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The Trauma Files: You Too Can Take the ACEs Test…Now That We’re Finally Having a Serious Conversation About the Effects of Childhood Trauma

March 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



Several times a year, I am asked to speak about juvenile justice issues at classrooms
full of graduate students studying public policy, or some similar subject. These days when I talk about criminal justice–juvenile or otherwise—I always bring up the issue of trauma.

I trot out the results of research showing that kids in the juvenile justice system are 8 times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder—PTSD—than non-incarcerated kids in the community.

I note that the prevalence of PTSD is higher among girls in the justice system (49%) than among boys in the system (32%).

I explain that for school age kids, PTSD can look a lot like attention-deficit disorder, with the accompanying lack of concentration, resulting poor grades, plus the kind of inability to sit still that often leads to school discipline.

Then I tell the students that there is a newer way to look at the kind of extreme stress and trauma that can cause PTSD in kids—along with related difficulties in school performance, behavior and so on.

It is called Adverse Childhood Experiences—OR ACEs.

(We’ve written about ACEs in the past here and here and here.)


THE ORIGINAL ACEs STUDY

In the late 1990s, Vincent Felitti, founder of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, and Robert Anda of the US Centers for Disease Control, conducted a landmark study that examined the effects of what they termed adverse childhood experiences–ACEs—things like abuse, neglect, domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction and catastrophe.

Felitti and Anda studied around 17,000 people in all, the majority of whom were white, well-educated, and middle class or above. Each subject was asked to answer a series of questions about highly stressful events or conditions in their childhood, along with another basic set of questions about physical and emotional issues in their adulthood.

When the researchers analyzed the resulting data, they found find a powerful connection between the level of adversity faced and the incidence of many health and social problems. The two also discovered that ACEs were more common than they had expected. About 40 percent of Felitti and Anda’s respondents reported two or more ACEs, and 25 percent reported three or more.

Since then, similar studies and surveys have been conducted in several states, with findings that are either consistent, or more dramatic.

It is at around this point in my lecture that I ask the class members if they’d like to take an ACEs test themselves.

It isn’t the full test that Felitti and Anda gave, only a 10-question quiz, but it will still give them a good idea of what we’re talking about.


YOU TOO CAN TAKE THE ACES QUIZ

If you click the link below you can take it yourselves.

ACES 10 Q QUIZ

Of course there are other significant forms of childhood trauma that are not listed in the quiz: having a friend killed, repeated exposure to community violence, surviving and recovering from a severe accident, being the subject of severe bullying or violence by a friend or acquaintance….and so on.

Moreover, the test doesn’t measure traumatic events occurring in young adulthood, or adulthood, which can compound the effects of earlier trauma, or cause it’s own after effects.

Yet it’s a good place to start.


SCORING TRAUMA

After everyone has finished and privately noted their personal scores, we talk further about how trauma is the unacknowledged elephant in the room when it comes to the subjects of school discipline, justice policy, prisoner reentry, etc., and also, as it turns out, when it comes to physical health.

I tell stories about the young men and women I got to know during my first few years of gang reporting in the early 1990′s, and how their ACEs scores were off the charts. And now, 20 years later, many of them are struggling with the physical and emotional issues that the first ACEs study described.

When we talk about criminal justice policy reform, juvenile justice reform, school discipline reform, prisoner reentry, we also have to have the conversation about trauma, I say.

When the class is over, there is inevitably a cluster of students who want to talk more. Once we’ve chatted a little, I ask those who have lingered behind if they’d be willing to reveal their own ACE scores; what they tell me no longer surprises: ….5….6…7….

And in the last class at which I lectured, one obviously bright woman took a breath and said… “10.”

(Her story is an interesting one and I hope to persuade her to write about it for WLA)


BRINGING ACES INTO THE LIGHT

I bring all this up because this week NPR’s Laura Starecheski produced an excellent three part series for All Things Considered about the world of ACEs, which will further explain why this topic is something we should all know more about.

Part 1 is titled Can Family Secrets Make You Sick and it talks about the Felitti/Anda study, and how it was received—when it first came out, and now.

Here a clip.

In the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, now director of the California Institute of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, discovered something potentially revolutionary about the ripple effects of child sexual abuse. He discovered it while trying to solve a very different health problem: helping severely obese people lose weight.

Felitti, a specialist in preventive medicine, was trying out a new liquid diet treatment among patients at a Kaiser Permanente clinic. And it worked really well. The severely obese patients who stuck to it lost as much as 300 pounds in a year.

“Oh yeah, this was really quite extraordinary,” recalls Felitti.

But then, some of the patients who’d lost the most weight quit the treatment and gained back all the weight — faster than they’d lost it. Felitti couldn’t figure out why. So he started asking questions.

First, one person told him she’d been sexually abused as a kid. Then another.

“You know, I remember thinking, ‘Well, my God, this is the second incest case I’ve seen in [then] 23 years of practice,’ ” Felitti says. “And so I started routinely inquiring about childhood sexual abuse, and I was really floored.”

More than half of the 300 or so patients said yes, they too had been abused.

Felitti wondered if he’d discovered one of the keys to some cases of obesity and all the health problems that go along with it.


THE FIFTEEN YEAR GAP

In Part 2, NPR and Starecheski offered their own interactive ACEs test and what the scores mean.

Part 3 is titled 10 Questions Some Doctors are Afraid to Ask

I met Felitti last fall and he said that when he and Anda first published their results in the late 1990s, they expected an overwhelming response from the medical community.

Instead for the next fifteen years they got….crickets.

Here’s what the CDC’s Anda told Starecheski:

“I thought that people would flock to this information,” Anda says, “and be knocking on our doors, saying, ‘Tell us more. We want to use it.’ And the initial reaction was really — silence.”

In fact, it took a long time to even get the study published. A number of top medical journals rejected the article, Anda says, “because there was intense skepticism.”

Here are some clips from the rest of the story:

For one thing, doctors aren’t taught about ACE scores in medical school. Some physicians wonder what the point would be, as the past can’t be undone. There also is no way to bill for the test, and no standard protocol for what a doctor should do with the results.

But Felitti thinks there’s an even bigger reason why the screening tool largely has been ignored by American medicine: “personal discomfort on the part of physicians.”

Some doctors think the ACE questions are too invasive, Felitti says. They worry that asking such questions will lead to tears and relived trauma … emotions and experiences that are hard to deal with in a typically time-crunched office visit.

[SNIP]

According to Dr. Jeff Brenner, a family doctor and MacArthur Fellows award-winner in Camden, N.J., getting these rough measures of adversity from patients potentially could help the whole health care system understand patients better.

The ACE score, Brenner says, is “still really the best predictor we’ve found for health spending, health utilization; for smoking, alcoholism, substance abuse. It’s a pretty remarkable set of activities that health care talks about all the time.”

Brenner won his MacArthur fellowship in 2013 for his work on how to treat the most complicated, expensive patients in his city — people who often have high ACE scores, he found.

“I can’t imagine, 10, 15 years from now, a health care system that doesn’t routinely use the ACE scores,” he says. “I just can’t imagine that.”

Brenner only learned about ACE scores a few years ago, and says he regrets not integrating the tool into his practice sooner. But like most doctors, he says, he was taught in medical school to not “pull the lid off something you don’t have the training, time or ability to handle.”

In theory, Brenner says, talking to patients about adverse childhood experiences shouldn’t be any different than asking them about domestic violence or their drinking — awkward topics that doctors routinely broach now.


KANSAS CITY TRIES “TRAUMA INFORMED” CARE FOR KIDS

The good news is that there are some promising programs popping up all around the nation, including a number in California, which make use of what we know about the effects of childhood trauma.

For instance, we’ve talked several times about Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and her remarkable pediatric practice in San Francisco. And there is this pediatric program in Kansas City, profiled by Eric Adler for the Kansas City Star. Here’s a clip:

Never mind the little girl’s name. What’s important is that she was about 10 years old and all the doctors she had seen month after month had failed to ease her pain.

The girl’s stomach wrenched. Her chest tightened. Her skull seared with lightning-bolt headaches.

Then at Children’s Mercy Hospital, pediatrician Lisa Spector decided to probe with a different set of questions. Instead of asking what was wrong physically, Spector asked the girl what had happened to her in her young life. Quickly, the crux of her pain became clear:

Trauma.

“It was impacting her physical and mental health,” Spector said.

At school, she was bullied. At home, she witnessed repeated domestic violence. She talked of her dad belittling and abusing her emotionally. She recently had been a victim of an attempted carjacking; the thief fled after seeing her in the back seat.

Day to day, she was living a tense and unsure existence that was translating itself into hobbling pain.

That the child’s troubles ultimately eased not with medication but with counseling can be credited to a serious effort by Children’s Mercy to focus on “trauma-informed” care.

For a growing number of children across the country, the approach has become the key to their emotional and mental health, “the most important thing we can do for people,” said Marsha Morgan, chief operating officer for behavioral health at Truman Medical Center.

Trauma-informed care focuses on the notion that a traumatic event in childhood, either experienced or witnessed, can alter the biology of the brain. A trauma-informed strategy works on multiple fronts — using counseling and changes to one’s personal interactions and environment — to lessen or bypass those negative associations while forming new and more positive associative pathways in the brain.

“I’ve worked in this field for over 42 years, and this is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” Dr. Morgan told Adler as they talked about the hospital’s trauma work.

We’ll be talking more about trauma, its effects,. and what can be done to prevent and address them, as we profile more of important programs over the coming weeks and months

Posted in ACEs, Community Health, juvenile justice, mental health, prison policy, PTSD, Public Health, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES

It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS

In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

[SNIP]

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME

For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

The End of Gangs? Uh, No. WLA Discusses This Particular New Contention on KCRW’s Which Way LA?

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



THE END OF GANGS—THAT WASN’T.

A story called “The End of Gangs” by veteran So Cal journalist Sam Quinones appeared late last month in Pacific Standard Magazine, and the thesis it contains—that the damaging affect and visible presence of Southern California gangs has all but vanished, or at least been drastically reduced—has produced a large stir among many experts on violence and safety in California communities.

Here’s a clip from Quinones’ story:

In the past few years, street gangs have been retreating from public view all over Southern California. Several years ago, I spent a couple of days in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, interviewing some Florencia 13 gang members. One nearby garage was never free of graffiti for more than a few minutes a week. (This was the amount of time it took after the graffiti clean-up truck left for the 76th Street clique of Florencia 13 to re-deface the thing.) That garage wall has now been without graffiti for more than four years. I go by it every time I’m in the neighborhood.

Fifteen miles southeast of Florence-Firestone, much of the tiny city of Hawaiian Gardens used to be scarred with the graffiti of HG-13, a local gang that absorbed several generations of the town’s young men. The last three times I’ve been to Hawaiian Gardens, I’ve seen nothing on the walls, and young black men freely visit taco restaurants on the main drag, something that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. In Oxnard’s Colonia Chiques neighborhood in Ventura County, the decades-old neighborhood gang is not outside, and their graffiti is gone.

Some of this is a state and national story, as violent crime declined by about 16 percent in both California and the nation from 2008 through 2012. But the decline has been steeper in many gang-plagued cities: 26 percent in Oxnard, 28 percent in Riverside, 30 percent in Compton, 30 percent in Pasadena, 30 percent in Montebello, 50 percent in Bell Gardens, 50 percent in El Monte.

Santa Ana once counted 70-plus homicides a year, many of them gang-related. That’s down to 15 so far in 2014, even as Santa Ana remains one of the densest, youngest, and poorest big cities in California. “Before, they were into turf,” says Detective Jeff Launi, a longtime Santa Ana Police gang investigator. “They’re still doing it, but now they’re more interested in making money.”

No place feels so changed as the city of Los Angeles. In 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that gang crime had dropped by nearly half since 2008. In 2012, L.A. had fewer total homicides (299) citywide than it had gang homicides alone in 2002 (350) and in 1992 (430). For the most part, Latino gang members no longer attack blacks in ways reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. Nor are gangs carjacking, assaulting, robbing, or in a dozen other ways blighting their own neighborhoods. Between 2003 and 2013, gang-related robberies in the city fell from 3,274 to 1,021; gang assaults from 3,063 to 1,611; and carjackings, a classic L.A. gang crime born during the heyday of crack, from 211 to 33.

“Being the member of a gang doesn’t have the panache it did,” says George Tita, a criminology. “Things have changed radically in the last five years.”

So what’s the deal? We know violent crime is down all over the nation. Does this also mean that Los Angeles law enforcement has “tamed” its gang problem as Quinones’ story suggests?

I was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with Warren Olney discussing the issue Monday night. Sam Quinones was on too.

Here are some of the topics we talked about—plus a bit more:


ARE GANGS GONE?

So, does the fact that most gangsters now rarely wield spray cans to mark territory mean that gangs are no longer wreaking havoc in LA’s communities?

No, experts I spoke with told me. But gangs have changed a great deal. During the height of the gang conflicts in the late 1980′s and early to mid 1990′s, gangs primarily fought about turf and drug sales and identity.

Now gangs are all about business.

Moreover, according to UCLA gang anthropologist Dr. Jorja Leap, gangs are less visible because they have gone underground.

“They are extremely sophisticated about social media, and expert in many markets,” Leap said when we talked Monday morning.

Gentrification and the drop in violent crime all over the U.S. does not translate into the end of gangs, she said. “They relocate,”—to places like Riverside and San Bernardino and the Inland Empire, where you do see gangsters on the street. “And then commute back in to commit crimes.”

Leap said she has been called in to consult on several criminal cases having to do with an active gang pipeline running from LA to Las Vegas that involves drug dealing, guns—”and now they have expanded their operations to human trafficking.”

Much of the organization needed to facilitate this commuter gang action, Leap said, “is achieved using social media.

“And I don’t mean guys throwing gang signs on Facebook,” she said, adding that she was talking about sophisticated websites, the purpose of which is well disguised, “sometimes using shadow businesses.”

Leap’s points are depressingly easy to support. For instance, a look at the 110-page RICO indictment filed against 38 members of the Mexican Mafia-associated Big Hazard gang filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in mid-December 2014, details the long-time gang’s elaborate actions to conceal its very healthy drug distribution business.

The place that gangs still thrive with perhaps the most strength and influence, Leap and others I spoke with Monday reminded me, is in California’s prisons and also in many of the state’s county jails, most particularly in LA County’s jail system and jails in the inland empire.

Elie Miller, a former alternate public defender now well known for her nonprofit legal work for places like Homeboy Industries and the Union Rescue Mission, told me this week about a young client who is afraid to go to jail in San Bernardino County, where he has a warrant, because of the heavy gang presence. He was fearful, said the attorney, “he have to comply with requests [from the gangs] to do things if in jail.”

From LA County jails I hear repeatedly about how those from gang-affected neighborhoods cannot receive money from family members “on their books,” without paying a percentage tax to the gang shot callers, whether they themselves are gang-involved or not.

“One other thing,” added Leap, “Quinones writes mostly about Latino gangs. And some of the mothers I know in South LA, would be really surprised to learn that gang crime is gone from their neighborhoods.”


WHAT ABOUT GANG VIOLENCE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY? THE TRAUMA

As I mentioned earlier, we know that violent crime is down all over the nation, Los Angeles County included.

There is much argument about the exact reasons for the crime drop, but most agree that it is due to a complex stew of causes that include smarter strategies in policing, along with the work of nonprofits like (in California) Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, the Toberman Foundationin San Pedro, Youth Uprising in Oakland, and a long list of like agencies that are on the front lines when it comes to addressing community health and safety,

Gang homicides are down too, but as for gang crime in general? Those in law enforcement I spoke with about the issue said that those stats are far less solid.

Moreover, while gangs are less visible, the collateral damage done to families and communities—along with the former gang members themselves—is still all too present and visible.

Violence reduction experts now talk less about gangs and more about the pressing issues of prison reentry and about addressing the now multi-generational trauma that the worst old days of gang violence left in its wake.

And then there are the still discomforting stats like the fact that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for black children and teenagers.

“I’d love to have the gang problem solved. Trust me,” said Leap. “But to say so is not just incorrect, it risks abandoning the programs we need to address the damage that’s already been done.”

And the damage that is still being done.

For more read Quinones’ story and then listen to the Which Way LA? podcast, starting at around minute 12:20.

And, by the way, in the end, Quinones and I agreed on far more than we disagreed on this important and complicated topic.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, PTSD, Public Health, Reentry, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

THE TRAUMA FILES: An Inner City Pediatrician Has an Epiphany…and the First Ever Summit on the Medical Effects of Trauma on Kids Kicks Off

November 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHEN CHILDHOOD BECOMES TOXIC

In 2008, a colleague handed pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris an article that had appeared, with little fanfare, in a medical journal six years before.

At the time, Burke Harris was running a pediatric clinic located in Bayview-Hunters Point, a largely African American neighborhood that is arguably San Francisco’s poorest and most violent.

While Burke is, herself, African American, her upbringing is very different from that of most of her patients. The doted on daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, both of whom are highly educated professionals, she got her medical degree from the University of California at Davis, her master’s in public health from Harvard, and did her pediatric residency at Stanford. After the stint at Stanford, she went to work for a private hospital group called the California Pacific Medical Center. Burke Harris talked California Pacific into letting her open the Bayview-Hunters Point clinic in 2007, which included allowing her take all pediatric patients who came through the door, regardless of their ability to pay.

In short order, the clinic was seeing 1000 patients a year. But, although Burke Harris loved the work, she was bothered by her sense that many of the ailments she was treating in the kids who came to her—things like asthma, ADHD, obesity and chronic bronchitis—were in some way related to the emotionally traumatizing things that were going on in the children’s lives—violence in the household, gang violence in their neighborhoods, homelessness, sexual abuse, incarcerated family members, extreme poverty, and more.

She wasn’t yet sure how to define the relationship between emotionally debilitating life events, and the physical conditions and illnesses she was treating. Still she felt sure there was a tangible link.

It was in this context that Burke Harris read the medical article titled The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning gold into lead.” It was written by a researcher named Dr. Vincent Felitti, the Chief of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente who, together with Dr. Robert Anda from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), had conducted a study from 1995 to 1997 where they asked more than 17,421 Kaiser patients about ten categories of childhood trauma, which Felitti and Anda termed adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. After analyzing the data that resulted, in 1998 Felitti and Anda published findings that showed an irrefutable relationship between their subjects’ ACE scores and their physical and emotional health later in life.

Burke was utterly gobsmacked at what Felitti was saying. The article—and the study to which it referred—explained a phenomenon she’d been witnessing daily yet had been unable to adequately interpret.


FIRST EVER ACES SUMMIT

“It’s like the clouds parted and the angels sang,” Burke Harris said last week when she told the story to a ballroom full of 200 health professionals, policy makers and advocates who had gathered in San Francisco for a first-of-its-kind summit to talk about the widespread and profound health and behavioral effects produced by adverse childhood experiences.

Burke Harris explained that four or more ACEs, or what she and others now called toxic stress, could produce long term changes in a kid’s brain structure. High ACE scores compromised the immune system, and dramatically expanded the likelihood of high risk behavior, of depression, of suicidality, of later incarceration.

Moreover, the original Kaiser study—which was conducted on mostly white and mostly college education subjects-–showed that these ACEs were extremely common: Two out of three—or 67 percent—of the 17,000 people studied at Kaiser had at least one ACE, and 12.5 percent had four or more ACEs.

In addition, there was a dose-response relationship between the number of ACEs a child experienced, and his or her risk of developing certain illnesses later in life. The same was true for emotional conditions and behaviors such as depression, violent behavior, or being a victim of violence.

But ACEs don’t have to be destiny, Burke Harris told the crowd. “There is an opportunity for healing throughout a lifetime.”


STAR POWER

When Burke Harris had her 2008 epiphany, the medical effects of childhood trauma and toxic stress that she recognized as obvious were still being studiously ignored by most of the medical establishment and those who make public policy—nevermind the fact that Felitti and Anda’s research had been out for a decade.

Yet, by the time she was the featured speaker at last week’s summit, the volume of parallel research into the issue had become increasingly difficult to disregard. Now in pockets all over the country, progressive health professionals are advocating for pediatric ACEs screening, and a growing group of forward-looking lawmakers are starting to talk about trauma-informed policy.

(This newly-ignited interest in California was demonstrated at the summit itself when state senator Mark Leno, state Secretary of Health and Human Services, Diana Dooley, and Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, were among the officials who cheerfully agreed to be on one of the event’s panels.)

Meanwhile, Burke Harris is deservedly becoming one of the superstars of the ACEs movement.

At the beginning of this month, Google gave a $3 million grant to Burke Harris’s Center for Youth Wellness—the health organization she founded to operate with her clinic in order to respond to the expanded needs she recognized in her patients. The pediatrician said the Google grant will allow her team to develop a clinical protocol to test for toxic stress.

Last week (as WLA reported) the Center for Youth Wellness released a new California-based study called “A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California.” Using data from 27,745 California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys between 2008 and 2013, the study found that one in six Californians (16.7%) have four or more ACEs making them:

• 2.4 times as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 1.9 times as likely to have asthma; 1.7 times as likely to have kidney disease; and 1.5 times as likely to have a stroke.
• 5.1 times as likely to suffer from depression, and 4.2 times as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
• 2.9 times as likely to currently smoke, 3.2 times as likely to engage in binge drinking, and 3.3 times as likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
• Nearly 12 times as likely to be the victim of sexual violence (or forced sexual encounters) after the age of 18.
• 21 percent more likely to be below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, 27 percent more likely to lack a college degree, and 39 percent more likely to be unemployed…

Burke and others estimate these numbers to be on the low side. A newer study likely to come out later this year is expected to have findings that are even more dramatic.


INTRODUCING…..THE TRAUMA FILES

We’re going to be looking at the issue of toxic stress and related topics, on a regular basis in an ongoing series called The Trauma Files.

In the series, we’ll be reporting on trauma in the world of juvenile justice, trauma and its affect on law enforcement, and lots more.

So stay tuned.

Posted in ACEs, Public Health, Trauma | No Comments »

The Former “Desperado’s Wife” Confronts the Pain of Kids With Incarcerated Parents – by Amy Friedman

July 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


THE FORMER “DESPERADO’S WIFE” NOW HELPS KIDS COPE WITH THE PAIN OF HAVING AN INCARCERATED PARENT

by Amy Friedman



When I first met Dennis Danziger over a decade ago, I was reluctant to tell him anything about my first husband. Finally, after Dennis and I had known each other for a couple of months and as we were falling in love, I confessed my secret: that my ex-husband had been in prison for murder when we met and married and was now serving a lifetime parole. Dennis, who is a writer and teacher at Venice High School and is an exceptionally compassionate, accepting person, initially had the reaction I had over the years come to expect.

He expressed disbelief and fear—for his safety and for his children’s.

That fear infuriated me. We spent hours talking as I tried to educate him about prisoners. To begin with, that they are human beings not caricatures, I told him. My ex and I had separated amicably and his sole interest was in living a quiet, law-abiding life, that he had no interest in Dennis and certainly not Dennis’s children.

Still, Dennis struggled with what clearly felt to him as the threatening shadow of my past, but we continued to talk about about his preconceptions and fears. Then I finally introduced Dennis to my stepdaughters, who were by then in their twenties, he fell completely in love with them.

His relationship with the girls was the window through which Dennis began to understand the prejudice and punishment so many prisoners’ families and friends face for having committed no crime; the only thing the girls (and I) had done was love someone who had done something terrible and was locked up and paying for it.

And there was another change meeting my step daughters brought to my new husband. Until he met me, Dennis assumed he did not know anyone—at least not well—who was related to a prison inmate. It turned out he was wrong. When he started paying closer attention to hints dropped by his students in stories they were writing, he began to suspect what they were not writing. Over time, he discovered that in nearly every class he taught–first at Palisades Charter High and later at Venice High–he had at least one student who was coping with the heartbreak of having a parent inside, or a friend, or a brother or sister or cousin. The students ranged across ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial boundaries.

Quietly, carefully, my kind (and newly informed) English teacher husband helped his students to tell begin to tell these stories.

According to a 2010 study, one in 28 children in this country have a parent in prison (two thirds of whom are in for non-violent offenses). Given the vast numbers we imprison in this country, this fact is not surprising. Since 1980 the US prison population has grown by 790%. We have the largest prison population in the world, with 2.5 million men and women in prison and more than seven million on some sort of probation or parole. Yet, while there is a lot of conversation in California and around the nation about the cost/benefits of our hyper-aggressive incarceration policy, there is too little discussion about the collateral effect that same policy has on the children (and siblings and friends) of those in prison.

For a long time after Dennis and I married in 2002, we thought and talked about those kids. Then one day in early 2013 several things happened, all right in a row, that forced us to stop merely thinking, and start acting:

First, last December I published a memoir, Desperado’s Wife, about my life when I was married to a man inside.

On the day the book was released, my eldest stepdaughter, who is in her 30s now, called to tell me she never wanted to speak to me again. I wept, of course. But I also understood her anger. She spent her entire life hiding this one fact of her life—that her dad had been a prisoner—and she didn’t want to be outed. She didn’t want to remember the families who wouldn’t let her visit their homes when she was young, or the misery and insults of prison visits, or the loneliness and fear and prejudice she faced throughout her childhood and early adulthood.

A few days after she called, Dennis got a letter from one of his favorite former students. When he was 17, John was arrested for shooting someone in the shoulder. The victim was in and out of the hospital that night. But to our horror and sorrow, John was tried as an adult and sentenced to serve 22 years in state prison.

Dennis had recently visited him in New Folsom, and now John was writing to ask Dennis to share his cautionary tale with his students, which he did. When Dennis came home from school, the day when he recounted John’s story, he told me about a miracle that had occurred. Dennis had just finished relating to the kids what had happened to John, ending with, “So a few weeks ago I went to New Folsom to visit him…”

As he was talking, a student named Kylie lifted her head from her desk, and raised her hand. Dennis was stunned. School had been in session for 26 weeks, and prior to that day, Kylie had never said a word in class. But on this day, she began to talk.

“My brother’s at New Folsom…” she said, her tone at first tentative. “I visit him…” As she spoke, she seemed to gain confidence. Kylie kept talking. And talking. It was as if that word Folsom had unleashed a torrent of memories she suddenly was able to share with the people in this classroom and, once started, the flood of words had a force of their own.

In class, high school students generally do not speak at length, and Dennis wondered if he ought to stop her, but the kids were rapt. They wanted to hear Kylie’s story, and Kylie clearly needed to tell it. So he stayed silent and listened, and when she was finished her face had changed—her eyes were bright, the habitual strain in her expression had washed away.

After Dennis told me of the Kylie miracle, I said, “We should start a club for these kids.”

“Let’s do it,” he said.

We began making plans.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in families, prison, prison policy, Public Health | 3 Comments »

Supes Have Closed Door LASD Meeting …Valley Fever Flares in CA Prisons….Privacy Issues…And More

May 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS CANCEL TRAVEL TO HAVE CLOSED DOOR MEETING ABOUT LASD CONCERNS

There was to have been no Board of Supervisors’ meeting this Tuesday, because the Supes were scheduled to take their once-a-year joint trip to Washington DC instead. However, after last week’s LA Times interview with former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in which Tanaka engaged in what can best be described as a verbal assassination attempt against Sheriff Lee Baca, the majority of the Board—Don Knabe, Gloria Molina, and Mark Ridley-Thomas—cancelled their respective trip plans and decided maybe a meeting was called for after all.

Or at least so we’ve heard. The meeting is to take place behind closed doors, so you and I won’t be able to observe first hand.

The agenda for Tuesday’s hastily planned meeting indicates the subjects up for discussion are “department head performance evaluations,” plus ” Significant exposure to litigation” and “Allegations regarding civil rights violations in the County jails.”

However, sources close to the board suggested that, more than anything, this meeting is about what Tanaka said, what the Feds might or might not be planning to do, what it all portends for the future of the department, and what actions—if any—might soon be required of the Supes given the storm around the LASD that is rapidly quickening.

We’ll let you know as we know more.


VALLEY FEVER FLARES IN CA PRISONS, JUST AS JERRY BROWN TELLS FEDS THAT CA’S PRISON HEALTH SYSTEM IS IN TIP TOP CONDITION

The AP has the story on this largely-hidden epidemic that endangers inmates in certain CA lock-ups. Here’s a clip:

As many as 3,000 prison inmates in central California deemed to be at risk from a potentially lethal lung disease may need to be moved to other regions under an order from a court-appointed federal overseer.

The directive, issued on Monday, marks the latest effort to stem cases of valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, at two prisons where the disease was found to have contributed to the deaths of nearly three dozen inmates from 2006 to 2011.

But it could complicate court-ordered efforts to reduce overcrowding across California’s prison system, the nation’s largest…

And then here are a couple of clips from a more detailed story by John E. Dannenberg of The Prison Legal News:

In the past three years more than 900 of the 5,300 prisoners at California’s Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) in Fresno County, plus 80 staff members, have contracted coccidioidomycosis, a fungus commonly known as “valley fever.” Over a dozen prisoners and one guard have died from the disease. Valley fever forms in the lungs, where inhaled fungal spores colonize.

The soil-based fungus, which is indigenous from California’s central valley down to South Texas, most often causes symptoms similar to the flu (and in the process confers lifelong immunity); however, in two to three percent of cases it metastasizes. Once it gets into the bloodstream it is often fatal.

Although valley fever has occasionally infected archaeologists digging in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument and drug-sniffing dogs along the Mexican border, its statistical prevalence in California prisons is troubling. California reported 3,000 cases of valley fever in the general population in 2006, of which 514 were diagnosed at PVSP alone. This 17% morbidity rate among prisoners is astounding. Further, from a mortality standpoint, 12 deaths in 900 prison cases equals a 1.3% fatality rate – double the community rate of 0.6% (based on 33 deaths in 5,500 infections reported in Arizona in 2006). Put another way, if the general population had the same mortality rate as prisoners, there would have been another 38 valley fever-related deaths in the community.

[SNIP]

The high infection rate at PVSP (and to a lesser degree at other central valley prisons) has been correlated with two other factors: 1) importation of non-local prisoners and 2) prisoners with compromised immune systems. This has translated into a high rate of serious valley fever cases among HIV-infected prisoners from Los Angeles, many of whom are susceptible under both factors. As a result, prison officials have been preemptively moving such vulnerable prisoners from PVSP to other areas in the state…


YOUTH ADVOCATES HAPPY WITH JUVENILE JUSTICE FUNDING IN OBAMA BUDGET—BUT WILL THOSE SECTIONS PASS?

Youth Today has a column by the very-smart Liz Ryan of the Campaign for Youth Justice about the sections in the president’s budget that youth advocates see as the most crucial—namely the funding it provides for the 40-year old Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) that, in this go-round, focuses on three areas:

1. Keeping “status offenders” from winding up in the juvenile justice system. Status offenders kids who’ve done things that are against the law only because of their age—things like skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol.

2. Getting kids out of adult jails and lock ups, whenever possible

3. Reducing the disparate treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

Here are the details.


LAPD & LASD LICENSE PLATE READERS KNOW WHERE YOU’VE BEEN, PRIVACY GROUPS SUE FOR INFO ON TRACKING PRACTICE

The idea that law enforcement may be compiling databases on the whereabouts of non-lawbreakers is making a lot of people jumpy, and has caused the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to demand that both the LAPD and the LASD fork over information about how the data is being used.

Both Dennis Romero of the LA Weekly and the AP’s Tami Abdollah reported on the matter.

Here’s a clip from Abdollah’s story:

Two privacy rights groups questioning law enforcement’s use of automated license plate readers asked a judge Monday to order the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide more details on how they use the technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a writ against the city, county and its law enforcement departments after waiting more than eight months for a complete response to public records requests.

The groups are seeking one week of data collected by the readers, which are usually mounted on police cars and scan thousands of license plates in an officer’s shift. The readers – which collect the license plate numbers, the time, date, GPS location and a photo – alert law enforcement to stolen and wanted vehicles.

“If you’re not wanted for anything, it doesn’t do anything,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. John Gaw, who works in the advanced surveillance and protection unit. “It does collect that information, it does put it in our database, and we’re able to go back and review that information if you’re wanted in some type of criminal investigation.”

Privacy advocates are worried that about the growth of such law enforcement databases often outside the public’s eye and with little public oversight or information. They say the readers create a database that essentially tracks movements of innocent people, often long before any crime has been committed. But officials contend that the readers are a valuable piece of technology that helps solve crimes and simply speeds up and automates what would have been a slow, painstaking manual process only a few years ago.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Civil Liberties, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, prison, prison policy, Public Health, Sheriff Lee Baca | 46 Comments »

Skid Row Injunction May Go to SCOTUS…Fired LAPD Officers Want Cases Reopened

February 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


IN THE MIDST OF TB OUTBREAK ON SKID ROW, LA AUTHORITIES FILE WITH SUPREME COURT TO OVERTURN RULING ON HOMELESS BELONGINGS

Citing the recent outbreak of tuberculosis in downtown LA’s Skid Row, , the City of Los Angeles will try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to toss an earlier ruling by the 9th Circuit that prevents the random seizure and destruction of belongings that homeless Skid Row residents leave temporarily unattended on public sidewalks.

The LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein and Alexandra Zavis report on the matter. Here are some clips from their story:

The Supreme Court filing comes after two years of legal wrangling between Los Angeles officials and homeless advocates over a controversial campaign to clean up downtown’s skid row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the city.

“We have an obligation to the homeless, as well as to the other residents and businesses on skid row, to ensure their health through regularly cleaning skid row’s streets and sidewalks,” City Atty. Trutanich said in a statement. “The current outbreak of tuberculosis among that most vulnerable population should serve as a stern reminder to us all of just who and what is at risk.”

Carol Sobel, who represents the homeless plaintiffs, said the TB outbreak, which has infected nearly 80 people and killed 11, has nothing to do with the property left on the streets. She accused city officials of deliberately allowing conditions to deteriorate in order to bolster their case, saying: “They have a public health issue of their making.”

The dispute began when eight homeless people accused city workers, accompanied by police, of seizing and destroying property they left unattended while they used a restroom, filled water jugs or appeared in court. The seven men and one woman had left their possessions — including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries — in carts provided by social service groups and in some cases were prevented from retrieving them, Sobel said.

In a 2-1 decision last September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the belongings the homeless leave on city sidewalks for a short period of time may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public health or safety or constitute evidence of a crime. In such cases, the court said, the city may not summarily destroy the possessions and must notify the owners where they can collect them.

This is a tough one. Homeless advocates had long battled the LAPD, whom they said often confiscated and trashed even those homeless-owned possessions that were tidy and clearly not abandoned, but left very temporarily.

On the other hand, Andy Bales, who heads up the Union Rescue Mission and is a deeply compassionate and dedicated advocate for the homeless, told the LA Times reporters that the 9th Circuit’s ruling has had a destructive effect.

Just days after a cleanup, trash and debris begin to pile up again, said Andy Bales, who heads the Union Rescue Mission on skid row.

“We never, ever had to battle that before the injunction, which has taken skid row back at least eight years to before all the improvements,” he said. “It has emboldened people to leave their stuff everywhere.”

It is not clear whether or not the Supremes will take the case, so all this discussion may be for naught.

(If we get news later today or Friday, we’ll update this post.)


YOUTH INCARCERATON DECLINING WITHOUT HARMING PUBLIC SAFETY

In their just published Kids Count data report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the rate of young people locked up because they were in trouble with the law dropped more than 40 percent over a 15-year period—from a high of !07,637 to 70,792 in 2010, with no decrease in public safety.

The report also recommends ways to continue reducing reliance on incarceration and improve the odds for young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

It notes, however, even with the drop, that most of the kids incarcerated are in for nonviolent offenses, and that African American kids are still locked up with great disproportion (as are Hispanic and Native American kids, but not near to the degree that African American kids experience).

NOTE: The Annie E. Casey Foundation is well known for its Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative that helps persuade counties to try programs other than correctional facilities for certain kids, and to establish small, treatment-oriented facilities for those kids who are locked up, using methods that have been proven effective. The results for counties, like Santa Cruz CA, who’ve become models for AECF’s initiative has been extremely encouraging in terms of drops in youth incarceration and recidivism.


POST DORNER, FIRED LAPD OFFICERS NOW WANT CASES REOPENED.

The Post-Dorner complexities continue. After LAPD Chief Charlie Becker agreed to reexamine the whole of Christopher Dorner’s Board of Rights case that led to his termination, other fired officers don’t see why their cases can’t be reexamined too.

The AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips.

At least six fired police officers want their disciplinary cases reopened after the Los Angeles Police Department began reinvestigating the termination of a former officer who left a trail of violence to avenge his firing.

Police Protective League President Tyler Izen wouldn’t provide details on the former officers who asked to have their cases revisited, but he said the decision by Chief Charlie Beck to reopen Christopher Dorner’s case is unprecedented and “has left many of our members in absolute limbo.”

[CLIP]

Dorner’s case brings up a significant issue about what to do when allegations of police misconduct are unfounded, said Commissioner Richard Drooyan. Dorner was dismissed for filing a false report alleging his training officer kicked a mentally disabled man.

“How do you make sure that you are punishing anyone who makes a false allegation or makes a false statement, while also at the same time not discouraging people from bringing potential misconduct to the attention of the department?” Drooyan asked.

Deputy Chief Bob Green, who oversees the South LA area, which is predominantly black and Latino, said the Dorner case has reopened “old wounds of trust” in the community….

Posted in Homelessness, LAPD, Public Health | No Comments »

After a Year of Hearings, CA Lawmakers Issue Alarming Report on Status of Boys & Men of Color

August 8th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


After a year’s worth of packed regional hearings in Oakland, Los Angeles, Fresno and Coachella, the California State Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color returns to Sacramento on Wednesday, August 8, to issue a 50 plus-page report that describes all the ways that too many of California’s young men of color are not thriving—and what must be done about it, if California itself is to thrive.

The report’s findings deal with discouraging disparities in educational opportunities, in employment, in the disproportion of black and hispanic kids in the juvenile justice system…and more.

The report also has a list of policy and legislative recommendations

Thus far, members of the bi-partisan committee, headed by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, have produced 19 bills that coincide with the committees findings, all of which are currently pending in the state legislature. Most have to do with correcting the policies of zero tolerance and punitive discipline in schools, which have been shown to do far more damage than good.

Harder to address will be some of the juvenile justice issues (which we’ll be covering over the next year).

Scott Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News has more on the report and its findings.

Here’s a clip:

In California, by a 36 to 27 percent ratio, young African-American men without a high school diploma or its equivalent are more likely to be found languishing in prison than working a regular job. Young Latino men are roughly 40 percent more likely than white men to wind up serving time in an adult prison. And African-American kindergartners are more than three times as likely as their white playmates to believe they lack the ability to succeed in school.

These are just some of the disturbing findings that will be brought to light in a report Wednesday when the California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color presents its working action plan at its sixth and final hearing in Sacramento.
The report is part of a sweeping effort, the first of its kind in California, to accurately assess the myriad ways in which young men of color across the state are falling behind when it comes to success in school, access to health care, employment and a host of other critical public health, safety and criminal justice issues. The report also lays out a breathtaking array of policy suggestions, legislative proposals and ideas for ways policymakers can improve the health outcomes of the state’s most vulnerable and at-risk individuals.

Christiana Hoag of the AP has still more. Here’s a clip:

“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Sandre Swanson, the Oakland Democrat who heads the subcommittee. “Young men of color in trouble cost the state of California billions of dollars. There’s a moral question to be addressed here, too.”

The report, which was the culmination of a series of five hearings the subcommittee conducted around the state over the past year, termed the issue “a serious threat ” to California’s future success in light of statewide demographic trends.

An aging population, declining birth rates and growing number of minority residents will force California to increasingly rely on its young workforce as its economic mainstay, and about 71 percent of the state’s under-25 population comprises black, Latino, Asian, Native American and Pacific Islanders.

Males in those groups tend to fare worse than other population segments, “trapped in a cycle of prison, poverty, and disadvantage,”

The report said. “Deteriorated schools and neighborhoods, poor health, dysfunctional social support and limited job opportunities hamper their progress … improving opportunities for all young adults, particularly those of color, is a state imperative.’”

The final hearing on Wednesday will LIVE STREAM from 1pm to 4pm.


Photo by WitnessLA

Posted in children and adolescents, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Public Health, race, race and class, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

1st Annual LA Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention Conference, May 21/22.

May 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

<—-Click to en-biggen

An important 2-day conference to discuss effective and innovative community-based programs
aimed at reducing gang violence in Los Angeles, takes place next Monday and Tuesday, May 21 and 22.

The event, sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, Hospitals Against Violence Empowering Neighborhoods and Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations will bring together gang interventionists, prevention experts, researchers, elected officials, and policymakers (plus a few journalists, like myself.)

The two days include a list of hot shot keynote speakers who include Father Greg Boyle, Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith (Harvard School of Public Health, U.N.I.T.Y.), Connie Rice—and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,

Plus the schedule is loaded with excellent panels and stellar panelists.

I’ll be reporting from the conference both days. (So if you come by, say hello.)


Here’s the rest of the salient info:

Los Angeles Gang Violence Prevention & Intervention Conference
MAY 21 & 22, 20128:30 AM-5:00 PM
THE CALIFORNIA ENDOWMENT
1000 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90012

Cost: $150

(NOTE: The event is full, I’m told, but you may email Kristin Bray at kristinbray@gmail.com if you would like to be added to the waiting list.)

Posted in American artists, Gangs, Public Health, Violence Prevention | 1 Comment »

Violence Prevention: Barking With the Choir and Standing With the Despised

November 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Nearly 20 years ago The California Wellness Foundation was one of the first organizations of consequence
to promote the recognition that violence was not merely a crime problem. It was a serious public health issue.

As part of their focus on the topic, every year Wellness puts on a Violence Prevention Conference at which around 300 people drawn from all over the state gather to discuss the myriad complex facets of this problem that so deeply affects the health and well being of California’s communities.

Among those who attend are directors of programs that address some aspect of the issue, a smattering of law enforcement (This year Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, head of LAPD’s South Bureau, was on a panel), academics, researchers, and other experts in the field.

Each year at the conference, Wellness presents three Peace Prizes, which honor three people with a $25,000 cash award….”in recognition of his or her outstanding efforts to prevent violence and promote peace in their local communities.” The 2011 winners were Ray Balberan, Priscilla Carrasquilla, Manuel Jimenez, all of whom work in different capacities with former gang members and/or kids who are headed that direction. (You can read more about the winners here).

The topics vary from year to year. This year, the subject of realignment came up frequently in public discussions and in private conversation. Another big conference topic was juvenile probation. The Chiefs of Probation for Alameda and Yolo counties were both on a panel. In fact, Alameda County’s Chief of Probation, David Muhammad, was one of the conference’s two keynote speakers and his straight talk about what works and what doesn’t for lawbreaking kids had direct and urgent implications for LA County’s troubled juvenile camps. (I’ll have much more to say about David Muhammad in a later post.)

The other keynote speaker—the one who opened the conference—was LA’s own Father Greg Boyle.

I’ve posted some (very) rough iPhone video snippets from his speech. Please ignore the recurring hand-held jiggles and the less than felicitous framing, and just give yourself and treat and watch. As speakers go, they don’t get any better than Fr. Greg.

As the first clip below opens, Greg is talking about an encounter with a particular Homeboy Industries staffer. He also covers why he may title his next book “Barking with the Choir,” and why we must stand with the despised and the easily thrown away.

This next clip, #2, contains a story about homeboys and texting.

(NOTE: I turned off the video before the story of texting homeboys was over, so quickly switched it back on for the 55 second tag to the tale that you’ll find below.)

You’ll find one more instructive (and funny) homeboy story here in clip #4.

This next video opens with a short talke featuring the actress Diane Keaton at the Homegirl Cafe, and ends with…well…..just watch it.

Even for some reason you don’t want to watch to all six videos, do watch this last one, # 6. It’s only a little over five minutes long. I’ve heard Greg tell the story encased in the clip many times, but I still can’t hear it without crying off all my eye makeup. Thursday night was no exception.

Truth be told, I lived this story along with Greg. I was very close to the kid in the tale known as “Puppet,” and even closer to his girlfriend. I remember that Greg was out of state when all this happened. Thus I was the one who rushed to the hospital to hold down the fort, emotionally speaking, in those first hours.

Despite the pain of it, this story is—as are all Greg’s stories—about hope, and about why the issues talked about at last week’s conference matter so very much.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Gangs, Probation, Public Health, social justice | 1 Comment »

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