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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 »

Supervisors Ever-Changing Jail Plans, Vallejo Schools’ Restorative Justice Comeback…and More

October 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA TIMES POINTS TO LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS’ CHRONICALLY REACTIVE JAIL PLANS

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina withdrew her support for (and introduced a motion to cancel) a $75M contract to move 500 jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. The Supes were unaware that there was ongoing litigation between the CDCR and Kern County. (Read the backstory here.)

An LA Times editorial says that the Supes should have known about the lawsuit before they voted in favor of the contract. The editorial pointed to several other instances in which the Supes, in their haste to ease overcrowding, made quick decisions on [often excessively costly] jail solutions that would have benefited from being thought through a little more thoroughly.

Here’s a clip:

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how they could have been left in the dark about such an important matter as they were preparing to approve a $75-million contract. But this is not the first time the board has been forced at the last minute to rethink its plans for fixing the county’s sprawling jail system, which has been plagued by overcrowding, poor conditions and allegations that excessive force has been used against inmates. In May, for instance, the board hired a construction company to come up with a plan to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail and renovate other facilities. The company unveiled the plan this summer, just weeks before the Department of Justice announced it was launching a civil rights probe into the treatment of mentally ill inmates, including where and how they are housed. The plan is now under review; the supervisors fear it could be in conflict with the forthcoming findings by the Justice Department.

And at least four other proposals submitted in the last five years by Sheriff Lee Baca or county Chief Executive William T Fujioka have been voted down by the supervisors; they complained that the plans lacked basic information. The board has continued to turn solely to Baca for guidance even as is has increasingly expressed a lack of confidence in his ability to manage the jails, much less fix them.


VALLEJO, CA SCHOOLS REVERSING DAMAGE DONE BY ZERO-TOLERANCE HISTORY

The Superintendent of Vallejo schools Dr. Ramona Bishop is reconstructing the Vallejo school system, replacing deeply rooted zero-tolerance policies with restorative practices like Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS). Just two years into her tenure, referrals, suspensions, and expulsions have dropped dramatically, and dropout rates are on the decline.

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of the heartening progress made in Vallejo. Here are some clips:

When Dr. Ramona Bishop walked into her office on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the Vallejo schools had hit rock-bottom: The system had been in receivership since 2004. Its 14,000 students were racking up nearly 80,000 referrals, suspensions, and expulsions that school year, making it one of the top ten suspending schools in the state. Academic scores had tanked. Only half the students were making it to graduation. And morale? What morale?

[SNIP]

To turn around a whole system? That’ll take seven years, she says.

One-third of the way through the process, things are already looking up: Since the 2010-2011 school year, referrals have plummeted 75 percent. Suspensions dropped nearly 70 percent. Expulsions are down by 50 percent. Graduation rates are inching up from the 50-percent dropout rate. When she arrived, the system was losing 500 students a year, because parents were removing their children. This year, the system lost only 100 students, and Bishop expects an increase next year. In April, nine years after it went into receivership, the Vallejo Unified School district regained control of its schools.

And they have a long way to go: The numbers of referrals, suspensions and expulsions still total more than the numbers of students in the system. African-American students still make up more than half the referrals, suspensions and expulsions, even though they’re only 32 percent of the student population. Academic scores haven’t increased; during the last school year, they dipped or remained stagnant.

But the foundation to support a successful and sustainable transition is nearly in place, says Bishop.

[SNIP]

If there’s a road map for a system of successful schools these days, says Bishop – one in which no student is expelled or suspended, and all students are educated, it includes these elements:

leaders who are strong, teachers and staff who are engaged, a committed community, involved parents, all of whom agree on common goals;

solid academics;

and a combination of the implementation of a system of trauma and resilience-informed practices, positive behavioral support, such as PBIS, and restorative practices based on restorative justice.

Although the details of the road map will vary from school to school, says Bishop, the basic belief that underlies such a road map is this:

There is no such thing as an uneducable child.

(Read the rest. There’s also a worthwhile interview with Superintendent Bishop.)


A JUSTICE SYSTEM FAIR COUNSEL FAILURE

Earlier in October, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Terrence Miller, a man who met with his lawyer for a few minutes before his hearing, and was denied a request for a continuance because the judge had an axe to grind with the public defenders’ office.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen points out the numerous ways the system failed Terrence Miller—from the actions of his original judge, to the NJ appellate judges, to the Department of Justice and the US Supreme Court—and why the implications of his case are so important. Here are some clips:

In State v. Terrence Miller, four justices of the state supreme court—over a lone dissent—affirmed the conviction of a man indicted on drug charges who met his lawyer for the first time for a few minutes in a stairwell at the courthouse on the morning of trial. The lawyer had not tried a criminal case in seven years and had been appointed to Miller’s case only four days before trial. He never spoke to any witnesses, or to Miller’s former attorney, or to investigators in the public defender’s office. He didn’t know what his client would say on the witness stand.

[SNIP]

When it comes to indigent defense, the Obama Administration gets an “A” for candor and an “F” for results. The feds know there is a terrible problem. And they know how to solve the problem. But they won’t spend, or push Congress to spend, what it would take to do it. This year, for example, the Justice Department proudly announced it would give $1.8 million in grants to “improve access to criminal legal services and strengthen indigent defense across the nation.” This is not remotely enough. Funding for legal aid and criminal defense “should be a priority,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday. She’s right.

[SNIP]

But the biggest failing of all was the failure of the appellate judges to recognize and rectify these serious mistakes. The majority opinion here is one of the most indefensible I have ever read. The trial judge “would have better served the competing interests at stake” by adjourning the trial, the justices declared, but did not “abuse his discretion” when he didn’t. How can this be? Because the United States Supreme Court, in a series of cases that have undercut the premise of Gideon, have sent the unmistakable signal to lower court judges that the right to counsel is some malleable proposition. Tell that to a man who goes to trial with a public defender who doesn’t know a thing about his case.

[SNIP]

As the Miller case tells us, however, money isn’t the only problem. Money for more public defenders, or for more judges to handle more indigent defense cases, won’t overturn the Supreme Court precedents upon which New Jersey relied in precluding Terrence Miller from a fair trial. The state justices held that a lawyer doesn’t have to know the facts of the case, or have any connection with any witnesses or evidence, for the client to be competently represented at trial. All the attorney has to do is show up, and declare himself prepared, and that’s that. Money alone, I submit, simply can’t overcome this level of crazy.

Here is what the lone dissenting NJ Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin had to say about this troubling case:

No attorney can provide effective representation at a motion-to-suppress hearing [or any kind of hearing for that matter] if he has not spoken with his client beforehand, listened to his account, interviewed his witnesses, or prepared him for his testimony. Miller had witnesses waiting in the wings but his attorney could not call them because he had not spoken with his client. Sitting next to Miller was a total stranger who happened to be his state-appointed attorney. The failure of the attorney to consult with Miller in any meaningful fashion, to prepare him for his testimony, and to present corroborating witnesses at the motion-to-suppress hearing rendered the attorney per se ineffective.

Posted in CDCR, Human rights, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Public Defender, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

LA County Supervisors to Look at Juvenile Court-Appointed Attorneys’ Pay…the Horrors of Asset Forfeiture…and More

August 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR RIDLEY-THOMAS TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF MEAGER FEES PAID TO COURT-APPOINTED PRIVATE JUVENILE ATTORNEYS AT NEXT BOARD MEETING

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas plans to introduce a motion, possibly on Tuesday, to look into alternatives to the current fee system for contracted panel attorneys assigned to indigent juvenile defendants.

As we reported last week, a study by Loyola Law School Professor Cyn Yamashiro found that these private attorneys (who are assigned cases that the Public Defender’s Office cannot take due to a conflict of interest) are drastically underpaid by the county, are less active in court, and submit significantly fewer motions than public defenders.

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

Loyola Law Professor Cyn Yamashiro studied 4,000 juvenile court files in L.A. County and determined that, on average, those represented by panel attorneys tend to end up at a higher level of supervision and spend more time in juvenile probation camps than those represented by public defenders.

Yamashiro thinks that might have something to do with the fact that private attorneys are paid a $320-$345 flat fee by the county for each case, regardless of its complexity.

“It’s a single fee that has to pay for all the legal work that’s done on a case,” the professor said. “It has the opposite financial incentive that you would want as a defendant. You’d want the attorney rewarded for doing more work, not penalized.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he plans to introduce a motion on Tuesday instructing the Chief Executive Office to look into the pay system, recommend alternatives and assess any fiscal impact.

Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of L.A. County’s juvenile courts, said he’s not opposed to increasing the pay of defense attorneys for indigent juveniles.

“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would disagree with that notion,” Nash said.

(We at WLA agree.)


INNOCENT PEOPLE LOSE THEIR HOMES TO FORFEITURE LAWS

Asset forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes property that may be associated with a crime, most often a drug crime, is a serious cash cow for law enforcement agencies in many states, including California. In Philadelphia and many other jurisdictions, if a crime was allegedly committed inside a house, even unbeknownst to the homeowner, the residence can be seized through civil law, even if no charges are ever brought against the owner. (For forfeiture laws in California, go here.)

Isaiah Thompson has the story for ProPublica. Here are some clips:

When Rochelle Bing bought her modest row home on a tattered block in North Philadelphia 10 years ago, she saw it as an investment in the future for her extended family — especially for her 18 grandchildren.

Bing, 42, works full-time as a home health assistant for the elderly and disabled. In summer when school is out, her house is awash with grandkids whom Bing tends to while their parents work. And the home has been a haven in troubled times when her children needed help or a father went to jail. One of Bing’s grandchildren lives there now.

“That’s the only reason I bought my home — I needed stability for my children,” Bing said. “And if anything was to happen to me, they would have a home to live in.”

But four years ago, something happened that imperiled Bing’s plans. In October 2009, police raided the house and charged her son, Andrew, then 24, with selling 8 packets of crack cocaine to an undercover informant. (Upon entering the house, police reported finding unused packets, though not drugs, in a rear bedroom.) Rochelle Bing was not present and was not accused of a crime. Yet she soon received a frightening letter from the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. Because Andrew had sold the drugs from inside his mother’s house, a task force of law enforcement officials moved to seize Bing’s house. They filed a court claim, quickly approved, that gave Bing just 30 days to dissuade a judge from granting “a decree of forfeiture” that would give the DA’s office title to the property. Bing was devastated.

[SNIP]

On its face, Bing’s predicament might seem implausible if not unjust. How could someone who’s neither accused nor convicted of a crime be forced to give up her property because of another’s misdeeds? But stories like Bing’s are increasingly more common as Philadelphia and other jurisdictions have embraced the expansive power of forfeiture as a crime-fighting tool.

The idea behind forfeiture is simple enough: drug kingpins, embezzlers, racketeers and other offenders should not be able to keep the financial fruits of illegal acts. Prosecutors often ask a judge to seize the money, vehicles or real estate of a person convicted of a crime.

But authorities can also use civil law to seize assets before the criminal case is adjudicated or, as with Rochelle Bing, even when no charges are brought against the owner.

[SNIP]

Forfeiture reports obtained from Pennsylvania’s Attorney General give only a general breakdown of how these funds are spent. The records show that the bulk of Philadelphia’s forfeiture money goes to “salaries” (the report does not say whose), and “municipal task force support.” The reports include a line-item for money spent on “Community Based Drug & Crime Fighting Programs” and “Witness Relocation and/or Protection Expenses.” In recent years, both of those items read “$0.00.”

Money from housing sales in 2010 represented about a fifth of all the DA’s $5.9 million in forfeiture income that year. The rest was generated by seizure of cash, cars and other property. Last fall, a story by this reporter in The Philadelphia City Paper disclosed that the DA’s office moves to seize virtually every dollar in cash found by police in stops — even amounts of $100 or less. Under the law, prosecutors need not secure a conviction in the underlying criminal case to keep the cash.

The money raised through forfeiture is handled outside the city’s budgeting and appropriations processes. The law requires only that it be used to enforce Pennsylvania’s drug laws. Critics and experts who study the issue say that gives prosecutors a powerful motive to step up the pace of forfeitures.


WHAT THE SCOTUS RULING ON CALIFORNIA PRISON OVERCROWDING MEANS (AND DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN) FOR CALIFORNIA

LA Times’ Evan Halper and Paige St. John explain the significance Friday’s Supreme Court decision to deny Gov. Jerry Brown’s appeal to block the three-judge panel’s order to release 9,600 inmates by the end of the year. Here’s a clip:

…the Supreme Court was not persuaded. The majority denied Brown’s request for a stay without comment.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a sharply worded dissent, which Justice Clarence Thomas joined. Justice Samuel Alito also dissented, but he did not join Scalia.

Scalia wrote that he does not believe the federal courts have the authority to order California to remove thousands of inmates from its prison system.

“California must now release upon the public nearly 10,000 inmates convicted of serious crimes — about 1,000 for every city larger than Santa Ana,” he wrote. The order, he wrote, goes “beyond the power of the courts.”

Scalia’s description overstated the situation. The state does not yet have to release prisoners, although that could happen by the end of the year. Federal judges have urged California to explore all options.

Although the latest turn in California’s long-running prison saga could lead to large-scale releases, the administration has alternatives.

It could, for example, send inmates to private facilities, most of which are out of state. The administration has contracts in place to enable such a move. But it would be costly to taxpayers and could create political problems with unionized prison guards.

Prison officials, meanwhile, have already started to identify thousands of inmates who are near the end of their terms. They are also looking at some 900 inmates who have serious illnesses and thus are considered less dangerous.

Not surprisingly, the California State Sheriff’s Association Monday stated their disapproval of the decision, and urged Gov. Brown to relocate prisoners to other facilities, rather than release them.

(You can read the official announcement on the CSSA website.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, prison, Public Defender | 1 Comment »

Effects of Severe Cuts to Public Defender Services, Gov. Brown’s Prisons Predicament, Hunger Strike, and More Sheriff’s Luncheon

July 26th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

BUDGET CUTS BEAR DOWN ON PUBLIC DEFENDER SYSTEM

With federal public defenders services threatened by budget sequestration, Alabama School of Law Professor Frederick Vars has created an online petition over at PrawfsBlawg.

Here is what Vars has to say:

Sequestration imperils the constitutional right of criminal defendants to adequate legal representation. About 90% of federal criminal defendants require court-appointed counsel. In FY 2013, sequestration resulted in a $52 million cut to Federal Defender Services, bringing massive layoffs and furloughs. It is estimated that in FY 2014, if nothing is done, FDS will be forced to terminate as many as one-third to one-half of employees.

Funding for prosecutors is apparently headed in the opposite direction. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week announced a $79 million increase to the FY 2014 budget for U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the express purpose of bringing more criminal cases in federal court. This radical imbalance threatens the fundamental right to counsel.

Please join me in urging Congress and the President to restore adequate funding for Federal Defender Services.

Washington Post’s Lisa Rein has more on the effect sequestration is having on federal public defenders (and their clients, as a result). Here’s a clip:

Public defenders and their advocates told a Senate panel Tuesday that the budget cuts known as sequestration are taking heavy toll on legal representation for the poor, causing delays and lengthy furloughs that could worsen next year.

“We are cutting ourselves to the bone,” Michael S. Nachmanoff, Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, told a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on the effects of sequestration on the federal court system.

“We are on the verge of being crippled, and we’re a model of quality and efficiency, ” he said.

Federal defenders already were facing a 5 percent budget reduction when $85 billion in spending cuts began coursing through federal agencies in March, lopping another 5 percent from the budget this fiscal year. Some courts have limited the hours they hear criminal matters. Defenders across the country are taking up to 15 days without pay, forcing postponements in many criminal proceedings.

And there are problems at the state level, too. With the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright (in which SCOTUS ruled that state courts were required to provide public legal counsel to defendants who could not afford their own attorney), there has been a lot of discussion about how underfunded and overburdened with caseloads public defenders at the state level have become.

Here’s a clip from the Gideon v. Wainwright 50th Anniversary site:

States and even many individual counties have their own unique public defense systems, which struggle in unique ways to conduct their work. 50 years after the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision, chronic underfunding and overwhelming caseloads for public defenders are putting this country at great risk of not fulfilling one of its most important promises: to provide quality representation to those in need.

The right to counsel enshrined in the 6th Amendment to the Constitution is unmet in many states across the country because the states don’t provide adequate funding, increasing the risk of wrongful convictions and costly appeals.


JERRY BROWN’S OVERCROWDING TROUBLES: A SONG

A new video by Mark Fiore (vocals by John Taylor) features a cartoon Gov. Jerry Brown singing the “Cruel and Unusual Blues—a play on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”—about his ongoing battle with a three-judge panel’s order to reduce the prison population by 9,000 inmates before the end of the year.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: THE CALIFORNIA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who continues to do a great job of tracking the issue, has an update on the prisoner hunger strike against solitary confinement conditions in California prisons. Here’s a clip:

California’s prison hunger strike entered its 17th day Wednesday with 707 inmates continuing to refuse meals, and inmate advocates complaining those who turn down food but drink electrolytes or Koolaid are not being included in the state’s protest count.

“Some inmates said they were on a solid food-only hunger strike,” said Carol Strickman, an attorney with the inmate support group Prisoners with Children. “If they want to drink tea, electrolytes, we feel they should be allowed to do that.”


LASD SPOKESMAN SAYS NO MORE INAPPROPRIATE ENTERTAINMENT AT ANNUAL LUNCHEON

And more on our favorite story of the week: Los Angeles Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore says department officials are taking measures to ensure that no future Sheriff’s Day Luncheons feature racist and sexually explicit comedy acts. (If you missed Wednesday’s hullabaloo, you can read about it here.)

LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the update. Here’s a very small clip:

Whitmore said officials are trying to figure out how the comedian was vetted. They are also going to implement safeguards, he said, to keep it from happening again. They might, for example, hire a motivational speaker next year instead of a comedian.

Good call!

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LASD, prison, Public Defender, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary | 38 Comments »

HBO Documentary on Public Defenders, the Case for Split Sentencing, and Juvie LWOP

July 2nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

“GIDEON’S ARMY”—THE PLIGHT OF THE PUBLIC DEFENDER

On Monday, HBO aired a terrific new documentary called “Gideon’s Army” that takes a look at the world of public defenders, attorneys representing those that cannot afford to hire their own defense attorney.

The NY Times and the NY Daily News both raved about the film. (WitnessLA has seen it, and we like it, too.) Here’s a clip from NYT’s Stephen Holden’s review:

The title of Dawn Porter’s stirring documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” refers to the legion of idealistic public defenders fighting for equal justice in a land where not everybody can afford a high-priced defense attorney. That army is named after Clarence Earl Gideon, who was arrested in 1961 for stealing soda and a few dollars from a pool hall in Panama City, Fla.

Convicted of theft after representing himself at trial, Gideon appealed the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in a landmark 1963 decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, that the right to counsel in criminal court is fundamental to the American system of justice.

The decision ushered in a nationwide system of public defenders representing clients who are too poor to pay for their legal defense. Today the disparity between the haves and have-nots is such that most of the 12 million people arrested in the United States each year will be represented by one of the country’s 15,000 public defenders.

[SNIP]

The film devotes most of its attention to Travis Williams and Brandy Alexander, public defenders in Georgia who dedicate their lives to representing America’s underclass. It is emotionally grueling work in which both struggle to maintain their humanity. In the words of Mr. Williams, who handles 120 cases at a time and has no room left for a personal life, “Everybody’s in an emergency state.”

(By the way, HBO will be airing it again Wednesday morning at 11:15a.m. and at 8:00p.m., and it is also on HBO On Demand.)


WHY LA COUNTY NEEDS TO GET WITH THE PROGRAM ON SPLIT SENTENCING—NOW

Through split sentencing, a person convicted of a non-serious felony serving time in county jail under realignment, would serve part of their sentence in jail and the other part on probation in the community. This sentencing alternative is not widely used in LA County, but is seeing success in the surrounding counties.

An LA Times editorial explains in clear terms why “split sentencing” would be a helpful tool to chop at LA County’s recidivism rates and free up beds in the jails. Here are some clips:

Today, defendants convicted of felonies defined by law as violent, serious or sexual continue to go to state prison; and despite widespread public misunderstanding and assertions to the contrary by officials who ought to know better, defendants convicted of lesser felonies also go to state prison if they have rap sheets that include past violent, serious or sexual offenses.

But since October 2011, newly convicted “non-non-non” felons — those whose offenses are not violent, serious or sexual — with no current or previous record of serious convictions go to county jail. Just like their counterparts in state prison, they will serve their time, get out and return to their communities.

And then what? The addicted and the mentally ill will most likely remain untreated; they and other inmates badly in need of life skills, anger management counseling or similar programs will leave jail at complete liberty, with an unstructured reentry into society. Their prospects for success — shunning trouble, getting work, leading productive, crime-free lives, leaving their neighbors safe — will be about the same as those of felons returning from state prison: not good.

[SNIP]

AB 109, the criminal justice realignment laws adopted in 2011 that gave counties new responsibilities over low-level felons, also proposed a reinvention of the reentry process to deal with criminal recidivism. Defendants could receive what is known as a “split sentence,” with a portion of the time to be served in jail and another portion to be served in the community, under supervision by probation officers who would monitor mandatory participation in rehabilitation and other programs. The period served under supervision in the community, after release from jail, is known as a “tail.”

[SNIP]

So how tightly is the state’s largest jurisdiction, Los Angeles County, embracing the opportunities presented by split sentencing? This county is bottom of the barrel, with a supervised tail in only 4% of sentences.

The reasons for the failure to use this proven tool are unimpressive. Defense lawyers and prosecutors are used to bargaining over custody time, not negotiating for tails. Defendants would rather do their time and return to the streets at full liberty. Prosecutors would rather maximize custody time than require post-custody programming. Judges defer to the lawyers’ plea bargains when sentencing. The focus is shortsighted, aimed at efficient processing, not structured reentry or breaking the cycle of recidivism. The leader of a committee made up of local law enforcement officers, judges and county service providers told the Board of Supervisors last week that he expects no change in the number of split sentences here.

(Go read the rest of this worthwhile editorial.)


MILLER V. ALABAMA AND THE PATH TO APPROPRIATE SENTENCING FOR KIDS

A year ago, SCOTUS ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for children was unconstitutional, but did not strike down LWOP for youth altogether.

Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator for Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, says in an op-ed at the Post and Courier that while Miller was an important win in the fight for fair sentencing for kids (whose brains are not fully developed and should not be treated the same as adults), there is still a long road ahead. For instance, while some states have thrown out sentencing kids to LWOP, the federal government has done little to address the issue. Here are some clips:

A year ago last week, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that it is unconstitutional to impose on a child a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The court stopped short of striking down all life-without-parole sentences for children but required that judges consider a child’s maturity, home environment, role in the crime, potential for rehabilitation and other key factors before ordering this harsh penalty.

Miller was the third Supreme Court ruling in three years to reaffirm the notion that children who run afoul of the law cannot be treated the same way as adults without consideration of their status as children because science tells us — as all parents know — they are fundamentally different.

[SNIP]

Miller struck down the statutes in at least 29 states, many of which have considered changes to comply with the ruling. Some states have focused on approaches that would impose the next-harshest available sentence. A few states — including Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Washington and Wyoming — have pursued compliance more broadly, seeking reforms that provide periodic reviews of sentences for youths convicted of serious crimes. This approach reflects the notion that children should be held accountable in ways that ensure they will have a second chance at life, increasing the likelihood that they will be motivated to change and be productive members of society when they return home. The federal government, however, has been silent about addressing this issue.

The Campaign for Fair Sentencing for Youth also has this relevant report on the issue.

Posted in juvenile justice, Public Defender, Realignment, Reentry | No Comments »

Mosley Comes Back to LA, WA State’s Public Defender Crisis & George Will on Juvie LWOP

June 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


PATT MORRISON TALKS TO NOVELIST WALTER MOSLEY ABOUT A SORTA RETURN TO LA AND ABOUT THE REAPPEARANCE OF EASY RAWLINS

Walter Mosley’s best novels have always woven strong threads of social justice commentary into the fabric of the pure literary entertainment. This has been especially true of Mosley’s books featuring the character of Easy Rawlins, a couple of which were set during and just after the Watt’s riots. Taken as a whole, the Easy Rawlins series explores race relations in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the end of the 1960′s, but does so through consummate storytelling.

It appeared that Mosley had left Rawlins behind when the author moved to New York and launched a whole new series set on the east coast.

But in this LA Times interview with Mosley, Patt Morrison suggests that we’re going to see more of Easy Rawlins, and more of Mosley’s social justice communiques embedded in his deliciously distinctive prose.

Here’s how the interview opens:

You can take Walter Mosley out of Los Angeles — in fact, Mosley did so himself, moving to New York decades ago — but you can’t take L.A. out of Walter Mosley. The master of several genres keeps the city present, from his Easy Rawlins detective novels set in black postwar Los Angeles to the Greek-myths-in-South-Central elements in one of the two novellas in his latest volume. Mosley appeared to wrap it up with Rawlins in “Blonde Faith” in 2007, but five years later, he’s found more for his most famous detective to do, just as Mosley has for himself. He has a fledgling production company, B.O.B. (for “Best of Brooklyn”) Filmhouse, and still writes with one foot in 212 and another here in 213.

Read on.


WASHINGTON STATE’S COUNTIES TO INDIGENT DEFENDANTS: SORRY YOUR DEFENSE SUCKS, BUT WE’RE CUTTING COSTS


In ruling handed down earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court took a look at the absurdly large caseloads
that many criminal public defenders were carrying, and quite logically concluded that the PD’s couldn’t possibly give their clients anything resembling an adequate defense.

Thus the WA Court set down strict limits on the public defenders’ caseloads.

Now Gene Johnson of the AP has a story about how the the counties simply don’t have the money to pay for extra PDs to lower those caseload numbers.

Here are some clips from the AP story:

By a 7-2 vote this month, the justices adopted new case limits for public defenders — lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The standards say that beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney.

The caseloads have been especially high in city courts that handle misdemeanors, with public defenders sometimes taking on 1,000 or more cases annually. Now, city officials busy preparing next year’s budgets basically have two options: Provide more money to law firms that represent poor defendants or charge fewer people with crimes.

[SNIP]

The high court acknowledged the financial burden the ruling would place on cities and counties but said the move is essential in guaranteeing that everyone has adequate legal representation.

The workloads of public defenders have long been an issue. The cities of Burlington and Mount Vernon are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which says the two lawyers hired to handle misdemeanor cases took on more than 2,100 cases in 2010 alone, and rarely if ever met with their clients or investigated cases.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said evidence suggests that the appointment of public defenders in those cities is “little more than a sham.”

The cities deny that the plaintiffs’ rights were violated and said that even if the public defenders were incompetent or overworked, the cities aren’t liable.

Wow. (And not in a good way.)


GEORGE WILL LOOKS AT JUVIE LIFERS, JUDICIAL CONSTRUCTIONALISM, AND THE CONCEPT OF CRUEL AND UNUSUAL

Conservative columnist George Will had a very thoughtful column in the Wa PO about this week’s juvenile LWOP ruling. Here’s how it opens:

In the 1790s, a Tennessee man convicted of horse theft got off easy. Instead of being hanged, as horse thieves often were, he was sentenced to “stand in the pillory one hour, receive thirty-nine lashes upon his bareback well laid on, have his ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, and that he should be branded upon one cheek with the letter H and on the other with the letter T, in a plain and visible manner.” Tennessee could not do that today because of what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The Eighth Amendment, ratified in 1791, forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, a Supreme Court ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John G. Roberts Jr., Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment.

In 1999, Kuntrell Jackson, 14, and two others, 14 and 15, robbed a video store in Blytheville, Ark. The 15-year-old fatally shot the store clerk. Jackson, who had a juvenile arrest record, was tried as an adult for aggravated robbery and felony capital murder. He was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

By 2002, Evan Miller, 14, a victim of serious domestic abuse, had tried to kill himself five times. He and another youth, after drinking and smoking marijuana with a 52-year-old man whose trailer was next door to the Millers’ in Lawrence County, Ala., tried to rob him while he slept. He awoke, they beat him with a baseball bat, set fire to his trailer and he burned to death. Miller was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

Because of their offenses, both Jackson and Miller were automatically tried as adults. Both were sentenced under mandatory sentencing laws.

On Monday, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits such sentences when they are mandatory. Previously, the court had held that, regarding children, such sentences are akin to the death penalty, which the court said requires individuation — consideration by sentencing authorities of each defendant’s characteristics and crime.

This ruling extends two others, one holding that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children under 18, the other that it bars life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense…


Photo of Walter Mosley in 2007 at the Brooklyn Book Festival by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in criminal justice, literature, LWOP Kids, Public Defender, writers and writing | No Comments »