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Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Justice Bills, InsideOUT Writers, Prison Gangs, and More on the Probation Dept. Workers Comp. Fraud

September 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BILLS FOR HOMELESS KIDS, REENTRY SERVICES, AND SAFEGUARDING JUSTICE PROGRAMS ON THEIR WAY TO CONGRESS

Right before the US Senate Judiciary Committee headed into recess, it approved three noteworthy social-justice-related bills.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, S.2646, would fund housing and “trauma-informed and gender-responsive” services for teens who are homeless or have runaway from home. The bill also aims to increase the time kids are allowed to stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days, as well as require that shelters offer counseling. The bill would also create a fund for young victims of trafficking out of money recovered from sex trafficking sting operations.

The second bill, S.1690, would renew funding to the Second Chance Act at $100 million to pay for developing state and local reentry services for kids and adults.

And the final piece of legislation would change a portion of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. So far, only two states have passed compliance with PREA. (California is not one of them.) States that do not become compliant face a 5% deduction from the federal funding of their prisons. Cornyn’s bill would exempt three programs from the funding fine: the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants.

The bills will head to Congress once the fall recess has ended, after the November elections.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bills. Here’s a clip:

The bill, S.2646, extends the maximum stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days. It also requires transitional living program grantees to provide counseling services and aftercare services to participants.

The legislation would also establish a compensation fund for victims of human trafficking. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), speaking at the committee markup of the bill today, said the fund would be paid for with assets recovered in trafficking stings and by increasing financial penalties on federal sex offenders, who Cornyn described as “among the most affluent in the federal system.”

A second piece of legislation passed by the committee today, S.1690, would reauthorize the Second Chance Act at $100 million. Second Chance funds state and local efforts to improve and expand reentry programs for adult and juvenile offenders.

Cornyn successfully attached an amendment to the reauthorization that actually relates to the penalties involved in another federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)…


INSIDEOUT WRITERS PROGRAM TEACHES LOCKED-UP KIDS HOW TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES

InsideOUT Writers, an anti-recidivism program taught at three LA juvenile detention facilities, has been helping incarcerated kids learn positive self-expression through writing for nearly two decades. (And we’ve written about it here, and here.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Henry Foster Rubenstein had the opportunity to attend several InsideOUT Writers classes where he was able to experience first hand the impact the teachers and writing have on the kids, and the power the kids themselves have to rise above their incarceration. Here’s a clip:

At 9 a.m. the next day, another IOW teacher, Scott Budnick, brings me into his all-boy class, most in for violent crimes. He has taught IOW classes every Saturday morning since 2003. With him that day are two other teachers, Johnny Kovatch and Susy Sobel. The three create a perfect balance of caring nurture and hard-knock love.

Kovatch bounces around the table, pouring out energy and enthusiasm, while Budnick and Sobel bring it all together.

The teachers emphasize the students must express the talent and effort the teachers knew they’re capable of. The atmosphere begins to get aggressive. Unlike the girls’ class the day before, the boys don’t like opening up about their feelings.

But the teachers are ready to make them dig.

“Sometimes I feel that I’ve been a failure so long I can’t succeed, but I know I have to let that pressure out, and not hold it in,” one student says. Each student uses the writing circle to look inside themselves at the decisions and emotions that set them off-course.

Budnick asks the students to share something they got out of the day. Most say the classes give them a chance to vent. One boy says, “Writing makes me not want to care about the bad things anymore,” while another insists, “Writing makes me believe in myself, knowing I can do it!”


THE COMPLICATED AUTHORITY OF PRISON GANGS ON THE INSIDE, AND HOW THEY REGULATE CRIME ON THE OUTSIDE

The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood has an excellent longread about the complex system of inmate gangs that, in addition to their obvious downsides, also provide the function, particularly in the California state prison system, of imposing a kind of order inside the state’s lock ups. Wood’s story looks as well at how the gangs originated, and how they enforce a system of rules for the drug trade on the streets from inside prison walls.

Here’s a clip, but do yourself a favor and read the story in it’s entirety:

…starting in the 1950s, things changed: The total inmate population rose steeply, and prisons grew bigger, more ethnically and racially mixed, and more unpredictable in their types of inmate. Prisons faced a flood of first offenders, who tended to be young and male—and therefore less receptive to the advice of grizzled jailbirds. The norms that made prison life tolerable disappeared, and the authorities lost control. Prisoners banded together for self-protection—and later, for profit. The result was the first California prison gang.

That moment of gang genesis, Skarbek says, forced an arms race, in which different groups took turns demonstrating a willingness to inflict pain on others. The arms race has barely stopped, although the gangs have waxed and waned in relative power. (The Black Guerrilla Family has been weakened, prison authorities told me, because of leadership squabbles.) The Mexican Mafia was the sole Hispanic gang until 1965, when a group of inmates from Northern California formed Nuestra Familia to counter the influence of Hispanics from the south. Gang elders—called maestros—instruct the youngsters in gang history and keep the enmity alive.

What’s astonishing to outsiders, Skarbek says, is that many aspects of gang politics that appear to be sources of unresolvable hatred immediately dissipate if they threaten the stability of prison society. For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood—a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates. You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. The sole purpose of this exercise is for each gang leader to guarantee that his men will respect the night’s silence. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up. The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in 1956, and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. “The young guys on the street look to the gang members inside as role models,” says Charles Dangerfield, a former prison guard who now heads California’s Gang Task Force, in Sacramento. “Getting sentenced to prison is like being called up to the majors.”

But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals. In a 2011 paper in American Political Science Review, he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside. Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world.

Gangs effect this justice on the inside in part by circulating a “bad-news list,” or BNL. If your name is on a BNL, gang members are to attack you on sight—perhaps because you stole from an affiliate on the outside, or because you failed to repay a drug debt, or because you’re suspected of ratting someone out. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.


LA PROBATION PINPOINTING DOCTORS WHO HELP PROBATION STAFF WIN WORKER’S COMP. FOR DUBIOUS INJURIES

Yesterday, we linked to Rina Palta and Karen Foshay’s story for KPCC about a surprising number of far-fetched worker’s compensation claims filed by Probation Dept. staff members.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers says investigators are not only working to crack down on on worker’s compensation fraud by going directly to the staff in question, but also investigating the doctors who are allegedly enabling the fraud.

Palta and Foshay have the update. Here’s a clip:

…Probation chief Powers says there is a problem with doctors who are all too willing to approve workers’ compensation claims.

“There’s an informal grapevine out there” of doctors “who are more than willing to sign [probation workers] off duty so they can gain benefits,” says Powers.

He says he doesn’t know how large that grapevine is. There are hundreds of doctors who handle probation staffers’ workers’ compensation claims.

Probation says it has reached out to a number of doctors who have a high approval rate of department employees’ workers’ compensation or disability claims, although it won’t say how many, or which ones. Officials say sometimes they show doctors surveillance footage of workers engaged in physical activity while out on disability or workers’ compensation. But the doctors frequently have an explanation for the physical activity, says Cynthia Maluto, head of probation’s return to work unit.

“Things don’t change after the meetings,” she says.

Posted in Gangs, prison, Probation, race, Reentry, writers and writing | No Comments »

Racial Bias Produces More Punitive Laws, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, LA Clinics Keeping Mentally Ill Out of Jail…and More

September 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHITE PEOPLE’S RACIALLY BIASED PERCEPTIONS LEAD TO HARSHER CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAWS AND HARM PUBLIC SAFETY

A new publication from the Sentencing Project takes a look at how racially biased perceptions of crime beget harsher criminal justice laws and policies.

According to a 2010 survey, white people overestimate by 20-30% the percentage of crime committed by blacks and Latinos.

The study found that although white Americans are less frequently victims of crime than blacks or Latinos, they are more likely to favor more punitive laws (like the death penalty, “three strikes” laws, and trying kids as adults). And those that associate higher crime rates to minorities favor those aforementioned punitive laws more than white people who don’t attribute a higher percentage of crime to minorities.

These perceptions, which negatively affect public safety, are also perpetuated by the media and policymakers. Here are some clips from the findings:

Media crime coverage fuels racial perceptions of crime. Many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites – both quantitatively and qualitatively. Television news programs and newspapers over-represent racial minorities as crime suspects and whites as crime victims. Black and Latino suspects are also more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way – unnamed and in police custody.

Policymakers’ actions and statements amplify the public’s racial associations of crime. Whether acting on their own implicit biases or bowing to political exigency, policymakers have fused crime and race in their policy initiatives and statements. They have crafted harsh sentencing laws that impact all Americans and disproportionately incarcerate people of color. Through public statements, some have stoked the public’s heightened concern about crime and exaggerated associations of crime with racial minorities.

Criminal justice practitioners also operate with and reinforce racial perceptions of crime. Disparities in police stops, in prosecutorial charging, and in bail and sentencing decisions reveal that implicit racial bias has penetrated all corners of the criminal justice system. Moreover, policies that are race- neutral on their surface – such as “hot spot” policing and certain risk assessment instruments – have targeted low-income people of color for heightened surveillance and punishment.

Racial perceptions of crime have distorted the criminal justice system. By increasing support for punitive policies, racial perceptions of crime have made sentencing more severe for all Americans. The United States now has the world’s highest imprisonment rate, with one in nine prisoners serving life sentences. Racial perceptions of crime, combined with other factors, have led to the disparate punishment of people of color. Although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30% of the general population, they account for 58% of the prison population.

Racial perceptions of crime have undermined public safety. By increasing the scale of criminal sanctions and disproportionately directing penalties toward people of color, racial perceptions of crime have been counterproductive for public safety. Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials. In 2013, over two-thirds of African Americans saw the criminal justice system as biased against blacks, in contrast to one-quarter of whites. Crime policies that disproportionately target people of color can increase crime rates by concentrating the effects of criminal labeling and collateral consequences on racial minorities and by fostering a sense of legal immunity among whites. Finally, racial perceptions of crime have even led to the deaths of innocent people of color at the hands of fearful civilians and police officers.


PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck shares his thoughts on Ferguson and LA’s Ezell Ford shooting, police militarization, “broken window” vs. “community policing,” his reappointment, and a lot more. It’s worth reading the whole thing for yourself, but here are some clips:

There’s community anger about the fatal shooting of a mentally ill South L.A. man, Ezell Ford. Incidents like these make people afraid that L.A. could tip over into violence again.

Of course we’re afraid. I’m worried too. They don’t pay me not to worry! We’ve built relationships and put money in the bank of trust, and we’re more open and transparent than we’ve ever been, and we try to be as open and transparent as we can within the parameters of public safety and the law. If you do those things, you should be able to get through an Ezell Ford.

[SNIP]

In Ferguson, Michael Brown was stopped by police for jaywalking, a minor violation that might be prosecuted under the “broken windows” policing practice. Is there a contradiction between “broken windows,” which some people might regard as harassment, and “community policing”?

Everybody interprets “broken windows” and “community policing” in their own way. There are people who believe they contradict each other. I’m not one of those. I think they complement each other. But it doesn’t mean enforcing all minor crimes; it means enforcing the ones that are precursors to more serious crimes. It’s about working to eliminate an obvious prostitution stroll because it’s a magnet for violent crime and it leads to human trafficking and the degradation of women and the breakdown of families.

I want to make sure people understand this is a department that believes in community policing and building trust. Are we a perfect department? There’s no such thing. Do we strive to be that? I think we do.

[SNIP]

Is a national database for violent police-civilian encounters a good idea?

We would have no problem doing that. Those are part of the statistics that I read weekly to the Police Commission. I say how many categorical uses of force we’ve had this year, how many officer-involved shootings, assaults on police officers… The real discussion: Why are some communities more susceptible to violence than others?

Violence between the police and public occurs [where] there’s also a huge amount of general violence. I’m not excusing police violence; I’m saying it’s more than that. You bring down general violence, you bring down violence between the police and the community too. A lot of that has to do with things that are far outside the control of the police and maybe outside the control of government, but I wish we had that discussion as vigorously as we do about violence toward and by the police.

The Defense Department provides police with military-grade equipment. In Ferguson, it seemed to heighten the tensions.

These things have an application but must be limited. You see what the LAPD does for crowd control — our primary line of crowd control is our bike officers. We may have the equipment, but we certainly don’t brandish it; we don’t show it when it’s not needed because it just escalates. You have to have strong rules. Nobody wants a police state, certainly not me, and nobody wants a militarized police department.

[Recently] a suspect was firing an assault weapon with dozens and dozens of rounds at his disposal, and he shot one of my SWAT officers. If we hadn’t had an armored vehicle and were able to approach him, we’d have had many more injured. But in a crowd-control situation, absolutely not.

Be sure to read the rest.


LA MENTAL HEALTH CLINICS WORK TO KEEP THE THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS OUT OF LOCK-UP AND EMERGENCY ROOMS

A string of clinics in Los Angeles are successfully keeping people with mental health emergencies out of jail and emergency rooms. The four county-run clinics (with a fifth on the horizon) are all open 24-hours-a-day and predominantly serve the poor and homeless. As well as providing immediate services to people experiencing psychological crisis, they connect patients with more long term outpatient care and rehab centers. Data from the past few years shows that nearly everyone who visits one of these clinics stay out of jail and the emergency room during the month after a visit.

KPCC’s Rebecca Plevin has more on the clinics. Here’s a clip:

One of the clinics, Exodus Eastside Urgent Care Center, sits across the street from the L.A. County/USC Medical Center. Patients are referred from other hospitals, rehab programs, social service agencies, and law enforcement. Roughly one in five is homeless, and most are poor.

The clinic is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Patients come with a range of mental health needs. Some need a refill of their psychiatric medications. Others have been placed on involuntary psychiatric holds, and can remain at the clinic up to 23 hours.

“The emergency rooms aren’t really a great place for treating people who are in psychiatric crisis,” says Marvin Southard, director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, noting that ERs are chaotic, overcrowded with medical patients and expensive.

There are currently four mental health urgent care clinics, which together serve about 23,000 patients a year. A fifth is scheduled to open on Thursday on the campus of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.

The clinics are more than emergency rooms for the mentally ill. They’re better understood as service hubs, stabilizing people in the short-term, and connecting them to outpatient mental health care and longer term alcohol and drug treatment, Southard says.

Establishing those links between patients and services is challenging but critical, says Kathy Shoemaker, vice president of clinical services for Exodus Recovery Inc., the nonprofit agency that runs Eastside Urgent Care Center for the county.

“Every individual that comes to see us will leave here with a very definitive plan as to how to continue with mental health services,” Shoemaker says.

That “warm hand-off,” as the center’s team calls it, allows patients to continue to recover – instead of ending up back on the streets, in the ER, or possibly in jail.


GROUP REPRESENTING 69 CA MAYORS BACKS GUN RESTRAINING ORDER BILL

Late last week, the California Gun Restraining Order bill, AB 1014, landed on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The bill, which would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals displaying certain warning signs from possessing firearms. (Read WLA’s previous post on the issue, here.)

Now, the California coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group representing 69 mayors throughout the state, has sent Gov. Brown a letter urging him to sign the bill. Here’s a clip from their letter:

We watched with horror on May 23, 2014 as a young man murdered six people in Isla Vista, CA. The killer’s parents had contacted police after he made suicidal and homicidal statements. But police decided he did not meet the standard for emergency commitment—and no one could act in time to keep guns out of his hands. AB 1014 would empower law enforcement and family members who see troubling warning signs in cases like these to petition a court and temporarily prohibit a dangerous person from having guns.

Gun violence restraining orders (GVROs) would create an opportunity to stop gun violence in real life-or-death situations while still protecting the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners. Under current federal and California state law, a person is only prohibited from buying or possessing guns if they have been convicted of a prohibiting crime, have been adjudicated as mentally ill or hospitalized to a mental institution, or else is subject to a restraining order protecting a particular individual. Other dangerous people may display significant and serious warning signs of violence, but will still be able to buy guns. GVROs would allow family members and law enforcement—often the first to see these warning signs—to present evidence of such danger to a judge, who could temporarily prohibit a person from gun possession and order them to temporarily turn in their guns if they were able to meet the high burden of proof the law requires.

(The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has more on the issue.)

Posted in Charlie Beck, guns, LAPD, mental health, race | 3 Comments »

SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

Ferguson, Los Angeles & Lakewood….the Task of Finding Facts Beneath the Defensiveness, Demonization & Trauma

August 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, emotions continued to run high over the shooting of Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced via a Sunday morning news release that, under the supervision of the DOJ, a federal examiner will conduct a third autopsy of Brown. (A state autopsy and an autopsy requested by Brown’s family are the first and second.) Holder said the state autopsy will also be taken into account.

Also on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video of Michael Brown appearing to rob a convenience store of a box of cigars, shoving the much smaller clerk out of the way when the clerk attempted to stop him.

[NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, we described Brown's apparent action as "shoplifting," which was not correct. In Missouri, as in most states, the shove to the clerk makes it "strong-arm robbery" or "robbery in the second degree," as physical force appeared to be used, but there was no weapon involved.]

On the other hand, while the timing of the video release was painfully clumsy, withholding the video did not, frankly, sound like a great idea either. Damned if you do, damned if you…. etc.

Indeed, the video upset people. It may have been real but it was misleading, Brown’s neighbors tried to explain to an LA Times reporter. Mike-Mike, as they called him, was a good kid, not perfect, but someone for whom the neighbors had real hope.

By Sunday afternoon, the results of the private autopsy were released showing that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, with none of the shots appearing, at least initially, to be at close range. However, this last was not at all conclusive, since Brown’s clothing had not been examined by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri to perform the autopsy at Brown’s family’s request. Baden and others specified that more information is needed before conclusions could be drawn from his findings.

Yet the announcement fueled further demonstrations Sunday night featuring gun shots, Molotov cocktails and looting. Early Monday, Missouri’s governor called in the National Guard.

Matters had not been helped by the fact that members of the Ferguson Police Department had been behaving like storm troopers during demonstrations for the past week, hauling off a Washington Post reporter and a Huffington Post reporter to jail for….reporting.…from inside the local McDonald’s. And chasing an Al Jazeera team away from the reporters’ lights and cameras with tear gas.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, the LAPD met several hundred sign-carrying demonstrators who gathered at LAPD headquarters to protest the shooting death on August 11 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, reportedly mentally ill black man who was unarmed and whom police say tried to take the gun from the holster of one of the officers who attempted to detain him. Witnesses tell a different story.

In LA, the cops mostly let the demonstrators do what they wanted when they marched through Union Station, Little Tokyo, and elsewhere, long as they didn’t cause trouble.

The difference in the responses of the two departments points to the fact that the two shootings did not take place in the same context and, despite the similar emotional issues they may raise, they must not be conflated.

At the same time, the circumstances of both shootings are sharply disputed, and thus they require clear-headed, dispassionate investigation to tease out the facts.

On Friday, LA’s emotional climate was complicated further as the dangerous nature of police work was tragically illustrated when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was viciously assaulted while he was escorting a domestic disturbance suspect out of a Lakewood shopping mall. The suspect, who has now been arrested for attempted murder, knocked the deputy to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and body, putting him in critical condition. Since surgery, the deputy’s condition has been listed as stable, but there are inferences of life-changing injuries.

Such attacks cannot help but traumatize officers who just want to do their jobs well and get home safe to their families at night. When non-cops fail to comprehend this reality, they risk distancing themselves disastrously from the men and women who have signed up to protect and serve them.

At the same time, members of LA’s minority neighborhoods in particular can point to decades of shameful history of police abuses that, while reform has taken place, have left trauma still in their wake to the degree that an LA reporter and mother writes about her terror when she first learned she would be having a baby boy in a world where “black boys face different dangers,” some of them from law enforcement. Her fears, sadly, are not uncommon.

To look at the matter from a slightly different angle, one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve read in the last week as to why shooting of—or by—- police officers are likely generate so much upset comes from the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

There you have it. We are supposed to be devastated when a cop is hurt or killed. Cops and firefighters are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us, and injury or worse to peace officers goes beyond the awful tragedy that hits the family and friends of the individual cop. It tears something fundamental in the community as a whole.

By the same token, if police appear to use their powers wrongly or carelessly or cavalierly, then resist being questioned about it—or worse, lie about it—-community members feel frightened and betrayed. Community trust shatters in ways that are difficult to repair. Everybody suffers from the shattering, police and community both.

It is, of course, much too soon to know what really happened in either the Michael Brown or the Ezell Ford shootings. And whatever truths are ultimately uncovered, let us hope we can get to them with a minimum of defensiveness and/or demonization. We are, in the end, all in this together. Remembering that one small fact might be helpful.

Posted in LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, social justice | 40 Comments »

Creating Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Dept….Paul Tanaka Campaign Inactive….LA Times Urges Five More Years for LAPD Chief Beck….and 91% ATF Drug Sting Arrests are of Minorities

August 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPE RIDLEY-THOMAS, JIM MCDONNELL, OTHERS DISCUSS LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT ON ABC7 “EYEWITNESS NEWSMAKERS”

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider creating a civilian commission to oversee the sheriff’s department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas appeared on ABC7′s “Eyewitness Newsmakers” Sunday morning with host Adrienne Alpert to discuss the issue. He was joined by LBPD Chief (and LA sheriff hopeful) Jim McDonnell, Miriam Krinsky, the former executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, and Lt. Brian Moriguchi, president of the Professional Peace Officers Association.

Ridley-Thomas urged his fellow supervisors to vote in favor of the commission Tuesday, without further delay.

Jim McDonnell agreed that the commission should be created, and said that it’s establishment could help the county ward off a federal consent decree. McDonnell said it should be set up while the particulars of the Office of Inspector General are being decided, so that they work together properly. McDonnell also told Alpert that the IG should report to the civilian commission and that he does not believe the IG should have to be bound to the LASD by attorney-client privilege (as interim Sheriff John Scott has recommended).

PPOA president Moriguchi disagreed with Ridley-Thomas and McDonnell about the timing, saying that the OIG should be established before a civilian commission, and that effective oversight is of greater importance than simply creating more oversight.

And while the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence chose to not take a position on the issue, former executive director of the commission, Miriam Krinsky, urged the creation of a permanent civilian watchdog panel.

Here’s a clip from Alpert’s pre-show story:

After years of reports of mismanagement, corruption and brutality in the sheriff’s department, Ridley-Thomas says the board should not wait any longer to approve the commission.

Speaking on Sunday’s “Eyewitness Newsmakers,” Ridley-Thomas said, “What are we waiting for? More federal indictments? What are we waiting for? More embarrassment?”

Appearing with the supervisor, the leading candidate for sheriff, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who supports the citizen commission, said it could help L.A. County avoid a federal consent decree imposed on the sheriff’s department. “I think it could happen,” said McDonnell. “We have an opportunity to put oversight in place.”

The LA Times also had a Sunday editorial urging the board to vote in favor of creating the commission.


PAUL TANAKA, CAMPAIGN STAFF M.I.A.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka did not respond to requests to speak on Newsmakers (story above).

In fact, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze says it appears his campaign headquarters has been deserted for about a month. While Tanaka was unreachable (as were his campaign manager and his chief fundraiser), his campaign consultant, Reed Galen, says he is no longer employed by Tanaka.

Political scientist and head of the Center for the Study of L.A. at Loyola Marymount, Fernando Guerra, says the former undersheriff should shut down campaign operations and go on vacation after only receiving 15% of the vote in the primary election (to Jim McDonnell’s 49%).

What Tanaka is actually going to do remains unknown.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

The once bustling campaign headquarters of Paul Tanaka, tucked in the middle of a Torrance strip mall is empty now. No volunteers busily calling voters, no campaign signs stacked high. No Tanaka buzzing around, giving orders and thanking people. One of the agents at the State Farm Insurance office next door says Tanaka’s people decamped about a month ago.

KPCC calls and emails to both the would-be sheriff’s campaign manager and chief fundraiser went unreturned. His campaign consultant during the primary election, Reed Galen, said he no longer works for Tanaka. He did not elaborate.

Tanaka, a former undersheriff who finished second in the primary, has not returned numerous calls this week or responded to emails. He didn’t appear to be home at his Gardena residence on Friday afternoon.

[SNIP]

The most recent post on Tanaka’s campaign website was June 5, when he thanked supporters. He has no upcoming events listed on the website.

Tanaka garnered just 15 percent of the vote in the primary, a distant second to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell’s 49 percent of the vote.

“I think his best strategy is to shut down, don’t spend any money, and go on vacation,” said Fernando Guerra, a political scientist who heads the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a KPCC board member. “He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance.”


LA TIMES ENDORSES REAPPOINTMENT OF LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK

The LA Times editorial board says despite a few missteps, Charlie Beck deserves to be reappointed for another five-year term as Los Angeles Police Chief. (We at WLA agree wholeheartedly with their endorsement.) Here’s a clip:

Just look at the numbers. Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row, beginning under the previous chief, William J. Bratton, and continuing for the last five years under Beck. It’s true that L.A. has benefited from a long-term trend in which cities across the country are becoming safer, but that doesn’t negate the impact that smart policing and good management have had here. In fact, Los Angeles has continued to cut crime even as other cities, such as Chicago, have experienced a resurgence in homicides and gang violence. While overall crime in L.A. was down in the first six months of this year, it should be noted that there was a small increase in violent crime, due partly to a rise in aggravated assaults. If Beck is reappointed, he will be under tremendous pressure to turn that around.

Beck should get extra credit for keeping crime low even though he has had, on average, significantly fewer officers on duty each day than his predecessor did, as a result of budget cuts that forced officers to stay home rather than be paid overtime.

[SNIP]

This is not to say that Beck is above criticism. In recent months, some weaknesses in his management style have become apparent; left unchecked, they could undermine some of the tremendous improvements of the last decade. There is, for instance, a widespread perception in the department that Beck, who has the final say on discipline of officers, has been unfair in meting out punishment — too harsh on some unlucky officers and too easy on favored employees. In one case, Beck overruled a panel’s recommendation that he fire an officer caught lying to investigators — an officer who also happened to be the nephew of a former deputy chief.

Beck also faced some discontent inside and outside the department when he returned eight officers to duty even though they had violated policy by carelessly firing more than 100 rounds at two women delivering newspapers during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last year.

Beck has repeatedly chosen to retrain officers rather than fire them for mistakes on the job, including out-of-policy shootings that killed or injured people. He was challenged publicly on this in 2012 by members of the Police Commission, who said his seemingly lenient punishments could send the wrong message to officers. Two years later, the police officers’ union and a new civilian panel appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti also expressed concern about uneven discipline. If reappointed, Beck must address lingering perceptions of leniency and favoritism. He should lay out clear standards for discipline so officers know what to expect and so commissioners can hold him accountable if he deviates from his own policy.


ATF DRUG STINGS: 91% ARRESTED ARE MINORITIES, SAYS USA TODAY INVESTIGATION

A whopping 91% of those arrested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during drug sting operations during the last ten years were minorities (55% black, and over 33% hispanic), according to a USA Today investigation we didn’t want you to miss.

ATF officials say there is no racial bias occurring in their drug stings—that they are simply targeting “the worst of the worst.” Academics and criminal justice advocates say otherwise. US District Court Judge – and many others say otherwise.

USA Today’s Brad Heath has this story. Here’s how it opens, but there’s a lot more, so do go read the rest:

The nation’s top gun-enforcement agency overwhelmingly targeted racial and ethnic minorities as it expanded its use of controversial drug sting operations, a USA TODAY investigation shows.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has more than quadrupled its use of those stings during the past decade, quietly making them a central part of its attempts to combat gun crime. The operations are designed to produce long prison sentences for suspects enticed by the promise of pocketing as much as $100,000 for robbing a drug stash house that does not actually exist.

At least 91% of the people agents have locked up using those stings were racial or ethnic minorities, USA TODAY found after reviewing court files and prison records from across the United States. Nearly all were either black or Hispanic. That rate is far higher than among people arrested for big-city violent crimes, or for other federal robbery, drug and gun offenses.

The ATF operations raise particular concerns because they seek to enlist suspected criminals in new crimes rather than merely solving old ones, giving agents and their underworld informants unusually wide latitude to select who will be targeted. In some cases, informants said they identified targets for the stings after simply meeting them on the street.

“There’s something very wrong going on here,” said University of Chicago law professor Alison Siegler, part of a team of lawyers challenging the ATF’s tactics in an Illinois federal court. “The government is creating these crimes and then choosing who it’s going to target.”

Current and former ATF officials insist that race plays no part in the operations. Instead, they said, agents seek to identify people already committing violent robberies in crime-ridden areas, usually focusing on those who have amassed long and violent rap sheets.

“There is no profiling going on here,” said Melvin King, ATF’s deputy assistant director for field operations, who has supervised some of the investigations. “We’re targeting the worst of the worst, and we’re looking for violent criminals that are using firearms in furtherance of other illegal activities.”

The ATF’s stash-house investigations already face a legal backlash. Two federal judges in California ruled this year that agents violated the Constitution by setting people up for “fictitious crime” they wouldn’t otherwise commit; a federal appeals court in Chicago is weighing whether an operation there amounted to entrapment. Even some of the judges who have signed off on the operations have expressed misgivings about them.

On top of that, defense lawyers in three states have charged that ATF is profiling minority suspects. They asked judges to force the Justice Department to turn over records they hope will prove those claims. Last year, the chief federal judge in Chicago, U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, agreed and ordered government lawyers to produce a trove of information, saying there was a “strong showing of potential bias.”

Justice Department lawyers fought to block the disclosures. In one case in Chicago, the department refused to comply with another judge’s order that it produce information about the stings. The records it has so far produced in other cases remain sealed.

Because of that secrecy, the data compiled by USA TODAY offer the broadest evidence yet that ATF’s operations have overwhelmingly had minority suspects in their cross hairs. The newspaper identified a sample of 635 defendants arrested in stash-house stings during the past decade, and found 579, or 91%, were minorities.

Posted in Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, The Feds, War on Drugs | 13 Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

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 | 110 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 | 2 Comments »

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