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Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 15 Comments »

Double Charged: CA’s Unlimited Juvie Restitution…Supes Votes Put Off On LASD Citizens Commission & Mental Health Diversion…John Oliver on America’s Prisons….& More

July 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

The Cost of Court Involvement


WHEN KIDS ARE DOUBLE CHARGED: SHOULD RESTITUTION CHARGES FOR KIDS HAVE A CEILING?

In an investigative series called Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice, Youth Radio has looked into some of these suprise costs that suddenly are levied against a kid and his or her parent when that kid finds himself caught up in the juvenile justice system, as the infograpic above shows. (We highlighted an earlier segment here.)

The newest Youth Radio show segment, written and produced by Sayre Quevedo, and co-published by the Huffington Post, looks at how, for many kids in California, in addition to the myriad court and lock-up charges, there is restitution, which can be staggaringly high priced.

Here’s the story:

It is generally agreed that restitution is, in principle anyway, a good and healthy idea for both victims and lawbreakers. For victims, restitution makes up, at least in part, for whatever damage was done them. For lawbreakers it is a tangible reminder that their actions did harm to an actual person or people, and provides them an opportunity to take real world responsibility for their acts.

The principle holds true for juvenile lawbreakers as well as a adults. But when it comes to kids, should there be a limit? States like New York and Missouri say yes. In Missouri caps restitution for juveniles at $4000. New York sets the limit at $1500.

In California, there is no limit—a policy that many juvenile justice activists contend can result in unpayable amounts that do far more harm than good.

Here are some clips:

Ricky Brum stood with one of my producers in an alleyway behind a furniture store in Manteca, California, and to be honest, it was a little awkward. He didn’t really want to be there. Last February, Brum set some cardboard boxes on fire just a few feet away.

“Just that right there,” he said, pointing to a black spot on the pavement. “Just a little burn mark on the floor.”

One match did the trick, said Brum. “Like I just sat there and was like ‘Bam!’”

That “bam” changed Ricky Brum’s life. He was 15 when he set the fire. It was his first time getting in trouble with the law. He was lucky: his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Brum went on probation, and didn’t serve any time in juvenile hall.

Brum, and his mom Leanne, thought the worst was behind them. But then, while meeting with their public defender, they found out about restitution.

“We thought it was a joke,” said Leanne Brum.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Ricky Brum flipped through the restitution claim. Even though the fire department report said there was no damage to anything in the furniture store, the owner claimed his entire inventory of nearly 1400 items was smoke damaged.

The bill came out to $221,000….

[SNIP]

Payment is rare. There are no statewide statistics on juvenile restitution, but Youth Radio collected numbers from three of California’s largest counties and found that less than 30% of restitution amounts are paid.

“I think that people recognize there are certain dollar amounts that are not going to be paid at all, ever,” said Roger Chan, who runs the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland. Juvenile law, said Chan, is about reform, giving young people a chance to start over. However, Chan argues that restitution too often gets in the way because it saddles kids with unreasonably high debt.

“If you order such a huge amount of restitution to a young person who has no ability to pay it, how meaningful is that as a consequence,” asked Chan. “Is that really an effective way for the young person to be rehabilitated and is that really beneficial to victims?”

Chan is trying to change California’s law to let judges consider a kid’s ability to pay. It’s not just for the benefit of young offenders. Chan says it’s for victims too, because when restitution sums are realistic, he says victims are more likely to get paid.


BOARD OF SUPERVISORS’ VOTES PUT OFF BOTH ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION…AND A CITIZENS COMMISSION TO OVERSEE THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The members of the LA County Board of Supervisors were originally scheduled to vote on two closely watched motions, but both votes have now been postponed:

First of all there was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s motion of last week, which would cause the Supes to allocate at least the beginning sum of $20 million to launch a “coordinated and comprehensive” mental health diversion program in the county. It has been postponed until next Tuesday, July 29. (You can read the motion here.)

The motion has already attracted letters of support from such organizations as the National Alliance for Mental Illness Los Angeles County Council, and others, urging the board to commit the funds necessary to the kind of diversion programming that has been shown to save money—and suffering—in other counties, most notably Miami-Dade.

(We’ll update you on how the vote is looking as we get closer to next Tuesday.)

At the same time, the vote on the motion to create a citizens commission to provide community oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—which is co-sponsored by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina—has been put off until August 5.

This column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton looks at topic of the citizens commission, whether is a good idea or not, and whether the motion has a chance of passing.

Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:

The board is split: Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina have expressed support for the commission; supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich have indicated their opposition. (Jim McDonnell, leading candidate for sheriff, announced his support for the commission this month; Ridley-Thomas endorsed McDonnell a few days later.)

That leaves Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. When we spoke last week, he said he was still pondering the matter, but he’s clearly leaning against it. “I’m reluctant to create structures that have no power and no authority,” he said, adding that such a commission “will ultimately disappoint.”

That may be enough to scotch the idea for the moment, but perhaps not for long. Yaroslavsky is termed out, as is Molina. Molina’s replacement, Hilda Solis, has indicated she supports establishing a commission, so one supporter will arrive as another leaves. More important, the two challengers in a runoff for Yaroslavsky’s seat, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and former state legislator Sheila Kuehl, both told me last week that they too support a citizens commission. So even if Ridley-Thomas falls short this time, his third vote may well be on the way.


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM

Almost certainly the year’s best 17 minutes of news and information on the American prison situation was contained in a segment shown on Sunday night on….a comedy show, specifically John Oliver’s new-this-spring Last Week Tonight, on HBO.

Oliver hit nearly all the important points brilliantly and hard—using humor to carry all his sharpest points:

“We have more prisoners than China. China. We don’t have more of anything than China, except of course debt to China.”

“Our prison population has expanded 8 fold since 1970. The only thing that has grown at that rate since the ’70′s is varieties of Cheerios!”

And why has it grown? For a number of reasons, he says.

“…From the dismantling of our mental health system, to mandatory minimum sentencing laws….to, of course, drugs. Half the people in federal prison are there on drug charges. And it counts for a quarter of the admissions to state prisons. And, of course, it’s tricky to know how to feel about this because, on the one hand, the war on drugs has completely solved our nation’s drug problem, so that’s good!

“But on the other hand, our drug laws do seem to be a little draconian and a lot racist. Because while white people and African Americans use drug about the same amount, a study has found that african Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses up to 10 times the amount—-for some utterly known reason.

From there Oliver brought up the prison system’s reluctance to deal with prison rape, the tidy profit made by prison venders—many of whom have been found to boost their bottom line by horrific cuts to basic services, like…um. food—to the inherent unholy conflict of interest that occurs with prison privatization—and more.

In short, the segment is filled with excellent reporting and commentary combined with excellent comedy, all of which serves to illuminate some crucial issues that many of us are unfortunately too content to ignore. Watch and you won’t be sorry.


NEW WEBSITE URGES LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS TO GIVE $$$ SUPPORT TO LASD 6 CONVICTED BY FEDS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

A new website called Support Our 6 has appeared in the past few days, urging LASD members to give monetary support to the six members of the LA Sheriff department who were convicted earlier this month.

(Although the website mentions Deputy James Sexton, whose trial ended with a hung jury but who is being retried by the government in September, it isn’t clear if he is included in the fundraising efforts.)

The site’s organizers contend that the 2 deputies, 2 sergeants and 2 lieutenants were following lawful orders, which was not at all what the jury concluded.

We don’t yet know who is behind the website, but we’ll let you know when we know more.

In the meantime, the organizers’ POV is presented here.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 14 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 1 Comment »

LA’s New Program to Tackle Recidivism, Funding the New Jail Plan, KPPC Interviews Todd Rogers, and R.I.P. Farley Mowat

May 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AG KAMALA HARRIS ANNOUNCES COMPREHENSIVE NEW LOS ANGELES PROGRAM TO LOWER RECIDIVISM

On Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a welcome new LA County recidivism-reduction pilot program called “Back on Track LA.”

Participants will receive a case manager and 12-18 months of education and other crucial re-entry services while incarcerated, and 12 more months of services once they are released. Inmates eligible for participation will be non-violent non-sexual offenders between the ages of 18-30.

Here’s a clip from AG Harris’ website:

“We must reject the false choice of being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on crime,” Attorney General Harris said. “It is time for smart on crime policies that keep our communities safe, hold offenders accountable, and reduce our prison population. Back on Track LA will work to reduce levels of recidivism by connecting offenders with the education and job opportunities that get their lives back on track.”

The “Back on Track LA” pilot program will deliver critical education and comprehensive re-entry services before and after an individual is released from jail. The pilot program will build on LASD’s “Education Based Incarceration Program,” through a partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District – specifically, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade Tech College to provide higher education opportunities for incarcerated participants that include prerequisites to community college degrees, credentials and certificates. The program will focus on the critical time following an individual’s release from jail, by providing the seamless re-entry services essential for success, including employment and life skill services.

“Back on Track LA” will emphasize accountability by assigning participants a case manager or coach to develop a plan that holds individuals accountable to their families, communities and victims.

Individuals will be enrolled in the pilot program for 24-30 months—divided into 12-18 months in-custody and 12 months out-of-custody. Participants will consist of non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between the ages of 18 to 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system following the implementation of Public Safety Realignment.


HOW WILL LOS ANGELES PAY FOR ITS NEW JAIL?

Now that the Los Angeles County Supervisors have approved a plan for replacing the crumbling Men’s Central Jail with a price tag nearing the $2 billion mark, county officials have to figure out how to fund such a costly undertaking. The county will likely have to issue bonds, which could require a tax increase, but there may be additional ways to pay for the new jail.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

As with most big government projects, the funds are likely to come from borrowing through the issuance of bonds. But whether repaying those bonds will require a tax increase is yet to be determined.

“There’s no other way to fund this than out of the general fund, so the county is going to have to borrow money,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said in an interview.

He warned that servicing the debt, and paying the interest, would be “very expensive.”

But Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said the county seems to have the capacity to issue bonds for the jail plan, which includes tearing down Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and then building a Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility in its place, as well as renovating Mira Loma Detention Center to accommodate female inmates.

“Right now, our level of debt is extremely low, very low,” Fujioka said Tuesday in response to a question from Supervisor Michael Antonovich during a public hearing.

[SNIP]

Voter approval would be necessary if the county were to issue general obligation bonds, which would likely be repaid through a tax increase. But for previous infrastructure projects such as the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall and the acquisition of electronic health records systems, the county instead issued general indebtedness bonds, which do not have to be placed on the ballot for approval and don’t require tax increases.

County Assistant CEO Ryan Alsop said another way to finance the jail plan is by asking the state of California to cover at least a portion of the bill. He pointed out AB 109, also known as Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program, diverted thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” Alsop said. “Something must be done.”

“The governor has proposed $500 million towards (jail funding) in his January budget, most of which we would like to see allocated to counties like Los Angeles, who have been hit the hardest by AB 109,” he added.

[SNIP]

The board gave the CEO up to 60 days to come up with a plan for financing the infrastructure projects, but Yaroslavsky is worried that the $1.7 billion price tag may be understated.

He said Vanir Construction Management, which provided the estimate, said the numbers should change.

“They told the board that the (almost) $2 billion estimate of construction could go up by 30 percent, could go down by 30 percent,” he said.

Read on.


KPCC’S FRANK STOLTZE PROFILES TODD ROGERS

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers as part of Stoltze’s ongoing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates. (Stoltze also has profiles on James Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka, and Jim McDonnell that are worth reading, if you missed them.)

Here’s a clip from the Rogers story:

Rogers, 52, is relatively new to the position of assistant sheriff. Only a handful of people hold that rank, which is just below the undersheriff — the number two person in the department.

Last year, then-Sheriff Lee Baca promoted Rogers to assistant cheriff from his rank as commander, leapfrogging the rank of chief. Some have accused Rogers of cutting a deal with Baca by promising not to run against him. Rogers had been weighing a challenge to the powerful sheriff for several years.

“I did not sell my soul,” Rogers says. “I agreed to help him reform the Department.”

When Baca abruptly resigned in January, he named Rogers as a “highly qualified” candidate, prompting some to suggest he is too close to the old regime to be a reformer.

Rogers says while he respected the sheriff for some of his policies, there clearly was a “catastrophic failure of leadership.” He and Baca had “plenty of differences,” especially over the sheriff’s penchant for pet programs. One program involved assigning deputies to monitor social media.

“We had over 400 deputies on loan from street patrols to these unfunded programs,” said Rogers, who oversees the department $2.8 billion budget.

Like his fellow candidates, Rogers doesn’t have much name recognition with voters. But his campaign got some attention for a hilarious online ad featuring the cast of Comedy Central’s former sitcom “Reno 911.” Rogers knows the cast because the show was taped at the Carson station.

This isn’t to suggest Rogers isn’t a serious law enforcement executive. He’s one of a growing number willing to look at crime as a health problem.

The 28-year veteran, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State Dominguez Hills, described how he began a program where a deputy developed customized treatment plans for at-risk kids and young adults in collaboration with a panel of community-based experts in Carson.

“We can’t have one cure for every disease,” Rogers says. “We can’t have one cure for every kid or young adult that shows an inclination to be a gang member.”


R.I.P. FARLEY MOWAT

Farley Mowat, kilt-wearing Canadian author of 45 books, including Never Cry Wolf, has died at the age of 88.

Mowat’s publisher and friend, Doug Gibson, fondly remembers the environmentalist author on NPR’s All Things Considered. Take a listen.

Posted in international issues, International politics, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, race, race and class, racial justice, women's issues | 5 Comments »

Goodnight Pete Seeger….We’ll See You in Our Dreams….& Other News

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

WITH LOVE & GRATITUDE TO PETE SEEGER, AMERICA’S JOY-FILLED AND FEROCIOUS MUSICAL CONSCIENCE: 1919 -2014

Whether singing his own compositions or American roots songs with provenances long ago lost such as The Worried Man Blues

…or the rescued and reworked gospel that, in his hands, became so indelible, We Shall Overcome, or the songs of others, like Woody Guthrie’s haunting national anthem for the ordinary American, This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger embodied a pain-informed but miraculously unsullied optimism about his fellow humans that burned the most brightly when he was on stage.

In later years, his banjo was inscribed with the words: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

And he meant it.

When he couldn’t sing anymore, he got everyone else to sing it for and with him. And we did, because Seeger’s music felt like it was always there—-in the wind, in the land, in our blood….

Good night, dear Pete, we’ll see you in our dreams.


RACE & SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 4 WAYS TO START ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

Rolling Stone Magazine has an worthwhile story by Molly Knefel about the persistent problem of racial inequities or, in some cases, just straight up racism, that plague our school discipline systems nationally. Cheeringly, the story doesn’t just describe the problem, it looks at four strategies taken from a new federal report aimed at fixing the problem as well.

Here’s a clip:

When Marlyn Tillman’s family moved from Maryland to Georgia, her oldest son was in middle school. Throughout his eighth grade year, he was told by his school’s administration that his clothing was inappropriate. Even a simple North Carolina t-shirt was targeted – because it was blue, they said, it was flagged as “gang-related.”

Things got worse when Tillman’s son got to high school, where he was in a small minority of black students. While he was in all honors and AP classes, he received frequent disciplinary referrals for his style of dress throughout ninth grade and tenth grade. Frustrated, his mother asked for a list of clothing that was considered gang-related. “They told me they didn’t have a list, they just know it when they see it,” Tillman tells Rolling Stone. “I said, I know it when I see it, too. It’s called racism.”

One day, Tillman’s son went to school wearing a t-shirt that he had designed using letters his mother had bought at the fabric store – spelling out the name of his hometown, his birthday and his nickname. He was again accused of gang involvement and and told that his belongings would be searched. “He’d just been to a camp where they gave out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution,” Tillman recalls. “My son whips out that copy and tells them that they’re violating his rights.”

The administrators accused the teen of disrespect. He was suspended and pulled out of his AP classes. That’s when Tillman – convinced that her son had been targeted because of his race – went to Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union.

[SNIP]

…Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education released a set of documents detailing how school discipline policies across the country may be violating the civil rights of American elementary and secondary school students.

[SNIP]

So what can we do to make our schools fairer? The federal guidance recommends a number of best practices to ensure that schools recognize, reduce and eliminate disproportionate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities, while fostering a safe and supportive educational environment…..

Read on for the solutions.


JUDGE NASH TO LEAVE THE BENCH???? UM…THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR US

The Metropolitan News reported this week that Judge Michael Nash will leave his position as presiding judge of the juvenile court by next January or (ulp) sooner. Among other acts of bravery and sane thinking, Nash, if you remember, in 2011 opened the LA County Dependency Court to reporters….and some desperately needed outside scrutiny.

Here’s a short clip from the Met News story:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court for more than 16 years, said Friday he will not seek re-election.

Nash, who previously told the MetNews he was undecided whether to file for a new six-year term, said that after nearly 29 years on the court, it was time to search out “whatever other opportunities may come my way.” He said he had no specific plan, but that “life has just always worked out” for him.

Today is the first day that judicial candidates can file declarations of intent to run in the June primary. Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat.

Nash said he had made no decision on whether to retire, or to serve out his term, which expires in January of next year. “It was enough of a hump to get to this point,” he said…

Okay, sure, we understand that Judge Nash has to do what’s right for his life, but still…


.

Posted in American artists, American voices, children and adolescents, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, Life in general, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

For Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday

January 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

To celebrate this day, three versions of A Change Is Gonna Come.

A 2013 version by a fine new voice, Amos Lee, performed at Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concert.

An old and gorgeous version by the incomparable Ms. Aretha Franklin.

And the singular version that, in 1964, guaranteed Sam Cooke immortality.

Here’s a 2007 NPR story about Sam Cooke’s masterpiece.


See you tomorrow with lots of news.

Posted in Life in general, race, race and class, racial justice, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Black Kids 8% of SF Students and 50% of “Defiance” Suspensions…LA Supervisors on LASD Indictments…and Gov. Brown Gets More Time to Drop Prison Pop

December 12th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SF SCHOOL DISTRICT MOVES TOWARD ELIMINATING SUSPENSIONS FOR “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” AFTER ALARMING STATISTICS SURFACE

While African-Americans teenagers comprised just 8% of San Francisco’s public high school students in 2012, they accounted for a whopping 50% of suspensions for “willful defiance,” according to SF Unified School District data obtained by Public Counsel.

On Tuesday, in light of this data, a member of the district’s Board of Education introduced a resolution that would end suspensions for “willful defiance” by the beginning of the next school year, in addition to discipline alternatives like “trauma-informed counseling.”

Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has more on the data and what it means for San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.

The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population. Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance.

Just as The City by the Bay is challenged by sharp income divides, its schools, too, suffer from a wide gap in academic achievement between white student and those who are black or Latino.

High rates of suspension result in poor academic performance as out-of-school kids fall behind and disengage from school, said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s California statewide education rights director.

“These go hand in hand,” she said. “They are not separate.”

Suspensions, Public Counsel has said, are like an “unsupervised vacation” from school, with damaging consequences for students.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education began considering a resolution introduced by a member to eliminate, by next fall, the option to suspend students for willful defiance.

“We’ve made some progress in reducing suspensions overall,” said Matt Haney, who introduced the “Safe and Supportive Schools” resolution.

Despite that, Haney said, “the numbers for African American students remain not just troubling, but shocking.”


SUPES DISCUSS LASD ARRESTS AND POSSIBLE FUTURE OVERSIGHT

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors held a closed-door meeting to discuss the controversial arrests of 18 current and former LASD officers Monday morning. (Read the backstory here, and here.) In the regular Tuesday board meeting, the Supervisors did not report that any decisions were made during the closed session.

In an interview with the LA Times’ Seema Mehta and also with Warren Olney of Which Way LA? on Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called again for a citizens’ commission to oversee the sheriff’s department. The potential blue ribbon commission will be up again for consideration by the board next month, though a third vote is needed to move forward. At the moment, only Ridley-Thomas and Molina are in favor of the commission.

Here’s more on the issue from Abby Sewell and Seema Mehta. Here are some clips:

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina earlier this year proposed setting up a citizens’ panel similar to the one that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department, which was hit by misconduct convictions during the so-called Rampart scandal in the 1990s.

The other supervisors did not support the plan, saying the inspector general’s office — which was set up at the recommendation of a panel that studied jail violence — would be a more effective watchdog. Ridley-Thomas said he hopes the recent arrests will lead them to reconsider. The proposal for a citizens’ commission is slated to come back before the board next month.

“There is a model that has made [LAPD] better. It would seem to some that the county of Los Angeles would be anxious to do something similar if not better, particularly in light of today’s revelations,” Ridley-Thomas said. “…This is a cultural problem, fundamentally so, and this is tantamount in some ways to the stench of Rampart.”

[SNIP]

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who does not support creating a citizens’ oversight commission, said during the board’s weekly meeting Tuesday that he does support continuing efforts to hold wrongdoers in the Sheriff’s Department accountable.

“We know that continuing investigations are going on and very likely this is only the tip of the iceberg and it’s going to go higher up the chain of command,” he said.

Molina, a longtime critic of Baca, said in a biting statement, “Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform — they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years.”

We also wanted to make sure you did not miss the excellent Monday LA Times editorial about the arrests and underlying “deep-seated” culture of abuse in LA County jails. Here’s how it opens:

Any lingering doubt about whether there are deep-seated problems of abuse at Los Angeles County jails should be put to rest by Monday’s arrests following the unsealing of formal charges against 18 current or former sheriff’s deputies. Any inclination to pass off more than two years of news reports and official probes detailing inmate beatings as simply the result of a few rogue deputies should be shelved.

Some of the allegations are familiar, involving inmates suffering unwarranted abuse and beatings. One of the challenges in coming to grips with civil rights violations perpetrated against convicted criminals is that the victims receive little sympathy from most of the voters and taxpayers who put the sheriff in office and who pay his department’s bills; after all, the thinking goes, criminals deserve punishment.

They do not, however, deserve to be beaten. A civilized society is entitled to punish lawbreakers, but officials with badges, guns and the authority to ensure safety and order are not vested with the right to abuse those they guard. Nor are all inmates criminals; many are in jail awaiting trial, presumed innocent until the jury verdict…


CALIFORNIA GIVEN 53 EXTRA DAYS TO FIX PRISON OVERCROWDING

On Wednesday, federal judges granted Gov. Jerry Brown an extension on the deadline to reduce the California prison population, moving the date to April 18 (from February 24). The judges also pushed back the deadline for negotiations on how to solve the overcrowding problem to January 10, but also said that they intended it to be the final extension. The good news is that the extra time does strongly suggest that the judges are rooting for the more progressive solution (rehabilitation, reentry programs), not solely the simple reduction of the numbers in the short term. (For previous WLA posts on the issue go here and here.)

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

The judges previously moved the deadline to February while a court-appointed mediator works to find a long-term solution with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and attorneys representing inmates who say crowding leads to conditions so poor that they violate constitutional standards.

The judges ordered that those talks continue until Jan. 10. But their one-paragraph order warns that they plan no further extension in the negotiations “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

“The court is bending over backward to accommodate the state,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the attorneys representing inmates in the case. “We’re anxious to either complete the negotiation process, or if that’s not successful, to resume litigation at the earliest possible time.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, race, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Advocates Oppose LA’s Newest Jail Contract…New CA Foster Youth Education Data…90% of Pasadena Juvenile Arrests are Minorities…and Gov. Brown on Criminal Justice Bills

October 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY RESIDENTS AND ADVOCATES STILL FIGHTING TAFT JAIL CONTRACT

Last month, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a $75M contract to send 500 county jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. (You can read about it here.)

Advocates and residents were still voicing their opposition at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and a new petition from Board of Supes watchdog Eric Preven asks the Supes to cancel the contract and use realignment funds for community alternatives.

In the above videos: Susan Burton founded A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project for incarcerated women after decades of cycling through the criminal justice system herself. Former gang member James Horton works for Homeboy Industries. He spent twelve years on death row before having his murder charge reversed.


NEW CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE REPORT LOOKS AT EDUCATION CHALLENGES

Foster care kids in California face an “invisible achievement gap,” according to a report released today.

There are some alarming findings in the report, including the fact that the graduation rate for 2009-2010 high school seniors in foster care was almost 30% lower than that of their peers, and that little more than a third of foster youths perform at grade level in math.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:

The study, which provides the first detailed statewide look at foster youths and their academic challenges, was made possible by a new data-sharing agreement between the state education and social services agencies. It comes as school districts across California prepare to launch the nation’s first effort to systematically address the yawning academic deficiencies among foster youths, using additional money provided by the state’s new school financing law.

“This report makes these invisible kids visible,” said Teri Kook of the Stuart Foundation, which funded the study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd in San Francisco. “The experiences they’ve had — abuse, neglect, moving from home to home — are having an impact on their ability to academically achieve.”

The report shows that Los Angeles County had by far the most public school students in foster care — 12,648 of the 43,140 students identified — with the largest number attending L.A. Unified schools. Although Latinos made up the biggest group at 43%, African Americans were disproportionately represented at 26% — more than three times larger than their share of the population —followed by whites at 23% and Asians at 2%.

The youths switched schools more often than other students — each transfer can set a student back as many as six months, research shows — and suffered far greater levels of emotional trauma than their peers. Such factors, researchers said, are key reasons why they performed worse in English, math and the high school exit exam than even low-income students overall.

Only 37% of foster youths were at grade level in math — scoring lower than all other student groups, including those with disabilities and limited English. Their high school dropout rate in 2009-10 was 8%, more than twice the rate of their statewide peers.


MINORITIES COMPRISE MAJORITY OF PASADENA YOUTH ARRESTS

Almost 90% of Pasadena juvenile arrests between 2008-2012 were of Black and Latino youths, according to data obtained by LA Daily News. The accompanying infographic does also show that the total arrests of both Latinos and African Americans were reduced by more than half from 2008 to 2012.

LADN’s Sarah Favot has the story. Here are some clips:

The data, obtained in a response to a public records request, covers 1,464 incidents. It includes the date, charges, sex, age and race of those youths who were arrested after encounters with police.

Black youths represent 16  percent of Pasadena Unified School District’s school-age population, school district records show, but account for 41  percent of the juvenile arrests, according to the data.

U.S. Census data show that the total black population in Pasadena was about 11 percent in 2010.

Black and Latino youth were also arrested more frequently than white youth for serious crimes like assault, battery, murder and arson, according to the data.

City Councilman John Kennedy has called on Mayor Bill Bogaard to have the data further analyzed by a blue ribbon commission.

“Certainly I think there’s an opportunity to look at the data, analyze the data and present that data and then in a dispassionate way determine what that data portends for making Pasadena a more livable and enjoyable city and to see if in fact there is a necessity for positive interventions to change the demographics of the high incidence of arrests among African Americans and Latinos,” said Kennedy, a former deputy police chief in Virginia.


GOV BROWN’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL DECISIONS

On Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown decided on 33 bills, including SB 57, a bill that would require sex offenders who were apprehended after tampering with their GPS devises to spend 180 days behind bars.

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John have the story. Here are some clips:

Some counties with severely crowded jails have freed such offenders almost immediately after detaining them for tampering with the GPS devices, a Times investigation found this year. The bill Brown approved requires that the offenders be sentenced to 180 days and serve their entire parole revocation in jail.

[SNIP]

The sex offender bill was introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) after The Times documented a sharp increase in reported cases of such offenders removing their GPS devices. Many served little or no time behind bars after doing so, and some committed new crimes — including rape and murder — that might have been prevented if they had been kept in custody.

The monitors are required under a law approved by California voters in 2006. But “when sex offenders know that there are little or no repercussions” for disabling them, “it’s time to strengthen the deterrent,” Lieu said in a statement Saturday. “Real deterrents for sex offenders drastically reduce the likelihood they will commit another crime.”

State corrections officials said that more than 5,000 warrants for GPS tampering were issued in the first 15 months after penalties for doing so were reduced under Brown’s 2011 prison “realignment” program.

Brown also vetoed SB 649, a bill that would have given prosecutors the option to charge possession of cocaine or heroin as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Go read the rest of the criminal justice legislation highlights.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, race, Realignment | 5 Comments »

Rialto Police’s Success with Body Cameras, LASD Racial Profiling Allegations in Long Beach, , and The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die

August 23rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

RIALTO POLICE SHOW HOW EFFECTIVE BODY CAMS CAN BE

The city of Rialto, CA has seen complaints against officers drop almost 90 percent, and officer use of force by nearly 60 percent, since an officer camera program was implemented in February 2012.

The NY Times’ Ian Lovett has the story. Here’s a clip:

Rialto has become the poster city for this high-tech measure intended to police the police since a federal judge last week applauded its officer camera program in the ruling that declared New York’s stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional. Rialto is one of the few places where the impact of the cameras has been studied systematically.

In the first year after the cameras were introduced here in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

And while Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg railed against the federal court, which ordered New York to arm some of its own police officers with cameras, the Rialto Police Department believes it stands as an example of how effective the cameras can be. Starting Sept. 1, all 66 uniformed officers here will be wearing a camera during every shift.

William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, believes the cameras may offer more benefits than merely reduced complaints against his force: the department is now trying to determine whether having video evidence in court has also led to more convictions.

But even without additional data, Chief Farrar has invested in cameras for the whole force.

“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief Farrar said. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”


LONG BEACH GROUPS SAY LA DEPUTY TARGETED UNDOCUMENTED DRIVERS

Community organizations in Long Beach rallied Wednesday, calling for an investigation into an LASD transit deputy’s alleged racial profiling and illegal vehicle impounding.

The deputy allegedly targeted Latino drivers, impounding the vehicles of undocumented immigrants and those with out-of-state licenses. One woman said the deputy told her that he would continue to do so until the immigrants “went back to their country.”

The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Beatriz Valenzuela has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Long Beach community groups are pushing for a complete investigation into allegations a Los Angeles County sheriff’s transit deputy once stationed in Long Beach racially profiled motorists, illegally impounding vehicles and targeting a person who filed a complaint against him.

“We had a meeting with (Sheriff Lee) Baca back on March 2, but we haven’t seen any resolution to the issue,” said Laura Merryfield of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, one of the groups that organized a rally Wednesday over the issue.

A report by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild called the unidentified deputy’s alleged actions a “serious abuse of police power” that included racial profiling and denial of due process rights.

The report alleges the deputy violated the law by impounding vehicles of drivers with out-of-state or out-of-country licenses, by denying impound hearings, conducting legally flawed impound hearings and by failing to release vehicles to licensed drivers — in one case, the registered owner of one of the vehicles. It is illegal to drive without a license, but generally vehicles are not impounded unless a licensed driver is unavailable to take the wheel or the driver’s license has been revoked or suspended.


LASD DEPUTY AND JAIL EMPLOYEE CHARGED WITH COVERING UP INMATE ABUSE

Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Karin Cring and a custody assistant at Twin Towers, Jayson Ellis, were arrested Wednesday and charged with filing a false police report regarding another deputy’s alleged 2010 assault on an inmate.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the arrests and the alleged abuse of inmate Derek Griscavage. Here’s a clip:

Karin Cring, a former deputy now living in Switzerland, was taken into custody Wednesday after authorities received information that she was at a residence in Covina.

Sheriff’s investigators also arrested custody assistant Jayson Ellis, who has been on paid leave since July 2012 in connection with the investigation. Both were ordered held on $20,000 bail; Cring and Ellis were released on bail Wednesday evening, jail records show.

They have been charged with falsely reporting an incident in which authorities alleged that another deputy, Jermaine Jackson, assaulted an inmate using “a deadly weapon” — his feet.

Jackson was charged last year with causing great bodily injury, assault by a public officer and filing a false report in connection with that incident and another incident at the Compton courthouse lockup in 2009. He is awaiting trial.

Ellis, who has worked for the department since 2006, has been on paid leave, but after his arrest Wednesday, his status was shifted to unpaid leave, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

These arrests bring up a great many questions. For one thing, why were Cring and Ellis not arrested until now, when the reported assault was in 2010?  Similarly, why was custody assistant Ellis put on paid leave a full year ago, in 2012?
 
More as we find out more.


NEW LONGFORM NONFICTION RECOMMENDED READ: THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE

This month, a new journalism project called The Big Roundtable, has published a remarkable story titled The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. The narrative, which chronicles Christina Martinez’s fight for her life after she was savagely beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in Turnbull Canyon, is by award-winning former LA Times reporter, Erika Hayasaki, now an assistant professor in the Literary Journalism program at UC Irvine, and the author of the upcoming The Death Class: A True Story About Life (January 2014).

The Big Round Table is a publishing platform that exclusively features longform nonfiction—in other words, the kind of dynamic nonfiction storytelling that is now frequently ignored by the mainstream media. TBRT received its initial funding via a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $19,000 (the goal was $5,000).

Okay, here’s a clip from The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die:

If her father were alive, Christina Martinez knew, he would not approve of her riding in this car, through these unfamiliar neighborhoods, with these three men. She looked out the window. The green Mitsubishi made its way down Beverly Boulevard, but not in Hollywood. Here the street stretched through the Los Angeles outskirts of Montebello and Pico Rivera, past the East L.A. sheriff’s station, past billboards in Spanish scrawled with graffiti, past check-cashing shops, liquor stores, taco stands, and men wearing long sleeves to cover their tattoos. This was a warm Tuesday in August 2009, and the moon was bright.

Christina, who was 20, called the men in the Eclipse her friends, but they were hardly more than acquaintances. She had hung out with them a few times, and they knew her boyfriend, Kilo, whom she had been dating for two months. She had spent much of this evening with Kilo at the home of his cousin, in Bellflower, north of Long Beach. The three men had stopped by, but mostly stayed outside.

When it came time to go, Kilo stayed behind. The men offered to give Christina a ride home. She accepted, because rides were not easy to come by, and because she’d accepted rides from the driver before. Christina and her son, Alexander, only a year old, lived with her mother, farther north in Lennox, next to Los Angeles International Airport. To the west was the beach. On the way, the men said, they might walk on the sand and smoke a little weed.

Christina was small, not even five feet tall. Even with the front seat pushed all the way back, she fit comfortably in the back, behind the driver. She wore shorts, Kilo’s black T-shirt, and Etnies, size 5 ½, with pink E’s on the sides. She had dark hair, freckles, arched eyebrows, piercings beneath her bottom lip, and a star tattooed on her right shoulder. She carried a white backpack with cow designs, along with a small red bag with a turtle print. Inside were her makeup, Social Security Card, zebra-printed sunglasses, and a marijuana pipe.

The Mitsubishi turned east. Christina realized: They were headed away from the beach. They stopped for gas, some cigarettes, and two Arizona iced teas. Then they headed east again.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

No one answered. Lil Wayne spewed from the stereo.

Christina felt a twinge of uncertainty, but she let it pass. Maybe the men had another stop to make before turning west toward the ocean.

[BIG SNIP]

Now Christina could see that they were headed toward the hills southeast of Los Angeles. Mike was sweating, driving 50 miles per hour through 30 mph zones in Whittier, past Spanish-style apartment buildings, pick-up trucks and older cars, and homes shielded from the sidewalks by sculpted trees. He drove through an intersection near the mouth of Turnbull Canyon. The road narrowed and wove into dirt hills on the left, past tree branches on the right that hung over the street like claws.

Mike cocked his head. He had an indecipherable tattoo, partly inked-over, on his neck.

“I’m going to have to tie your hands,” he said.

“What?” she said.

“Tie her hands,” Mike told Eddie.

Christina looked at Eddie, confused. Suddenly, Eddie was holding a rope…

(For the rest, go here.)

If you like the story, you can donate money to fund the author’s future pieces.

Here’s a little bit more about the Big Roundtable’s format (but if you go over to their “About” page, there’s a great little explanatory video):

The Big Roundtable is a digital publishing platform that aims to connect passionate nonfiction writers with readers who will support their work. We do this through experimental methods of gathering, selecting, editing, and distributing ambitious narrative stories, and, eventually, researching the reading and sharing behavior around those stories. And by convening forums—online and in person—where writers can learn and connect for mutual support.

The inspiration for the Big Roundtable came from the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York City writers who called themselves “The Vicious Circle” and who’d meet at the Algonquin Hotel in the early 20th century. They were vicious; we are not.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles writers, Police, race | 18 Comments »

No, We should Not Boycott Florida….A School’s Bet on NonViolence ….NYTimes on CA’s Hunger Strike….

July 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



WHY BOYCOTTING FLORIDA WON’T HELP

The deeply painful issues that have arisen for so many Americans around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent exoneration of George Zimmerman, are complex in nature and require honest dialogue and sustained, practical action if real change and healing is to begin to take place.

It is, therefore, disheartening to see people, whom one expects would know better, grasping for simplistic, feel-good gestures that don’t accomplish much of anything, but instead distract us from the far more difficult long-term work that is needed to help prevent future Trayvon Martins.

The new movement to boycott Florida is one of those unhelpful feel-good gestures.

We at WLA are relieved to see that the LA Times editorial board has come out roundly against this mis-aimed move.

Here’s a clip from the LA Times editorial on the matter:

….What would be the goal of a boycott against Florida? [California State Assemblyman Chris] Holden claims his target is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a statute similar to those on the books of more than 20 other states, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense without first trying to retreat from danger.

There is legitimate question about the wisdom and fairness of such laws, which, this page noted this year, encourage a dangerous shoot-first mentality. President Obama on Friday was one of many who called for a reconsideration of such laws in the wake of the Martin killing and the acquittal of Zimmerman. We join those who are concerned about “stand your ground” laws.

But if the wrong to be punished and corrected is the adoption of such laws, it would be odd and unjust to direct a boycott at Florida alone, and not other states with such laws, merely because Zimmerman’s trial was racially charged and closely followed by the public. If the target was not the statute but rather this particular judge’s handling of the case or this six-person jury’s finding, a boycott of the entire state seems not merely wildly out of scale but wholly unrelated to the perceived wrong.

Also read this essay by our pal Rob Greene on the boycotting-Florida issue. In it he talks about why this notion of boycotting entire states—either Florida or Arizona—is wrongheaded, however momentarily emotionally satisfying it might seem.

(And, while you’re at it, be sure to read this essay for Time Magazine by author/civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander about what the Trayvon Martin case revealed about young men of color being viewed, not as having problems, but as being “a problem.’)


A SCHOOL’S BIG BET ON NONVIOLENCE: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN STUDENTS AREN’T VIEWED AS THE PROBLEM?

In a desperately poor, dangerous part of Philadelphia, Memphis Street Academy decided to ditch its metal detectors and focus on supporting students, instead of being fearful of them. Violence dropped by 90 percent.

Jeff Deeny, writing in this week’s Atlantic Monthly, has this hopeful and very instructive story about what happened when a troubled school changed its strategy and, in so doing, changed its students feelings about their school, and about their own potential. Here’s a clip from the beginning…and one from the very end.

Last year when American Paradigm Schools took over Philadelphia’s infamous, failing John Paul Jones Middle School, they did something a lot of people would find inconceivable. The school was known as “Jones Jail” for its reputation of violence and disorder, and because the building physically resembled a youth correctional facility. Situated in the Kensington section of the city, it drew students from the heart of a desperately poor hub of injection drug users and street level prostitution where gun violence rates are off the charts. But rather than beef up the already heavy security to ensure safety and restore order, American Paradigm stripped it away. During renovations, they removed the metal detectors and barred windows.

The police predicted chaos. But instead, new numbers seem to show that in a single year, the number of serious incidents fell by 90%.

The school says it wasn’t just the humanizing physical makeover of the facility that helped. Memphis Street Academy also credits the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a noncoercive, nonviolent conflict resolution regimen originally used in prison settings that was later adapted to violent schools. AVP, when tailored to school settings, emphasizes student empowerment, relationship building and anger management over institutional control and surveillance. There are no aggressive security guards in schools using the AVP model; instead they have engagement coaches, who provide support, encouragement, and a sense of safety.

[BIG SNIP]

Allowed to respond anonymously to questionnaires, 73% of students said they now felt safe at school, 100% said they feel there’s an adult at school who cares about them and 95% said they hope to graduate from college one day. These are the same Jones Jail kids who 12 months ago were climbing over cars to get away from school (Memphis Street Academy has since staggered dismissals and is using AVP techniques on the grounds as kids leave–nearby bodegas have stopped locking their doors when school lets out).

When asked about the security changes at Memphis Street Academy a ten-year-old fifth-grader sums up her experience: “There are no more fights. There are no more police. That’s better for the community.”


RETHINKING THE EFFICACY OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT POLICIES: THE NEW YORK TIMES WEIGHS IN

In this Sunday’s New York Times, Jesse Wegman, the paper’s new editorial writer on legal matters (hired in April of this year), had some things to say about the ineffective and Constitutionally-questionable way that California still insists on handling solitary confinement in its prisons.

Here’s a clip:

At Pelican Bay, the overwhelming majority of the men in solitary don’t even have a record of violence; they are placed in solitary for their “gang associations,” despite the fact that such associations have hardly any predictive value for a prisoner’s likelihood to be violent.

The little hope these inmates have of leaving solitary lies mostly in what prison officials call “debriefing,” or snitching on other gang members. (California officials say that about 200 inmates statewide have been classified for return to the general prison population under a pilot program that considers behavior and other factors besides debriefing.)

Opponents of solitary do not deny that certain inmates are too dangerous or disruptive to live among the general prison population. The issue is whether depriving thousands of people of virtually all human contact for years on end, without real opportunities to get out, goes beyond any reasonable standard of proportionality in punishment. “They want to make these people suffer — it’s exactly what the goal is,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “Whose interests are being undermined if you let someone for the first time in a year talk to their mother?”


BACKYARD BEARS AND BOUGAINVILLEA

At LA Observed there is an excellent photo of a backyard bear lounging over a fence attractively draped with bougainvillea. (I mean, for those of you interested in backyard bears and bougainvillea, of course.)

The bear looks very cheerful.

Posted in CDCR, Charter Schools, Education, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

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