Tuesday, March 31, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Public Defender


Prop 47 Report, Laptops in Lock-up, Prison Rape, and Training Teachers to Identify Abuse

February 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

EARLY ASSESSMENT OF PROP 47 IN LA, AND WHERE COUNTY AGENCIES THINK THE $$ SHOULD GO

At a county public safety meeting on Wednesday, LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented a draft report assessing the county’s implementation of Proposition 47. (Prop 47 reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.)

At the behest of the Board of Supervisors, the CEO’s office worked with other county agencies—District Attorney, Sheriff’s Dept., Courts, Public Defender, and Alternate Public Defender—to pinpoint the programs and efforts that could qualify for and benefit from Prop 47 funding, and to gauge the effects of the legislation, thus far.

Of the state money saved by Prop 47, 65% is to go to mental health and drug programs for criminal justice system-involved people, 25% will be spent on reducing truancy and helping at-risk students, and 10% will go to trauma recovery centers for crime victims. But it is still not clear how that money will get portioned out to counties, or if there will be restrictions on what the counties want to do with their money.

Some of the efforts county agencies flagged as deserving of grant dollars included victim services and restitution, community-based mental health programs for Prop-47ers, urgent care centers, the New Direction diversion pilot program to keep kids in school, and a reentry program for kids in probation camps.

The report says that it is still too early to tell what long-term effects Prop 47 will have in Los Angeles. However, county agencies shared some short-term effects, including courts clogged with people seeking downgrade their felonies, and a fewer number of offenders signing up for mental health and drug rehab programs.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Cindy Chang have more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By the end of January, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the decrease in narcotics arrests was even greater, 48% from a year ago.

Local criminal courts will process between 4,000 and 14,000 applications from pre-trial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now petition to have their charges changed to misdemeanors, the report said. Another 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.

Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felony on their criminal records to a misdemeanor. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.

The report quantifies an expected impact on court-ordered drug and mental health treatment programs: a decrease in enrollment because defendants are no longer threatened with jail time. Sign-ups for the programs decreased from 110 defendants a year ago to 53 in the first three months after Proposition 47 passed.


TECH IN JUVENILE LOCK-UP PART 2: SAN DIEGO INVESTS IN COMPUTERS, TECH EDUCATION FOR KIDS BEHIND BARS

On Tuesday, we shared the first of Adriene Hill’s two stories for NPR’s Marketplace about correctional facilities that have taken meaningful steps toward bringing education up to par for kids behind bars by incorporating educational technology into the curriculum.

Hill’s second story takes place in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, where every kid has a laptop to use in class.

In San Diego County, the Office of Education has spent $900,000 on computers and accessories for kids in juvenile corrections facilities. Teachers are being trained on how to use the computers to help teach lessons, and tech instruction is now on the docket. And with the added technology, lessons can be tailored to kids’ individual needs.

Here are some clips from Hill’s second story:

Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities. Soon every one of the 200 kids here will have access to a Chromebook in class. All the teachers are being trained to run a digital classroom and add tech to the curriculum.

But getting to this point took more than a big investment. It took a significant culture shift.

“At first, we were a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” says Mindy McCartney, supervising probation officer, who is charged with keeping the youth here under control.

“Everybody thinks they are going to use [the laptop] as a Frisbee, or attack somebody, or they are going to tag it and break it,” she says. “And it simply hasn’t happened.”

There was also anxiety about turning on the internet, even though there were firewalls and monitoring systems in place.

“We hear ‘internet’ and ‘access’ and we automatically get very paranoid and think the worst-case scenarios,” McCartney says.

But, so far, McCartney says there have not been significant problems. Kids aren’t using laptops as weapons. They’re not sneaking messages to gang members on the outside. In fact, teachers say the technology has made their students here more engaged in what they’re learning. That’s exactly the type of progress experts say the juvenile justice system desperately needs to make.

[SNIP]

In many ways, educational technology is perfectly suited to kids in custody. Students who have committed crimes are constantly being yanked in and out of class. They have court hearings and meetings with probation officers.

“We do have a population that moves around a lot,” says teacher Yolanda Collier. She says when students have their own computers and some lessons are online, they don’t have to fall behind.

Say there are some supplementary stories, an interview…videos…and such, if I want.


TEENAGERS HOUSED WITH ADULTS, PRISON RAPE, AND WHAT MUST HAPPEN BEFORE INMATES ARE SAFE

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has an excellent longread chronicling the failures of the justice system to protect inmates from rape, and the gaps in the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Chammah focuses, in particular, on the sexual violence inflicted on vulnerable teenage boys who are placed in adult detention facilities.

Chammah tells the harrowing story of “John Doe 1,” a 17-year-old repeatedly brutalized by adult men in multiple prisons. John’s experiences are all-too-common, especially in states where 16 and 17-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. Here are some clips:

The second time David raped him, John says David held a homemade weapon to his throat. It was a toothbrush, wired up with four or five shaving razors.

The third and fourth times, David just left the weapon on his desk, in clear view, and relied on John’s fear to keep him passive.

Then, one morning around 6 a.m., while out on the yard for recreation, John says he saw David receive a mesh laundry bag from a prisoner he didn’t know. He could see that it contained meat sticks and bags of chips. These kinds of exchanges were common; he figured the other prisoner might be trading the food for the use of his cell as a quiet place for tattooing or some other illicit activity. (Official policy forbade prisoners from visiting other cells, but officers frequently looked the other way.)

That afternoon, John returned to his “house,” as prisoners call their cells, and saw his cellmate’s key—in this prison, every inmate had a key to his own cell—sitting on the desk. His cellmate was in bed. Feeling greasy after his kitchen shift, John started to undress so he could take a shower. As he took off his pants, he saw the mesh bag of food. He looked over and realized the man in the bed was not David. It was the prisoner who had handed over the bag of food. The man rose from the bed, grabbed David’s toothbrush weapon, held it to John’s cheek, and forced him down. This prisoner had a jar of Vaseline, but it did not do much; after he left, John found blood on his clothes.

John says he was raped several more times by both his cellmate and strangers. He was forced to perform oral sex, and he still remembers brushing his teeth twice to get the taste out of his mouth. He never told medical staff about his anal bleeding because he felt embarrassed, though because of a foot injury he was able to get painkillers.

John would later be asked why he did not tell correctional staff, since in theory they could have taken steps to protect him. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. He assumed the staff knew what was happening. From their station at the end of the hall, the officers would see men going in and out of his cell and they would not intervene. The rapists would put a towel over the cell door’s window, which was not allowed but must have been noticed by officers making their rounds. John says some of the officers would even make jokes, calling him a “fag,” a “girl,” and a “bust-down.”

Two months after his arrival, John finally reached a breaking point. Around 2 p.m. one day, David tried to touch the middle of his back. John pushed his hands away. David forced him up against a locker and wrapped his hands around John’s neck. John wrestled his way out, and emerged from the cell barefoot. Hanging a left, he ran to the guard station, and begged them to assign him to a different cell. He didn’t mention the rapes, only his cellmate’s attempt to choke him. The officers allowed John to grab his few possessions and move down the hall, closer to their station.

His new cellmate was not a predator, but by then John had been tagged as easy prey. Two days after he was moved, another prisoner cornered him in his cell and raped him. It seemed like other prisoners had figured out his schedule—when he would be alone in his cell, or in the shower. He was called a “fuckboy,” a term for the men who are “gay for pay,” trading sex for food or other favors, even though John said he never did.

[SNIP]

It is impossible to know how many of the teenagers sent to adult prisons in recent years have been sexually assaulted, in part because so many of them have been afraid to report. (Rape outside of prison is known to be under-reported, and the same is true within prison walls, especially because prisoners face the possibility of retaliation by both correctional staff and other prisoners.)

Some corrections officials have pointed out that sexual assaults regularly occur in juvenile facilities as well as in adult ones. But many non-violent crimes lead to probation, rather than incarceration, when they’re handled by the juvenile system, and a 1989 study found that prisoners under 18 in adult prisons reported being “sexually attacked” five times more often than their peers in juvenile institutions.


CALIFORNIA TEACHERS WILL NOW BE TRAINED TO IDENTIFY CHILD ABUSE

Thanks to a new state law, California teachers and other school employees are now required to take an online training course on how to identify child abuse and neglect, and how to report it.

KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Torlakson said in a written statement. “The new online training lessons will help school employees carry out their responsibilities to protect children and take action if they suspect abuse or neglect.”

[SNIP]

[Stephanie] Papas, who helped create the new two-hour online training, said the course will help employees tell if a child has been hurt from abuse or from an accident, for example.

“We have photos that are examples of, say, a welt that is in the shape of a belt buckle or a slap on a child’s cheek that’s left a hand imprint,” she said.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, prison, Public Defender, Rape | No Comments »

Santa Clara’s Unique Efforts to Keep Kids Out of Adult Court…LASD Civilian Oversight Subpoena Power….School Discipline….and NY’s New Anti-Prison Rape Videos

February 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SANTA CLARA PROSECUTORS LOOK TO ADVOCATES TO ANALYZE HOW KIDS ARE TRIED

In 2013, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office invited a team of advocates and public defenders to evaluate how and why county prosecutors charged teenagers as adults.

Prosecutors sat down with the team and discussed each case in which a kid was sent to adult court. The advocates, all against charging kids as adults for any reason, showed prosecutors where they felt different outcomes could have been achieved.

The goal of the DA’s office is to simultaneously keep kids out of the adult system while still maintaining public safety. This particular effort to increase oversight of how teens are prosecuted is unlike anything else we have seen in the state (and is certainly worth emulating).

The San Jose Mercury’s Mark Gomez has more on Santa Clara’s important program and its significance. Here are some clips:

“It’s very easy to close the books and not account for what you did and why,” said Frankie Guzman, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law who was one of the advocates invited to review the cases. “I respect the fact this interaction and conversation happened, because it’s not happening anywhere else.”

In the majority of cases in Santa Clara County, prosecutors choose to keep the youth in the juvenile system, where the focus is on rehabilitation.

But in about 18 percent of such cases in Santa Clara County since 2010, prosecutors charged juveniles as adults, often resulting in prison sentences. The decision to bring in youth advocates was made following an internal review in 2013, which revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. So the District Attorney’s Office pulled together a team of people from the county public defender’s office and Bay Area youth advocacy groups to scour every single case filed that year. Prosecutors explained each decision, and the team discussed what they might have done differently.

“If we can keep a kid in the juvenile system and still protect public safety, we’re going to make that decision,” said Chris Arriola, supervising deputy district attorney of the juvenile unit. “But sometimes we have to make that decision to take them out. We do not take it lightly.

[SNIP]

In many California counties, the decision to charge a youth as an adult is made by one prosecutor, according to Bay Area youth advocates. District attorneys are not obligated to detail their reasoning for charging a juvenile as an adult — known as “direct file” cases.

In Santa Clara County, a team of four senior prosecutors considers several factors, including the youth’s criminal history, the sophistication and gravity of the offense, the outcome in previous attempts to rehabilitate the youth, and the ability now to rehabilitate the minor in the juvenile justice system. All four prosecutors must agree the youth should be criminally prosecuted as an adult.

Read the rest.


SHOULD THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL HAVE AUTHORITY TO SUBPOENA DEPARTMENT DOCS?

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze takes a look at the hotly-debated issue of whether to equip civilian oversight commission with the power to subpoena documents as part of its oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Members of the group planning the new civilian panel have differing opinions, and Sheriff Jim McDonnell is still not too keen on the idea, according to Undersheriff Neal Tyler.

The planning group is slated to present their recommendations to the LA County Board of Supervisors in May.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

“Its certainly a club should you ever need it,” said Dean Hansell, who chairs the working group which is designing the new oversight panel.

Subpoena power would give the panel the ability to force reluctant Sheriff’s officials to testify before it and to obtain certain documents. It would not give the panel access to personnel records – that would require a change in state law.

[SNIP]

Sheriff Jim McDonnell remains reluctant to support subpoena power, according to interim Undersheriff Neal Tyler. He said change already is underway at the department, which is under federal investigation for civil rights abuses and corruption. There’s no need for “the hammer” of subpoena power after the election of McDonnell, said Tyler, who also sits on the working group.

“We have a hammer right now and its Sheriff Jim McDonnell,” the undersheriff said. He also noted McDonnell is providing Inspector General Max Huntsman broad access to the department.

“We are working so cooperatively with him now that it’s not necessary to codify it,” Tyler said. Huntsman has said he needs still more access to adequately oversee the department, and that subpoena power would help.


WHERE WE ARE WITH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN CA

News 10′s Michael Bott and Ty Chandler have good overview of the state of school discipline in California, both the racially disparate use of “willful defiance” suspensions, and the restorative justice alternatives that are starting to reverse some of the damages done to kids of color across the state.

Bott and Chandler’s story includes some interesting videos and an interactive map of willful defiance suspensions at schools in the Bay Area (only one SoCal school is featured). Here’s how it opens:

Teenager Dwayne Powe Jr. got a suspension in eighth grade. He didn’t get into a fight. He wasn’t caught with drugs. He committed no crime.

“I actually was asking for a pencil,” Powe said.

Powe said his class began an exercise and he asked to borrow a pencil from another student. That’s when his teacher told Powe he was being disruptive and made him leave class. Powe tried explaining he had only asked for a pencil, but that only dug his hole deeper, he said.

He was technically suspended for “willful defiance”.

Nearly 200,000 California students who were suspended for willful defiance last year can relate to Powe’s story.

What constitutes willful defiance is somewhat vague, but it generally allows teachers to remove students from the classroom if their behavior is thought to be disruptive or defiant. It’s the most common reason California students were suspended—and students of color are overwhelmingly targeted.

But there is a growing consensus that keeping kids out of the classroom for non-violent behavioral issues has done more harm than good, and students of color are paying the heaviest cost for this policy.


EDSOURCE LAUNCHES NETWORK TO CONTINUE COMBATTING EFFECTS OF HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

In the 2013-2014 school year in California, expulsions plunged 20%, and suspensions fell 15%.

In an effort to keep those numbers dropping, and to divert kids from the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” Ed Source has assembled the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, backed by the California Endowment.

The group intends to connect school officials, educators, and others to share and discuss programs and practices (like restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) that are successfully keeping kids in class, creating better relationships between kids and teachers, and promoting school safety.

Current chairman of the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, Carl Cohn (who is also a former school superintendent and former State Board of Education member), has more on the new network and why this issue is so important. Here’s a clip:

Leaders of California public schools are seriously re-examining discipline practices and questioning the value of practices that are ineffective and counterproductive – measures that may put youngsters at greater risk for dropping out and for involvement with the juvenile justice system.

These leaders are listening carefully and responding appropriately to the long-standing accusation in the civil rights and advocacy community that some of our schools are, in fact, “pipelines to prison.” Nothing better represents this point of view than the thousands of students suspended each year for willful defiance, which could include behaviors such as eye rolling, talking loudly or standing in a menacing way….

As a first step toward ending this practice, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 420, which bans suspending students in the K-3 grades for willful defiance.

In order to sustain this momentum, EdSource has convened the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, with support from The California Endowment. The idea is to bring together principals, teachers, superintendents and others to look at ways to keep youngsters in school and to share best practices and model programs that are especially effective at accomplishing that goal while also making sure that schools are safer as a result of the effort. It’s not just about bringing the numbers of suspensions and expulsions down; it’s also about creating a school climate that contributes to positive relationships among students and staff.

In our discussions with educators, both Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (evidence-based interventions that work) and “restorative justice” (where students are called on to repair the harm caused by bad behavior) have emerged as just two effective routes toward creating a school climate that helps keep kids in school and maintaining a safer school environment overall. Like most ambitious school reforms, issuing directives from district headquarters will probably not yield the best results. These are changes that must be owned by principals, teachers, assistant principals and school counselors – those closest to meting out school discipline.


NEW YORK’S SURPRISING NEW EFFORT TO COMBAT PRISON RAPE

Funded through the Prison Rape Elimination Act, New York state prisons will start showing two new inmate orientation safety videos to educate men and women about how to avoid rape behind bars. The twenty-minute-long videos are directed by T.J. Parsell, who was raped on his first day in prison.

The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager has more on the safety videos. Here’s a clip:

Prisons will show inmates — both male and female — an orientation video offering advice on how to identify, and avoid, sexual predators behind bars….

They will be premiered for the inmates who participated in the filming — at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, Fishkill Correctional Facility, and Downstate Correctional Facility — then rolled out in prisons across the state.

New York has had an uneven record on prison rape. In 2010, according to PREA surveys, three of the eleven prisons in the U.S. with the most staff-on-inmate sexual violence were in New York…

The orientation videos are an attempt to confront that legacy and to change a prison culture in which sexual assault, and the code of silence surrounding it, remain all too common.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, racial justice, Rape, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Prison Tech, Prez Nominates Deputy Mayor for US Attorney, Disabled in Isolation, Public Defenders’ Unconscious Bias

February 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SMUGGLED CELL PHONES CONNECT PRISONERS WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD…PLUS SAN QUENTIN’S CODING CLASS

A three part series for Fusion by Kevin Roose and Pendarvis Harshaw explores digital tech issues in the criminal justice system.

Part one takes a look at the seemingly limitless flow of contraband cell phones, which inmates use for everything from to coordinating hunger strikes between prisons, to checking in with loved ones, to recording comedic vine videos. Here are some clips:

A month-long Fusion investigation turned up dozens of social media profiles of inmates currently serving time in several states, many of whom were frequent users of the services in question. Some inmates appeared to be accessing the Internet through proxies – a family member who had the inmate’s Facebook password, for example, and was using the account to relay messages – while other inmates appeared to be accessing the sites directly from their cells.

“Been on lock down for two weeks…going into the third week. Letters would be great. Money would be a blessing. If I have to choke down one more bologna sandwich I think I might snap….,” wrote one Facebook user last October. The user, whose name matches that of a current federal prisoner in West Virginia, appears to have posted to his Facebook profile from two other prisons where he was previously housed.

“Hello everyone, wanted to say hi and let u know I’m currently on an extended lock-down,” wrote another federal inmate, who is serving time for armed robbery at a high-security facility in Texas. “Dont worry I’m nit [sic] in trouble the lock-down is due to a big incident that happened between two gangs at my location,” the inmate wrote….

Other social networks, too, are filled with evidence of contraband activity. One Vine user, who goes by “Acie Bandage,” has posted dozens of six-second videos of himself and his fellow inmates dancing, goofing off, and doing impersonations from their prison cells. (The user wraps a bandage around his face during the videos to disguise his identity — click here to see more of his videos, which are really quite something.)

[SNIP]

Beyond the pragmatic safety issues, there are philosophical questions about the role digital culture should play in the criminal justice system. In 2015, as technology forms the base layer of culture, communication, and education, is it cruel and unusual to cut prisoners off from the entire online universe? What’s the role of technology in rehabilitation? If the purpose of a prison is to restrict an offender’s movement and keep him from causing further harm to the general population, should those restrictions apply just to the physical body? Or should his virtual self be imprisoned, too?

The second story explores the issue of teaching inmates technology in prison, for job seeking purposes, and also so that they can more easily reenter their digitally-connected communities.

Roose and Harshaw focus on Code 7370, a coding program put on by the Last Mile, in partnership with Hack Reactor and the California Prison Industry Authority. While the vocational program at San Quentin State Prison does not directly connect participants to the internet, their completed coursework is tested on an administrator’s computer and projected onto a screen. And although there do not seem to be many pre-release programs to teach inmates the basic tech skills they will need to thrive on the outside, yet, the calls for such training are growing louder. Here’s a clip:

For former inmates, the transition out of prison and into the 21st century can be jarring. Many newly paroled inmates, especially those who served long sentences, have never sent an e-mail, used a smartphone, or filled out an online form. The unfamiliarity of these systems can create hurdles when it comes to mundane tasks, such as buying groceries from the self-checkout aisle at the store or using an electronic subway pass. And when it comes to applying for jobs, small hurdles can turn into huge obstacles.

The post-prison lives of inmates are rarely easy, technology problems or no. 77 percent of ex-convicts are arrested again within a 5 year period of being released, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice. But numerous studies have shown that vocational training and educational opportunities, like those offered by The Last Mile, can help keep ex-inmates from returning to prison. A 2010 study by The Rand Corporation showed that fewer than half of incarcerated people receive academic instruction while behind bars. Those who do receive educational or vocational training, though, are 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders, and 28 percent more likely to land a job.

One graduate of The Last Mile, Kenyatta Leal, got his first smartphone shortly after being released from San Quentin, where he served the last part of a 19-year sentence for firearms possession. Leal, 46, was no stranger to technology – years before, he’d been given 40 days of isolation in “the hole” as punishment for having a cell phone in prison – but he’d never had a phone capable of downloading apps, streaming music, and sending e-mail. In his new job at RocketSpace, a San Francisco tech co-working space whose founder hired Leal after meeting him in Code 7370, he realized he would need to catch up.

“I didn’t have any tech skills, but I had bust-my-ass skills,” says Leal. “My boss gave me a Galaxy III on my first day, and I took it home, figured out YouTube, and watched, like, four different videos on how to send an e-mail.”


LA DEPUTY MAYOR, EILEEN MAURA DECKER, TAPPED TO BE NEXT US ATTORNEY FOR CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CA

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama nominated Eileen Maura Decker to be US Attorney of California’s Central District. Decker is a former federal prosecutor and currently serves as Los Angeles’ deputy mayor on law enforcement and public safety.

Decker would take the place former US Attorney André Birotte Jr., who was sworn in as the newest judge of the federal District Court in Los Angeles in October.

The Associated Press’ Brian Melley has more on Decker’s nomination and background. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Eric Garcetti credited Decker’s leadership with bringing crime to a historic low in the city, overhauling the fire department and making the city a model for disaster preparedness.

“Our office will miss her work and I will personally miss her, but I am glad that her new position keeps her in the business of keeping L.A. safe,” Garcetti said.

Decker was recommended for the post by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she was highly qualified to work with federal, state and local law enforcement in a region of 19 million people that spans from Orange County to San Luis Obispo and the Inland Empire.

Decker, 54, who earned her undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, started her legal career in private practice in 1990.

She worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor for two years, returned to private practice and then became an assistant U.S. attorney in 1995, where she prosecuted cases involving national security, fraud and organized crime. She also has a master’s degree from the Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey.


FED. JUDGE SEZ STOP WAREHOUSING DISABLED CALIFORNIA PRISONERS IN ISOLATION

An Oakland federal judge has ordered California prisons to discontinue sticking disabled inmates in solitary confinement due to lack of space elsewhere in the facility. Judge Claudia Wilken says a number of state prisons are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that San Diego’s R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the most egregious violator. Wilken is currently hearing a class-action lawsuit against California’s solitary confinement practices.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lawyers for prisoners and the state in 2012 had agreed on a plan to find more suitable housing within the state’s crowded prison system. Even so, Wilken found, prison logs showed 211 disabled inmates had been put in the isolation cells in the past year, spending from one day to one month in the units. Most of those cases were at one prison — R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the corrections department, said the agency was reviewing the court’s order but otherwise did not comment.

Lawyers for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, representing the corrections department, argued in court that the problems at the San Diego prison would best be resolved internally by state policy changes.

A corrections department administrator said the housing assignments were temporary as the state copes with unplanned need to move 400 to 600 inmates between prisons every week, some the result of other court orders to relocate prisoners at risk of contracting valley fever or to receive mental health care.


WHEN PUBLIC DEFENDERS GIVE LESS THAN ADEQUATE REPRESENTATION BECAUSE OF THEIR UNCONSCIOUS BIASES

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll interviews Tigran Eldred, New England Law Professor and former public defender, about what he calls “ethical blindness,” which the prof. says is what happens when well-meaning public defenders are too overloaded to detect when they are giving poor clients subpar representation.

Elgred names three components: confirmation bias—preferring information that validates prior beliefs, motivated reasoning—seeking information that brings preferable answers, and overconfidence bias—misjudging the power to give effective counsel in the face of extreme adversity.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

DC: Okay – let’s try to unpack this for our readers. Are you saying that the demands of excessive caseloads force public defenders into making quick decisions about cases everyday that that they themselves may not be consciously aware of?

TE: That’s basically it. And, the scientific support for this comes from the world of “behavioral ethics.” In particular, three psychological factors are relevant to the excessive caseload discussion. First, we all experience what is known as “confirmation bias.” This is the tendency in all of us to seek out, interpret and remember information in a manner that supports our pre-existing beliefs. The second and related concept is “motivated reasoning.” Not only do we seek to confirm our pre-existing beliefs, but also we do so to reach conclusions that we prefer. Third, because of our general desire to think well of ourselves, we tend to experience an “overconfidence bias,” including the tendency to overestimate our abilities to act competently and ethically when confronted with difficult dilemmas.

All of three of these factors occur unconsciously. We are tricked into believing that our choices are reasoned, even when often they are not. Our brains convince us our quickest decisions are solely the result of conscious and rational deliberation. But all the while we are blissfully unaware of how our pre-existing views, desires and self-conception can influence the judgments and decisions that we make.

DC: So, we need some context here. Can you explain these theories within the specific debate of how public defenders respond to excessive caseloads?

TE: Certainly. I agree with Professor Gross that defenders who have too much work often have only one option: to triage cases. Structurally, they are forced into focusing limited resources on a percentage of cases at the expense of many others – and on those cases that don’t get the same level of focus or resources, you wind up with an assembly line of quick plea dispositions. When this type of triage occurs, the psychological phenomena I have described can be expected to exert significant influence.

For example, by starting with the premise that most cases will need to be disposed of quickly, lawyers will likely engage in confirmatory and motivated reasoning, unconsciously seeking reasons to justify this pre-determined conclusion. This can happen in a number of ways. For example, the lawyer might overestimate the strength of the evidence against the client or underestimate the value of additional investigation. Acts of omission, as Professor Gross notes, can have a profound effect on a case. When the lawyer fails to seek exculpatory material, to interview witnesses or to visit a crime scene – or fails to engage in many other forms of advocacy for a client – the lawyer is essentially confirming the pre-existing belief that no additional work for the client will be helpful.

DC: In studying indigent defense services all across the country, I continually encounter public defenders that tell me that I should not be so dismissive of early resolution courts because they often result in favorable decisions to defendants.

TE: Right, they’re playing the percentages. While in many instances it may be true that the best course of action is a quick plea bargain, it is also true that in many instances it is not. There is a significant chance that the decision to forgo additional work for the client is the product of the type of fast thinking I have described. And then, after the fact the process become self-fulfilling. The lawyer has decided that a quick plea is appropriate without further investigation. So the client is advised to take the plea quickly and the lawyer, laboring under the illusion that the decision was solely the product of rational deliberation, remains convinced of the propriety of the decision — unaware of the subtle psychological forces that conspire to influence the lawyer’s behavior.

Tilgard goes on to explain how to reform indigent defense in a way that will effectively combat these unconscious biases:

TE: This is where the latest post by Mr. Vitale is so critical to the discussion. He suggests that indigent defense reform must occur on three fronts: system-building, public advocacy and culture change. I agree all three are critical to overcoming ethical blindness. Public defenders must work in systems that insulate them from undue political and judicial interference. Without structural independence there is little hope that public defenders can overcome these issues alone.

Posted in CDCR, Obama, prison policy, Public Defender, Reentry, solitary, U.S. Attorney | 1 Comment »

Jumpstarting Foster Care Reform, Kamala Harris’ New Initiative, the NYPD Protest, Indigent Defense, and Homeboy

January 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.

[SNIP]

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.”

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Prosecutors, Public Defender | No Comments »

MacArthur Genius Jonathan Rapping Interview, AG Kamala Harris Missing Report Deadlines, Inadequate Care for Mentally Ill Riverside Inmates, and the “Justice on Trial Film Festival”

September 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR INTERVIEW WITH MACARTHUR FELLOW AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE EXPERT JONATHAN RAPPING

Recently named a MacArthur “genius,” Jonathan Rapping is a veteran public defender who founded “Gideon’s Promise,” a public defender training program to raise the quality of representation provided to poor defendants.

Rapping was one of two criminal justice experts given a MacArthur genius grant, this year. The other was Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychologist whose research has revealed racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Charles Pulliam-Moore interviews Rapping on NPR’s Code Switch about why he became involved in reforming public defense, and how Gideon’s Promise helps perpetually overburdened public defenders give quality defense to poor people facing a criminal justice system stacked against them. Here’s a clip:

How did you initially become interested in reforming the way public defenders represented their clients?

Rapping: After Hurricane Katrina hit, I was invited to come to New Orleans to and help with the effort to rebuild their public defender office. It was my first introduction to systems that were incredibly dysfunctional and had come to accept an embarrassingly low standard of justice for people.

In what ways were the standards low?

You would see these systems where human beings — almost exclusively poor and disproportionately people of color — were brought into these systems and just processed. No one was treated like a human being. …

It starts with legislators who in a “tough on crime” environment are really pressured to basically over-criminalize behavior. Then you get police who feel pressured to make arrests and to target certain communities. Prosecutors who frequently feel the pressure of a “tough on crime” environment charge more cases than the system is equipped to handle. As the system gets overwhelmed, the goal becomes getting this overwhelming number of cases through the system. Rather than focusing on justice, taking our time, and making sure that every person gets what our Constitution deserves, we start looking for shortcuts. …

Prosecutors start doing things like asking that poor people be held on bonds they can’t make. They do this knowing that when you’re sitting in jail on a bond you can’t make and the only way to get out is to take a plea, that’s an incredibly powerful tool for a prosecutor to get a quick conviction.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS HAS LEFT AT LEAST 13 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REPORTS UNFINISHED SINCE 2011

California Attorney General Kamala Harris seems to have missed deadlines on at least nine important criminal justice reports for 2013, and four between 2011 and 2012. The missing reports have created a gap in data on juvenile justice, organized crime, gun use, and hate crimes, among other issues. The delayed reports can cause problems for law enforcement, lawmakers, and researchers for whom current data is important.

U-T San Diego’s Ashly McGlone has the story. Here’s a clip:

The late reports — covering hate crimes, juvenile justice, firearms use during the commission of a crime and other topics — are meant to provide the public a snapshot of trends in criminal activity and insight into the dealings of the Department of Justice.

As the state’s top law enforcer, Harris is entrusted in the state Constitution “to see that the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced.”

The most overarching report that Harris is late producing is the Biennial Report of Major Activities by the Attorney General, which the law requires her to produce every other year. The 2012 report was due two years ago, and the 2014 report was due last week.

The report is supposed to provide the governor with budget information and recap the accomplishments of the Attorney General’s Office, including court cases litigated and legal opinions issued.

U-T Watchdog reported on the tardiness of that report in April, and Harris’s office said at that time that the 2012 report would be complete within months and the 2014 report would be completed on time on Sept. 15.

[SNIP]

Several 2013 reports were due earlier this year, and have not been posted:

On March 1, the Asset Forfeiture Report was due, with information on all seizures of assets from illegal drug activities initiated throughout the state during the calendar year.

In April, two more reports were due, one detailing electronic surveillance efforts and results and one cataloguing the number and type of firearms used most frequently in the commission of violent, homicidal, street and drug trafficking crimes.

In July, separate reports were due on hate crimes and the juvenile justice system. Also, the Crime in California report was due, including statistics on reported crimes, arrests, dispositions, adult felony arrests, domestic violence calls, officers killed or assaulted and more.


LOS ANGELES ISN’T THE ONLY COUNTY STRUGGLING TO PROPERLY CARE FOR MENTALLY ILL INMATES…RIVERSIDE IS, TOO

A current federal class-action lawsuit and a couple of grand jury reports call attention to the substandard care Riverside County provides to the mentally ill.

The sheriff’s department says that it is working to address the issues, in part, by adding more staff and beds for mentally ill inmates, as well as a fast-track to treatment for those incapable of standing trial. But inmate advocates say these changes only accomplish damage control, and that the whole mental health care system needs to be rebuilt.

The Press Enterprise’s Richard De Atley has the story. Here’s how it opens:

California’s prison realignment has sharpened an already critical focus on Riverside County’s treatment of mentally ill and suicidal jail inmates – issues cited in negative grand jury reports and in a current federal court lawsuit.

Sheriff’s and mental health officials said they are trying to close the gaps, doubling the number of dedicated beds for mentally ill inmates and increasing the mental health personnel to care for them. The sheriff has also established a faster treatment program for those declared incompetent to stand trial.

Treatment of mentally ill patients is a big component of state prison realignment, which focuses on local incarceration, probation and rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.

But one psychiatrist, who reviewed Riverside County’s five adult jails on behalf of the inmates who are part of the federal lawsuit, said mental health care remains in “crisis management mode” this year, despite grand jury reports in 2011 and 2012 that cited inadequate mental health worker staffing and other systemic problems.

Sara Norman, an attorney representing Riverside County inmates in the federal lawsuit, said her clients aren’t the only ones who would benefit from improvements in mental health care.

“A poorly run system is harmful to patients, but also demoralizing and difficult for health care staff and detention staff,” she said. “You have a very difficult population. The vast majority are getting out, and it’s a burden on health care on the outside to deprive them on the inside.”

Among the lawsuit’s several claims are that psychotropic medications are poorly managed and monitored for jail inmates.


FILM FESTIVAL: “JUSTICE ON TRIAL” CHALLENGES THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

LA Progressive’s Dick Price and Sharon Kyle interviewed Susan Burton, the executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, which helps formerly incarcerated women in South Central land on their feet with housing, food, clothing, and reentry services. Burton has a personal knowledge of prison’s revolving door, having cycled in and out of lock-up herself for 15 years.

Burton is now working on the second annual “Justice on Trial Film Festival,” which focuses on the American prison system’s effect on people, particularly people of color. The festival will take place September 26 and 27 at Cal State Long Beach. (You can register here.)

Price and Kyle spoke with Burton about mass incarceration, the film festival, and Prop 47. Here’s a clip:

Dick and Sharon: What do you hope the Justice On Trial Film Festival will accomplish?

Susan: Our intention is to alert the broader public with what’s going on with our mass incarceration system, here in Los Angeles and across the country. We’ve brought together well-known speakers and a collection of independent films whose creators have been moved to promote the end of mass incarceration.

We moved this year’s second annual event to Long Beach because that city has such a high number of formerly incarcerated people living there. This area is majorly oppressed, with high rates of incarceration, high rates of homelessness, high rates of police killings.

Dick and Sharon: You’ve been a strong supporter of Yes Prop 47. If passed, what kind of impact would this initiative have in your life and in the lives of the women who come through A New Way Of Life Reentry Project?

Susan: Prop 47 takes six low-level, nonviolent felonies—such as shoplifting, drug possession for personal use, writing bad checks—and makes them into misdemeanors. It then puts some of the money saved by not incarcerating so many people into drug treatment and mental health programs to help people stay out of trouble in the first place.

For me and the women of A New Way Of Life, Prop 47 would mean that we would not have had to go to prison. It would have meant that we would have gotten help for our problems with drugs and alcohol. It would have let us have clean records so we would not have to go through life with the burden of wearing the label “convicted felon” around our necks, dragging us down.

Posted in jail, Mental Illness, Public Defender | 2 Comments »

LAPD Chief Gets Five More Years, LA’s Child Dependency Courts Reopened, an Uncommon Public Defense Approach, and Michael Brown

August 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECEIVES SECOND TERM FROM POLICE COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission voted 4-1 in favor of giving Chief Charlie Beck a second five-year term. Commissioner Robert Saltzman was the lone dissenter, calling for increased transparency and more evenhanded discipline of officers.

Here’s a clip from police commission president Steve Soboroff’s statement regarding Beck’s reappointment:

This process lasted approximately three months and included numerous interviews with Chief Beck. During those interviews, my fellow Commissioners and I drilled down on every issue facing the Los Angeles Police Department. No subject was off-limits, and I can tell you, at times, the questioning was intense. In the end, we knew we had to be thoroughly confident that Chief Beck is not a good leader for the Los Angeles Police Department, but a great leader.

How did we judge Chief Beck? We looked at everything at LAPD. Chief Beck is the chief executive officer at LAPD, and at the end of the day, he is responsible for this large law enforcement agency. We looked at his ability to keep this City safe and reduce crime, his ability lead approximately 12,600 sworn and civilian employees effectively, and his ability to plan for the future.

Chief Beck demonstrated to the majority of the Commission and proved during the last five years that he is a leader who understands law enforcement and the unique needs of every part of this City. Yes, law enforcement is law enforcement, but Mar Vista is not El Sereno, and Athens Park is not Canoga Park. Chief Beck understands that better than anyone…and he knows what works in each unique community. He is the right person for this job, even though he recognizes that improvements must be made.

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez said that while Chief Beck was deserving of a second term, he must improve transparency and consistency moving forward. Here’s how it opens:

Did LAPD Chief Charlie Beck deserve the new five-year contract he got Tuesday morning?

Yes.

Did he gracefully sprint across the finish line with hands held high?

No, he stumbled and staggered, with a series of dubious disciplinary moves topped off by a Times expose Sunday on inaccurate crime statistics.

Appropriately, along with the many hard-earned pats on the back given to him by commissioners, Beck got a well-deserved kick in the pants. And so his second term won’t be a victory lap, but a test of whether he can become the leader both the department and the city need him to be.

The four commissioners who voted in support of Beck — Steve Soboroff, Paula Madison, Sandra Figueroa-Villa and Kathleen Kim — touched on areas where improvement is needed, but spent most of their time praising the chief for declining crime rates and the building of community ties and trust.

And Beck does deserve a lot of credit. But it’s worth noting that all four of those commissioners were appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been a vocal supporter of Beck. And so you are left wondering precisely how independent Garcetti’s appointees really are, no matter their claims or his.

The lone vote against a second term came from Rob Saltzman, the longest-serving commissioner and the only one to have been on the job through Beck’s entire first five-year term as chief. Saltzman was appointed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and on Tuesday — with Beck seated several feet away — he offered anything but a ringing endorsement of the chief.

Saltzman said that despite Beck’s many extraordinary achievements, he had decided the LAPD would be better served “with new executive leadership.”

The most important area where “significant improvement is needed,” Saltzman said, is “in ensuring fairness and consistency in discipline and transparency and respect for civilian oversight.”


JUDGE NASH THANKFULLY REOPENS CHILD CUSTODY COURT PROCEEDINGS TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY

Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued an order to reopen child dependency court proceedings to the press, five months after a California appeals court struck down Nash’s earlier order to open the courts.

The new order requires judicial officers to identify those present in the courtroom. Attorneys then have the option of objecting to media presence, if there’s reasonable likelihood that press access will harm a child.

Metropolitan News-Enterprise’s Kenneth Ofgang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new order, each judicial officer will, at the outset of a hearing, determine who is present in the courtroom and which of such persons have a mandatory statutory right to be present. If any person lacks such a right, her or she will be required to state why they are there, and it will then be up to the court to determine whether “that person has a direct and legitimate interest in the particular case or the work of the court and, based on the record before it, there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”

[SNIP]

Under Friday’s order, counsel for any party may object to presence of the media or members of the public, before or after the court makes the required findings regarding such presence.

“The party objecting shall produce evidence that harm to the child or family is reasonably likely to occur because access is allowed,” the order provides. “The person seeking access shall have the burden of persuading the Court that there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”

Factors to be considered in determining whether to allow access include the age of the child, the nature of the allegations, and the likely impact on the child and the family, “consistent with the overriding purpose of the proceeding to protect the child and advance his or best interests.”

After balancing the interests involved, the order says, a person who lacks a mandatory right to attend may be excluded only if the person lacks “a legitimate interest in the case of the work or the court,” or if the person’s legitimate interest in viewing the proceedings is outweighed by the other interests addressed by the order, based on the evidence and arguments presented.


FLORIDA PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE’S UNIQUE APPROACH: HIRING FORMER COPS TO INVESTIGATE POLICE AND PROSECUTORIAL ERRORS

A public defender’s office in Florida is employing former police officers to investigate things like complaints against prosecutors and cops for racial profiling and bad police work—things that public defenders with hundreds of cases could never look into. These ex-cops back up overloaded public defenders to give indigent defendants a fairer chance in the criminal justice system.

Jason Fagone has the story for Mother Jones. Here are some clips:

During his 26 years as a cop, [Allen E.] Smith thought he saw things clearly. There were good guys and there were bad guys, and he dealt with some of the worst. But then something changed.

In 1997, Smith retired from the police force. He needed a job to help cover his two daughters’ college expenses, so he signed up as an investigator in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. He had little idea that he’d end up a key player in a bold experiment in criminal justice, one that aims to give tens of thousands of people who can’t afford lawyers a fighting chance in a system stacked against them. It’s an effort that suggests new ways for court-appointed attorneys to get at the truth, despite their insane caseloads. And a big part of it is getting former cops to police the police.

At the public defender’s office, Smith supervises 11 other investigators, 9 of whom are retired officers like him. Every day, they deploy technology, public records, and good old-fashioned legwork to dig into the sorts of complaints against cops and prosecutors that they used to brush off. In the process, they’re not only turning up evidence of sloppy police work and racial profiling. They’re also finding what they never would have guessed in their previous careers—that some of the sketchy characters they cross paths with are actually innocent.

[SNIP]

When Smith arrived at the public defender’s office in 1997, he wasn’t even sure he could do the job. A few of his cop buddies had asked why he had gone over to the “other side.” He didn’t know what to tell them. The investigative staff was smaller then and included a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, a former Dolphins running back, a city commissioner, and a judge’s wife. The public defender, a Democratic Party stalwart who’d been in office since 1976, liked to call himself “the Boss Man.” He later came under fire for asking his employees to pony up $100 each to help his daughter’s boyfriend join the Hooters pro golf tour.

Smith kept his head down and started working cases. One involved a young woman charged with writing a counterfeit check in the amount of $4,200. She told a convoluted tale. The gist was that she had recently become unemployed and had gotten the check via FedEx from a company that was offering her a job and had asked her to cash it. As a cop, Smith would have pegged her as a grifter and never given her story a second thought. But he started digging. He traced the FedEx envelope back to a retired fire chief, the kind of guy he was inclined to trust; the chief’s wife explained that her shipping account had been hacked, and fraudsters had used it to send more than 200 bad checks to job seekers all over the country.

It wasn’t the most dramatic case, but at the moment when Smith realized his client was a victim, not a perpetrator, he experienced “a complete change of life.” The ideal of innocent until proven guilty had always struck him as a scam invented by defense attorneys. “Now, on the desk in front of me, lay the key to setting free a totally innocent person,” he later wrote in Florida Defender magazine. “It is hard to describe my exact feelings at that point.” He persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges.


KILLING MICHAEL BROWN

On Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, MO, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old who was running away with his hands in the air. There are still many questions yet unanswered regarding the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death. Ferguson residents have been rioting, and the FBI has launched a civil rights inquiry into the death of Brown, who was a well-liked teenager two weeks away from starting college.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has an essay on the issue that’s worth reading. Here are some clips:

Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes. A policeman stopped him; it’s not clear why. People in the neighborhood have told reporters that they remember what happened next as a series of movements: the officer, it seemed to them, trying to put Brown into a car; Brown running with his hands in the air; the policeman shooting; Brown falling. The next morning, Jon Belmar, the police chief of St. Louis County, which covers Ferguson, was asked, at a press conference, how many times Brown had been shot. Belmar said that he wasn’t sure: “more than just a couple of times, but not much more.” When counting bullets, “just” and “not much more” are odd words to choose.

[SNIP]

How does the choreography of Michael Brown’s afternoon form a story that makes sense? It cannot, or must not, be easier for the police to shoot at an eighteen-year-old who is running—away from the officer, not toward him—with his empty hands showing, than to chase him, drive after him, do anything other than kill him. Teen-agers may not always be prudent; there is no death penalty for that, or shouldn’t be. Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Foster Care, LAPD, Public Defender, racial justice | 2 Comments »

LASD Civilian Oversight Rejected, Thousands of Clemency Candidates Have No Right to Counsel, LAUSD Supt. Deasy Urges Staff to Reduce Dropouts…and More

August 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES VOTE AGAINST LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT

With a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors rejected a motion to form a civilian panel to oversee the sheriff’s department. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that such a commission would have no real authority over the department, and that the access of the Inspector General should be figured out before the Supes create more oversight. It should be noted that both candidates to replace Yaroslavsky in November have said they are in favor of establishing a citizen’s commission.

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

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who along with Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed a civilian commission, said rejecting the idea was tantamount to accepting the “status quo.”

The board itself, as one of the primary bodies that has some power and a pulpit to bring issues at the sheriff’s department to light, “cannot pay enough attention” to the department, Ridley-Thomas said.

“We need help,” he said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the board should make the time. He also said the newly created Office of the Inspector General — whose powers the board considered in an ordinance Tuesday — should have time to take shape before the county creates a whole new commission.

“When everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge,” Yaroslavsky said.

Yaroslavsky further predicted that the U.S. Department of Justice, which brought criminal indictments against 21 current and former sheriff’s employees over the past two years, may end up seeking court oversight of the department.

“It’s becoming abundantly clear that the justice department will compel the sheriff’s department and this county to be accountable for constitutional policing, either through a consent decree or a memorandum of agreement,” Yaroslavsky said.

Unlike a civilian commission — which would lack formal authority — such an intervention would have real teeth, he said.


THOUSANDS OF FEDERAL PRISONERS FITTING NEW CLEMENCY CRITERIA HAVE NO RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

In April, the Department of Justice announced new clemency criteria that widened the pool of federal prisoners that could apply for a presidential pardon—namely non-violent drug offenders sentenced under outdated laws.

Late last week, the Administrative Office of the Courts issued a memo saying that federal prisoners seeking clemency in non-capital cases do not have a constitutional right to counsel from a public defenders or court-appointed attorneys. The original initiative announced by the Justice Department affects thousands of inmates.

Aljazeera America’s Alia Malek and Evan Hill have the story. Here’s a clip:

In a memo circulated to federal defenders and the chief judges of all U.S. district and appellate courts on Thursday, General Counsel Robert Loesche wrote: “There is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel for purposes of seeking executive clemency and no statutory right, except in capital cases … there is no authority under the CJA [Criminal Justice Act] or other law to appoint counsel in non-capital clemency proceedings.”

Under that interpretation, federal defenders, whose salaries are paid by the government, and court-appointed private attorneys, who receive federal reimbursement when they are called in for service, could not legally be paid for representing clemency candidates.

The decision is a considerable setback for a coalition of legal and advocacy groups that has stepped in at the Justice Department’s behest to lead the clemency effort, which the department has heralded as a cornerstone of the administration’s criminal justice reform agenda.

It would sideline many lawyers who have come to know their clients’ cases intimately over years of work, requiring them to turn over the task of filing clemency petitions — which draw on a prisoner’s personal and legal history — to new attorneys.


LAUSD SUPT. DEASY ASKS SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS TO PUSH TO END DROP OUTS, ASSIGNS THEM EACH A STRUGGLING STUDENT

During a speech to kick off the new school year, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy called upon school administrators to make a personal effort to lower the drop out rate. Deasy distributed 1,500 names of struggling students entering the 10th grade across the district. Deasy asked each administrator to reach out to one kid at risk of dropping out, and help them graduate in three years.

The LA Times Howard Blume has the story. Here’s a clip:

Much of Deasy’s talk at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles celebrated progress in the nation’s second-largest school system, including rising graduation rates. The most recent rate was 82%, Deasy said, including students who stayed enrolled longer than four years.

He quickly turned to another figure: 6,950, the number of dropouts from that same class. Deasy said that number could be brought down to zero and implored his audience to “reach out to one youth at a time, every single one of us.”

To that end, 1,500 sealed envelopes, each containing a student’s name, were placed on seats in the recently rebuilt Garfield High auditorium. The superintendent asked administrators to reach out to the students — all were freshmen last year who are at risk of dropping out. They had problems with attendance, discipline, failed classes or low test scores — or a variety of these, district spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said. Some are in foster care, some are learning English and some are disabled.


RECOMMENDED WATCHING: PBS’ “15 TO LIFE”

On Monday, PBS aired a documentary, “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story,” about Kenneth Young, a man who was sentenced as a teenager whose armed robbery landed him four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. (We linked to it here.) You can now watch the entire documentary on the PBS website for the next month, in case you missed it.

Posted in Education, Inspector General, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LWOP Kids, Public Defender, School to Prison Pipeline | 2 Comments »

Class for Incarcerated Teen Dads, Status-Offending Girls and Trauma, and “Holistic” Indigent Defense

April 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TEACHES PARENTING SKILLS TO TEEN FATHERS IN LOCK-UP

A prison class in California, called the “Baby Elmo Program,” teaches incarcerated teenage fathers how to be parents, and helps them build relationships with their young children, with help from Elmo videos. While still in the early stages, the program has been implemented in Sacramento, Fresno, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, and Orange County, and program leaders held a conference in Los Angeles last week with corrections officials statewide.

KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has the story. Here’s a small clip:

Originally named “A Parenting Intervention for Incarcerated Teen Parents,” the program was later dubbed the “Baby Elmo Program” by its teenage participants, referring to the Sesame Street teaching tools it uses. According to the program’s manager, the key message they try to pass on to troubled young fathers is the importance of making personal contact with their children. “The only way you are going to develop a relationship with your child is not through abstract courses or a strict program,” said Ben Richeda, who runs the program. “It’s really going to be ‘I know the food my child likes. I know what makes him smile. I know makes her laugh when she comes in the room.’” Richeda says the goal is to teach the parenting skills in order to break the cycle of abuse and neglect that can lead to a path of delinquency.


INCREASE IN YOUNG GIRLS ARRESTED FOR STATUS OFFENSES: THE STORY BEHIND THE STATISTIC

Girls are more likely than boys to be arrested for status offenses (age-related crimes, like truancy, running away, violating curfew laws, or possessing alcohol or tobacco), and the numbers are on the rise, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

In an op-ed for Youth Today, Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of The National Crittenton Foundation, says the numbers are important, but don’t tell the whole story. She says that these status offenses that often earn a young girl a reputation as a “bad girl” are often coping mechanisms for underlying childhood trauma. And when these girls get thrown into the juvenile justice system for things like running away from a turbulent home, or self-medicating with alcohol, they are not receiving the help they need to become successful adults.

Here’s a clip:

According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s issue brief, Girls, Status Offenses and The Need For A Less Punitive and More Empowering Approach, a disproportionate number of the status offenses petitioned in the courts every year are brought against girls. Between 1995 and 2009, the number of petitioned cases for curfew violations for girls grew by 23 percent vs. only 1 percent for boys. The number of petitioned cases for liquor law violations for girls grew by 41 percent vs. only 6 percent for boys.

Simply put, behaviors such as skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol places girls at increased risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Girls entering the system because they are detained for a status offense often fall deeper into the system rather than getting the support they need to change their lives.

What the numbers fail to reveal is the story behind the statistics. As the president of The National Crittenton Foundation, I have had the great privilege to get to know many of the faces behind the data — girls and young women who were involved with Crittenton agencies because they were referred by juvenile justice or child welfare systems. While their stories are as diverse as they are, the most common shared narrative for the girls served by Crittenton agencies is that their early lives have been shaped for them by abuse, neglect, violence, addiction, family dysfunction and the betrayal of their trust by the very people whose job it was to love and protect them.

Victimization of girls typically precedes their involvement with the system. Up to 73 percent of the girls in the juvenile justice system have histories of physical and sexual violence. A study of 319 girls in the juvenile justice system in Florida found that 64 percent reported past abuse, including 37 percent reporting abuse by a parent; 55 percent reporting abuse by someone other than a parent; and 27 percent reporting both types of abuse.

[SNIP]

What the statistics also don’t tell us is how girls cope with the dangerous, damaging and traumatic circumstances in their lives. In fact, their “adaptive coping behaviors,” including running away from homes where violence is prevalent, self medication with drugs and alcohol, truancy and unruly behavior, are the very same behaviors that put them at risk of entering the juvenile justice system because they are detained for a status offence. In other words, we criminalize them for coping behaviors that are actually signs of strength and resiliency against the abuse and neglect they have experienced. What is the result? A system that fails to help the girls get the help they need to recover from the abuse and neglect they experienced long before they entered the system.

Pai-Espinosa also gives five ways to address the problem:

- Promote universal assessment for girls and boys involved in the juvenile justice system to better understand their exposure to violence, abuse and neglect.

- Advocate that girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system receive gender-responsive, trauma-informed services to heal from the violence and abuse they have experienced.

- Push for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, with a focus on preventing detention for status offenses and the importance of gender responsive and trauma informed services

- Support HR 4123, Prohibiting the Detention of Youth for Status Offenses Act, introduced recently by Representative Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) and

- Endorse and advance the important work of organizations like the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.

Over the weekend, the LA Times had an editorial in support of HR 4123. Here are some clips:

It is unjust to lock up minors for offenses that wouldn’t be offenses at all if the “perpetrators” were only a few years older. The practice is costly, and ineffective as well. Substantial research has shown that incarcerating teenagers for these non-criminal actions doesn’t deter them from committing the same offenses again once they’re released; quite the opposite. After being housed with true juvenile criminals, they are more likely to commit real offenses…

Legislation by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) would ban the incarceration of status offenders across the country, requiring states to find more useful ways of handling these cases. HR 4123 doesn’t eliminate penalties for status offenses, just the harsh discipline of lockup. Offenders could still be penalized in various ways, including required community service or Saturday classes to catch up in school. That, combined with counseling and other services for offenders and their families, would be fairer, more productive and almost certainly less expensive than having them do time.


MOVING TOWARD A MORE COMPREHENSIVE—”HOLISTIC”—INDIGENT DEFENSE APPROACH

“Holistic” indigent defense—in which a team of attorneys, social workers, and other advocates work together to provide much-needed services to defendants who can’t afford to hire a lawyer—is building momentum in the Bay Area. The approach aims to keep people from reoffending, and may help ease overcrowding in California prisons (although there’s not yet much data on the effectiveness of “holistic” defense against recidivism).

The San Jose Mercury News’ Tracey Kaplan has the story. Here’s a clip:

Born partly out of a conference in the late 1990s at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, holistic defense in its most elaborate form uses teams of criminal, civil and family defense lawyers, social workers, parent advocates, investigators and community organizers to address the needs — legal and otherwise — of defendants who can’t afford their own lawyers.

The idea is to keep people from coming back into the criminal justice system — thus save taxpayers money — by limiting the consequences that can arise from even a misdemeanor arrest, such as deportation and the breakup of families, loss of a job, revocation of an employment license or eviction from public housing.

“An arrest is never just an arrest — it can explode someone’s life,” said Robin Steinberg, founder of the Bronx Defenders, the nonprofit agency of public defenders leading the holistic defense movement. “Even when you get the not-guilty verdict, you don’t hug them and send them into the night. That’s when the work begins.”

From Rhode Island to Texas, and to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, the general principle has started to catch on, especially the notion of teaming social workers with lawyers.

However, some supporters say holistic defense faces a major obstacle — lack of funding for even basic services, and not just in poor parts of the country such as the South.

“Can the Bronx Defenders’ model be replicated across the country?” said Mark Stephens, chief public defender in Knoxville, Tenn., who attended the original Harvard conference. Though he supports holistic defense and has eight social workers on his staff, he said, “I don’t see it happening.”

Hard data is still scarce on whether the approach keeps people from reoffending. But some public defenders say California must innovate because a federal court order forcing it to reduce prison overcrowding prevents the system from merely locking people up.

Posted in gender, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, Reentry, Trauma | No Comments »

LA Sheriff Scott Interview, LA Supes to Scrutinize Youth Indigent Defense, LASD IG Addresses Public, and Obama’s New Initiative for Young Men of Color

February 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS LA COUNTY INTERIM SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, the new LA County Sheriff, John Scott, discusses why he was chosen as interim sheriff, and what he hopes to accomplish in the next ten months (when a permanent sheriff will be elected). Here’s a clip:

PM: Are more indictments coming?

JS: I’ve asked for a meeting with the federal prosecutor to see whether I can find out.

PM: You have at most 10 months before a new, elected sheriff comes in. What problems need fixing, and why did the Board of Supervisors believe you were the man to do it?

JS: They were looking for an individual who was not going to run for the position, and I had the unique perspective of working both L.A. and Orange County with [some] similar issues: problems in the jail and badges [issued to politicians or supporters].

The image has been tarnished. Things were done that are being investigated that certainly we’re accountable for, but the vast majority of deputies are doing a very professional job.

One of my goals is to restore an image but also the confidence of our public. Then we have accountability. Some things that were in place when I left, I want to restore.

We had SCIF, Sheriff’s Critical Incident Forum, a quarterly look at all the different factors that go into an operation. We determined if there were spikes or trends, and we analyzed why is this high or why is this low. It’s good to take metrics and analyze them and take good ideas and apply them across the board.

PM: Of the 60 reforms recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, how many have been done?

JS: Close to 50.

PM: So the hard parts are left?

JS: It’s hard in terms of financing. We have to find funding for some of the last components. Policy change and supervisorial monitoring are things we can do pretty quickly, but when you talk about a culture that exists, that takes more than a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

PM: And you’ve been brought in to do the hard stuff and deliver bad news?

JS: I’ve done it before and I’m willing to do it again, because it’s the right thing to do.

PM: We may elect a sheriff in June, or there may be a runoff in November. How can you work with that timing uncertainty?

JS: My game plan is to push as much through as I can in 10 months. I feel it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a clear [winner] in June. I’m looking at this as a 10-month program, but I’m concentrating heavily on the first four months. I’ll [also] be reaching out to each of the candidates about their own plans and goals as we move forward.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS ORDER REVIEW OF JUVENILE INDIGENT DEFENSE IN LA

The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion (by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system, including how panel attorneys—private attorneys assigned to kids the public defender’s office cannot represent—are compensated.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the Supes’ decision. Here are some clips:

Under-age criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer are generally represented by someone from the county public defender’s office. But when that office is already representing another defendant in the case or a special circumstance arises, lawyers from a separate panel step in to remove the potential conflict of interest.

Advocates argue that the switch creates another problem: The private lawyers the county contracts with for these cases, known as panel attorneys, are paid less — a flat rate of $319 to $345 per case — and may not represent their clients as vigorously.

“Children charged with crimes are not only entitled to competent representation but an opportunity to avoid the prison pipeline if it is at all possible to do so,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the review.

[SNIP]

The review will include looking at the compensation systems in other counties and the resources and training given to attorneys. It will also consider a set of guidelines for defense attorneys proposed by Michael Nash, presiding judge of the county’s Juvenile Court.


INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR LASD ADDRESSES COMMUNITY AT TOWN HALL MEETING

The new Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, spoke to the public for the first time at a town hall meeting on Monday. Huntsman, who took the role of independent LASD watchdog at the beginning of the year, discussed jail violence and recent indictments, and his intent to bring accountability to the department.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

…there’s been a question of what sort of oversight the department should have. An elected official, the sheriff is an atypical law enforcement leader in that he or she is accountable only to the voters – not a civilian oversight board, or elected officials, or an institutional watchdog.

Nevertheless, creating a way to monitor the department has been the goal of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for several years. Supervisors have power over the law enforcement agency’s budget, but not much else. The answer was to create the office of the Inspector General and hire former public corruption prosecutor, Max Huntsman, to the post.

At a town hall organized by the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress, Huntsman acknowledged that while he lacks formal power, he’s hopeful that he’ll have the necessary tools to inspire change at the sheriff’s department.

“I can’t force change. I can’t order the sheriff’s department to do anything,” Huntsman said, noting to the audience that local and state law gives the sheriff sole authority over his or her department. “The power that I have comes from you.”

Huntsman noted that the vast majority of sheriff’s deputies are “heroes,” and that his job is to bring attention to those who fall short. He outlined his vision for the new office as a bridge between the community and the sheriff’s department.

…By hiring attorneys, retired police officers, and investigators to staff the inspector general office, he said he hopes to gain credibility with both the public and the department. The primary role will be to monitor department’s activities, audit expenditures, select which investigations to pursue, and lobby for changes, he said.

(Read on.)


OBAMA LAUNCHES EFFORT TO HELP YOUNG MINORITY MEN FLOURISH

On Thursday, President Obama will launch an initiative to stop the school-to-prison pipeline for young men of color across the nation. The initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” will connect businesses and non-profits to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color “reach their full potential.”

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb has the story. Here’s how it opens:

President Obama will launch a significant new effort Thursday to bolster the lives of young minority men, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison.

The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will bring foundations and companies together to test a range of strategies to support such young men, taking steps to keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system, a White House official said. Obama will also announce a more vigorous program to evaluate policies and publicize results to school systems around the country.

The effort will seek “to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. “The initiative will be focused on implementing strategies that are proven to get results.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Obama, Public Defender, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

LA County DCFS Workers Strike, a Close Look at Juvenile Public Defense, the Challenge of Healing Traumatized Kids…and Interrogation Techniques Redux

December 9th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(NOTE: Today’s posting is a joint project by Walker Taylor & Celeste Fremon)



LOS ANGELES COUNTY SOCIAL WORKERS RALLY AGAINST COLOSSAL CASELOADS

Striking social workers rallied in front of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services headquarters on Friday (the second day of the strike) demanding smaller, more manageable caseloads and the hiring of more social workers. High caseloads are a crucial issue for department reform, because they impede DCFS workers’ ability to competently do their job—to make sure every kid they are assigned to is safe.

The strike was set into motion after contract negotiations between the public service workers union, SEIU 721, and DCFS came to an impasse. (KPCC’s Rina Palta has the backstory here.)

According to SEIU 721′s website, DCFS strikers will move their picket lines to the LA County Board of Supervisors’ field offices today, where thousands of workers from the Department of Public Social Services will join the strike.

The LA Times’ Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell have the story. Here are some clips:

About two-thirds of social workers and their supervisors did not show up for work Friday, similar to Thursday’s numbers. During a raucous rally in front of the county Department of Children and Family Services building, the head of the agency made a surprise appearance.

“I support social workers, but I want you to come back to work,” said Philip Browning, prompting sustained boos from the crowd of several hundred employees.

[SNIP]

Speaker after speaker railed against county leaders for failing to help overburdened social workers or punishing them when things went wrong — the agency has mishandled several cases of child neglect and abuse, a few leading to deaths. The real culprit, speakers said, was a refusal by county officials to see how the caseloads were harming children.

The current contract sets the maximum caseload for most social workers at 31. Union representatives argue that is too high and also say that 680 social workers have caseloads above the maximum.

[SNIP]

In a brief interview, [head of DCFS Philip] Browning said he agreed that caseloads were too high and he outlined steps that county officials were taking to reduce them, notably the hiring of 300 to 400 new social workers, which would result in lowering caseloads by 30% within a year.

“I’m confident we’re on our way. I know the board [of supervisors] and the CEO want this strike to be over and everyone to come back to work,” he said.

When asked about the union’s proposal that officials pledge to hire 35 new workers per month for 17 months, Browning demurred, saying it was a budgetary issue, before heading inside the building.


“A DAY IN THE LIFE” OF AN OVERWORKED JUVENILE PUBLIC DEFENDER

Speaking of overly large caseloads, juvenile public defenders—often the last line of defense for indigent kids facing time in the system—across the nation are critically overworked, making it difficult to adequately serve the kids that need them most.

As part of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s “Juvenile Indigent Defense” series, Katy McCarthy has written an excellent piece about what an ordinary work day for a juvenile public defender looks like (both good and bad), through the eyes of Dominique Pinkney, an Alameda County assistant public defender. Here are some clips:

The main job of juvenile public defenders is to act as the voice of children in the juvenile justice system. Public defenders for juveniles are required to understand not just the law — but the circumstances of their young clients and how to connect them with the most appropriate services. To the general public, even those involved in the juvenile court system in some way, the area of juvenile defense can seem shadowy and hidden. To provide insight into this world JJIE spent a day trailing juvenile public defender Pinkney at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center, atop a hill in this city in the East Bay, just south of Oakland.

Assistant public defender Dominique Pinkney arrives in the hallway outside the courtrooms every morning at 8:30 a.m. sharp, to meet with any clients who happen to come in early…

On this day, no one is around early. So Pinkney has a few moments to review his cases for the day. Sitting quietly at a table in a sparse interview room adjoining the court, he opens the red and green files of his clients and nods to himself as he pores over drug test results, completed community service reports and school records. Over the course of the morning, he and nine young clients will go in front of the judge…

The first client of the morning is sitting on the bench with his mom, dressed in a crisp green button-down shirt.

This is the first time the teen has been in trouble and he has unpaid restitution fees.

“It can be really hard for these poorer families to pay,” explains Pinkney…

Pinkney glances over his list of charges and intake report. Apparently, the teen was at a demonstration in downtown Oakland, when he and a group of other kids broke off from the group and started vandalizing cars.

Pinkney is hoping he will get informal supervision for six months, a more casual version of probation. Afterwards, his case would be dismissed. That is, however, if he pays restitution. If, after six months, he hasn’t paid, his supervision will be extended for another six months.

After the second extension, if he still hasn’t paid, the kid will go on standard probation.

In the 1967 ruling In re Gault, the United States Supreme Court ruled that youth had a constitutional right to counsel in delinquency proceedings — essentially guaranteeing them many of the same due process rights as adults in criminal trials.

However, for this right to be relevant, young people need access to skilled representation.

According to the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) in its National Juvenile Defense Standards that means creating, “an environment in which defenders have access to sufficient resources, including investigative and expert assistance, as well as specialized training, adequate and equitable compensation, and manageable caseloads.”

The reality for many juvenile indigent defense practitioners is that this is easier said than done.

Many young accused are not getting timely access to attorneys — and when they do, the level of counsel they receive is frequently inadequate. A report by the NJDC raised serious concerns that “the interests of many young people in juvenile court are significantly compromised, and that many children are literally left defenseless.”

Pinkney, who spends many weekends in the office, is highly qualified and dedicated to the young people he represents. Multiple parents spoke highly of Pinkney. Several people called him “the best.” One mother stated that “he really fights for his clients.”

This is, however, not always the case with public defenders.

In many instances this is because of impossible workloads. The NJDC report found high caseloads to be “the single most important barrier to effective representation.” And that the ultimate impact of this on youth involved in the court was “devastating.”

(We urge you to go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


TRAUMATIZED KIDS, AND AN INSTRUCTIVE STORY OF REDEMPTION

This week’s This American Life focuses on unconditional love and, while the whole show is definitely worth listening to, it is the second segment titled “Love is a Battlefield” that is utterly essential.

It is about a couple who adopt a 7-year old Romanian boy named Daniel, who was raised under awful circumstances in an emotionally bleak orphanage where he didn’t interact with any of the adults caring for him intimately enough to know their names.

The couple—Heidi and Rick Solomon—assumed that with enough love, they could break through to their son whom they learned was suffering from “attachment disorder. Instead Daniel became increasingly unmanageable to the point of being genuinely dangerous.

What happened next is both humbling and instructive. It provides a frightening snapshot of the kind of horrific damage that trauma and neglect can wreak on a child. The story is also a reminder that one is unwise ever to give up on any kid—a concept that was central to our juvenile justice system when it was formed more than a century ago. Yet it is an outlook that seems too often in the last two decades to have slipped out of our focus.

In any case, listen. It really is an amazing story. (And you can also read the transcript of the segment here.)


S.F. DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND AN INNOVATIVE PSYCHOLOGIST UNITE IN BAYVIEW, CA, TO LOOK AT THE EFFECT OF “TOXIC STRESS” ON KIDS’ BEHAVIOR

With the above TAL story in mind, it is heartening to hear that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is helping put into place a program that tests the theory that many future crimes can be prevented by making available help to kids—and other community members—who have been exposed to the kinds of trauma that is now being called “toxic stress,”

Max Aldax of the San Francisco Examiner has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Police in the Bayview district are getting crime-fighting help from an unlikely source: A pediatrician.

Founded by innovative pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Center for Youth Wellness on Third Street has been a pioneer in the treatment of “toxic stress” in children who are exposed to violence, neglect and other trauma, and who lack a support system.

The federal government plans to pump money locally following studies showing there are biological reasons for why a child who suffers chronic adversity might engage in high-risk behaviors as an adult.

In September, District Attorney George Gascón lobbied in Washington, D.C., and received help from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, to secure $1 million to evaluate victimized children in the Bayview. In the eastern section of that neighborhood, Gascón says, 70 percent of black youths are referred to the juvenile justice system by age 17.


DOES THE MOST COMMONLY USED INTERROGATION TECHNIQUE IN THE U.S. TEND TO PRODUCED FALSE CONFESSIONS?

We linked last week to the fascinating New Yorker article by Douglas Starr about police interrogations, and the problems with the Reid technique, which is the style of interrogation most widely used by law enforcement forces in the U.S., yet—according to Starr’s research—it is also a strategy that has a propensity to produce false confessions.

Unfortunately, however, for those of you who don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, the story was unavailable due to the magazine’s paywall. (I think it may be available now.)

The good news is that NPR’s Terry Gross also liked Starr’s report and brought him on her show to talk about the flaws in the Reid technique, and about an alternate technique, “PEACE” (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate), used in England, Newfoundland, Wales, Denmark and New Zealand with great success.

Anyway, listen to the story. We think you’ll find it extremely interesting.

In the meantime, here’s a clip from the online story on the story:

As part of his research, Starr took a training course in the Reid technique. “It has the appearance of being very scientific,” he says. But a growing number of scientists and legal scholars say this approach is based on outdated science and psychology — and can sometimes produce false confessions.

“There doesn’t seem to be a national conversation [about interrogator tactics] of any sort,” Starr says, “and that’s unfortunate because for every innocent person that’s put away, the person who really committed the crime is still on the streets.”

[SNIP]

“One of the problems of the technique is that it’s based on some science that’s no longer current. When John Reid was doing this in the 1950s, people thought you could see anxiety in people’s body language. If they folded their arms, or hunched over, or looked away, they were being anxious, and also that anxiety was a hallmark of lying. But unfortunately, 40 years of extensive psychological research has shown both of those premises to be untrue. Anxiety has nothing to do with lying.”


The above photo came from the SEIU 721 website.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Public Defender, Trauma | No Comments »

« Previous Entries