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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 »

California Wellness Foundation Picks New CEO

November 3rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday, the California Wellness Foundation announced it had named Kaiser Permanente
executive Dr. Diana Bontá as President and CEO.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the Wellness Foundation is unique in California in that, for 19 years, it has funded—to the tune of $125 million— such projects as gang violence reduction programs, juvenile reentry strategies, and a long list of other juvenile justice issues when few others wanted to take a chance on the kind of at-risk populations that these essential programs served. In short, they have demonstrated their deep commitment to the problems and challenges that we crazy juvenile justice fanatics care about and, as a consequence, lives have been saved, futures altered for the better.

Thus when Wellness’s outgoing president, Gary Yates—always a champion of the foundation’s violence reduction initiatives— announced he was leaving, there was much discussion about whether the new Prez—whomever he or she was—would support the same kind of programs.

Word is that with Dr. Bontá, Wellness has found a winner, who, in addition to her executive experience, is a skilled and passionate advocate for the health and well being of the state’s underserved and marginalized communities and residents.

So, welcome to Dr. B!

Posted in health care, Public Health, social justice | No Comments »

Gay Kids Far More Likely to Try Suicide in Negative Social Environment

April 19th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


If a gay teenager is living in a conservative community
where the majority of the residents feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with him because of his sexual orientation, is he likely to be at higher risk for suicide than gay or lesbian kids living in a more socially supportive environment?

In the past, studies have indicated that gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers try suicide at a significantly higher rate than heterosexual kids.

Yet there was no major empirical study that quantified the question of whether certain elements in a teenager’s social environment measurably increased or lowered the risk of suicide for LGB kids.

Until now.

After the rash of suicides among gay young men last year, Dr. Mark L. Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, with funding from the National Institute of Health (and others), decided it was time to find out what effects one’s social environment has on an LGB kid.

The results were published in Pediatrics Magazine on Monday.

Hatzenbuehler, who is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar and the new study’s lead investigator, examined the responses 32,000 Oregon 11th grade students who filled out questionnaires in the state’s yearly Oregon HealthyTeens survey between 2006 –2008. (Around one-third of Oregon’s 11th graders took part in the survey.)

Hatzenbuehler chose Oregon as his study site because it is one of the few states that asks kids about their sexual orientation on these yearly statewide surveys.

The study found that LGB youth were more than five times as likely to have attempted suicide in the previous 12 months, as their heterosexual peers (21.5 percent–or 1 in 5 LGB kids— vs. 4.2 percent, a little over 4 out of 100).

So would those figures change in a more supportive environment?

Hatzenbuehler developed five measures of the social environment surrounding LGB youth that included: 1) proportion of schools in the county with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting LGB students; 2) proportion of schools with Gay-Straight Alliances; 3) proportion of schools with anti-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation; 4) proportion of same-sex couples residing in the county and 5) proportion of Democrats in the county. (“Democrats” were used as a surrogate measure for a more socially liberal environment.)

In order to more accurately isolate the affect of the social environment, Hatzenbuehler controlled for other known risk factors like depression, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult.

The results of the study showed that LGB kids living in a “supportive” social environment attempted suicide 20 percent less frequently than kids in an “unsupportive” environment.

The heterosexual kids were also affected, and tried suicide 9 percent less in the positive social environment.

“The results of this study are pretty compelling,” said Hatzenbuehler in a statement. “When communities support their gay young people, and schools adopt anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that specifically protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempted suicide by all young people drops, especially for LGB youth.”

Put more simply: the words and attitudes of those with whom our kids come in contact matter bigtime. Those words and attitudes can, for some young men and women, mean the difference between life and death.


NOTE: When news of the study came out on Monday, various news outlets scurried to find out what other experts thought. Here are some of the responses:

The AP reported:

Michael Resnick, a professor of adolescent mental health at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, said the study “certainly affirms what we’ve come to understand about children and youth in general. They are both subtly and profoundly affected by what goes around them,” he said, including the social climate and perceived support.

Health.com reported:

“While there are a small number of prior studies that have demonstrated that school climate makes a difference for LGB students, this study is important because it extends our understanding to the broader surroundings of the community in which students and schools are situated,” said Stephen T. Russell, a professor and director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families at the University of Arizona in Tucson.


MEANWHILE LEE BACA REACHES OUT TO MUSLIM COMMUNITIES WHILE LA TIMES ROBERT FATURECHI FOLLOWS THE SHERIFF ON HIS EAST COAST TOUR

Read the story here.

Posted in LGBT, Public Health | No Comments »

Push to Cut CDC’s Vaccine Funds Could Harm CA’s Health

March 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Mother Jones lays it all out. Here’s the deal:

In the past year, California has experienced the worst whooping cough outbreak in more than 50 years, an epidemic that has killed 10 infants and resulted in 6,400 reported cases. But even as the state’s public health officials have struggled to curb the disease, Republicans in Congress have proposed slashing millions in federal funding for immunization programs. Public health advocates warn that these cuts threaten efforts across the country to prevent and contain infectious and sometimes fatal diseases. And they add that lower vaccination rates could eventually result in more outbreaks that endanger public health at a major cost to taxpayers.

The House GOP’s 2011 budget would chop $156 million from the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for immunization and respiratory diseases. The GOP reductions are likely to hit the CDC’s support for state and local immunization programs, the agency’s ability to evaluate which vaccines are working, and its work to educate the public about recommended vaccines for children, teenagers, and other susceptible populations. The CDC especially focuses on serving lower-income families who receive vaccines at state and local health offices and community health clinics, rather than a private doctor’s office.

“When there’s less money, fewer kids get vaccinated,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association….

Is everyone losing their minds? We can’t cut defense spending, and had to extend the Bush tax cuts, but we’re going to slash federal funds for low-cost immunization for kids? Really? Does that seem like a smart thing to do?


AND IN OTHER NEWS….

FOUR LINES OF CODE THAT SENT THE NYT’S NEW PAYWALL TUMBLING

Joshua Benton at the Neiman Journalism Lab reports that:

The New York Times paywall is costing the newspaper $40-$50 million to design and construct, Bloomberg has reported.

And it can be defeated through four lines of Javascript.

Read the rest.


AND WHILE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT NEWS AND MEDEA:

FOX NEWS SLAMS REUTERS PREPOSTEROUSLY AND REUTERS’ NIC ROBERTSON SLAMS BACK WAY HARDER

As Jay Rosen pointed out, What Nic Roberston is basically saying here is that the Fox crew in Tripoli is too scared to leave their hotel… Watch it.

Posted in media, National politics, Public Health | No Comments »

Experts Gather to Talk About What Works (& Doesn’t) to Prevent Gang Violence

October 21st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The California Wellness Foundation’s annual Conference
on Violence Prevention took place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, with the idea of policy-talking, idea exchanging and, of course, networking—with a bit of sideline gossip thrown in (human beings being….well…human).

There were people in town for the two day event from D.C. representing the various parts of the Department of Justice, specifically those who concern themselves with, not the law enforcement end, but the programatical side of addressing gang violence. Among those in attendance were Thomas Abt from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Louis Tuthill from the National institute of Justice (NIJ)—which is basically the research arm of the DOJ.

Still the group was not without it’s smattering of law enforcement types; Special Agent John Torres from the ATF was there, along with a cluster from LA County probation and some deputy police chiefs.

Naturally there were folks from city governments, local and out of state. Among the LA contingent who came there was City Council member Tony Cardenas, and Guillermo Cespedes, LA’s Deputy Mayor who heads up the city’s gang violence prevention and intervention programs.

PLUS there were academic experts like my friend Jorja Leap from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, Angela Wolf from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Barry Krisberg from Berkeley’s Center of Criminal Justice—and so on and so on.

But outnumbering the policy wonks and research minds, were the heads of organizations doing ground level work in the world of violence prevention, most of them working with the gang issue in some way or another—people like Dawn Brown from Girls & Gangs, Aquil Basheer, who was one of this year’s Peace Prize recipients, Blinky Rodriguez and Bobby Arias from Communities in Schools. Skipp Townsend from 2nd Call, Carol Biondi who is involved with Camp David Gonzales (among other places)….and many more.

Even Alex Sanchez, from Homies Unidos, was there on Tuesday night, when he seemed to be constantly surrounded with clusters of well-wishers, most of whom had not seen him since before his arrest on RICO charges in June 2009.

If there was one theme to the panels, side meetings and spontaneous ad-hoc discussions that took place during the nearly two-days of the event it was a single question: what really works when it comes to solving the problem of gang violence?

By the time the conference ended—as might be expected—, the answer was still very much up for grabs.

Speaking personally, however, I came away with an armful of new stories, great new contacts and informants, and many new shards of inspiration—all of which will be informing posts here in the weeks and months to come.

Posted in Gangs, Public Health, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

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