he’s spent more than half his adult life behind bars. And at a certain point, he began to wise up a little.
“It was 2012, I was sitting in my cell in Susanville, looking out the window, thinking about my future,” Martinez said.
And what did you see, I asked him.
“Emptiness. I had this moment of clarity, and I said, ‘Rudy, is this what you want to do with your life?’”
His answer was no. But he wasn’t out long before he got nabbed for driving without a license. There he was again, caged up and down on himself. And he decided the first thing he was going to do when he got out was go see this Father Greg guy he’d heard about. He’ll hook you up with a job, Martinez was told. That was the word.
“I came here not knowing what it was about,” said Martinez, who soon found that jobs are not handed out like candy canes. They’d give you an opportunity, yes. But you had to decide you were ready to make big changes and stay committed for 18 months.
Martinez is 14 months into it, determined to make it the rest of the way, stay out of trouble after that and go to work somewhere, preferably at Homeboy.
“I started going to classes,” he said. “Anger management, substance abuse, parenting, therapy. At first I was going to them because I had to go to them. But as time when on, I started going because I wanted to go and because it was making me feel better inside.
“There was a moment when I realized this was life. It’s spending time with family, being a productive member of society, paying taxes, pushing your kid on a swing.”