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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.

Posted in Department of Justice, Education, immigration, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, racial justice, women's issues, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

The Presumption of Innocence & the Presumption of Dangerousness

January 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


This past weekend, UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism Program together
with UCI’s School of law sponsored a unique interdisciplinary conference titled Justice and Injustice: The Consequences of Storytelling in the Courtroom.

The conference (in which I was fortunate enough to take part) was unusually dynamic, and many of the topics discussed by the event’s panelists and keynote speakers will find their way into WLA stories and posts in the future.

But a cluster of this week’s news stories pointed directly to two issues that came up repeatedly, including in the Friday evening presentation of superstar lawyer, author, and justice advocate Bryan Stevenson.

The issues are the presumption of innocence and what Stevenson called, “the presumption of dangerousness.”

Here are the stories that brought those two concepts—at least tangentially—to mind:


IS THE DEFENDANT WHITE OR NOT?

As the jury selection takes place in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers, there is a lot of concern about whether or not the ethnicity of the jurors will affect their views.

But, it appears there is another likely significant factor that could affect jurors’ potential for impartiality, which social scientists Nour Kteily and Sara Cotterill bring up in an Op Ed for the New York Times.

While Kteily and Cotterill are writing about Tsarnaev, the results of research they conducted regarding his case, point well beyond the matter of the alleged Boston Marathon Bomber to some discomforting conclusions about the part race may play—in general—in certain people’s perceptions of how lightly or harshly a defendant should be treated by the justice system.

Here’s a clip from their essay:

No sooner did the F.B.I. release photographs of Mr. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, three days after the bombings, than questions arose about the racial identity of the suspects. (“Are the Tsarnaev Brothers White?” ran a headline in Salon.) Although neither brother matched the visual prototype of a white American, both hailed from the Caucasus, the region that gave rise to the term “Caucasian,” and both had lived in America for many years.

In the aftermath of the bombings, we sought to answer two questions: If white people perceived Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as less white, did that influence their support for treating him harshly? (Tamerlan was dead by this point.) And if people varied in how white they considered Mr. Tsarnaev to be, what psychological propensities, if any, determined whether they perceived him as more like “us” or more like “them”? We, along with three of our colleagues, published our findings last year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Within hours of the F.B.I.’s release of the suspects’ photographs, we collected responses from 426 white Americans to a broad questionnaire assessing a range of their demographic information as well as aspects of their ideological orientations. Eight days later, we offered these same participants the opportunity to respond to a second questionnaire. Here, we presented them with the original F.B.I. photos, and asked them to tell us how white they thought the suspects looked.

We then asked the participants whether they endorsed statements such as “I hope the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon attacks rots in hell” and “It is O.K. for Tsarnaev not to have been read his Miranda rights before interrogation” and “We shouldn’t rush to judgment in bringing the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon attacks to justice.” They were also asked to indicate the sentence that they felt Mr. Tsarnaev ought to receive should he be found guilty, with options ranging from “a maximum of 20 years in prison with the possibility of parole” to “the death penalty.”

We found that there was substantial ambiguity about whether the Tsarnaev brothers were white. On a scale from zero (nonwhite) to 100 (white), the participants varied in their perceptions, with ratings running the full gamut from zero to 100. The average rating was around 64.

When the researchers asked the same research participants about what kind of punishment Tsarnaev ought to receive, it turned out that those who rated Mr. Tsarnaev lowest on the “looking white” scale, were in favor of punishing him the most severely.

“In a case like Mr. Tsarnaev’s,” Kteily and Cotterill concluded, “where guilt is widely presumed and where the outcome will most likely fall on one side of the line between life imprisonment and death, this finding seems especially relevant [when it comes to jury selection].


IS THE LITERAL APPEARANCE OF INNOCENCE NECESSARY FOR THE ASSUMPTION OF INNOCENCE?

The week also features jury selection for another alleged purveyor of mass violence, namely James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater. As with Tsarnaev, the issue is less one of guilt or innocence than it is a matter of what kind of punishment should be meted out. With this in mind, Holmes’ attorneys naturally want their client to look the most ordinary and the least threatening possible.

Beth Schwartzapfel of the Marshall Project writes about the issue in general of shackling or not shackling prisoners when they come to court, how such decisions can affect a trial’s outcome, and whether the garb of innocence is important to the presumption of innocence that is supposed to be a pillar of the American legal system.

Here are a couple of short clips:

When jury selection began this week in the trial of James Holmes — the man accused of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater — he looked different than he had in prior court hearings. He traded his jail garb for khakis and a sport coat. Instead of wearing shackles and chains, he was discreetly anchored to the floor by a tan cable meant to disappear into the tangle of computer cords at the defense table.

That cable, which was attached to a harness under Holmes’s clothes, was the result of much legal volleying before any potential jurors arrived. His lawyers had argued that seeing Holmes in restraints would ruin his opportunity to be presumed innocent. Shackles and other extreme security measures (like the snipers posted on the roofs of nearby buildings) would give jurors the impression that “extraordinary security is necessary to contain Mr. Holmes,” they wrote, “and few things could be more prejudicial to a man on trial for his life.”

[SNIP]

James Holmes’s legal team seeks to persuade the jury that their client’s crimes were committed as a result of his longstanding mental illness. Under the law, he will have the best chance of a fair trial if he appears before jurors looking like an ordinary person. “The presumption of innocence requires the garb of innocence,” wrote a judge in another Colorado courtroom almost 70 years ago, “and regardless of the ultimate outcome, or of the evidence awaiting presentation, every defendant is entitled to be brought before the court with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent man


THE PERILS OF THE PRESUMPTION OF DANGEROUSNESS

One of the topics that threaded through many of the panel discussions at the Justice and Injustice conference I mentioned above, was the legal precept of the presumption of innocence, which both the defense attorneys and prosecutors on the various conference panels said that—with rare exceptions—seemed increasingly hard to come by in criminal court.

A twin topic that keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson talked about was something he called the presumption of dangerousness. He brought it up regarding the disproportionately harsh treatment of young men of color by the criminal justice system.

It is that presumption of dangerousness that clearly frightened NY Times columnist Charles Blow when he heard about his Yale student son’s experience as the young man made his way back to his dorm room from the school library.

Here’s a clip from Blow’s column:

Saturday evening, I got a call that no parent wants to get. It was my son calling from college — he’s a third-year student at Yale. He had been accosted by a campus police officer, at gunpoint!

This is how my son remembers it:

He left for the library around 5:45 p.m. to check the status of a book he had requested. The book hadn’t arrived yet, but since he was there he put in a request for some multimedia equipment for a project he was working on.

Then he left to walk back to his dorm room. He says he saw an officer “jogging” toward the entrance of another building across the grounds from the building he’d just left.

Then this:

“I did not pay him any mind, and continued to walk back towards my room. I looked behind me, and noticed that the police officer was following me. He spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio and said, ‘I got him.’

“I faced forward again, presuming that the officer was not talking to me. I then heard him say, ‘Hey, turn around!’ — which I did.

“The officer raised his gun at me, and told me to get on the ground.

“At this point, I stopped looking directly at the officer, and looked down towards the pavement. I dropped to my knees first, with my hands raised, then laid down on my stomach.

“The officer asked me what my name was. I gave him my name.

“The officer asked me what school I went to. I told him Yale University.

“At this point, the officer told me to get up.”

The officer gave his name, then asked my son to “give him a call the next day.”

My son continued:

“I got up slowly, and continued to walk back to my room. I was scared. My legs were shaking slightly. After a few more paces, the officer said, ‘Hey, my man. Can you step off to the side?’ I did.”

The officer asked him to turn around so he could see the back of his jacket. He asked his name again, then, finally, asked to see my son’s ID. My son produced his school ID from his wallet.

The officer asked more questions, and my son answered. All the while the officer was relaying this information to someone over his radio.

My son heard someone on the radio say back to the officer “something to the effect of: ‘Keep him there until we get this sorted out.’ ” The officer told my son that an incident report would be filed, and then he walked away.

[SNIP]

What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a “suspicious” movement? Had I come close to losing him? Triggers cannot be unpulled. Bullets cannot be called back.

My son was unarmed, possessed no plunder, obeyed all instructions, answered all questions, did not attempt to flee or resist in any way.

This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete. I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious “club.”


AND IN OTHER NEWS……OBJECTIONS TO WAZE TRACKING COPS CONTINUES TO HEAT UP

Still more law enforcement voices are calling for the WAZE communal traffic tracking Ap to remove any police tracking features. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has been a strong voice in the matter.

NPR’s Sam Sanders has the story for NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here’s a clip:

Waze, the popular navigation app boasting more than 50 million users worldwide, has a new critic: police officers. Over the last few weeks, law enforcement officials have been urging the app and its owner, Google, to disable a feature that allows users to report when they’ve spotted a police officer, in real time, for all other Waze users to see.

Sergio Kopelev, a reserve sheriff in Orange County, Calif., is one of the law enforcement officials behind the push to remove Waze’s police-tracker. He says he first discovered the feature through his family.

“In early December, or mid-December, I saw my wife using the app when she picked me up from the airport,” Kopelev tells NPR. “I saw her tag a location of a police officer. And then as the officer was moving, I saw her update the location… She told me about Waze, and I said, ‘Look, this isn’t good.’”

After that day, Kopelev reached out to Waze directly. He made posts about the feature on Facebook. And he eventually gave a talk about the app and its police tracker to the National Sheriffs Association’s annual convention. His talk there led to even more outcry from officials and a good amount of media coverage, but even before that conference, police around the country had been speaking out about it.

In late December, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck sent an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page, saying that the app endangers officers’ lives. “I am concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the community, and the potential for your Waze product to be misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community,” Beck wrote.


MINI THERAPY HORSE JOINS THE LASD

One more thing in case you’ve missed it: a ridiculously cute miniature therapy horse has just joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, race, race and class, racial justice, Sentencing | 5 Comments »

“Ghettoside”….Unsolved Murders….a CA Prison Healthcare Company and Inmate Deaths…and Helping Homeless Kids

January 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

“HOMICIDE REPORT” CREATOR JILL LEOVOY’S NEW BOOK PORTRAYS VIOLENCE IN INNER CITY COMMUNITIES

In her brand new book, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, LA Times crime reporter Jill Leovy tells the story of an 18-year-old son of a homicide detective, Bryant Tennelle, who was shot by gang members looking for an easy target from a rival neighborhood. Tennelle was a smart, black kid who was not in a gang.

Ghettoside uses Tennelle’s tragic death and subsequent investigation as a human portrait of homicide in Los Angeles and across the country, particularly young men of color killing other young men of color, breakdowns in the criminal justice system, and why so many of these murders go unsolved.

Leovy’s book is already getting a lot of well-deserved attention (and we’ll have more on Ghettoside when it’s released).

Prior to writing Ghettoside, Leovy created the LA Times’ Homicide Report, a ground-breaking blog that endeavored to record every homicide in LA County, and told the stories of the unknown and unnoticed victims, matching faces to the statistics.

NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Leovy about her book, which will be released tomorrow (Tuesday). Here’s a clip:

On what the Tennelle murder investigation found:

The [detectives] … call it “profiling murder.” And so what’s happening is gang members will get in a car, they will go to the rival neighborhood to send a message and they will just look for the easiest, most likely victim they can find. And [it's] probably going to be a young black man. And if he fits the part, that’s good enough. And an astonishing number of victims — I did a count in 2008 of 300-some LA homicides of the gang-related homicides, and I think something like 40 percent of the victims were this sort of a victim: non-combatant, not directly party to the quarrel that instigated the homicide, but ended up dead nonetheless.

On the challenge of getting witnesses to talk:

Well, everybody’s terrified. I’ve had people clutch my clothes and beg me to not even write that there was anybody at the scene. I’m not even describing them. They just don’t want anyone to know that there was somebody at the scene. …

In the big years in LA, in the early ’90s, young black men in their early 20s — who, by the way, are a disproportionate group among homicide witnesses because this is the milieu they’re in — had a rate of death from homicide that was higher than those of American troops in Iraq in about 2005. So people talk about a “war zone” — it was higher than a combat death rate. They are terrified, they have concrete reason to be terrified and then the justice system comes along and asks them to put themselves in possibly even more danger. What would you do?

Ghettoside also landed a front-page NY Times book review by Jennifer Gonnerman.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE UNSOLVED HOMICIDES IN L.A. OF YOUNG MEN OF COLOR…

The LA Daily News has two excellent stories sharing common themes with Leovy’s Ghettoside.

In the first, Sarah Favot, compiled and analyzed mountains of unsolved LA County homicide data from 2000-2010. Favot found that 46% of the 11,244 homicides recorded during those years remain unsolved. At 54%, LA County had nearly a 10% lower success rate than the national average (63%).

Here are some clips from Favot’s report:

The homicide information analyzed by this news organization is the first-of-its-kind database of unsolved homicide cases in L.A. County from Jan. 1, 2000, through Dec. 31, 2010. A 54 percent countywide clearance is not satisfactory, said L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “In the real world, these are people’s lives and their memories and how they view the system,” McDonnell said. “You can never bring the person back, but at least there is some level of justice when people are held accountable; it adds to the credibility of the system.”

[SNIP]

The data analysis is based on 11,244 homicides recorded over the time period by the L. A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. Law enforcement agencies throughout the county provided the statuses of 10,501 homicide investigations. Information was not provided on 682 cases and detectives determined an additional 61 deaths were no longer considered homicides.

In 44 percent of the cases in which the status was known, a suspect had been arrested. About 10 percent of the homicides are considered “solved by other means” either because the suspect had died, the case was deemed a murder-suicide or police investigators determined the death to be justified, as in the case of an officer-involved shooting.

“This is eye-popping data when you look at it in detail,” said Jody Armour, the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at USC. “You see stark differences in just homicide numbers and (clearance) rates as a function of race….It’s a window on race and class and crime in L.A. and therefore in much of America.”

[SNIP]

Half of the homicides of black victims remain unsolved. Black victims made up about 34 percent of all homicides recorded in L.A. County during the 11-year period.

Blacks and Latinos are killed most often because they are more likely to live in high crime and gang-affected areas where illegal weapons proliferate, said Jorja Leap, a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and nationally recognized gang expert conducting a five-year research study evaluating the impact of Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention and re-entry program in Los Angeles.

In the second, Rebecca Kimitch explores two crucial reasons many of these homicides go unsolved—witnesses’ mistrust of law enforcement and fear of retaliation for “snitching”—as well as what can be done to build trust between cops and communities. Here are some clips:

…some departments in large cities across the United States, including Houston, Denver, San Diego and Jacksonville, have bucked the trend, boasting homicide clearance rates of 80 to 90 percent. They’ve even cleared more of the most difficult to crack cases: those involving gangs.

How have they done it?

To start, by finding something that doesn’t cost a dime but eludes most police departments: community trust.

[SNIP]

“People just don’t want to get involved. Nobody would tell me, ‘Detective Yu, this is what I saw,’ ” the detective said. “That happens a lot in gang cases. At the end of the day, the common denominator is people are scared to talk.”

It’s the snitch rule, explained 26-year-old South L.A. student Shea Harrison. Talking means risking your life, he said, and it doesn’t matter if the victims weren’t part of a gang.

“It’s just the code,” he said.

On the rare occasion that witnesses come forward with information in gang-related homicides, getting them to testify in court “can take an act of God,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide Detective Frank Salerno.

And with the Internet and social media making it easier to track people down, the fear of retribution is growing, Salerno said, making the public less and less inclined to get involved. While social media has also made it easier, in come cases, for police to track down witnesses, just because someone said something on Twitter, they aren’t necessarily going to say more to police or in a courtroom, Salerno said.

In some cases, it’s not gangs that potential witnesses fear, it’s the police…


PRIVATE PRISON HEALTH CARE COMPANY SUED FOR INADEQUATE CARE IN THE WAKE OF INMATE DEATHS

California Forensic Medical Group provides health care (and in many cases mental health care) to 65 adult and juvenile facilities in more than 20 counties, including Ventura, Yolo, Monterey, and Sonoma.

Allegations of negligence via inadequate physical and mental healthcare, drug detox services, and severe understaffing have emerged as the number of healthcare-related deaths have jumped in counties across the state. CFMG has come up against more than a dozen lawsuits by California inmates’ families.

From 2004 to 2014, 92 people either committed suicide or overdosed on drugs under the care of CFMG in county facilities. In 2012, when CFMG took over health care in Santa Cruz, four people died within the nine months. Last year in Sonoma, four inmates died in less than a month.

The Sacramento Bee’s Brad Branan has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

On a Saturday morning in 2010, Clearlake police showed up at the home of 38-year-old Jimmy Ray Hatfield after he barricaded himself in his bedroom and told his parents he had a bomb.

Hatfield was mentally ill and thought someone was going to kill him, his parents told police. After a lengthy standoff, he was brought to a hospital, given an antipsychotic and a sedative and transported to the Lake County jail, records show.

The jail nurse received paperwork from the hospital detailing his psychotic state, but said she did not review it because that was the job of another nurse. That nurse wasn’t scheduled to work for another day and a half.

By then, Hatfield was found unresponsive in his cell, hanging from a bed sheet.

The company responsible for the jail’s health care, California Forensic Medical Group, was accused by Hatfield’s family of negligence in his death and settled the case for an undisclosed amount. It has faced allegations that it failed to provide proper care in dozens of U.S. District Court cases over the last decade.

CFMG is the state’s largest for-profit correctional health care company, delivering medical service in 27 counties, including El Dorado, Placer and Yolo. The company also provides jail mental health service in 20 counties.

The company started in 1984 with a contract to provide care in Monterey County and has consistently grown by taking over inmate health care in small and medium-size counties. Bigger counties, including Sacramento, tend to provide their own correctional health care.

Since the state started sentencing lower level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons in 2011, attorneys who successfully sued the state over inmate health care are now suing counties. That realignment has prompted more counties to rely on private companies such as CFMG to oversee jail health care to control costs and reduce liability.

At least three county grand juries have criticized the company’s role in inmate deaths. Some investigations have been spurred by a spike in deaths – four people in Sonoma County in an 11-month period ending in 2007 and four people in nine months in Santa Cruz County after CFMG took over health care in 2012.

Sonoma County officials are promising yet another investigation following the death of four inmates in less than a month last year.

A common thread in the reports and court complaints: CFMG allegedly provides insufficient mental health and detoxification services, two of the most persistent needs in jails.


NINE PRINCIPLES FOR HELPING KIDS ESCAPE HOMELESSNESS

In LA County in 2013, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members were children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s homeless count.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Robin Rivera, once a runaway herself, points to nine evidence-based approaches to help children out of homelessness, established by the Homeless Youth Collaborative on Developmental Evaluation.

Here are the first four:

Journey Oriented: Recognizing that everyone is on a journey and conveying that message to the client. It is helping them to see a future and they get to choose what they will create.

Trauma-Informed: All staff that have contact with clients need to be trauma trained as to be more successful and to not inflict any additional traumatic experiences for the youth.

Non-Judgmental: To make sure that clients know they will receive services and support regardless of their past, present, or future choices. This creates trust and openness.

Harm Reduction: Help clients to minimize risky behaviors in the short and long-term scenarios. This means understanding that risky behaviors do not go away over night, but an emphasis on working towards reduction.

Posted in Foster Care, Gangs, Homelessness, mental health, prison, racial justice | No Comments »

Suit Against LASD Over Leaks to LA Times….White Privilege in the Justice System….Realignment Tweak….and More

January 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

FORMER LA OFFICERS SUE SHERIFF’S DEPT OVER PERSONAL RECORDS LEAKED TO LA TIMES INVESTIGATION

When the LA County Office of Public Safety was disbanded and absorbed the the sheriff’s department in 2010, OPS employees were authorized to apply for positions within the LASD. The sheriff’s dept. took on 280 from more than 400 applicants.

In December 2013, we pointed to an LA Times investigation that found an alarming number of those hired were previously rejected by other law enforcement agencies (or terminations), had been disciplined for serious misconduct, or had other troubling histories.

Now, a number of those singled out in the report are suing the sheriff’s department for leaking their names and confidential records to the LA Times. The plaintiffs say county officials know the identity of the employee who slipped the records to the Times, and have not held the person accountable.

Courthouse News Service’s Matt Reynolds has the story. Here’s a clip:

Named as problem applicants in the story were David F. McDonald, Ferdinand C. Salgado, Linda D. Bonner, and Niles L. Rose, all of whom were hired as jailers. They are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed this week.

The officers claim that with the help of county or Sheriff’s Department officials an unidentified county of department employee leaked their confidential records to the Times.

Calling the dim view of the Office of Public Safety “widespread and epidemic,” the officers say it is “no secret” that Sheriff’s Department officials treat them with disdain.

After the Office of Public Safety was shut down to cut costs in 2010, its officers were allowed to apply for transfers to the Sheriff’s Department.

In late 2013, the Times published a series of articles highlighting 280 of the 400 applicants to the department.

A Dec. 2, 2013 article was headlined: “Sheriff’s Department Hired Officers With Histories of Misconduct.”

The Times reported that 188 officers had been rejected for other law enforcement jobs; 29 successful applicants had been fired or asked to resign from their previous jobs; and 15 officers had attempted to manipulate the county polygraph examinations.

Others had been disciplined or had or exhibited signs of dishonesty, the Times reported.


A PRISON REFORM ADVOCATE’S JOURNEY FROM HEROINE ADDICTED PRISONER TO CORNELL GRADUATE

Writing for the Washington Post, Keri Blakinger, shares her story of rising up from a heroin addiction and years in prison to become a graduate of Cornell University. And Blakinger believes that the reason she was able to, relatively easily, reenter her community and return to her Ivy League school was because she is white. Here’s how it opens:

I was a senior at Cornell University when I was arrested for heroin possession. As an addict — a condition that began during a deep depression — I was muddling my way through classes and doing many things I would come to regret, including selling drugs to pay for my own habit. I even began dating a man with big-time drug connections that put me around large amounts of heroin. When police arrested me in 2010, I was carrying six ounces, an amount they valued at $50,000 — enough to put me in prison for up to 10 years. Cornell suspended me indefinitely and banned me from campus. I had descended from a Dean’s List student to a felon.

But instead of a decade behind bars and a life grasping for the puny opportunities America affords some ex-convicts, I got a second chance. In a plea deal, I received a sentence of 2½ years. After leaving prison, I soon got a job as a reporter at a local newspaper. Then Cornell allowed me to start taking classes again, and I graduated last month. What made my quick rebound possible?

I am white.

Second chances don’t come easily to people of color in the United States. But when you are white, society offers routes to rebuild your life. When found guilty of a drug crime, white people receive shorter sentences than black people. And even after prison, white men fare better in the job market than black men with identical criminal records.

It was prison that clued me in to just how much I benefit from systemic racism in our society. Until then, I hadn’t thought much about white privilege, which is exactly how privilege works – as a white person, I could ignore it. But sitting behind bars, I saw how privilege touches almost everything, especially the penal system.


JAILING LOW-LEVEL FELONS FOR DRUG POSSESSION PAROLE VIOLATIONS GOES AGAINST 3 STRIKES LAW

California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal has overturned a portion of California’s realignment law (AB 109) that sends former felons under county probation to jail for drug possession. According to the court ruling, this provision was in violation of California’s Three Strikes Law, Prop. 36, which says that non-serious drug offenders can be placed in treatment instead of lock-up.

The SF Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has more on the court’s decision. Here’s a clip:

Tuesday’s decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana does not affect the central provision of that “realignment” law, which sends lower-level felons to county jail rather than state prison. But the ruling, if it stands, would overturn a section of the law that allows some former inmates to be returned to jail for drug use.

Felons whose crimes were not classified as violent or sex offenses are now placed on local probation supervision rather than state parole after their sentences, and can be jailed for up to six months for violating the terms of their release. But the court said a 2000 ballot measure, Proposition 36, entitles nonviolent drug offenders to be placed in treatment rather than confinement, unless they have been shown to pose a danger to the public.

Prop. 36 can be amended only by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature, the court said.

“The Legislature cannot evade Proposition 36’s amendment requirements simply by passing legislation that purports to pare down the proposition’s coverage,” said Justice Raymond Ikola in the 3-0 ruling.


FURTHER READING (AND LISTENING) ON BUILDING STRONG BONDS BETWEEN COPS AND COMMUNITIES

Frank Stoltze has a good recap of the diverse opinions voiced at a KPCC panel moderated by Air Talk‘s Larry Mantle on the state of police-community relations and how to improve them.

Mantle’s panel included Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and other law enforcement officers, policy analyst Francisco Ortega, Robert Cristo of the Youth Justice Coalition, among others. (You can listen to the whole forum, here.)

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s accompanying story:

[LBPD Chief] Luna urged people to cooperate with police, even if they are mistreating you. “If you get into a negative encounter with a police officer, don’t fight or resist. Do exactly what they are telling you to do.”

File a complaint later, he said.

Henderson and Cristo said they wouldn’t trust police to discipline an officer involved in misconduct. Henderson also wondered why the burden rests with residents to submit to an officer’s demands, even if they are unreasonable. “Shouldn’t police empathize with me?”

Repeated interactions with criminals, particularly in South LA, can affect an officer’s attitude, said LAPD Lt. Al Labrada, who works in the community relations section of the department.

“You become involved in so much of the violence that occurs around you, you tend to have a negative perception of a lot of things,” he said. “For officers working in South LA, it’s sometimes not healthy.”

Labrada said that’s one reason he left the area after working there 14 years, including eight years as a gang sergeant.

“We have a long way to go” in building trust, he said. “But we also need to look at the fact (that) officers are making progress.” Labrada pointed to community policing programs in Watts as an example.

AND IN OTHER LA LAW ENFORCEMENT-RELATED NEWS…

In response to a report from LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman on transparency within the Sheriff’s Dept. in comparison to other law enforcement agencies, the LAPD has updated its annual use of force and officer discipline reports on the department website.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

The report by Inspector General Max Huntsman focused on transparency issues with the sheriff’s department, analyzing other agencies’ practices for comparison. Huntsman noted that the LAPD posts annual use of force reports and quarterly discipline reports on its website, whereas the sheriff’s department does not.

But the LAPD’s information was not current, Huntsman wrote. Only the 2009 and 2010 Annual Use of Force Reports were posted, and the quarterly discipline reports stopped in 2012.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, said the lapses were not intentional, and the department would be posting the latest reports.

As of midday Thursday, the quarterly discipline reports, which include the number of complaints against officers, the types of allegations and the penalties imposed, had been updated through 2013.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, parole policy, racial justice, Reentry | 54 Comments »

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