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John Oliver Blasts Municipal Fine Swindle-System, LAPD Empathy Training, LA City Crime Rates, and Former LA DA Paid to Lobby for New Jail

March 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOHN OLIVER SHINES A LIGHT ON MUNICIPAL FINES AS ABUSIVE MEANS TO FUND CITIES

Many cities use the revenue from tickets for municipal violations to fund public services, and happily heap on further penalties for inability to pay—fines for the fines. Obviously, this system disproportionately affects the poor. In addition to incurring impossible debt, people who cannot pay their tickets can also lose their drivers licenses in many states. This, in turn, means that they can no longer drive to a job to earn money to funnel into the city’s coffers, and the pockets of private probation debt-collecting companies. Sometimes an inability to pay these fines can even land them in (debtor’s) prison.

On Last Week Tonight John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales, including the story of a grandmother who racked up thousands of dollars in insurmountable late fines. The grandmother lost her car, lost her license, and spent ten days in jail.

We highly suggest watching the above segment in its entirety.


NEW LAPD TRAINING: EMPATHIZING TO DE-ESCALATE

LAPD officers are receiving a new one-week empathy-focused training on how to de-escalate encounters with people who are mentally ill and showing signs of aggression. The goal to equip cops with better techniques for interacting with people suffering a mental health crisis who do not pose an immediate threat, to avoid unnecessary use of lethal force. Officers are taught to use humor, first names, and other non-threatening conversational strategies while slowly backing away. The safety of officers and the public are, of course, still of highest priority.

Participants are also taught about various types of mental disorders they may come in contact with. Thus far about 1,000 of the 10,000 sworn have taken the new course.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the new training. Here are some clips:

The scene was tense: Two Los Angeles Police officers approach a man yelling and screaming at the end of a cul de sac. He looks angry and aggressive as he paces back and forth in the middle of the street.

“I just got back two weeks ago,” he shouts. “Two weeks ago!” The man is an Iraq War veteran.

“Tell me about it,” an officer calmly asks. He is met with anger. “What are you trying to do? Don’t try to talk to me. Nobody understands what it was like over there.”

“Sir, I’m here to help you,” the officer responds. He watches the man’s hands closely to see if he grabs a weapon.

The man is unarmed. He starts to calm down.

Suddenly, lights come on.

The two officers are standing in front of a screen inside the LAPD’s “force option” simulator.

[SNIP]

Peter Moskos, who teaches at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the techniques taught at this class only work if everyone uses them.

Too often, he said, a patrol officer may be bringing down the stress when a more aggressive “obnoxious” cop swoops in and makes a mess of things.

“This frustrates cops to no end,” said Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer. “You could be de-escalating the scene, and someone in your squad shows up, and you go, ‘Oh, my god, now it’s going to explode, because they just don’t know how to talk to people.’ Because they don’t have that empathy.”


BIG FLUCTUATIONS IN LOS ANGELES CRIME RATES

The LAPD reported Tuesday that shootings have risen 31% (54 incidents) over last year. Violent crime went up 27% overall, and property crime increased 12%. Several other types of crime experienced similar spikes. Homicides, however, dropped 2%.

The sizable disparity in crime numbers may be due, in part, to the LAPD correcting crime classification issues (more on that here), but it’s hard to tell this early. Department officials believe gang-related violence may be behind the the jump in shootings.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton and Ben Poston have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

“We are putting our officers in corridors that are the hottest for crime,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

The department is also relying more on crime data to help predict where hot spots might develop and deploy extra resources there, Beck said.

[SNIP]

Officials said fixing the classification process has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.

But the crime increase in 2015 goes beyond this one offense.

Villegas cited a jump in robberies, particularly in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas. Robberies are up 19% citywide compared to this time last year. Police have reported 7% more rapes this year compared to 2014.

Some of the crime, Villegas said, is connected with the skid row homeless population fighting over territory as well as an increase in street crime. Central Division, which includes skid row, has recorded a 73% surge in violent crime this year compared to 2014.


FORMER LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE COOLEY LOBBYING FOR NEW JAIL DEAL

Former LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley has taken up lobbying for an Adelanto jail plan…for pay.

Back in December, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 in favor of building a new 3,264-bed jail, with the idea that LA County would lease the $324 million facility and fork over what, for the small San Bernardino city, would be some much-needed cash.

Private developer Doctor R. Crants hired the former DA to throw his weight behind the controversial jail proposal, and hopes to pitch the idea to the LA County Board of Supervisors as soon as possible.

The Hesperia Star’s Brooke Self has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re working on it (but) we haven’t been able to schedule a vote yet (with the Board of Supervisors),” Johns said about progress and potential support from LA County. “We (hope) to be able to have a presentation with the Sheriff next week. Once we meet with the Sheriff and get the green light there — we won’t go to the Supervisors until we get encouragement from the Sheriff.”
When asked how he thought Cooley’s influence might impact L.A. County’s decision, Johns said “trust me, we wouldn’t hire him if we didn’t think so.”

“He’s one of the foremost public safety officials in the state,” Johns said of Cooley. “He’s been serving in that capacity for a very long time. I would think his support would be meaningful for those people looking to receive direction and input. I think he’ll be very helpful.”

Cooley, 67, was the longest-serving DA in L.A. County history, serving from 2000 to 2012. He worked for 39 years and four months as a county prosecutor. Last year, he was a public supporter of new L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s successful campaign for the top law enforcement post.

McDonnell’s office is in charge of producing the county’s jail plans and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. On Thursday, Cooley said the two have been friends for 15 years, but he didn’t believe that there were any ethical concerns with him lobbying his office.

“I don’t have legal issues,” Cooley said. “I’m a private person, an attorney to practice law. I have some degree of expertise in this arena and I can advocate for whatever I think is in the client’s best interest. And certainly this is in the county’s best interest. The fact that I have a 15-year relationship with the county Sheriff is irrelevant. Adelanto wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen when I was out there supporting McDonnell. Any suggestion of any ethical issues are misplaced and not even logical. When I do register as an L.A. County lobbyist, then certain rules come into place and I’ll honor those rules.”

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, Mental Illness, prison policy, racial justice | No Comments »

Homeboy’s New Digs, Appealing Compassionate Release Denials, Today’s Faces of Civil Rights…and More

March 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY SPREADS INTO NEW BUILDING TO RAMP UP SERVICES FOR FORMER GANG MEMBERS

Homeboy Industries—the gang recovery program founded by Father Greg Boyle that, for over 25 years, has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—has bought a much-needed new building that will add 6,000 square feet of space in which to provide employment, job training, and other crucial services.

Homeboy’s financial situation is on the upswing after a drastic downsizing in 2010, but the program still only receives 2% of their budget from government money.

The LA Times’ Brittny Mejia has the story. Here are some clips:

The desperately needed new space will provide welcome relief and allow Homeboy to provide better services to existing clients, said Thomas Vozzo, Homeboy’s chief executive. In addition to job training and counseling, Homeboy provides mental health services as well as job placement, tattoo removal and educational services.

“With that steady financial footing we’ve been on over the last couple of years, it’s time to take on a little bit of an expansion,” Vozzo said.

For all the praise Homeboy Industries has received for its work, it has struggled to raise revenue. The recession saw private donations drop, and the number of jobs available for graduates of Homeboy’s various programs declined.

Boyle conceded that he had to think more like a businessman.

Homeboy’s board of directors has raised $10 million in each of the last two years through individual donors and foundations and has even managed to build up a reserve. Homeboy also has received a $600,000 line of credit and a $700,000 loan for the new building acquisition through Wells Fargo.

But the expansion doesn’t reduce the need for funds — the program receives less than 2% in government funding, Vozzo said. More space, for example, doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to serve more trainees.

“By getting that one building there, it’s not going to allow us to have more people in our program, it’s just going to allow us to do a better job of providing them services in a better environment,” Vozzo said.

Homeboy Industries is planning a grand opening for the new building in April, with the full facility occupied in May. The goal is to eventually take over a whole city block in Chinatown, where the organization can construct a larger building and provide more services to more people, Vozzo added.

For now, employees and volunteers are forced to get creative with space…


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT SEZ INMATES CAN APPEAL WHEN THEY ARE DENIED COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

Late last week, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state prisoners with terminal illnesses could appeal a judge’s decision to deny them compassionate release. The decision overturned a lower court decision that only the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could appeal a denial of the state parole board’s recommendation of a prisoner for medical parole.

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

A few dozen inmates were recommended for a release annually between 1991 and 2009, according to statistics filed with the court by the prisoner advocacy group Justice Now. In an effort to ease prison overcrowding and cut costs, state lawmakers have made more incapacitated and ill inmates eligible for early release.

The ruling was made in the case of James Alden Loper, a San Diego man sentenced to six years in prison for insurance fraud in 2011. The next year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recommended he be released because of health reasons, including incurable heart disease.

But a San Diego judge refused to let the agency release Loper after a prison doctor testified that it was unclear how long Loper had left to live…


FIFTY YEARS LATER, THE CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATES FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY STILL MISSING IN THE UNITED STATES

Here are three things out of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights that we didn’t want you to miss…

The LA Times’ Matt Pearce and Kurtis Lee have a group of profiles on this era’s newly emerging civil rights leaders. The list includes Michelle Alexander, the author of the New Jim Crow, Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life, Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now (and #BlackLivesMatter), Bryan Stevenson, MacAurthur “Genius” and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Fania Davis, founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, as well as heavy hitters in immigration reform and LGBTQ rights.

Here are clips from two of the profiles, but do go read the rest:

Patrisse Cullors
CO-FOUNDER OF #BLACKLIVESMATTER
AGE: 31
LOS ANGELES

A self-described “freedom fighter” and “wife of Harriet Tubman,” Cullors founded the group Dignity and Power Now in 2012 to battle for law enforcement reform in Los Angeles County. Cullors came up with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in 2013 of criminal charges for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. The #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign she helped foster caught on in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in 2014 at the hands of a police officer.

“This post-racial Obama era has sort of bamboozled a lot of us into thinking that we’ve come much further than we actually have,” Cullors told California Sunday recently, explaining the significance of the #BlackLivesMatter message. “Obviously we haven’t had enough both talk and practice around what it means to save black lives, because we keep dying. We need to stop being fearful of talking about ourselves.”

Bryan Stevenson
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
AGE: 55
MONTGOMERY, ALA.

Stevenson belongs to a wave of civil rights advocates who focus on prison reform. A MacArthur “genius” grant winner and a Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate, Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative represent death-row prisoners in the Deep South and advocate on behalf of young or poor prisoners. His 2012 TED talk in Long Beach, titled, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice,” has been watched more than 2 million times.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” Stevenson said in the talk. “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”


WHY BLACK AMERICANS ARE AFRAID OF THE POLICE

Nikole Hannah-Jones has a thought-provoking essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine illustrating the rift between black Americans and white Americans on the subject of the cops who are supposed to “protect and serve,” but often instead stop-and-frisk, harass and detain, and even kill black Americans at highly disproportionate rates.

Here’s how it opens:

Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.

Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.

I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.

The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.

“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.

Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.

“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”

My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.

We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.

As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS TWEETS HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND PHOTOS OF BLOODY SUNDAY

By the way, Congressman John Lewis live-tweeted Bloody Sunday anniversary with his own memories and photos from the march. We highly recommend reading through them.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, Civil Rights, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, racial justice | No Comments »

Inmates Write their Own Obits, Community Policing, Ferguson Reports, and #Cut50

March 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SAN QUENTIN INMATES COMPOSE THEIR OWN OBITUARIES IN WRITING CLASS

In this exceptional multimedia Column One story by the LA Time’s Chris Megerian, San Quentin State Prison inmates share obituaries they’ve written for themselves as part of a writing assignment. The inmates designed their own demise (several chose to die protecting others) and for what they wanted to be remembered.

Here’s a clip, but definitely go over to Megerian’s story and read and watch for yourself:

Since Julian Glenn Padgett arrived in 2006, he’s enrolled in academic classes and played Shylock in a prison production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Even while sitting in a cramped storage closet during a break from his work at the inmate-run newspaper, he spoke with the intensity of an actor on stage. Asked about committing murder, he cited a Walt Whitman poem.

Padgett stabbed and killed a man he believed was a romantic rival. Therefore, his victim cannot “contribute a verse” in “the powerful play” of life.

“I don’t want to be remembered as the man to do that,” he said. Like You, he doesn’t mention his crime in his fictional obituary.

Padgett, a 51-year-old Ethiopian Jew who wears a knit kippa over his dreadlocks, was convicted in 1997 in Sacramento and isn’t eligible for parole until 2023.

His obituary is brimming with passion for outdoor activities that are out of reach.

“Julian loved everything to do with nature,” he writes, “and often took trips with many of his friends on the weekends where they would go camping, horse back riding, snow and water skiing and his favorite mountain climbing.”

Padgett describes an epic death from an earthquake striking the Bay Area. It was the first thing that came to mind, he said.

“Earthquakes are memorable. They’re forces of nature,” he said. “To take me out, it would take something like that.”


THE 21ST CENTURY POLICING REPORT AND COMMUNITY POLICING IN LOS ANGELES

The day after Sunday’s LAPD Skid Row shooting of an unarmed homeless man, the White House released an interim report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (established after the controversial deaths in Ferguson, New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland at the hands of officers). The report lauded the LAPD’s Watts and East LA community policing teams as well as its civilian oversight commission.

However, the shooting highlights how important it is that Los Angeles law enforcement agencies continue working toward better community relations through training, new programs, and policy changes.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to rule and control the community,” the report states.

The task force was formed in December in response to the national debate on policing after officers in Ferguson, Los Angeles, New York and Cleveland killed young African-American men.

In the federal report, the Los Angeles Police department’s community policing teams in Watts and East Los Angeles were highlighted for building on-the-ground relationships with public housing residents. Officers there are assigned to community policing teams for five years and are offered more pay, according to the federal report.

Los Angeles also earned a mention for its civilian oversight board.

But shootings like the one on Skid Row expose the remaining rifts between police and communities.

Criminology professor Elliot Currie of the University of California, Irvine said having multiple policing programs is a good start, but the goal is for police departments to implement relationship-based policing across the board.

“What we want is for these not to be considered as scattered programs that we implement within a police department that’s otherwise unchanged,” Currie said. “But that we slowly shift the whole conception of what a police department is.”

Here is a clip from Los Angele Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s statement to the task force late last month about the challenges the sheriff’s department faces with regard to ensuring better interactions with the mentally ill:

We are…ill equipped to address the challenges of this population in patrol. Patrol personnel lack the requisite mental health training and we have a dearth of Mental Evaluation (or ”MET”) Teams and community supports to help deputies properly handle and deescalate contacts with mentally ill persons. In 2013, nearly 40% of all use of force incidents involved individuals suffering from mental illness and in too many cases we “arrest” our way out of these encounters rather than diverting individuals to the community treatment and care they need.

The strategies that can enable us to change this paradigm exist and are in place in pieces around the nation, but have yet to be brought to scale throughout the country. We need:

1. Resources to support crisis intervention (“CIT”) training so deputies working the streets (as well as within Custody) know how to identify and respond to individuals with mental disorders and, wherever possible, divert entry into the justice system.

2. Support for MET teams where we pair deputies with mental health clinicians and create a comprehensive response to those in crisis. In LA these teams are few and far between – often they operate only during business hours and can be as much as an hour away from a critical incident.

3. Support for community-based resource centers with multidisciplinary treatment in a therapeutic environment that avoids incarceration. These models exist elsewhere and, in the long run, result in improved outcomes as well as fiscal savings.

4. A new paradigm with strategies that focus on alternatives to incarceration – including mental health courts and other diversion strategies.


THE DOJ’S FERGUSON FINDINGS

In an 86-page report released Wednesday, the US Department of Justice cleared Ferguson officer Darren Wilson of “prosecutable [civil rights] violations” in the death of Michael Brown.

A separate DOJ investigation found systemic racial bias and policing-for-profit within Ferguson’s police force and court system. Among other findings in the scathing 100-page report, black residents accounted for 85% of FPD’s traffic stops, 90% of citations, and 93% percent of arrests. The report calls for….

The Washington Post’s Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery have a helpful cliff-notes list of the report’s highlights.

(And here’s a WaPo list of alarming statistics from the report.)


WHAT CUTTING THE US PRISON POPULATION BY 50% WOULD LOOK LIKE

The Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein explores what it would take to fulfill the goal of the #Cut50 movement to reduce the nation’s jail population by 50% within 10 years. That would mean more than a million fewer people would be locked up, through things like changing sentencing laws, bolstering diversion and reentry programs, and split-sentencing.

This figure is not attainable even by giving up the war on drugs and completely eradicating incarceration for non-serious/non-violent/non-sex offenses. Those convicted of violent crimes would have to be part of the population reduction equation.

This has criminal justice reform advocates on both sides of party lines disagreeing about the 50% goal, whether it’s feasible and inline with public safety, and what it would take to get there.

Goldstein’s story includes an interactive section that allows you to move sliders for offender groups and make your own 50%. (Go try it.) Here’s a clip:

Vikrant Reddy, coordinator of the Right on Crime campaign, agreed. “The focus among conservatives is the low-level nonviolent offenders.” As for Cut50, “I just don’t like the name of this organization. The reason is because I see this issue, and most conservatives see this issue, in terms of public safety. If I felt confident the levels of incarceration we have in the United States made us a safer society, I would begrudgingly say, ‘So be it.’”

“I really admire what Cut50 is trying to do, but I am concerned that people are going to misunderstand it,” Reddy added. “The bottom line is not just getting the levels of incarceration down. The end point is that crime rates are still too high.” (Crime is currently at a four-decade low, although rates remain high in segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods.)

Civil rights activist Van Jones is co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, the organization promoting the “Cut50” tagline. Jones and Gingrich are co-hosting a March 26 conference in Washington, D.C. to bring criminal justice reformers together across party lines. Jones acknowledges that conservatives have not signed onto the Cut50 goal. But he points out that many people convicted of violent crimes have, in fact, not hurt anyone physically, such as offenders picked up for theft or burglary and discovered to have a gun on them.

“We might want to look at whether someone who had a gun but didn’t use it should be considered violent,” Jones said. “People will say that’s gun crime and you can’t talk about them. Well, I think that’s ridiculous.”

That might discomfit some liberals who favor stricter gun controls. Meanwhile, the idea of the home as a castle has been popular on the right, resulting in laws that rank burglary alongside violent bodily assault. So on both sides of the political spectrum there is lingering support for the tough sentences that would have to be reduced in order to cut the prison population by 50 percent.

Jones and other reformers, both progressive and conservative, say it is not yet time to focus on the hot-button question of whether to redefine violent crime. “We’re not heavily leaning into that part of the conversation yet, because there is so much common ground on the nonviolent offenders, the indigent population, and the mental health population. We think we can get some momentum going,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, some scholars point out just how modest — by international and historic standards — a 50 percent reduction in the prison population would be.

“When does mass incarceration become regular incarceration?” asked Michael Jacobson, a former New York City corrections and probation commissioner and director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance. To bring the United States to a prison incarceration rate equal to that of European nations — or to our own rate in the early 1970s — we would have to slash our incarceration rate from 623 per every 100,000 adults to about 150 per 100,000. That would be a reduction of approximately 80 percent.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, journalism, LAPD, LASD, mental health, prison, racial justice, Sentencing, War on Drugs, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

John Legend’s Oscar Night Statement….Tech Education for Kids in Lock Up… The Bail Industry Fights Back….Will CA Regulate Solitary for Juveniles?…

February 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

In addition to Monday morning’s expected post-Oscar commentary on winners, losers, and the various best and worst dressed, we were pleasantly surprised to note that there was also a lot of attention paid to a particular part of musician/composer John Legend’s acceptance speech in which he referred to the alarming number of black men in America’s prisons. The singer/songwriter’s assertions evidently sent reporters and commentators scurrying to find out if what Legend said was factually accurate. (Answer: Yes.)

Here, for example, is a clip from a story by Max Ehrenfreund for the Washington Post’s WonkBlog:

The artists John Legend and Common received an Academy Award Sunday night for “Glory,” their song in the film “Selma.” In his acceptance speech, Legend called for reform of the U.S. criminal justice system. “There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850,” he noted.

It’s true. There are some, as Politifact has written, 1.7 million black men under some form of correctional control, including probation and parole, excluding those held in local jails on any given day. That is about twice the 870,000 or so black men at least 15 years old who were enslaved in 1850, according to the Census (warning: big file).

In some ways, of course, the comparison is misleading. Although there are more blacks under correctional control now than there were slaves before the Civil War, the population has a whole has grown tremendously in that time. The Census that year found that roughly nine in 10 of the nation’s 3.6 million blacks were enslaved. By contrast, one in 11 blacks is under correctional supervision today, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

And it would be wrong to obscure the horrors of slavery by comparing that peculiar institution to today’s systems of probation and parole (although in modern prisons, practices such as solitary confinement are indeed profoundly damaging to inmates).

In other ways, though, these numbers conceal the size of our criminal justice system and its consequences, especially for blacks — in a society that, unlike that of the 1850s, is supposed to be free and equitable…

Read the rest. (And then listen.)


CAN TECH TRANSFORM EDUCATION FOR LOCKED-UP KIDS?

On any given day more than 60,000 kids under the age of 21 are confined to juvenile facilities in America. The majority of those kids are already behind in school when they encounter the juvenile system. And most have experienced one or more serious traumas in their childhood of the kind that have been shown to have had a negative impact on school performance and behavior.

In theory, the time those same kids spend locked up should be a stable period in which they can begin to catch-up on their education without distractions. Thus, most kids should be able to leave the facility better able to succeed in school than when they came in.

Unfortunately, in too many cases, the opposite is true. The education they receive is often sub-par in quality; the environment more punitive than rehabilitative, and not overly conducive to learning.

With these problems in mind, late last year the Department of Justice and the Department of Education put out an advisory to state educational officers urging them to make changes:

For youth who are confined in juvenile justice facilities, providing high-quality correctional education that is comparable to offerings in traditional public schools is one of the most powerful – and cost-effective – levers we have to ensure that youth are successful once released and are able to avoid future contact with the justice system. High-quality correctional education, training, and treatment are essential components of meaningful rehabilitation because these equip youth with the skills needed to successfully reenter their communities and either continue their education or join the workforce.

On Monday and Tuesday, Adriene Hill reported for NPR’s Marketplace on two examples of facilities that are already doing what the DOJ and DOE describe—in particular by focusing on the educational technology that has become common in America’s public schools.

The first such facility Hill singles out is The Wyoming Girls’ School in Sheridan Wyoming.

Here’s a clip from the story:

“Technology is no longer the way of the future,” says Chris Jones, superintendent of the Wyoming Girls’ School, which was one of the first secure juvenile justice facilities in the country to embrace the digital classroom. “It is the status of the current. So it is our job as educators to integrate that into how we are educating kids.”

To that end, the school has incorporated educational technology in nearly all its classes, as well as in sports. In geography class, for instance, students use Google Earth to explore the streets of Manhattan and other cities. In horticulture, they will soon be using iPads to monitor temperature and humidity in the greenhouse. And, in computer science class, girls are learning to code.

Teacher Jordan O’Donnell, who has been instrumental in bringing tech into the school, says he is trying to, “empower these students here to think them beyond what got them here to get them involved in coding, STEM, science technology engineering and math.”

Fourteen-year-old Shawnee, who asked her last name not be used, has been at the school for just under five months. In that time, coding has become her thing. She says it gives her a sense of control.

“When people mediate they do that to come at peace with themselves,” she says, in a way that makes her sound much older than she is. “That’s kind of what coding is for me, it’s my meditation.”

She’s already taken the computer science class offered by the school, so she’s doing a more in-depth online class in her free time. She says, ultimately, she wants to get a degree in computer science, then go work for Google. Or a video game company.

“If I hadn’t been here and hadn’t discovered coding, I would be running around like a chicken with their head cut off trying to figure out what I’m doing to do with my future,” she says. She also points out cutting class isn’t exactly an option.

Wednesday, we’ll excerpt from Hill’s story on a facility in San Diego that plans to give every kid a laptop.


THE BAIL INDUSTRY WANTS TO BE YOUR JAILER

The United States is one of only two countries with a private bail industry. (The other is the Philippines.)

In England and Canada, making a profit by posting a defendant’s bail is a crime, while in America, the bail bond business has grown to approximately $14 billion, and the average bail amounts levied by courts have more than doubled since 1994, largely due to the aggressive lobbying of the bail industry.

In the past few years, however, studies have repeatedly shown that the over-use of bail has disproportionately penalized the poor, while resulting in overcrowded jails with no benefit to public safety. To the contrary, the inability to make bail has been found to greatly diminish offenders’ ability to resume a normal life once they do get out, and to significantly raise the likelihood that they will recidivate. As a consequence, an increasing number of states and municipalities are starting to consider a system of pre-trial release for those charged with lower-level nonviolent offenses.

Naturally, the bail industry is fighting back.

Alysia Santo of the Marshall Project has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

In a Dallas Hilton conference room last summer, a few dozen state lawmakers from around the country gathered for a closed-door presentation about an all-American industry under threat. The pitch was part of an annual conference hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a powerhouse conservative consortium that promotes — and often drafts — pro-business legislation. The endangered industry was bail.

Bail is an essential lubricant of American justice, asserted Nicholas Wachinski, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, a trade group for insurance companies that underwrite bail bonds. But now bail agents are under siege by so-called reformers, who argue that the traditional bail system forces poor defendants to choose between paying fees they can’t afford and sitting in jail until they go to trial. A growing number of states — New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Hawaii and others — are limiting the use of bail for defendants who don’t pose a threat, or replacing for-profit bail with government supervision.

Of course, Wachinski said, the bail bond industry will continue its tireless lobbying to protect its lucrative franchise, but he was there with another message: Innovation! New products! New markets! “A brave new world!” Why should bail bonds be only for defendants who are awaiting trial? How about bail bonds for a whole new class of customers: people who have already been convicted.

“My task,” Wachinski told the crowd, “is to bring the sexy side of bail back.”

In a courtroom just outside Jackson, Mississippi, Kristina Howell was about to experience a new, “sexy side of bail.”After spending two days and nights in jail for drunk driving this past August, Howell was brought to the Byram city court, where she pled guilty and was told she had to pay a fine of $1,044. If she couldn’t come up with the money on the spot, she was headed back to jail. “I panicked,” said Howell, who lives and supports her son “paycheck to paycheck.”But there was one other option. The judge explained to Howell that she could avoid jail by purchasing a new kind of bail bond, a post-conviction device that bail agents in Mississippi are busily promoting around the state. It would cost $155, and would buy her two extra months to come up with the money to pay her fine. Howell was then escorted to another room, where Patty Hodges from the Mississippi Bonding Company sat ready with the paperwork….


ADVOCATES RAMP UP SUPPORT FOR LENO BILL LIMITING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN JUVENILE FACILITIES

In January of this year, state senator Mark Leno introduced a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities.

The bill—SB 124— is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Youth Justice Coalition and Children’s Defense Fund-California.

Specifically, SB 124 would:

• Define solitary confinement as the involuntary placement in a room or cell in isolation from persons other than staff and attorneys.
• Provide that solitary confinement shall only be used when a young person poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or the security of the facility, and when all other less restrictive options have been exhausted.
• Provide that a youth shall only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time necessary to address the safety risk.
• Empower existing county juvenile justice commissions to report on the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

This spring the proposed legislation will be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee, so on Tuesday, its advocate co-sponsors issued a statement ramping up support. Here’s a clip from the Children’s Defense Fund’s letter:

Solitary confinement is particularly psychologically damaging for young people who already arrive having experienced a history of trauma in their lives, which encapsulates between 75 and 93 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system. Practices such as solitary confinement can contribute to re-victimization and re-traumatization of these young people.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as early as 2006, found that children are particularly at high risk of death and serious injury as a result of the use of seclusion and restraint, especially children with mental disabilities. In April of 2012, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry noted the psychiatric impact of prolonged solitary confinement including depression, anxiety, and psychosis, and also finding that the majority of suicides occurred in juvenile correctional facilities when the individual had been isolated or confined…

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice, solitary | 3 Comments »

Santa Clara’s Unique Efforts to Keep Kids Out of Adult Court…LASD Civilian Oversight Subpoena Power….School Discipline….and NY’s New Anti-Prison Rape Videos

February 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SANTA CLARA PROSECUTORS LOOK TO ADVOCATES TO ANALYZE HOW KIDS ARE TRIED

In 2013, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office invited a team of advocates and public defenders to evaluate how and why county prosecutors charged teenagers as adults.

Prosecutors sat down with the team and discussed each case in which a kid was sent to adult court. The advocates, all against charging kids as adults for any reason, showed prosecutors where they felt different outcomes could have been achieved.

The goal of the DA’s office is to simultaneously keep kids out of the adult system while still maintaining public safety. This particular effort to increase oversight of how teens are prosecuted is unlike anything else we have seen in the state (and is certainly worth emulating).

The San Jose Mercury’s Mark Gomez has more on Santa Clara’s important program and its significance. Here are some clips:

“It’s very easy to close the books and not account for what you did and why,” said Frankie Guzman, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law who was one of the advocates invited to review the cases. “I respect the fact this interaction and conversation happened, because it’s not happening anywhere else.”

In the majority of cases in Santa Clara County, prosecutors choose to keep the youth in the juvenile system, where the focus is on rehabilitation.

But in about 18 percent of such cases in Santa Clara County since 2010, prosecutors charged juveniles as adults, often resulting in prison sentences. The decision to bring in youth advocates was made following an internal review in 2013, which revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. So the District Attorney’s Office pulled together a team of people from the county public defender’s office and Bay Area youth advocacy groups to scour every single case filed that year. Prosecutors explained each decision, and the team discussed what they might have done differently.

“If we can keep a kid in the juvenile system and still protect public safety, we’re going to make that decision,” said Chris Arriola, supervising deputy district attorney of the juvenile unit. “But sometimes we have to make that decision to take them out. We do not take it lightly.

[SNIP]

In many California counties, the decision to charge a youth as an adult is made by one prosecutor, according to Bay Area youth advocates. District attorneys are not obligated to detail their reasoning for charging a juvenile as an adult — known as “direct file” cases.

In Santa Clara County, a team of four senior prosecutors considers several factors, including the youth’s criminal history, the sophistication and gravity of the offense, the outcome in previous attempts to rehabilitate the youth, and the ability now to rehabilitate the minor in the juvenile justice system. All four prosecutors must agree the youth should be criminally prosecuted as an adult.

Read the rest.


SHOULD THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL HAVE AUTHORITY TO SUBPOENA DEPARTMENT DOCS?

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze takes a look at the hotly-debated issue of whether to equip civilian oversight commission with the power to subpoena documents as part of its oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Members of the group planning the new civilian panel have differing opinions, and Sheriff Jim McDonnell is still not too keen on the idea, according to Undersheriff Neal Tyler.

The planning group is slated to present their recommendations to the LA County Board of Supervisors in May.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

“Its certainly a club should you ever need it,” said Dean Hansell, who chairs the working group which is designing the new oversight panel.

Subpoena power would give the panel the ability to force reluctant Sheriff’s officials to testify before it and to obtain certain documents. It would not give the panel access to personnel records – that would require a change in state law.

[SNIP]

Sheriff Jim McDonnell remains reluctant to support subpoena power, according to interim Undersheriff Neal Tyler. He said change already is underway at the department, which is under federal investigation for civil rights abuses and corruption. There’s no need for “the hammer” of subpoena power after the election of McDonnell, said Tyler, who also sits on the working group.

“We have a hammer right now and its Sheriff Jim McDonnell,” the undersheriff said. He also noted McDonnell is providing Inspector General Max Huntsman broad access to the department.

“We are working so cooperatively with him now that it’s not necessary to codify it,” Tyler said. Huntsman has said he needs still more access to adequately oversee the department, and that subpoena power would help.


WHERE WE ARE WITH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN CA

News 10′s Michael Bott and Ty Chandler have good overview of the state of school discipline in California, both the racially disparate use of “willful defiance” suspensions, and the restorative justice alternatives that are starting to reverse some of the damages done to kids of color across the state.

Bott and Chandler’s story includes some interesting videos and an interactive map of willful defiance suspensions at schools in the Bay Area (only one SoCal school is featured). Here’s how it opens:

Teenager Dwayne Powe Jr. got a suspension in eighth grade. He didn’t get into a fight. He wasn’t caught with drugs. He committed no crime.

“I actually was asking for a pencil,” Powe said.

Powe said his class began an exercise and he asked to borrow a pencil from another student. That’s when his teacher told Powe he was being disruptive and made him leave class. Powe tried explaining he had only asked for a pencil, but that only dug his hole deeper, he said.

He was technically suspended for “willful defiance”.

Nearly 200,000 California students who were suspended for willful defiance last year can relate to Powe’s story.

What constitutes willful defiance is somewhat vague, but it generally allows teachers to remove students from the classroom if their behavior is thought to be disruptive or defiant. It’s the most common reason California students were suspended—and students of color are overwhelmingly targeted.

But there is a growing consensus that keeping kids out of the classroom for non-violent behavioral issues has done more harm than good, and students of color are paying the heaviest cost for this policy.


EDSOURCE LAUNCHES NETWORK TO CONTINUE COMBATTING EFFECTS OF HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

In the 2013-2014 school year in California, expulsions plunged 20%, and suspensions fell 15%.

In an effort to keep those numbers dropping, and to divert kids from the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” Ed Source has assembled the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, backed by the California Endowment.

The group intends to connect school officials, educators, and others to share and discuss programs and practices (like restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) that are successfully keeping kids in class, creating better relationships between kids and teachers, and promoting school safety.

Current chairman of the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, Carl Cohn (who is also a former school superintendent and former State Board of Education member), has more on the new network and why this issue is so important. Here’s a clip:

Leaders of California public schools are seriously re-examining discipline practices and questioning the value of practices that are ineffective and counterproductive – measures that may put youngsters at greater risk for dropping out and for involvement with the juvenile justice system.

These leaders are listening carefully and responding appropriately to the long-standing accusation in the civil rights and advocacy community that some of our schools are, in fact, “pipelines to prison.” Nothing better represents this point of view than the thousands of students suspended each year for willful defiance, which could include behaviors such as eye rolling, talking loudly or standing in a menacing way….

As a first step toward ending this practice, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 420, which bans suspending students in the K-3 grades for willful defiance.

In order to sustain this momentum, EdSource has convened the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, with support from The California Endowment. The idea is to bring together principals, teachers, superintendents and others to look at ways to keep youngsters in school and to share best practices and model programs that are especially effective at accomplishing that goal while also making sure that schools are safer as a result of the effort. It’s not just about bringing the numbers of suspensions and expulsions down; it’s also about creating a school climate that contributes to positive relationships among students and staff.

In our discussions with educators, both Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (evidence-based interventions that work) and “restorative justice” (where students are called on to repair the harm caused by bad behavior) have emerged as just two effective routes toward creating a school climate that helps keep kids in school and maintaining a safer school environment overall. Like most ambitious school reforms, issuing directives from district headquarters will probably not yield the best results. These are changes that must be owned by principals, teachers, assistant principals and school counselors – those closest to meting out school discipline.


NEW YORK’S SURPRISING NEW EFFORT TO COMBAT PRISON RAPE

Funded through the Prison Rape Elimination Act, New York state prisons will start showing two new inmate orientation safety videos to educate men and women about how to avoid rape behind bars. The twenty-minute-long videos are directed by T.J. Parsell, who was raped on his first day in prison.

The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager has more on the safety videos. Here’s a clip:

Prisons will show inmates — both male and female — an orientation video offering advice on how to identify, and avoid, sexual predators behind bars….

They will be premiered for the inmates who participated in the filming — at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, Fishkill Correctional Facility, and Downstate Correctional Facility — then rolled out in prisons across the state.

New York has had an uneven record on prison rape. In 2010, according to PREA surveys, three of the eleven prisons in the U.S. with the most staff-on-inmate sexual violence were in New York…

The orientation videos are an attempt to confront that legacy and to change a prison culture in which sexual assault, and the code of silence surrounding it, remain all too common.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, racial justice, Rape, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Are LA’s Foster Care & Juvie Justice Kids Being Over Drugged?….When Experts Recant in Criminal Cases….The Flawed Science of Bite Mark Evidence…..TAL’s Series: “Cops See Things Differently”

February 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



As you know, we’ve been following San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá’s important series on over drugging in California foster care system.

Then, late on Tuesday, the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that the kids overseen by LA County’s juvenile probation system plus LA County’s foster care children are being drugged in greater numbers than was originally thought.

Here’s are some clips from Therolf’s story:

Los Angeles County officials are allowing the use of powerful psychiatric drugs on far more children in the juvenile delinquency and foster care systems than they had previously acknowledged, according to data obtained by The Times through a Public Records Act request.

The newly unearthed figures show that Los Angeles County’s 2013 accounting failed to report almost one in three cases of children on the drugs while in foster care or the custody of the delinquency system.

The data show that along with the 2,300 previously acknowledged cases, an additional 540 foster children and 516 children in the delinquency system were given the drugs. There are 18,000 foster children and 1,000 youth in the juvenile delinquency* system altogether.

If we are reading this right, that means that more than half of LA County’s kids in the juvenile justice system are being given psychotropic medications. Is that possible?

State law requires a judge’s approval before the medication can be administered to children under the custody of the courts, but a preliminary review showed no such approval in the newly discovered cases.

Child advocates and state lawmakers have long argued that such medications are routinely overprescribed, often because caretakers are eager to make children more docile and easy to manage — even when there’s no medical need.

We’ll get back to you as we know more on this disturbing issue.


NEW CALIFORNIA LAW HELPS IN CASES WHEN EXPERTS REVERSE TESTIMONY

A new California law, which took affect in January, makes it easier to get a case overturned when experts recant. But will it help the man whose case inspired the law?

Sudhin Thanawala of the AP has the story.

Here’s a clip:

This much is not in dispute. William Richards’ wife, Pamela, was strangled and her skull smashed in the summer of 1993. A California jury convicted Richards of the slaying after hearing now-recanted bite-mark testimony.

But California judges have disagreed about whether that change in testimony was grounds for tossing Richards’ conviction. Now, almost two decades after Richards was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, his attorneys are hopeful a new state law inspired by his case will set him free.

The law, which took effect in January, makes it easier for a defendant to get a conviction overturned when experts recant their testimony. It prompted attorneys for the 65-year-old Richards, who has always maintained his innocence, to again ask the California Supreme Court to throw out a jury’s guilty verdict.

Legal experts say the law will impact a wide variety of cases where experts later have second thoughts about their testimony. And it gives attorneys fighting to exonerate their clients an important new tool.

“More and more, experts are reconsidering their opinion not because they have pangs of guilt, but because in fact the science changes,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School. “You want a legal system that recognizes that reality.”

A San Bernardino County jury convicted Richards in 1997 of first-degree murder following expert testimony that a mark on his wife’s hand was consistent with a unique feature of Richards’ teeth. That expert, a forensic dentist, later recanted, saying he was no longer sure the injury was even a bite mark.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE SCIENCE OF BITE MARK MATCHING….

According to the Innocence Project, 24 people have been exonerated after they were either convicted or arrested because of the analysis of a bite mark analyst.

Director of special litigation for the Innocence Project, Chris Fabricant, who specializes in bite mark evidence, estimates that there are still hundreds of people in prison today due to bite mark testimony, including at least 15 awaiting execution, writes the Washington Post’s Radley Balko.

Balko’s story on the flawed “science” of bite-mark matching, and those who still go to great lengths to defend it, is both important and alarming.

Here’s how it opens:

Before he left the courtroom, Gerard Richardson made his mother a promise. “I told her that one day she’d see me walk out of that building a free man,” he says.

Her response nearly broke him. “She said, ‘Gerard, I’ll be dead by then.’”

Richardson, then 30, had just been convicted for the murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes, whose half-naked body was found in a roadside ditch in Bernards Township, N.J. The year was 1995, and Richardson had just been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

There were only two pieces of evidence implicating him. One was a statement from Reyes’s boyfriend, who claimed to have heard Richardson threaten to kill her. But that statement was made only after police had shown the boyfriend the second piece of evidence: a finding from a forensic odontologist that a bite mark found on Reyes’s body was a match to Richardson’s teeth. Dr. Ira Titunik, the bite mark expert for the prosecution, would later tell jurors there was “no question in my mind” that Richardson had bitten Reyes.

“I thought it was crazy,” Richardson says. “There was no way it was possible. The FBI looked at hairs, fibers, blood, everything the police found at the crime scene. None of it came from me. Just this bite mark.”

Two decades later, DNA technology was good enough to test the tiny amount of saliva in the bite found on Monica Reyes body, resulting in the overturning of Richardson’s conviction.

Here’s Part 2 of Balko’s series on bite mark evidence telling how the bite mark matchers went on the attack when subjected to scientific scrutiny as American courts across the country welcomed bite mark evidence


THIS AMERICAN LIFE TAKES ON THE DIVIDE IN AMERICA ABOUT POLICING AND RACE

After the conflicts caused by events in Ferguson, along with the death of Eric Garner in New York, and other controversial shootings by police, Ira Glass and the producers of This American Life noted that there seemed to be a huge divide in the nation about how people view the issue of race and policing.

The TAL producers originally intended to a single show on the issue of these intense differences in views. But they ran across so many relevant stories, that they devoted two shows to the complex tales that they found.

In the first episode This American Life looks at one police department—in Milwaukee-–which had a long history of tension with black residents, and a chief of police committed to changing things. But although some things change, others do not. And nothing is simple. When an unarmed black man is killed by police in controversial circumstances, the battle lines form, and the two groups opposing groups agree on only one thing: they want the chief out.

By the show’s end, we glimpse change in Milwaukee, yet it comes not in steps, but in inches.

A week later, in the second hour of stories about policing and race, This American Life reporters tell about one city where relations between police and black residents went terribly, and another city where they seem to be improving remarkably.

We highly recommend both programs. They are designed to start conversations.

Posted in children and adolescents, FBI, Foster Care, How Appealing, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Probation, race, racial justice | No Comments »

New Bureau of Children’s Justice, the CORRECTIONS Act, $8.3M for Wrongful Death in Jail, and Jefferson High Scheduling Update

February 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW CALIFORNIA DOJ BUREAU TO TACKLE CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, SEX TRAFFICKING, AND OTHER ISSUES FOSTER KIDS FACE

On Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the launch of the Bureau of Children’s Justice.

The bureau will target childhood trauma, juvenile justice, sex trafficking, truancy (and other education issues), with a particular emphasis on kids in foster care.

In a letter sent to officials in each California county, the attorney general announced the new bureau and passed along a list of the rights of foster kids, and a reminder of their duty to protect those rights.

The CA Department of Justice was also selected (one of only three state departments) to participate in the Defending Childhood initiative, a federal effort targeting childhood trauma from exposure to violence.

Here’s a clip from AG Harris’ announcement:

The Bureau will enforce criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; work with a range of local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support for vulnerable children to prevent bad outcomes; and identify and pursue improvements to policies impacting children.

“We simply cannot let down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and act surprised,” said Attorney General Harris. “The Bureau of Children’s Justice will continue our smart on crime approach by addressing the root causes of crime, including our broken foster care system, and making certain that California’s children receive full protection under the law and equal opportunities to succeed. One of the Bureau’s first orders of business will be to look at enforcement gaps in the foster care system and ensure that government agencies are held accountable to those entrusted in their care.”

[SNIP]

Attorney General Harris also announced that the California Department of Justice was one of just three state agencies accepted by the U.S. Department of Justice to be part of its national Defending Childhood Initiative. Through this initiative, California will work to improve outcomes for children exposed to trauma by ensuring that at-risk children are screened for exposure to violence at school, when they visit a pediatrician, or when they become involved with child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

“I commend Attorney General Harris for taking this important step to protect the youngest and most vulnerable Californians,” said Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment. “The Bureau of Children’s Justice will watch over our state’s legal system and guarantee greater protection for our children, safeguarding their physical, social and emotional health and helping to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to grow up healthy and safe.”

And here’s who will run the bureau:

The Bureau will be staffed by attorneys and experts on legal issues impacting children, including civil rights, education, consumer protection, nonprofit charities, child welfare, privacy and identity theft, fraud, and human trafficking.


FED. CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL WITH BEST CHANCE OF PASSING IS UNFAIR TO MINORITIES, BUT BETTER THAN NOTHING

The CORRECTIONS Act, introduced Tuesday by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would allow federal inmates viewed as low-risk to take part in education programs and prison jobs that would take time off their sentences. The problem is that, because of who the bill excludes and how risk-assessment tools decide how much time to shave off, it will likely mostly help white people and people doing time for white-collar crimes.

While it seemed that the bipartisan criminal justice reform would have big potential during the 114th Congress, CORRECTIONS may be the only criminal justice reform bill that has a chance of making it through Congress and past the Senate Judiciary Committee and it’s non-prison-reform-minded chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Vox’s Dara Lind explains the bill’s exclusions and risk assessment, and why the CORRECTIONS Act will disproportionately serve white people. Here are some clips:

The bill excludes any inmate with a “criminal history” that places them in the highest category under the federal sentencing guidelines. The problem is that someone gets placed in that category automatically if they’re labeled a “career offender,” which just means three convictions at either the state or federal level for drug or violent crimes. Most “career offenders,” according to the US Sentencing Commission, are African Americans — simply because it’s easier to arrest and prosecute them for “offenses that take place in open-air drug markets, which are most often found in impoverished minority neighborhoods… [This] suggests that African-Americans have a higher risk of conviction for a drug trafficking crime than do similar White drug traffickers.” In 2000, 69 percent of newly-sentenced “career offenders” were black. (Interestingly, only 17 percent were Hispanic.)

[SNIP]

Anyone convicted of participating in a “continuing criminal enterprise.” This is another label that’s typically applied to drug offenders — anyone who’s an “organizer, supervisor or manager” of a group of five or more people dealing drugs can be hit with a conviction for a “career criminal enterprise.” The statute isn’t used that often — only 239 people were convicted under it from 2006 to 2013, according to data from the US Sentencing Commission. But 77 percent of the time, it was used against black or Hispanic defendants.

[SNIP]

…how does the government determine how likely someone is to recidivate? The bill tells the federal government to come up with a risk assessment tool. These tests are used in several states and in federal court to figure out how best to manage an inmate’s case — or to determine whether someone should be put on probation instead of prison to begin with. But most states shy away from using them to determine the length of an inmate’s sentence.

And there’s a reason for that. Some of the factors used to determine recidivism risk are “dynamic” — they’re factors that an individual can change over time. But others are “static” factors: they say more about the environment where an inmate lives, or where he grew up, than about his own behavior.

One of the major risk-assessment tools treats drug use, low education level, and frequent changes in residence as factors that put someone at higher risk to recidivate. Even factors that look fair on the face of it, like the age an inmate was when he was arrested for the first time, can just mean that the inmate lived in a neighborhood where teenagers (or younger) were under police suspicion.


RECORD-BREAKING WRONGFUL DEATH SETTLEMENT FOR INMATE WHO DIED AFTER BEING TASERED DURING ALCOHOL WITHDRAWALS

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors and a jail health care company will pay $8.3 million to the children of Martin Harrison, an Alameda County inmate who died after being tasered by ten deputies. The sum sets the record for the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in state history, according to the Harrison family’s attorneys. A separate $1 million was awarded to one of Harrison’s kids who was still a minor.

The family’s attorneys said that although Harrison informed the LVN that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal, he died during the violent encounter with deputies while suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal.

Harrison was stopped for jaywalking and arrested for failing to appear for his DUI court date.

As part of the settlement, the for-profit Corazon Health, Inc. will change the practice of hiring Licensed Vocational Nurses instead of Registered Nurses (as state law requires) to perform inmate medical intakes.

Contra Costa Times’ Malaika Fraley has the story. Here’s a clip:

Harrison, 50, died in August 2010 two days after be was beaten and Tased by 10 deputies at the Santa Rita Jail. His children’s attorneys say Harrison was hallucinating from a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens for which he should have been hospitalized, and he never fought back. He was in jail on a warrant for failing to appear in court in a DUI case after being arrested for jaywalking.

Corizon is one of the largest for-profit correctional health care providers in the country and holds a $210 million contract to provide health care services in Alameda County’s Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer jails. Under state law, the company is required to have registered nurses (RNs) assess inmates upon intake, but Harrison’s medical screening was done by an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse (LVN), Sherwin said.

“If the deputies had been trained, and if Corizon had had an RN instead of an LVN do the intake medical assessment then we all would not be here today,” Sherwin said at a news conference attended by Harrison’s family.

Corizon Health said that Harrison did not alert the LVN that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal, while the plaintiff’s attorneys said that he did.

(Alameda is another municipality that might want to enter the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge.)


PROGRESS MADE TOWARD FIXING JEFFERSON HIGH’S SCHEDULING CRISIS

Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation.

Four months later, repairs have been made to the data system, more teachers have been hired, classes have been added, and the number of students in the inaccurate or non-instructive classes has dropped. But there is still much to be done.

Adolpho Guzman-Lopez has a welcome update on the Jefferson scheduling debacle. Here’s a clip:

Castillo was one of 150 students who were enrolled at the start of the school year in “home” periods, meaning they were sent home early. Others were assigned “service” periods where students helped as aides in offices and classrooms, but received no academic instruction. Students were enrolled in non-academic classes because the school didn’t have courses that they hadn’t already taken.

Other students spent weeks in the school’s auditorium, cafeteria and library waiting for their schedules to be fixed. Advanced Placement classes were all scheduled at the same time, limiting students’ ability to take higher level courses. Teachers began taking attendance by hand.

The litany of MiSiS-related problems went on for weeks.

At one point Jefferson students, fed up with the situation, staged a peaceful on-campus protest.

[SNIP]

David Sapp, a lawyer for the students who sued to fix the problems, is happy with the improvements at Jefferson, but not with the way the school was forced to make changes.

“We shouldn’t put the burden on students to go out and find lawyers to have to go and get a court order to fix this,” he said.

Not all of the school’s problems are solved. Foote says 90 students are still sent home early because of scheduling problems. As of last month L.A. Unified reported that MiSiS continued to have problems accurately counting English learner students and giving parents access to their child’s data and not other students.

Posted in Department of Justice, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, LAUSD, racial justice, Trauma | 3 Comments »

Does California Need an Innocence Commission?…ABA Sez No More LWOP 4 KIDS….Confronting Lynching…MacArthur Puts Up $$$ to Reform U.S. Jails

February 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


DOES CALIFORNIA NEED AN INNOCENCE COMMISSION?

North Carolina is the only state in the union that has an innocence commission, a neutral government agency that investigates claims of wrongful convictions.

The rest of the 49 states, California included, depend on the work of nonprofits, like the Innocence Project, along with certain activist lawyers who give a percentage of their time to working on innocence cases.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations compiled by the University of Michigan, since 1989, there have been 1,543 exonerations in the U.S. In 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since ’89. In 2013, Texas moved into first place, and remained in the top spot for 2014.

But whether or not we win first prize for exonerees in any given year, our populous state—with its massive criminal justice system–continues to make its share of tragic legal mistakes.

So do we need our own innocence commission?

The Atlantic’s Matt Ford writes about Joseph Sledge who spent 39 years in a North Carolina prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The state’s innocence commission got him set free at the end of last month, on January 23, 2015.

“In 49 other states, Joseph Sledge would still be in prison,” Ford writes.

Here are some clips from Ford’s story.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is the first full-time state agency dedicated to investigating post-conviction claims of actual innocence. “The innocence commission is the only one of its kind in the nation,” the executive director, Kendra Montgomery, told me. Other states have nonprofit organizations like the Innocence Project or think tanks with similar names, “but we’re the only state that has a government agency that is neutral to investigate these cases,” she said. 1,642 claims have been submitted to the commission since its creation in 2006; Sledge’s case marked the eighth exoneration.

Because it is a state agency, the commission has powers that other institutions lack. Investigators can compel testimony with subpoenas, for example, and gather other kinds of evidence for their cases. “The commission has the unique power, because we are a neutral, fact-finding state agency by statute, to collect and test physical evidence in criminal cases,” said Sharon Stellato, who led the commission’s investigation of Sledge. This ability can be decisive: In at least 18 cases, commission investigators were able to locate evidence that had been officially declared lost or missing by other state agencies. Three of those cases resulted in exonerations, while some others confirmed the convictions.

[SNIP]

Exonerations, which were once exceedingly rare, have become regular features of the American justice system. The National Registry of Exonerations tallied 125 cases in 2014, the highest annual total so far. The group records 1,535 exonerations nationwide since records began in 1989. Of the 125 wrongful convictions thrown out in 2014, 33 came from Harris County, Texas after faulty testing procedures were uncovered there. Even without Harris County, however, the number of exonerations last year still outnumbered those in preceding years.

125 exonerations might seem paltry compared to the estimated 1 million felony convictions per year, but the number of wrongful convictions is likely far higher. Many jurisdictions don’t devote the same level of resources towards exonerations that North Carolina does, and even then, the process can be achingly slow. For a justice system that exalts due process and the presumption of innocence, any wrongful conviction represents a serious breakdown of justice. Even a handful of high-profile wrongful convictions can ripple throughout the public consciousness, undermining confidence in the system. “The country is having to psychically cope with conclusive evidence that we make, with some regularity, errors in criminal trial outcomes,” Tate said.

Investigating possible wrongful convictions, especially those that don’t involve DNA evidence, is a difficult and time-consuming matter. Even so, exonerations, as Ford writes above, are becoming a regular feature of our justice system.

But how many innocent people are still locked up who, for one reason or another, have not been able to get the attention of a willing lawyer, or non-profit?

The question becomes even more pressing when those convicted have been sentenced to die by the state’s hand.

According to a 2014 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, since 1973, when the first death penalty laws now in effect in the United States were enacted, 143 death-sentenced defendants have been exonerated.

To put it another way, since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1978, for every ten whom we executed there was one death row exoneration. Not a comforting set of numbers.

Oh, and the great majority of those death row innocence cases—78—were black men.

PS: One of the arguments against a state commission is the expense. However proponents of an innocence commission counter that keeping innocent people locked up indefinitely is also a very high cost endeavor, both fiscally and morally.


AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION VOTES TO END TO LIFE-WITHOUT-PAROLE FOR CHILDREN

On Monday, the American Bar Association, passed a strongly-worded resolution calling for an end to the practice of sentencing children to life-in-prison-without-parole and urging “meaningful periodic opportunities for release.”

The ABA is the nation’s largest membership organization for lawyers, representing 400,000 prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, litigators and others.

“With the adoption of Resolution 107C, the American Bar Association has sent a clear message to the legal community and policymakers across the country that children should never be sentenced to die in prison,” said ABA President, William C. Hubbard.

Hubbard called the practice of juvie LWOP “a severe violation of human rights.” He added, “The ABA applauds those states that have already taken steps to reform their laws and urges other states to pass similar reforms as soon as practicable.”

The text of the resolution itself uses even more forceful language. Here’s an excerpt:

The United States stands alone in permitting life without parole for juveniles. It is the only country other than Somalia that has not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life without parole sentences for youth. The legal developments in [Supreme Court rulings] Graham and Miller, along with the advances in brain and behavioral development science showing how children are fundamentally different from adults… support a conclusion that it is inappropriate to decide at the time of sentencing that life without parole is an appropriate sentence for a juvenile offender. This resolution encourages jurisdictions to go one step further than Miller and to join the policy position of the rest of the world by eliminating mandatory life without parole sentences for youthful offenders.


THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LYNCHING IN AMERICA

There were 3959 lynchings of black people in 12 southern states between the end of reconstruction in 1877, and 1950, according to a report released this week by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the non-profit law and advocacy firm founded by attorney, Bryan Stevenson. (We’ve reported on Stevenson several times in the past.)

That number is at least 700 more lynchings than previous research has reported.

EJI and Stevenson maintain that in order to begin to cure the racial inequality that exists in the American criminal justice system, it is essential to have a conversation about the racial ills and profound trauma of the past, lynching included.

This is from the introduction to the report:

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in America and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administra- tion of criminal justice especially is tangled with the history of lynching in profound ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.

This report begins a necessary conversation to confront the injustice, inequality, anguish, and suffering that racial terror and violence created.

As Stevenson notes, Germany and South Africa has have each had their versions of truth and reconciliation in order to heal. The U.S. has not.

The NY Times’ Campbell Robertson also has a story on the release of the report, which you can find here.


MAC ARTHUR FOUNDATION LAUNCHES $75 MILLION INITIATIVE TO REDUCE USE OF AMERICA’S JAILS

On Tuesday, the MacArthur foundation MacArthur announced a five-year, $75 million investment that “seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.” (The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations.)

The plan that MacArthur is calling its “Safety and Justice Challenge” hopes to support and reward cities and counties across the country “seeking to create fairer, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and lead to better social outcomes.”

The new initiative is based on a MacArthur-supported report released Wednesday by the Vera Institute, called Incarceration’s Front Door: the Misuse of Jails in America.

[More on the Vera report tomorrow.]

Julia Stasch, MacArthur’s President summed up the foundation’s thinking: “For too long America has incarcerated too many people unnecessarily, spending too much money without improving public safety,” she said. “Jails are where our nation’s incarceration problem begins…”

Okay, MacArthur, how about starting in Los Angeles, the city with the nation’s largest jail system, thus the ideal test case.

Posted in Innocence, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, race, race and class, racial justice | No Comments »

Erroneous Convictions for Less Serious Crimes….SCOTUS, Alabama, and Gay Marriage….Loretta Lynch….and Efforts to Reduce Racial Tension Between Cops and Communities

February 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS FOR LOWER-LEVEL CRIMES FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS

The Crime Report’s David Krajicek has an outstanding longread about the lower-priority wrongful convictions that fly under the radar while innocence groups zero in on people serving life sentences, or those on death row.

While no one truly knows the scope of wrongful convictions in America, experts feel certain that each year, thousands of people receive undeserved convictions for lower-level crimes, like robbery and assault, without ever being exonerated. The wrongfully convicted in this category will likely take plea deals, serve their time, and forgo hiring an expensive lawyer to fight for their exculpation.

And, when innocence groups win exonerations for murder (and rape) convictions, it is, more often than not, through new DNA testing. Unfortunately, DNA evidence is rarely collected or tested for more minor crimes. It makes more sense for lifers and those on death row to be given priority, not just because of the severity of the punishment, but because it usually takes more than five years to prove innocence. People convicted of lower-level offenses generally will not serve that much time behind bars.

Here’s the opening of Krajicek’s multilayered project (we recommend reading all of the side stories, if you can):

When Rachel Jernigan was falsely accused of robbing a Gilbert, Ariz., bank 15 years ago, she expected the American criminal justice system to do the right thing.

“They tried to get me to plead guilty,” Jernigan says. “They told me they were going to give me 27 years (in prison). But I said I’m not going to plead guilty for something I didn’t do. I really believed I was going to come home from my trial. I was shocked when the jury found me guilty.”

Sentenced to 14 years, she spent more than seven years in prison before the real robber was identified by Jernigan’s determination and a fluke twist.

“If it can happen to me,” Jernigan says, “it can happen to anyone.”

And it does.

In a sense, Jernigan was a lucky exception.

Experts believe that thousands of people are wrongfully convicted each year in America for the types of crimes that Jernigan was charged with—second-tier felonies like robbery, burglary and assault. And when misdemeanors and driving infractions are included, the number of flawed convictions increases exponentially.

Yet only a tiny fraction of these cases are ever exposed. The cadre of criminologists and law professors who study wrongful convictions regard these missing exonerations as one of the great mysteries of American criminal justice.

Many believe the victims are likely the low-hanging fruit of the justice machine, poor men and women who don’t have the wherewithal to pursue justice.

They likely do what Jernigan was not willing to do: suck it up and accept a plea deal.

“My own somewhat unstudied, seat-of-the-pants estimation is that a lot of working-class folks are probably pretty cynical about the world,” says Marvin Zalman of Wayne State University, a leading wrongful convictions scholar. “And I think that when they get convicted of relatively minor stuff where they didn’t do anything wrong, they just chalk it up to a bad experience, do their time, and simply move on.”

Most who are convicted of minor crimes are unlikely to pony up a retainer—typically $25,000 or much more—to hire a lawyer to seek justice. Nor can they expect help from the community of innocence advocates, who focus on cases where DNA can provide irrefutable evidence of innocence—usually homicides and rapes.

“Unfortunately, the Innocence Project would never take cases like these,” says Mitchell Beers, a South Florida criminal defense attorney who won an assault exoneration in 2006.

About 6,000 people a year ask for help from the Innocence Project, a network of about 65 largely autonomous organizations. It has about 250 active cases at any given time, and nearly all of them focus on DNA evidence, says spokesman Paul Cates.

“We are still very committed to taking cases where DNA evidence is available to prove innocence,” says Cates. “That might change at some point down the road, but the thinking is that DNA is still kind of the gold standard in proving innocence.”

The Innocence Project has had a role in 325 exonerations since it was founded in 1992; just eight of them did not involve DNA cases: four home invasions, three car carjackings and one robbery…

Biological evidence is collected in just one of five crimes, nearly all of them murders or rapes. A 2010 study for the National Institute of Justice said fewer than 10 percent cent of assaults, burglaries and robberies had physical evidence examined in crime labs, compared with 81 percent for murders.

So how vast is the trove of undiscovered wrongful convictions? No one knows for sure, because there is little empirical evidence. Zalman calls wrongful convictions “one of the most remarkably loose areas of analysis in the criminal justice field.”

As Sam Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, has written, “The fundamental problem with false convictions is also one of their defining features: they are hidden from view…”


US SUPREME COURT GIVES GO AHEAD FOR GAY MARRIAGES IN ALABAMA, POINTS TO FUTURE HIGH COURT DECISION

In a meaningful 7-2 ruling that shut down Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s eleventh-hour attempt to suspend gay marriage for Alabamians, the US Supreme Court may have indicated which way the justices will rule when they hear four gay marriage cases this spring.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidsonhas the story. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court has stopped the efforts of Justice Roy Moore, the chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, to stand in the wedding aisle and block the marriages of same-sex couples in his state. There was no case on marriage before Moore; he had intervened, loudly, when U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade, whose courtroom is in Mobile, ruled that the state’s anti-marriage laws were unconstitutional. Her ruling was stayed, but only until Monday morning. That, apparently, made Moore angry. First, he said that probate judges didn’t have to abide by the federal decision if they didn’t want to—a remarkable stance in itself. Then, when it seemed that judges might not turn away loving couples, he issued an order declaring that they were forbidden to respect the decision. The Alabama Attorney General asked for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, saying that the state would be irreparably harmed if couples went ahead and married. The Court turned them down. By noon on Monday, news reports were full of pictures of people holding bouquets, bearing rings, and kissing their new spouses. [Update, 6:30 P.M., Monday: By the end of the business day, probate judges in more than a dozen of Alabama’s sixty-seven counties had issued same-sex marriage licenses; many others, though, denied them, only took applications, or closed their doors entirely.]

The Supreme Court’s decision was important on a number of counts. First, for the families of Alabama that have been denied the protection and respect that comes with marriage. Second, it is a strong sign that the Court, which is set to hear arguments this spring on whether there is a fifty-state constitutional right to same-sex marriage, knows where it is headed, and it is in the direction of equality. (The order was accompanied by a dissent signed only by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose main argument was that the Court should allow states to wait for its final ruling on “this important constitutional question.”) Third, it made it clear that there is a definite federal interest in the marriage issue.


BILLS DRAFTED ACROSS THE NATION AFTER DEATHS OF UNARMED BLACK MEN

In the aftermath of a spate of controversial killings by police officers of unarmed black men (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice), bills have cropped up in at least thirteen states to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community relations. Efforts include bipartisan bills to put body cameras on cops and proposed changes to the way deaths at the hands of cops are recorded.

The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“There is a concrete coherent legislative agenda that we are pushing for,” said Cornell Brooks, president and chief executive of the NAACP. “We’ve been doing this from state capital to state capital, as well as here in Washington, D.C.”

Some of the proposed responses have bipartisan support. In other cases, familiar partisan divides between Republicans and Democrats, and civil rights groups and police organizations, are emerging and slowing down legislative action.

Those partisan fissures are exacerbated by events beyond Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland. In Albuquerque, N.M., two officers were charged last month with first-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of a homeless, mentally ill man who had been camping illegally. In Springfield, Mo., a police officer was shot in the head while on patrol; he suffered career-ending injuries.

“Our citizens deserve to be and feel safe, and our law enforcement deserve our respect and support,” said Missouri Rep. Lincoln Hough (R). “I say all that to illustrate the complexity of these issues. There is not a one size fits all approach to this issue.”

Brooks and other civil rights leaders have vowed 2015 will be a year of legislative strategy, pressuring statehouses to pass state-level laws concerning special prosecutors and grand juries while pushing for broader legislative steps in Washington D.C.

Body camera legislation is at the forefront of that push. Civil rights groups like the NAACP, The Advancement Project and the American Civil Liberties Union are behind many of the body camera proposals, and the Obama administration has allocated $263 million for a three-year program to expand training for local police departments, including $75 million that would purchase 50,000 cameras through a matching program.


IN THE SAME VEIN…US AG NOMINEE LORETTA LYNCH POISED TO TAKE ON POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS

US Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, will be the first black female AG if confirmed, and says she will focus on mending relations and calming racial tensions between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

The Hill’s Tim Devaney has more on the issue and why advocates and lawmakers believe Loretta is suited to the task. Here’s a clip:

As a black woman with strong law-and-order credentials, Lynch, observers say, would be uniquely positioned to ease strained relations between police and minority communities they serve.

Lynch’s reputation for being a hard-nosed, impartial prosecutor has won her wide support from civil rights advocates, law enforcement, Democrats and even some Republicans.

This will serve her well as she seeks to “resolve the tensions” between law enforcement and the African American community, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

“She has prosecuted those who have committed crimes against police officers, as well as police officers who have committed crimes,” Leahy (D-Vt.) said during her confirmation hearing.

Lynch has earned the trust of civil rights groups by pursing cases of police brutality.

During her time as a federal prosecutor in New York, Lynch went after a police officer accused of sodomizing a Haitian immigrant with a stick in a precinct bathroom.

More recently, she was assigned to investigate the Eric Garner case.

As the “face of law enforcement,” Lynch will have the opportunity to improve public perceptions of police, said Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People…

Lynch promised to “draw all voices” into the conversation about reforming law enforcement and cracking down on cases of police misconduct.

“She has to be a person who brings both sides together, police and the community,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill.

Posted in Department of Justice, DNA, Innocence, law enforcement, LGBT, racial justice, Supreme Court | No Comments »

“Black Girls Matter,” Refugee Camps, Life as a Black Cop, LA Jail Suicides Down

February 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BLACK GIRLS EXPERIENCE AS MUCH (OR MORE) RACIAL INEQUALITY AS BLACK BOYS, BUT DO NOT RECEIVE AS MUCH HELP

In the United States, black girls experience racially disparate school discipline at significantly higher rates than black boys (vs. white girls and white boys). US Department of Education data for the 2011-2012 school year reveals that while black boys are suspended three times more often than their white counterparts, black girls are suspended six times more often than their white peers.

In New York City and Boston, where more black kids are enrolled into the school systems than white kids, the disparity is even more stark. Black girls in NYC and Boston are 10 and 11 times more likely to be suspended than white girls, respectively.

A report from Columbia Law School and the African American Policy Forum, analyzed this data along with personal experiences from interviews with young black girls in New York City and Boston between 2012-2013.

Among other findings of the report, girls felt that zero-tolerance school policies were not conducive to a positive learning environment, and often dissuaded them from attending school altogether. Girls said that increased police and security presence, as well as metal detectors made them feel uncomfortable and less safe. Girls also reported receiving more severe discipline than boys for the same infractions.

A law professor at UCLA and lead author on the report, Kimberlé Crenshaw, said, “As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk.”

The report recommends equal funding for supporting girls and women of color as boys and men of color, as well as boosted data collection, research, advocacy, and programs.

Here are clips from a few more of the report’s findings…

The failure of schools to intervene in the sexual harassment and bullying of girls contributes to their insecurity at school:

Participants and stakeholders addressed the consequences of sexually harassing behavior, physical and sexual assault, and bullying. The emphasis on harsh disciplinary measures did little to curb such behavior. In fact, zero-tolerance policies sometimes exacerbated the sense of vulnerability experienced by girls because they feared they would be penalized for defending themselves against aggressive behavior. One participant recalled that her long history of suspensions and expulsions began with what she believed to be an unfair punishment in response to assaultive behavior by a male classmate:

This boy kept spitting those little spitballs through a straw at me while we were taking a test. I told the teacher, and he told him to stop, but he didn’t. He kept on doing it. I yelled at him. He punched me in the face, like my eye. My eye was swollen. I don’t remember if I fought him. That’s how it ended. We both got suspended. I was like, ‘Did I get suspended?’ I was, like, a victim.

Stakeholders observed that teachers were some times unprepared to resolve matters associated with sexually harassing behavior.

It was remarkable how teachers have a culture of sweeping it under the rug. They will say that ‘boys will be boys’; ‘this is sexual awakening.’ Yet they know all the gossip, they know all the stuff that is happening. . . . [T]hey even talked about girls feeling shamed coming to school, like they can’t concentrate because the boys are making comments – lewd comments – constantly pressuring them to have sex with them. Slapping their butts and bras, and just sort of forcing themselves on them against the wall or the locker. . . .

Girls sometimes resort to “acting out” when their counseling needs are overlooked or disregarded:

In environments in which discipline is foregrounded over counseling, girls who seek help in response to traumatic experiences or who have other unmet needs may gain the attention of school personnel only when they “show their face” (act out) in ways that prompt disciplinary intervention:

The only way they’re going to know there’s something wrong with you is if you show your face. If you try . . . to go in there, try to sit there, one on one, they can automatically think you’re there to waste time and not to go to class. It’s like they shutting down on us.

This point was augmented by stakeholders who noted that some of the behavior that triggers the suspension or expulsion of girls may reflect the consequences of untreated trauma. While the problem of undiagnosed needs is not exclusive to girls, their concerns may be harder to address prior to a punishable act:

I think girls tend to not express the trauma . . . and that is a big problem. In the school you focus on the people who are acting out so some are getting their needs met, but this doesn’t mean that those that aren’t acting out are not in need. It plays itself out later on. . .

…and recommendations:

Review and revise policies that funnel girls into the juvenile justice system:

The lack of counseling and other effective conflict intervention strategies leads many girls into contact with the juvenile justice system. Schools should review their current policies and develop more robust measures to ensure that student conflict is not unwarrantedly subjected to criminal sanctions.

Devise programs that identify the signs of sexual victimization in order to support girls who have been traumatized by violence:

Schools must train educators to identify signs of sexual abuse and respond with therapeutic interventions. In so doing, they should develop protocols and policies that streamline their responses to suspected instances of abuse.

Advance and expand programs that support girls who are pregnant, parenting, or otherwise assuming significant familial responsibilities:

Lack of childcare, strict attendance policies, unsafe campuses, and untrained administrators contribute to school push-out of pregnant or parenting girls. Schools, stakeholders, and advocates must work to create policies that are sensitive to the needs of pregnant girls as well as girls who take on significant caretaking responsibilities.


WHAT HAPPENS TO WOMEN AND CHILDREN REFUGEES WHO ENTER THE UNITED STATES

The NY Times Magazine’s current cover story by Wil Hylton takes a look at America’s controversial detention camps chock-full of women and children refugees fleeing from violence in Central America.

In these family camps, mothers are regularly held without bond (and without guaranteed legal representation), and kids’ health and schooling needs often go unmet.

Here’s how Hylton’s story opens:

Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.

As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.

Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.

As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”

Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of this fantastic (and lengthy) story.


SAN BERNARDINO COP ON WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BLACK OFFICER IN THE US

As a black police officer in the city of San Bernardino, CA, Darren Sims is a minority on both sides of the badge.

According to 2011 Census data, San Bernardino has the highest poverty level of a city with a population over 200,000 in California, and the second highest nationally (behind Detroit). San Bernardino’s crime rates are also significantly higher than the state and national averages.

San Bernardino has struggled with creating a police department representative of the city’s population. Around 9% of SBPD officers are black, compared with a 15% black community. Latinos comprise just 28% of the police force, in contrast to 60% of citizens. And the department and city are 59% and 19% white, respectively.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Esme Deprez, Sims shares what it’s like to be a black cop in San Bernardino. Here are some clips:

For Sims, the combination of black skin and blue uniform makes him feel, by turns, like a threat and a target. Last summer, his beat partner almost died after being shot in the head, an event that still haunts him. He empathizes with minorities who feel unfairly treated, yet he’s also been the target of their scorn. As an officer, he says, he upholds the law, regardless of a lawbreaker’s race.

San Bernardino, a city of 214,000 people 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has long been one of the most dangerous of its size. Things have gotten only worse after the city declared bankruptcy in August 2012. The police force has shrunk to 230 officers from more than 350. Homicides surged to 46 in 2013 from 32 in 2009.

Those numbers are why Sims, who grew up in nearby Riverside, wanted to join the department: Higher crime means more people in need of protection. In August 2013, he was sworn in, following stints counseling troubled youth at group homes, supervising park workers in nearby Moreno Valley and playing football at Kentucky State University.

Sims describes those drawn to policing as protectors of everyday citizens — sheep — from criminals intent on doing harm — wolves.

“Racism does exist,” he said recently, after an all-night shift. “I don’t believe it’s the underlying factor, the underlying thing, that drives law enforcement to oppress a certain person, a type of people, a certain demographic of people.”

[SNIP]

In uniform, his medium-brown skin invites taunts: Oreo, sellout, Uncle Tom. The ugly names have increased since Ferguson, Sims says. Now, as he approaches people, they’ll often raise both hands and say, “Don’t shoot,” as some witnesses said Michael Brown did.

“They don’t view us as being black,” Sims said. “They view us as being a cop.”

Those views were once his own. Growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood, Sims listened to rap music that glorified cop-killing, and shared his friends’ conviction that police were to be shunned. Now, on patrol, he is reminded of that sentiment by “187 SBPD” graffiti, referring to the penal code for murder and the San Bernardino Police Department….

The way to demolish barriers between police and community is a mutual exchange of respect, Sims says. He prides himself on talking with suspects as he would with his watch commander — or grandmother.


SUICIDES IN LOS ANGELES JAILS DECREASED BY HALF IN 2014

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department data shows that inmate suicides dropped from 10 in 2013 to 5 in 2014. The decrease follows a year after the US Department of Justice released a report criticizing the county’s treatment of mentally ill inmates—with particular reference to the suicide count—and said it would seek a consent decree.

KPCC’s Andrea Gardner has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelley Frasier said deputies and mental health professionals have set suicide reduction as a top priority. For instance, after noticing a trend in higher rates of attempted suicide among inmates housed in “single-man cells,” she said they changed the practice.

“We came to the table and we said, ‘let’s make a conscious effort, let’s not put them in single-man cells,’ ” she said.

In other cases, more mental health teams were dispatched to check on isolated inmates more often.

Instances of serious self-harm—like cutting and attempted suicide—also dropped significantly in 2014 from 2013, to 71 from 110 documented cases.

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