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Sheriff’s Candidates Wax Progressive at Debate….Tanaka’s a No-Show….Eric Previn Wants 2 be Supe…& More

March 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

SHERIFF’S CANDIDATES GET NOTABLY PROGRESSIVE AND PAUL TANAKA PULLS A LAST MINUTE NO-SHOW AT THE 2ND BIG PUBLIC DEBATE

Mercado La Paloma in South LA was jammed Thursday night as five of the seven candidates running for LA County Sheriff took their seats for the second public debate, and answered questions on such topics as alternative sentencing, building new jails, immigration enforcement, data gathering on stop & frisk, and more—all topics to which the five men gave consistently progressive-leaning answers that featured more agreement than difference.

For instance, the candidates were asked if they were in favor of solving the jail overcrowding problem by building new jails?

By and large they are not. They’d rather manage the jail population by finding appropriate therapeutic housing for the mentally ill who routinely turn up in the jails, and most favored some kind of alternate sentencing and pretrial release.

Bob Olmsted wants to create a special court for the mentally ill.

“We need to free the bed space for those who really need to be locked up,” he said.

“We need community based mental health clinics,” agreed Jim McDonnell.

Jim Hellmold and Lou Vince said no to any kind of jail expansion. “Once we do that, those beds are always going to be filled,” said Vince.

“Community based alternatives can reduce recidivism by ten or twenty percent,” said Todd Rogers and then proceeded to expand enthusiastically on the topic.

The candidates also favored a more appropriate, family-friendly environment for women who are locked up.

“Right now our women are housed in facilities that are intended for men in complete lockdown,” said Hellmold.

All the candidates were roundly in favor of a robust citizen oversight body for the LASD

And so it went on topic after topic. While there were degrees of difference, there was more often agreement that leaned in a distinctly reformist direction.

“They were more progressive in many cases than the majority of the board of supervisors,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, after the questioning was over. (The ACLU was one of the event’s sponsors.) “For example, there was a real unanimity in the suggestion that LA is incarcerating way too many people. Whereas what appears to be the board’s response, which is to build more jail beds, that’s clearly not what these candidates want to be doing.”


WHILE 5 CANDIDATES OPINED, 2 CANDIDATES WERE MISSING

Two candidates in the field, however, were not available for comment.

Pat Gomez had another event he felt he had to attend so wasn’t able to take part in the debate, but according to Eliasberg, Gomez notified the debate staff a week or two in advance.

Paul Tanaka, in contrast, cancelled “because of a conflict” at exactly 12:37 pm on the day of the event, said Eliasberg.



AND IN RELATED NEWS: AD HOC WATCHDOG ERIC PREVIN RUNS FOR SUPERVISOR

Eric Previn, our favorite ad hoc LA County watchdog, would now like to join the ranks of those he has previously enjoyed hectoring mightily on regular basis.

Hillel Aron (whom we’re happy to note will now be writing full time for the LA Weekly) has the story. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven isn’t like other gadflies, those full-time roustabouts who skulk the halls of L.A. government making public comment after comment until every bureaucrat is ready to put a gun to his or her head. Preven is different; he’s… well, he’s cleaner. And more normal looking. And: Preven digs up good dirt.

Inspired by something weird that was done to Preven’s mom’s beloved labrador a few years ago (by L.A. County Animal Control), he’s acquired a compulsion to appear each Tuesday to castigate the five powerful members of the County Board of Supervisors, who oversee government programs affecting 10 million people*, control a budget of about $25 billion – and enjoy power and authority virtually unrivaled in California.

They meet Preven with a bitter indifference or, more often, open disdain. But now, the biggest thorn in the Supervisors’ sides is running to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, so he can join the bunch he taunts with surprisingly well-informed criticisms and news scoops.

Here’s Previn in high theatrical form.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS & BUDGET PRIORITIES TO WATCH in 2014

Californians for Safety and Justice, a non-profit that gives voice to crime victims and brings them together with community leaders, policymakers, law enforcement and more, has created a wish list of 2014 bills and budget priorities to keep an eye on.

Here is a representative sampling of the items on their list:

BILLS

AB 1919 (V.M. Perez) – Increase the Use of Risk Assessments: Research shows that we reduce repeat offenses when people in the justice system are matched with programming and supervision determined by an individual risk and needs assessment. This bill will encourage counties to use a validated risk and needs assessment for people in their local justice system.

AB 2612 (Dababneh) – Increase Access to Drug Treatment Programs: Nearly two-thirds of all jail inmates suffer from a substance abuse disorder, and, if unaddressed, such disorders drive criminal behavior. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, California has an opportunity to increase the use of federal Medi-Cal dollars to fund drug treatment programs as an effective alternative to warehousing people in jails. This bill would address existing barriers to increased placement in residential programs.

SB 466 (DeSaulnier) – Creating the California Institute for Criminal Justice Policy: This bill would create a nonpartisan, independent institute to conduct timely research on criminal justice and public safety issues. Its primary responsibility will be creating a Master Plan for California Public Safety based on research and evidence-based practices in the field, and the Institute will also analyze any criminal justice bill to determine its effectiveness, cost-benefit and suitability within the Master Plan.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

Help Crime Victims Recover, Avoid Repeat Victimization by Expanding Trauma Recovery: Victims often experience long-term effects, including trauma and mental health conditions. Left unaddressed, these conditions can impact victims’ ability to recover and may lead to financial problems, mental health issues, substance abuse, depression and further victimization. The existing system can be confusing to access and often only offers short-term support. The Trauma Recovery Center model takes a holistic approach to healing the person in a welcoming and safe environment that provides long-term support.

Improve the Outcomes for Women and Families via Alternative Custody Programs: Research has shown that women in the justice system who maintain a relationship with their children are less likely to reoffend, and their children are less likely to suffer trauma and to be incarcerated as adults. By implementing programs that allow women who have committed nonviolent, non-serious to serve their time in alternative custody programs, we can reduce crime and population pressures on prisons and jails.

Ensure Structured Reentry to Reduce Recidivism by Expanding Split Sentences: The first few weeks an individual is released from prison or jail is a crucial time. Structured reentry, through the use of reentry services and supervision, can reduce the likelihood of reoffending and increase public safety. Under Public Safety Realignment, some people are serving their entire sentence in jail and have no support or supervision upon release. By making split sentences the default (unless a judge rules otherwise out of the interest of public safety), we can ensure individuals have a more effective reintegration into the community.

Reduce Jail Pressures, Costs by Incentivizing the Use of Pretrial Programs: Using jail space to house low-risk people awaiting trial is expensive and paid for public safety. For low-risk people not yet convicted of a crime, evidence-based pretrial programs can increase court appearances, reduce recidivism and save valuable public safety dollars.

Click here for the rest..


TREATING PREGNANT WOMEN IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Dr. Corazon Navarro has been treating pregnant state prison inmates since 1987. She is the OB/GYN at the California Institute for Women in Chino.

In KPCC’s First Person project, Navarro tells about her work and what she loves about it.


Posted in 2014 election, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

Contra Costa Does Realignment Right….Supes Take Small Step Toward Civilian Oversight for the LASD….LA County’s Problematic GPS Monitoring….Justice Reform: the Good & the Bad News….

February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CAN CONTRA COSTA COUNTY TEACH THE REST OF CALIFORNIA HOW REALIGNMENT SHOULD BE DONE?

Yes, Contra Costa is smaller than counties like LA, Orange and Riverside. But it has a crime rate roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the state, and its success with the ins and outs of realignment since the effects of AB109 kicked in, has been dramatic.

A new report looks at what exactly Contra Costa is doing right and how it might be replicated. Christopher Nelson at Cal Forward has the story.

Here’s a clip:

The time between when the three judge panel ordered California to dramatically reduce its state prison population to when AB 109 went into effect was quick by any measure, especially for something of this magnitude.

Naturally, some counties have fared better than others under realignment, including new responsibilities for non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious criminal offenders who in the past would have been sent to prison. But according to a study commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice and released last month by the JFA Institute, there is one county that already had so many cultural and institutional elements in line that is has risen above the rest and serves as a model for how realignment should be implemented. That county is Contra Costa.

“I think it would be fair to say we came from a unique position from the very beginning,” said Philip Kader, Chief of Contra Costa County Probation and by virtue of that title, chair of the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) that allocates AB 109 funding throughout the county.

In many ways, Contra Costa doesn’t differ too much from other California counties. It has a population of about 1 million, making it the 9th largest county in the state. Its crime rate is about on par with the rest of the state, lest anyone think that a smaller Northern California county might be exempt from some of the troubles that plague its larger brethren down south.

But it differs in one major way: a culture of mutual respect exists between probation, sheriff, the district attorney and public defender without which Contra Costa would not be able to achieve the astounding statistical success it has seen since 2010.

According to the report, which was prepared by the JFA Institute, which is headed by James Austin, PhD (the same guy who did the report on how the LA County Jail system cold best handle its overcrowding problems), Contra Costa allocated about 60% of its AB109 funds to programs and services (probation, public defender, health services and contracted programs) designed to assist people convicted of crimes.

There’s lots more in the report and in Nelson’s story about the report.


THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES TAKE FIRST SMALL STEP TO (POSSIBLY) CREATE CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD FOR LASD—BUT WOULD IT HAVE ANY POWER?

On Tuesday morning the Supervisors voted to ask new LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman and new interim LASD Sheriff John Scott (along with the county counsel) to look into what kind of civilian oversight body they believe would work when it comes to the sheriff’s department.

Rina Palta at KPCC has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to study creating a civilian body to monitor the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The Board has debated for months a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a civilian oversight commission, but Ridley-Thomas could not muster the three votes needed for passage.

On Tuesday, the Board agreed instead to ask Interim Sheriff John Scott, Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel to study what sorts of oversight might be appropriate for the department.

[BIG SNIP]

In December, the Board hired Huntsman away from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office to start an Office of the Inspector General to monitor the Sheriff’s Department.

But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that move was not enough – that the Sheriff’s Department needs a civilian oversight body, akin to the LAPD’s Police Commission, to serve as a transparent, public watchdog. Supervisor Gloria Molina cosponsored the proposal.

Critics, however, wondered how much “oversight” a commission would actually have. Voters elect county sheriffs in California, meaning that by law they are independent from other county leaders. The Board of Supervisors oversees the sheriff’s budget, but, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KPCC in December the Board can hardly threaten the sheriff by withholding funding.

The report is due this June—right about the time LA County residents will be voting for a new sheriff in the election primary.


PROBATION CHIEF POWERS REPORTS TO SUPES ON DRAMATIC PROBLEMS WITH GPS MONITORING SYSTEMS

Also in Tuesday’s meeting of the Supervisors, Probation Chief Jerry Powers gave a lengthy report on his agency’s use of an electronic monitoring system to track criminal offenders who, for one reason or another, qualify for GPS monitoring.

Powers was refreshingly candid in his assessment that the system was something of a mess.

“I think we have to spend some time taking our lumps, frankly, in reviewing how probation implemented the program,” Powers said. “It was very clear to me that it was not close to a best practice.”

Then he added that probation didn’t really have good policies in place to sort out which people were put on GPS and why. Plus there was the matter of losing track of around 80 offenders altogether.

He also outlined the agency’s failure to give probation officers adequate training to oversee the monitoring system.

Yet, although Powers did not present an encouraging picture, his transparency, forthrightness and thoroughness in facing up to the unwanted reality went a long way in giving the county a clear path to follow in order to greatly improve matters.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John takes a detailed look at the problems Powers presented and their implications. Here’s a clip:

By the end of this week, the probation department intends to reduce thousands of alerts created when offenders drive or ride through about 4,800 violation zones that blanket Los Angeles County, including every school and park. It will use software to calculate the speed of monitored offenders and ignore alerts created by those moving quickly.

The department ultimately intends to remove those default zones and establish prohibited areas unique to each offender, a goal set for this spring. Officials are also in the midst of creating a 12-person unit of deputies trained to use electronic monitoring. Some officers told The Times that they never were instructed how to use the system and were unaware that they could determine a felon’s past or current location.

Los Angeles County officials said they were also tackling equipment problems they have had with the GPS ankle monitors provided by vendor Sentinel Offender Services of Irvine. An internal audit in September found that one in four GPS devices used to track serious criminals was faulty. The vendor attributed many of those problems to poorly trained county deputies.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is not a fan of GPS monitoring, noted during the meeting that Sentinel, the vender that provides LA County with its GPS devices, had failed to meet its contractual obligations, and that probation should seek a new vender.

“We shouldn’t be a partner in allowing this vender to continue to operated after their past record of failing to abide by the contract,” he said.

Last November, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that the board was poised to approve a new contract with Irvine, California based Sentinel Offender Services. Nevermind that last summer, Orange County Probation had broken its contract with Sentinel after finding that the company had repeatedly been guilty of what amounted to gross incompetence.

And there were other red flags… (You can find the backstory here.)


YES, WE ARE SEEING SOME REAL JUSTICE REFORM, BUT THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO

The so-called “tough on crime” era that came to full flower in the early to mid 1980s, resulted in the US having 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and only 5 percent of its population (to use the much quoted statistic).

In the last few years, as we have often mentioned here at WLA, the tide has slowly begun to turn.

Timothy P. Silard, a former prosecutor and the president of the Rosenberg Foundation, lays it out well in an essay for the Huffington Post. Here’s a clip.

For those of us who consider criminal justice reform to be one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, these are hopeful signs that we might be entering a new era. We are no longer turning a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, or ignoring the pervasive racial bias that undermines the very legitimacy of the system itself.

Racial disparities deeply persist in our justice system at all levels, from how we treat victims to whom we arrest and send to jails and prisons. Victims of violent crime are more likely to be Latino or African American, and nearly half of all homicide victims are Black men and boys. But the perception that our young men are dangerous, rather than vulnerable, is one that is reinforced daily by our justice system.

Nationally, 25 percent of those behind bars are there for drug offenses, and the racial disparities in drug enforcement are staggering. While African Americans use and sell drugs at lower rates than whites, they are are incarcerated for drug charges at 10 times the rate of whites.

[BIG SNIP]

More states, including California, must continue to shift from an “incarceration only” approach and toward the evidence-based programs and services that have been proven to actually reduce crime and racial injustice in the system, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars. For example, education and job-focused programs like San Francisco’s Back on Track program and New York’s Bard Prison Initiative have dramatically reduced re-offense rates to less than 10 percent, creating pathways to productive lives for the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers caught up in the criminal justice system, at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

Posted in criminal justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, Probation, Realignment, Reentry | No Comments »

Latest Fed Indictment of LASD Deputies Suggests Big Failures of Leadership

February 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On the morning of April 16, 2012, Paulino Juarez testified in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence
about three cases of deputies beating inmates he said he had witnessed during his time working as a Catholic chaplain at Men’s Central Jail. Juarez is a diminutive, soft spoken man who has worked in the county’s jail system since July 1998. This meant he had fourteen years of jail work under his belt by he spoke to the commission, so he was hardly new to custody ministering. Nevertheless, his hands frequently trembled as he described the third and most harrowing of the beatings he said he saw.

(You can read Jaurez’ testimony before the CCJV about the reported beating here, starting on page 162.)

The third incident that chaplain Juarez recounted to the CCJV forms the basis of the federal indictment announced last Friday morning in which two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies—Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38—-were charged with illegally using force against an inmate, and then attempting to cover up the incident with false reports that “formed the basis of a false prosecution initiated against the victim.”

These new charges bring the number of department members indicted by the feds to 20—with more assuredly to come.

The notion of two deputies allegedly brutalizing an inmate who is already handcuffed and waist-chained, and doing so in front of an experienced civilian witness, and then reportedly trumping up criminal allegations against that the same inmate—despite the witness—is alarming enough.

But this indictment points beyond itself to four other issues that should, if anything, alarm us more.


1. PEOPLE ON THE TOP OF THE LASD FOOD CHAIN KNEW ALL ABOUT THIS INCIDENT, YET NO DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS RESULTED

Juarez said that he recounted the incident verbally and in writing to a host of people within the sheriff’s department’s command structure—plus the Office of Independent Review—but no sanctions appeared to result. In July 2011, nearly 2 years after the incident, Juarez even managed to meet with Sheriff Baca and Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rambo, at which time he relayed what he’d seen.

According to Juarez, the sheriff told him that LASD investigators had determined that the inmate/victim’s bruises were not caused by a beating at all, but by being hit by a car before he ever got to jail. So nothing to see here folks.

No one mentioned the fact that, as Rena Palta reported, there was an LASD video of inmate/victim Brett Phillips lying injured and unconscious—or barely conscious—after the beating.

But, heck, why deal in evidence?


2. AFTER A SCATHING ACLU REPORT AND A PILE OF BAD PRESS, THE DEPARTMENT DID TAKE ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE BEATING IN OCT. 2011, THEN RAN OUT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CLOCK.

After the ACLU issued its September 2011 report about violence in the jails, including a declaration and video by Paulino Juarez (among other civilian witnesses)—all of which made national news—the LASD decided to reinvestigate the matter.

Not that it did any good.

According to documents from the Integrity Division of the LA County District Attorney’s office, the LASD’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB, didn’t finish their investigation into the 2009 beating until January 28, 2013—nearly four years after the original incident. In other words, they didn’t finish until they’d neatly run out the clock on the statute of limitations regarding any punitive actions or charges that the LASD or the district attorney might bring.

Whether or not the DA’s office was interested in the case is unclear. But what is very clear is the fact that, by time the DA’s people were belatedly given the paperwork by the LASD, they had no choice but to decline to proceed:

“…Violation for Penal Code section 149, Assault Under Color of Authority, must commence within three years after commission of the offense,” the DA’s office wrote in their official rejection of the case. “We are legally precluded and therefore decline to file criminal charges in this matter…”


3. THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The younger of the two deputies facing these new federal charges, which could result in decades in prison, is now 26. Doing some quick math, this means he was around 21 at the time of the 2009 incident, presumably not very far out of the academy.

Yet, despite the existence of independent witness to the event, it appears that every supervisor who came in contact with the 2009 beating incident, and its alleged criminal cover-up, either denied the existence of any wrongdoing or winked at it—from the sergeant directly above the deputies, through Internal Affairs, ICIB, up to Sheriff Baca. Once has to ask what kind of message all these supervisors imagined they were sending to their young deputies—and the rest of their rank and file—with such actions, or lack thereof.

“We’ve got your back, no matter what trouble you stir up! Don’t worry about the blow-back!” is neither good leadership nor good parenting.

The other jail brutality incidents from the previous round of indictments occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those charges too suggest a pattern of abuse and criminal cover up that had been roundly ignored by supervisors for years. This is the catastrophic failure of leadership that the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence described so scathingly in their September 2012 findings and report.

Certainly, a few department members tried to raise red flags. In 2009, Custody division commanders, Robert Olmsted and Stephen Johnson asked for and received reports by Lt. Mark McCorkle and Lt. Stephen Smith, that each delved into the growing number of incidents of force used against inmates, and outlined a troubling lack of accountability, and worse. But, reportedly when Olmsted tried repeatedly to shake department leadership awake, again, those at the top of the LASD adamantly declined to act.

(For the Smith and McCorkle reports go here and start on p. 27. For our previous detailed reporting on Olmsted’s lengthy testimony at the CCJV, go here.)

We know that uses of force in the jails have gone down, and investigations have, at times, been far more rigorous. Assistant Chief Terri McDonald has made some strides. But throughout the department, custody included, under the past regime, accountability has been highly selective. Too often it has been for show, not for real change.

I watched the Los Angeles Police Department go through a such a period of selective accountability, post Rampart, in 2001 and 2002. The result was that officers stopped pro-active policing for fear of being disciplined, and crime actually went up. Nobody was safer.

Then Bill Bratton came in. The department had real leadership. The rules were the rules for everyone. (It wasn’t about whom you knew.) Crime went down. Officer moral rose.

(Just to be clear: we aren’t saying the LAPD is perfect. For example, we agree with the LA Times editorial board that keeping the names secret of those involved in the Torrance officer-involved shootings that occurred during the Dorner nightmare, is not an acceptable stance for the reasons the Times states. Nonetheless, the core culture of the LAPD has fundamentally altered because of clarity of message and action at the top.)

In these very early days, Sheriff Scott has shown strong signs of wishing to do the same.

May it be so.

The LASD presents a unique challenge. It has corrosive factions within its culture that are formidable.


4. INDICTMENTS MOVING UP THE FOOD CHAIN?

And speaking of accountablity, in the case of those indicted this past December for their part in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI and any other federal agents, the failures of leadership were not of omission, but commission. To put it more plainly, the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies criminally indicted in relationship to the Brown operation did not assign themselves to the task of hiding Brown. That little caper was reportedly overseen by either former undersheriff Paul Tanaka or former sheriff Lee Baca (depending upon which one of them you ask). Or both.

And yet it is deputies and sergeants (and two lieutenants) who are facing serious prison time.

With all of the above in mind, we await the next round of indictments and cannot help but hope that at least relatively soon the charges will begin to move further up the ladder of command.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte has stated unequivocally that his office intends to follow the investigations wherever they go.

We are counting on just that.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..JERRY BROWN WANTS SPLIT SENTENCING AND WE DO TOO (AND SO DOES THE LA TIMES)

Governor Jerry Brown was in town late last month telling everyone that they needed to save water (obviously). Equally importantly, he was also meeting with various criminal justice agency heads—probation, the judiciary, the DA’s Office and more—-in the hope of persuading them to get with the program when it comes to the policy of “split sentencing” for many of the AB109 defendants that are now landing in county—not state—supervision.

I talked at length with Probation Chief Jerry Powers after he met with Brown, and he said and his people are totally on board for split sentencing. Certainly all the criminal justice advocates are for it, as is WitnessLA.

So what is split sentencing? Why isn’t it happening? And why should you care?

Sunday’s LA Times editorial explains:

While he was in town late last month to talk with local water agencies and policymakers about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown also had a lower-profile but just as urgent meeting with Los Angeles County’s top criminal justice officials. What is it with you L.A. people, the governor asked, and your resistance to split sentencing?

It’s a good question, even if it requires a bit of explanation. Under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment, low-level felons do their time in county jail instead of state prison, and courts have the option to split their sentences between time behind bars and time under supervised release. An offender sentenced to four years, for example, may get out after only two — but then be subject to another two years of structured reentry into society, with intensive oversight and required participation in drug or mental health treatment, anger management or other such programs. Counties administer those programs, but the state pays for them.

Several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. In Riverside County, for example, 80% of AB 109 felons leave jail for mandatory transition and supervision programs, and early figures suggest lower rates of recidivism. In Los Angeles County, only 6% of felons have their sentences split, and the rest walk out of jail on the final day of their terms subject to no search and seizure, no supervision, no mandatory rehab or services, no management or oversight of any kind.

The problem, explains the Times, is that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are dragging their collective feet because…..well, they can’t really say why. Most defendants don’t want split sentences, they mutter.

Um, really? And so we’re letting the lawbreakers call the shots? Even though every piece of evidence suggests that some enlightened supervision would be—on average—-in the defendants’ and everybody else’s best interest in preventing recidivism, and facilitating success after release?

Mostly, says the times, LA has been slow-dragging on the policy because the judges, lawyers et al are “used to doing things a certain way.”

(Honestly, the resistance to this obviously necessary policy change is about that dumb.)

Jackie Lacey is, at least, putting together a group to study the matter.

As for the rest, like Jerry said, it’s time to get with the program.

Posted in ACLU, District Attorney, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Sheriff Lee Baca | 47 Comments »

OC Supervisors Block Plan to Release and Monitor Low-Risk Felons…Officers Who Shot at Women in Dorner Hunt to Return to Work…California Judges May Be Prohibited from Boy Scout Affiliation

February 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

ORANGE COUNTY SUPES REJECT SHERIFF’S PLAN TO ELECTRONICALLY MONITOR SOME LOW-LEVEL FELONS

The Orange County Board of Supervisors shot down Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ plan to open up the county’s successful electronic monitoring system—which is already being used to monitor those serving time for misdemeanors—to include some inmates serving time for low-risk, non-violent felonies. By releasing certain low-level felons, Hutchens intended to prevent overcrowding in the OC jail system.

The LA Times’ Jill Cowan has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I understand they need to find an alternative to incarceration, and I appreciate the sheriff’s efforts,” Supervisor Janet Nguyen said Tuesday. “But I’m still uncomfortable allowing felons to be out on the street.”

The move came as the county, like many jurisdictions across the state, grapples with a ballooning jail population and scant resources to house inmates.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said her department has struggled to accommodate an influx of inmates from a variety of sources…

Hutchens said there are about 900 more inmates in Orange County’s system as a result of the realignment.

[SNIP]

This week, Hutchens said those home-monitoring programs have been successful, adding that inmates who are being monitored electronically are still technically in custody.

Assistant Sheriff Lee Trujillo told the board Tuesday that the only inmates who would have been eligible for electronic monitoring are “low-risk” felons — those who are nonviolent, with limited criminal records and just days remaining on their sentences.

(Our new LA Sheriff John Scott is on loan from the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., and will be returning to his position as OC’s Undersheriff when our permanent LASD leader is elected.)


OFFICERS WHO MISTAKENLY SHOT AT TWO WOMEN DURING DORNER MANHUNT WILL RETURN TO THEIR JOBS

The eight officers who fired over 100 rounds at two women in a pickup truck during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last February will return to the field after they receive additional training, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Both the civilian police commission and Chief Beck found that the shooting (which injured both women) violated department policy, but no disciplinary action will be taken against the officers involved.

The commission also found the department to be at fault in the incident. President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Tyler Izen, says the officers were “placed into a highly unreasonable and unusually difficult position.”

AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I have confidence in their abilities as LAPD officers to continue to do their jobs in the same capacity they had been assigned,” Beck said in a department message to officers obtained Wednesday night by The Associated Press. “In the end, we as an organization can learn from this incident and from the individuals involved.”

Both the chief and an independent commission found the 2013 shooting that injured two women violated department policy. The seven officers and one sergeant could have faced penalties including being fired.

Other discipline not outlined in the chief’s message could be handed down, police Lt. Andrew Neiman said, but department policy prevents him from discussing it.

Attorney Glen Jonas, who represented the two women who won a $4.2 million settlement from the city, said he was concerned by the chief’s decision not to terminate any of the eight officers.

“If either of the women had been killed, you can bet your bottom dollar somebody would be fired and maybe prosecuted,” Jonas said. “A stroke of luck, firing more than 100 rounds and missing, should not mean the discipline is lighter.”


CALIFORNIA MAY BAN JUDGES FROM BELONGING TO BOY SCOUTS DUE TO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS

The California Supreme Court’s ethics committee unanimously recommended the court forbid judges from affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America, based upon the Boy Scouts’ ban on LGBT leaders. California prohibits judges from being a part of organizations with discriminatory policies, but make an exception for non-profits like the Boy Scouts. The committee will take public comments on the issue until April 15. If the state Supreme Court decide’s to approve the ban, it will go into effect on August 1.

SF Gate’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here’s a clip:

If the court agrees, California will join 21 other states whose judicial ethics codes have antidiscrimination provisions that forbid judges from affiliating with the Boy Scouts.

Banning scout membership would “promote the integrity of the judiciary” and “enhance public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” the ethics committee said Wednesday.

[SNIP]

The panel noted that 22 states, including California, prohibit judges from belonging to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but only California exempts “nonprofit youth organizations” from that prohibition. The state’s high court, which sets judicial ethics standards, adopted that exemption in 1996 to accommodate judges affiliated with the Boy Scouts.

“Selecting one organization for special treatment is of special concern, especially in light of changes in the law in California and elsewhere prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the committee said.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Orange County, Realignment | 2 Comments »

Potential Partnership Between LA County and Homeboy Industries…Supes Address Foster Care Commission Recommendations…ACLU Sues California for Disenfranchising Probationers…and More

February 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES TO EXPLORE PARTNERSHIP WTIH HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

The LA County Board of Supervisors agreed to collaborate with the Chief Probation Officer on a potential partnership with Homeboy Industries. (Last week, we pointed to a story by LA Times’ Steve Lopez regarding Father Greg Boyle’s dire shortage of government funds for Homeboy services.)

The last grant given to Homeboy for tattoo removal and other reentry tools expired last summer, according to the motion submitted by Supervisor Don Knabe.

Here’s a clip from Knabe’s motion:

Homeboy Industries has a proven, academically verified model for breaking the cycle of gang violence that impacts families and communities in very direct and tragic ways. Every day, gang members from all over the County are walking in to Homeboy Industries, asking for help to change their lives. These are often the very same young men and women who have been in the County’s foster care system, have been in and out of our juvenile detention facilities and have been the ones that have “graduated” to County jail or state prison, only to continue the endless cycle of violence and trauma…

I, for one, have been convinced for a long time that if we are serious about helping the most challenged people in our communities and if we are serious about reducing violence and recidivism, then we need to look seriously at a strategic partnership with Homeboy Industries.

We hope that they do work out a partnership that allows Father Greg to maintain Homeboy’s vital services.

(The above photo, which was taken by Homeboy photographer Jerry Condit, shows Father Greg bidding farewell to a homeboy who is moving on to a new job.)


SUPES ONLY MOVE FORWARD WITH TWO FOSTER CARE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON CHILD PROTECTION

The Board of Supervisors also discussed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s preliminary recommendations for reforming a dysfunctional DCFS. The supervisors only agreed on two of the recommendations, and requested a report on the financial feasibility of the other eight recommendations (to be presented to the board in 60 days).

The board did agree on both placing law enforcement officers within DCFS offices to facilitate background checks for potential caregivers, and developing protocols with local law enforcement agencies for reporting alleged child abuse.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The board directed law enforcement agencies to post staff inside offices of the Department of Children and Family Services so background checks for potential foster parents can be completed more quickly during emergency placements.

It also directed them to report all cases of child abuse to other agencies that can help victims.

The board balked when Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas endorsed the commission’s recommendation that nurses accompany social workers investigating allegations of abuse or neglect against infants younger than 1.

By the way, the motion to examine the state of LA County’s juvenile indigent defense system (which we pointed to on Monday) was moved to next Tuesday’s meeting. We’ll keep you updated as we know more.


ACLU SUES CALIFORNIA FOR DENYING REALIGNMENT PROBATIONERS THE RIGHT TO VOTE

The California ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing California Secretary of State Debra Bowen of illegally disenfranchising thousands of voters serving community probation under realignment (AB 109). In 2011, Bowen told election officials that former state prisoners moved to county supervision through realignment were ineligible to vote until their probation ended. Current state law does not address this new category of people, but bans those in prison or on parole from voting.

Here is a clip from the ACLU’s website:

According to the lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the state’s actions clearly violated state law when the secretary of state issued a directive to local elections officials in December 2011 asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision. These are two new and innovative forms of community-based supervision created under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes.

The Secretary of State should be working to increase voter participation, not to undermine it,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “California has dismal rates of voter registration and participation. The Secretary of State is making this even worse by disenfranchising tens of thousands of California citizens who are trying to re-engage with their communities. With voting rights under attack across the nation, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s disappointing decision striking down a critical law that protected the right to vote for people of color and language minorities, California needs more protection – not less – for voting rights.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people who have or will soon lose their right to vote, along with the League of Women Voters of California and All of Us Or None, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families.

The law clearly establishes a presumption in favor of the right to vote, with only limited and specific exceptions,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Secretary of State unilaterally expanded these exceptions, without any public comment or input, disenfranchising thousands of members of our community and creating confusion around the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. This unconstitutional disenfranchisement particularly impacts communities of color, who are too often excluded from the democratic process.”


CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ DISMAL REHABILITATION SITUATION

After receiving proposals from both Gov. Jerry Brown and prisoner advocates, a panel of federal judges is expected to order a solution to California’s prison overcrowding crisis. Gov Brown has until April to lower the prison population by around 6,000 inmates. He has requested a additional deadline extension of two years to meet the population goal through rehabilitation measures (and moving inmates into private prisons), but, as it stands, California has serious issues providing inmates with adequate substance abuse treatment.

In collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Michael Montgomery has the story for KQED’s California Report podcast. Here’s a clip from the transcript, but do go take a listen:

Inside a gleaming white modular building topped with barbed wire, two dozen state inmates are going through a response drill in a class dealing with addiction. Four prisoners lead the session. They’re lifers who earned state certification for substance abuse counseling. This was the scene two years ago at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. The class was part of an innovative program praised for its effectiveness by top corrections officials, treatment experts, and even some Hollywood celebrities…

Hundreds of prisoners got treatment at Solano, and some have been paroled, so it’s not surprising that many people were stunned when officials quietly closed the program last summer…

Solano Prison wasn’t alone. Over the past four years, as state officials talked about the need to expand rehabilitation efforts, enrollment in substance abuse programs plummeted nearly 90%. As of last July, when the Solano program was shut down, just over 1000 inmates were getting treatment—the lowest level in a decade or more.

[SNIP]

Shutting down the program at Solano wasn’t just a budget decision. [CDCR Director of Rehabilitation Programs, Millicent] Tidwell says the closure was part of a plan to move many programs to so-called “re-entry hubs,” places within the prison system designed to prepare inmates for release. Tidwell says finding vendors, hiring staff, and developing space for the new centers is slow and disruptive: “There’s a lot of moving parts…to bring up any effective program takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen overnight.” Problem is, only four of a planned 13 hubs have opened, due to contract disputes and other delays…

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation | No Comments »

Interim Sheriff John Scott is Sworn In as Baca Steps Down…ABC7 Investigates LA Field Deputy’s Duties…and California Prisons Can Learn from San Francisco Jails

January 31st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INTERIM LA SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT TAKES OATH OF OFFICE

Two hours after (now former) Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement went into effect on Thursday, John Scott, the new interim LA County Sheriff, was sworn in. Scott has taken leave as Orange County Undersheriff, and will head the LASD until December when a new sheriff is elected.

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

“What I’d like to do is restore dignity to the department … and restore the trust and confidence to the office,” Scott said.

“I look forward to serving Los Angeles County and doing all that I can in the next 10 months to bring about the appropriate change that is in order, and to see that the next sheriff — the elected sheriff — comes in somewhat seamlessly.”

[SNIP]

He vowed not to be a mere “placeholder” until Baca’s replacement is elected either during the June 3 primary or the Nov. 4th runoff, and is sworn in Dec. 1. He plucked former LASD Division Chief Neil Tyler out of retirement to serve as his second-in-command and had a ready answer when asked about his top priorities.

He plans to ask all the captains to conduct a “SWAT” analysis, so that he can assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within respective bureaus, and to work closely with the jail chief and county budget manager to implement the changes recommended by the blue-ribbon Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

EDITOR’S NOTE: New Sheriff John Scott has just 10 months to make his mark on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. After he took the oath of office on Thursday at Monterey Park Sheriff’s headquarters, he sounded refreshingly clear-eyed about the fact that real changes were required at the department he will now lead, and indicated he felt up to the challenge. Scott was also forthright when asked by reporters about such topics as why he left the LASD in 2005. At that time, he said, he saw the department going in the wrong direction. “I saw inaction and a certain level of neglect,” the new sheriff told ABC-7′s Robert Holguin.

Welcome, Sheriff John Scott!


THREE CIVILIAN FIELD DEPUTIES RESIGN WITH BACA; ABC7 INVESTIGATES (AGAIN)

Three of Lee Baca’s civilian field deputies have retired alongside the former Los Angeles County Sheriff. One of the civilian advisors, Bishop Edward Turner, was relieved of duty after an ABC7 investigation in November found that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across the street from his church.

But the field deputy controversy doesn’t end with Turner.

ABC7 investigated the circumstances of another resigning civilian aid, Michael Yamaki, who took home $171,000 a year. Yamaki seemed to have a questionable working relationship with the super-exclusive Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, and was spotted several times by ABC7 reporters driving his LASD-issued car to and from the golf course. As for his duties as a civilian field deputy, the investigation turned up…not much. Here are some clips:

Yamaki loves the game of golf. He’s appeared on the Golf Channel’s “Golf Central” TV program leading a tour of the legendary Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, where stars like Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg hit the links. And the initial fee just to join the club will set you back a reported $250,000.

Yamaki has been identified in various publications as the “general manager,” the “managing corporate officer” and “chief executive” of the Riviera Country Club.

So we wondered: Is he holding down two jobs?

“No he doesn’t,” said sheriff’s departments spokesman Steve Whitmore. “The only job he has is working for the sheriff’s department. He’s an investor. But he doesn’t have a job there. The only job he has is the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.”

[SNIP]

Michael Yamaki refused to speak with Eyewitness News about this story and we couldn’t get in to see him, because the Riviera is a very private club. But we were able to learn from public records that of the $120,000 worth of gifts Sheriff Baca has received since taking office, there were nine rounds of golf paid for by Yamaki, most at the Riviera Country Club.


LOOKING BACK ON LEE BACA’S 15 YEARS AS HEAD OF THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have a story about the controversial legacy that Lee Baca leaves behind, as John Scott steps in. Here’s how it opens:

For Sheriff Lee Baca, it was a legacy moment. He was on Capitol Hill, testifying before a congressional hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims. Conservative lawmakers were grilling him, pressing him to acknowledge that the Muslim groups he embraced after 9/11 may have had criminal elements.

Baca wasn’t having it.

“We don’t play around with criminals in my world,” he shot back.

With dozens of cameras trained on him, the sheriff made the case that American Muslims were being unfairly persecuted and should be treated as partners, not suspects, in the fight against terror.

The tense exchange in 2011 made national news, burnishing Baca’s image as a lawman who bucked law enforcement stereotypes and embraced a softer side of policing.

Back in Southern California, a different narrative was playing out in his department.

Just two weeks earlier, Baca’s deputies allegedly beat a man visiting his brother in the Los Angeles County jail in an incident that would later result in federal indictments. Baca’s subordinates had recently hired dozens of officers with histories of serious misconduct. And in the Antelope Valley, Baca’s deputies were involved in searches and detentions that federal authorities would later say violated the constitutional rights of black and Latino residents.

Baca’s defense of Muslim Americans on the national stage would turn out to be a high point in his 15-year tenure. Since then, the Sheriff’s Department has been rocked by one scandal after another. And a different take on Baca emerged: a disengaged manager who lacked the managerial skill and sway to get his 18,000-person department to follow his vision.

As a federal investigation into jail brutality grew, Baca admitted he was out of touch.

“People can say, ‘What the hell kind of leader is that?’ The truth is I should’ve known,” Baca said a few months after his triumphant Washington trip…

(Read on…)


WHAT THE OVERFLOWING CALIFORNIA PRISON SYSTEM (AND OTHER CALIFORNIA COUNTIES) CAN LEARN FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO JAIL SYSTEM

While California is desperate for another extension on a federal court order to ease prison overcrowding, the San Francisco jail population has been consistently dropping over the last few years through a more treatment-based approach to incarceration.

Governing Magazine’s Ryan Holeywell has an excellent piece on what California can learn from the San Francisco, several decades after the county faced similar litigation against major overcrowding in its jails.

San Francisco has also taken advantage of realignment funds, using them to bolster their rehabilitation and reentry programs. Some counties have been slow on the uptake, or have used the money to build more facilities to house the state prisoners that were transferred to county custody during realignment.

Here are some clips:

If long prison sentences were a criminal deterrent, [Paul] Henderson [San Francisco Public Safety Director and Deputy Chief of Staff] says, crime would have been nearly eliminated in California long ago, and repeat offenders would be almost nonexistent. That, of course, isn’t the case at all, and it’s why federal judges have ordered California to drastically reduce the number of inmates in state custody. The result has been a dramatic shift in corrections policy called “realignment.” The change came via legislation in 2011 that requires many criminals who previously would have served their sentences in state prison to instead serve them in county jails. Realignment has been painful for local leaders who are charged with huge new responsibilities as they work to prevent their own facilities from eventually confronting the same overcrowding as the state’s prisons.

But it’s also caused many to turn to San Francisco to see if it’s found an approach to criminal justice that should be emulated across the state. That’s largely because in the wake of realignment, the population of San Francisco’s jail is actually declining. It’s the result of a longstanding approach to corrections that predates the state’s crisis. “San Francisco was ahead of the game before realignment ever began,” says Linda Penner, chair of the state’s Board of State and Community Corrections, which oversees county jails. “They had a community that embraced treatment. They had the capacity. And they had the political will. With realignment, they’ve just accelerated and stepped on the gas.”

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco had a head start in dealing with realignment, largely as a result of litigation in the 1980s that challenged overcrowding of its own jails. That prompted an increased focus on evidence-based practices in criminal justice, aimed at using statistics to determine which methods actually succeeded in reducing crime. The thinking was that the city could beat overcrowding, save money and actually increase public safety if it took an approach that was more nuanced than simply throwing the book at offenders. The result: Even in the wake of realignment, the city’s average daily jail population has declined from 1,954 in 2009 to 1,281 today, says Wendy Still, San Francisco’s chief adult probation officer.

Still represents, in many ways, San Francisco’s approach. When she discusses the population of offenders her office supervises, she refers to them as “clients.” It’s jarring, at first, to hear a probation officer describe convicted felons that way, but she says it makes sense. “We know they have needs,” Still says. “Yes, they’re offenders, but our job is to try to assist them.” In San Francisco, the prosecutors, public defenders and judges have all been trained on evidence-based approaches to justice that can help put them on the same page when it comes to sentencing. “We have a lot of cases that go to trial, and we fight over our cases in court,” says Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender. “But where we agree is once a person is convicted of a crime—particularly a person convicted of a low-level felony—the goal is to find the support and services necessary.”

When it’s time for an inmate to leave prison or jail, San Francisco’s counselors find out what’s needed in housing, employment, health care and drug rehabilitation. The probation department has gone as far as picking people up from prisons to help them return to San Francisco. And little steps—like trying not to release people from county jail in the middle of the night when they’re more prone to slip up—have become part of the culture. “Other counties have taken realignment money and invested it in more jails,” Adachi says. “We haven’t done that.” Instead, San Francisco has focused on alternative sentencing and re-entry programs that hook offenders up with drug treatment, education and employment services.

Krisberg, the Berkeley fellow, says the Bay Area warrants attention from other parts of the state. “San Francisco is, in some ways, a road map for how to get organized and do it well,” he says…

Other states are following San Francisco’s lead. Since 2011, at least seventeen states have reduced their prison populations by a combined 35,000, and in 2013, at least six states closed (or considered closing) twenty correctional facilities, according to a report released on Thursday by the Sentencing Project. Here’s a clip from the report’s offerings on California’s prison population actions:

In California, officials opened a new prison that holds more than 1,700 inmates. The California Health Facility in Stockton reportedly cost $839 million to construct and is designed to address the medical and mental health needs of incarcerated persons. The state opened this prison while accounting for the largest share in population declines in 2012. During a 2013 press conference, Governor Jerry Brown estimated that the prison expansion plan would cost $315 million in the short term and total $715 million by 2015.35 Additionally, to deal with continued overcrowding, Governor Brown has proposed sending approximately 12,000 incarcerated persons to private prisons out of state.

A companion report (also released Thursday) detailed 47 important criminal justice policy reforms that were put into effect in 31 states last year—including two in California. (Take a look.)

Posted in CDCR, jail, LASD, prison, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 65 Comments »

Federal Judges to Issue Ruling on CA Prison Pop, from Lockup to Running for CA State Assembly, Split-Sentencing in Contra Costa, and Kelly Thomas

January 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FEDERAL JUDGES PREPARED TO RULE ON HOW CALIFORNIA WILL ALLEVIATE PRISON OVERCROWDING

A federal three-judge panel gave Gov. Jerry Brown and prison advocates until last Friday to come to an agreement on how to comply with the judges’ prison population reduction order. The deadline passed by with no agreement. On Monday, the judges issued an order giving Gov. Jerry Brown and prisoner advocates until Thursday, Jan. 23 to file their respective proposals for compliance, after which the judges will order their own solution. (If this is unfamiliar to you, read more of the backstory here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

The judges Monday gave Brown and lawyers for inmates until Jan. 23 to file proposed terms “to achieve durable compliance” with crowding limits that were to go into effect April 18. They said they will push that ultimate deadline back by however long it takes the jurists to decide their own solution.

That means, for now, California will still be blocked from expanding its contracts with private prison operators for cells out of state. And it means a short delay before Brown and state lawmakers learn if California will need to spend a planned $315 million to expand private prison leases, or just $228 million to keep those lease contracts at their current level. If the crowding deadline is pushed back to 2016, as Brown seeks, the governor pledges to give $81 million of the savings to counties for prisoner rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

In the absence of a deal, Brown revealed last week that he is immediately expanding state parole programs for the frail and elderly, and increasing early release eligibility for some repeat offenders. Those steps would make some 2,200 prisoners eligible for release, but state officials previously told the court they expect only about 440 inmates would actually be freed within the first six months of those programs.

(KQED also reported on this issue and included a copy of the court order.)


Prophet Walker, who, at 16, was sentenced to six years in prison for breaking another boy’s jaw during a fist fight, is now running for California State Assembly, with the help of some serious mentors and supporters (namely “Hangover” producer Scott Budnick and Carol Biondi, commissioner of the LA County Commission for Children and Families) and his own perseverance. Prophet made incredible use of his time in prison (helping to transform the system along the way), and went on to receive an engineering degree from Loyola Marymount upon his release. (WitnessLA met Prophet, and found him quite impressive.)

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Cohn has Walker’s cheering story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Here are some clips:

His mother was a heroin addict, and his neighborhood was filled with racial strife between blacks and Hispanics. Walker, the son of a white mother and black father, got into fights often, believing that physical violence was the key to his survival. One day while ditching school, Walker and his friends got into a fight with a group of Hispanic teenagers. Walker fractured another boy’s jaw, and was arrested. Then 16, he was tried as an adult and convicted of assault causing great bodily harm. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

But this is a story of hope and redemption, not despair, one that links the disparate worlds of Los Angeles’ ghetto neighborhoods with the glamour of Hollywood. It is the story of how Walker, with the help of movie producer Scott Budnick (“The Hangover”) and his own fierce determination, overcame his difficult circumstances and transformed his life into a success story.

“Prophet is truly an extraordinary person,” says Carol Oughton Biondi, a commissioner of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families and a director of the Washington, D.C.-based Children’s Defense Fund. “He will excel at anything he wants to do. He is the real, real deal.”

Walker’s transformation began while still in prison. With Budnick as his mentor, he participated in a program called InsideOUT Writers, which uses creative writing to help currently and formerly jailed young adults transform their lives. He earned his high school degree while behind bars, but that was only the beginning.

He helped devise a Youthful Offender Pilot Program to allow juvenile offenders to pursue an education in safer settings, such as medium-security prison, rather than being thrown in high-security prisons that offered few opportunities. Budnick helped persuade state prison officials to adopt the pilot program, which has since been expanded.

After being released from prison, Walker graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in engineering, helped design an innovative robotic garage in Santa Monica and became a project manager for Morley Builders, a prominent southern California construction company. And today Walker, now 26 years old and the father of an 8-year-old daughter, is running for the California state Assembly from the 64th district, which represents Carson, Compton, Watts, Wilmington and North Long Beach.

[SNIP]

Carol Biondi says that Walker’s background – and the fact that he has overcome his past – could actually be more of an asset than a liability in his race for the Assembly seat in the 64th District.

“I honestly think it’s mostly an asset because the mass incarceration of men in his district is out of control,” says Biondi. “The fact that he went [to prison], and really shouldn’t have for a fight, is outrageous. He was never gang involved. It was his first offense. He was an honor student. He holds absolutely no bitterness or anger about it and takes responsibility for his action. And he showed courage throughout his time there. But most important, he triumphed over the experience. Every mother either has a son who is or was on probation, is or has been locked up or lives in fear he will be. They all have husbands, brothers or cousins that are in the system. He is the hope for all of them.”


CONTRA COSTA COUNTY’S SUCCESSFUL USE OF SPLIT-SENTENCING FOR AB 109′ERS

Contra Costa County uses split-sentencing (where sentences are divided into part jail time, part probation) for most of its realignment cases. Preliminary data shows that while Contra Costa is seeing fewer than 25% of its probationers returning to jail, almost two-thirds of state parolees reoffend.

LA and other counties that have under-utilized split sentencing, thus far, but Gov. Brown’s proposed budget would set aside money for split-sentencing. That budget banks on the federal panel of judges giving the state a two-year deadline reprieve on reducing the prison population.

Sara Hossaini has the story for KQED’s California Report. Here’s a clip from the transcript, but do go take a listen:

…The county leads the state in so-called “split-sentencing.” Other counties, like LA and Fresno, have been slower to try this approach, even though it’s the lynchpin of California’s 2011 prison realignment law, AB 109. John Kennedy is a district judge for Contra Costa County. He says the county decided pretty early on that split-sentencing would be their focus: “We have to design a sentence that is going to be most effective in deterring recidivism. We think that it’s been helpful to have everybody working together, because, as you know, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea agreement.”


JURY FINDS FULLERTON OFFICERS NOT GUILTY IN KELLY THOMAS CASE — FBI MAY INVESTIGATE FURTHER

On Monday, an Orange County jury acquitted two former Fullerton police officers in the beating to death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man. The FBI says they will examine the trial evidence to decide whether further investigation is needed.

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel and Robert J. Lopez have the latest on this story.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation, Realignment, Sentencing | No Comments »

Head of LA Anti-Gang Dept. Resigns…Realignment, “Flash” Arrests, and the Battle Against Recidivism…and More

January 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUILLERMO CESPEDES TO LEAVE POST AS “ANTI-GANG CZAR,” AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR LA

Director of LA’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Guillermo Cespedes—whose innovative gang violence reduction efforts were considered an integral element in the city’s crime decrease over his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, and in helping kids stay out of gangs altogether—will be resigning this Thursday. Cespedes will be taking a position at Creative Associates International, in the organization’s crime and violence prevention division for Honduras and El Salvador.

On Thursday’s Air Talk, Frank Stoltze (filling in for Larry Mantle) talks to Cespedes, along with LA City Councilman and Chair of Public Safety Committee, Joe Buscaino, and UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap, about Cespedes’ move, his legacy and what the future holds for gang intervention in LA.

Here are a few clips from the highlights:

[Cespedes] On why he is leaving his post as anti-gang czar:

“I think that for me this is a natural evolution of the work that we’ve done in LA. It’s sort of interesting that people are framing it as me leaving LA, rather than the work is evolving. To me it’s a logical next chapter.

“Most of this started back in 2011, I was called into an officer involved shooting in Rampar/Pico-Union, a 17-year-old got killed, he happened to be gang-involved. I’m giving the mother the news and about 14 members of his family. She says to me, ‘I need to call his father and give him the news’…It dawned on me that she was calling El Salvador. I went back to the office and said to the staff that our concept of a grid zone is much larger than what we think, and probably about three months later I made my first trip to El Salvador. The motivation for it was to connect the work that we’re doing here with I think very important work that is being done there and those two elements need to connect.

[SNIP]

[Cespedes] On the basis of his programs to reduce gang violence:

Number one, you have to engage the people who are perpetrating the violence if you want to reduce violence. You cannot put up a lightbulb and hope that lighting up the neighborhood is going to reduce violence. You have to physically engage in an ethical way with the people who are perpetrating the violence. Number two, I believe we have to focus on behavior, not identity. We learned that from LAPD that blanketing a neighborhood based on a person’s identity backfired all through the ’70s, the ’80s and the ’90s. You have to look at specific behavior, who i perpetrating that behavior, not the entire neighborhood.

“Statistically, what we know from empirical data is little at 3 percent and as high as 15 percent of youth living in those marginalized communities…will likely become gang members… We used to think of dangerous neighborhoods, we used to think of youth violence, as if that came with the term, youth. I think if we look at data, this might not be the most violent generation of youth in decades, but yet youth violence seems to be like a first and last name… In LA we really had to break apart some assumptions, including what we think a family is.”

[SNIP]

[Buscaino] We’re excited…to work with the new mayoral administration and expanding the success of the grid program, as well as working forward with the county, and improving coordination and communication amongst the departments…

[SNIP]

[Jorja Leap] I do think there’s work to do… And I think we’ve got to look at reentry. We’ve got AB109—we’ve got prison realignment—and I think this is going to be a challenge…let’s celebrate the success, but let’s look to sustaining it. We need to stay the course.

(There’s a lot more, so be sure to go listen to the rest.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WLA are fans of Cespesdes and are sorry to see him go—even though we know that LA’s loss will be Central America’s gain.


LA COUNTY’S STRUGGLE AGAINST RECIDIVISM, POST-REALIGNMENT

Since realignment began two years ago, and thousands of state prisoners were put under county oversight, LA County’s Probation Dept. has made considerable efforts to reduce recidivism. It has been no simple task.

One tactic the department has utilized, with mixed success, “flash” incarceration, allows probation officers to send supervision-violators to jail for up to ten days. Before realignment, probation-violators were usually sent back to state prison, which was expensive, mostly ineffective, and jammed the prison system.

So far, the new methods have had a small measurable success against rearrests, but the probation department has struggled to break the jail cycle. In December, nearly 20% of the realignment probationers had a current arrest warrant for absconding.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

Though hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state funding has been allocated to the county for the realignment program, local officials say it’s not enough to lock up, rehabilitate and keep track of the expanded population of criminals. Moreover, they contend that most of those the state indicated would be non-serious offenders have been assessed by local law enforcement officers to be high risks for committing new crimes.

[SNIP]

Use of the new ["flash" incarceration] tactic in Los Angeles County jumped nearly 300% in the second year of realignment to 10,000 “flash” arrests, a county analysis shows. Nearly half of those ex-inmates were incarcerated two or more times, with one jailed 13 times.

About 60% of a group of 500 felons shifted to county supervision in the first year of realignment were arrested for new crimes or violating probation — slightly higher than the 56% recidivism rate for former state prisoners overall, according to data from county and state studies.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state’s corrections department, noted that those statistics show a slight reduction in rearrests of former prison inmates. That is cause to be “cautiously optimistic” that the program will disrupt cycles of crime in the future, he said.

However, the figures also show more churning through the jail system among ex-prisoners like Azevedo. Since realignment began, the proportion of former state inmates arrested four or more times in the first year after their release increased from 7% to 12%.

That’s partly the result of an increasing reliance on flash jail stays. They are seen as a less costly and less severe option for getting nonviolent offenders off the street — and getting probationers to change their behavior — than longer sentences that exacerbate overcrowding in county jails.

Supporters of realignment say the mini-sentences appear to be working: Most felons jailed for the short terms haven’t been rearrested on similar violations. They also note that repeat offenders can be sentenced to three months in jail.

[SNIP]

“If there’s anything we can do while they’re sitting in the county jail, a captive audience, to keep them from absconding when those gates are opened, we’re going to do it,” said county Probation Department Assistant Chief Margarita Perez, whose agency sought a lead role in realignment and is getting $80 million for the program this year.

Ultimately, prison reform advocates and state officials predict the new system will encourage alternatives to incarceration, allow offenders to be near their families and help them break drug habits and patterns of criminal behavior that return them to state prison.

So far, that hasn’t worked for Azevedo, 27, a self-described third-generation street gang member whose criminal history began when he was a child in the small northern Orange County city of Placentia…

After leaving Calipatria State Prison in April 2012, Azevedo ignored a requirement to report to an L.A. county probation officer and went back to the streets in Pacoima, where a girlfriend waited.

He was flash incarcerated six times and had his probation revoked four of those times. After each release from jail, he fled from county supervision…


THE IMPORTANCE OF REHABILITATION OUTSIDE OF JUVENILE CAMPS

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a worthwhile story about the finite value of juvenile camps and the new and welcome shift of focus toward youths’ reentry into the community. Here’s a clip:

L.A.’s Deputy Probation Chief Felicia Cotton says even when kids are successful in camp, once they go home, they often fall back to old behaviors.

“You’ll hear many people, and even parents that come to us and say, ‘hey take this kid and when we get him back, he’s going to be perfect,’” Cotton says. “Camp is not a cure-all.”

This belief – that camp is of limited value – is a cultural shift that’s growing inside L.A. County’s Probation Department. Now, Cotton says, camp is seen more as an intervention that momentarily plucks a kid from their ecosystem and tries to give them the skills to deal with whatever caused the behavior that led to detention.

“Because the real rehabilitation comes when they get in their natural ecology,” Cotton says.

Under a policy change being implemented over the past few months, more and more attention goes into planning for life back in the community. Each child leaving camp now has a team to plan his or her transition.


A SMALL UPDATE FROM THE LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN-FRONT

Downtown News named sheriff-hopeful Bob Olmsted in their top seven Los Angeles political figures to watch in 2014, saying that if Olmsted “raises enough cash and gains steam, he could topple the king [Sheriff Lee Baca].”

Read about Olmsted and the other expected movers and shakers of 2014 here, at the top of page two.

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

Former Boston Prosecutor Gets Self Arrested in NY to Examine System…..Sheriff Admits to 80 Bad Hires, Talks Reform….LA County Plans to Lobby CA for Realignment $$$.

December 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FORMER BOSTON PROSECUTOR GETS SELF ARRESTED TO LOOK INSIDE THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, DOESN’T LIKE WHAT HE SEES

Former Boston prosecutor Bobby Constantino decided to find out first hand what New York’s criminal justice system looked like from the perspective of a lawbreaker, and if he—as an upscale-looking white guy—would be treated differently than someone who looked less affluent and/or was non-white.

The answers Constantino got are both interesting to read and disturbing.

Here are some clips from Constantino’s story, written for the Atlantic.

Ten years ago, when I started my career as an assistant district attorney in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, I viewed the American criminal justice system as a vital institution that protected society from dangerous people. I once prosecuted a man for brutally attacking his wife with a flashlight, and another for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub. I believed in the system for good reason.

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.

[LARGE CLIP]

I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me” on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.

As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.

I woke up the next morning and Fox News was reporting that unknown suspects had vandalized City Hall. I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done…

[BIG SNIP]

In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge—in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him—went over the prosecutor’s head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.

At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.

“Wait, what?” I blurted out. “This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?”

“Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.”

After the orientation, I went straight to my probation officer and requested permission to spend Christmas with my family in Massachusetts. I listened in disbelief as she denied my request—I’d worked with probation departments in several states, and I knew that regular family contact has been shown to reduce recidivism. My probation officer also refused to let me go home for Easter and birthdays……

Read the whole thing.


SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SAYS IT MADE 80 BAD HIRES, WILL REFORM HIRING PRACTICES, BLAMES BAD CHOICES ON PEOPLE CONVENIENTLY RETIRED

In a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca explained to the board members the broad strokes of the hiring practices that resulted in a list of questionable hires three years ago when the department merged with LA County’s Office of Public Safely—or OPS—and was asked to absorb what officers it could from that small county police force.

According to an LA Times investigation into the matter, out of 290 new hires, around 100 were inappropriate candidates for law enforcement. Some were droppingly inappropriate. like, for example, the woman who had a fight with her husband then, in a fit of pique, blasted away at the man with her service weapon as he frantically ran a zig-zag-pattern in order to dodge her bullets.

The supervisors were not at all thrilled with Baca’s one-and-a-quarter-page letter, which did not answer many of the question that the board deemed pertinent—namely how in the world did this happen? The letter mostly blamed the hires on retired undersheriff Larry Waldie. This was not an explanation that the board members appeared to find satisfying, particularly Supervisor Antonovich who made a motion that Baca be required to report again to the board in two weeks.

In the meantime, LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston talked to Assistant Sheriff Todd Rodgers about the matter and Rogers said that he and the sheriff admit that there had been 80 bad hires, but that reforms were being put into place to prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore reiterated to WitnessLA that former undersheriff Larry Waldie had been an extra layer in addition to the usual hiring protocols, and it was he who made the improper hiring selections.

“The sheriff takes full responsibility, and has decreed that we will do what is necessary to reform the system,” said Whitmore. “But it was Undersheriff Waldie who was in charge of that project.”

Former LASD commander Bob Olmsted, who is running against Baca in the 2014 sheriff’s race, said that from what he knows of the situation, the problems with department hiring practices are “systemic,” and not limited to merely those 80-100 problem hires from the OPS.

Olmsted also said he’d spoken to another retired undersheriff who told him that the sheriff would have had to sign off any and all people hired from the county police.

“All the paperwork absolutely would have gone straight to the sheriff,” Olmsted said.

AND FOR ONE MORE TAKE ON THIS ISSUE:

In an LA Times editorial about the bad hires that ran on Tuesday morning before the board meeting, editorial board member Rob Greene writes that the hiring issues point to other problems in the department.

Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca had his hands full last week responding to the arrests of 18 of his current and former deputies amid a continuing investigation into abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County’s jails, so let’s hope he hasn’t forgotten that he is due to report today on the previous week’s scandal: the hiring of dozens of deputies with personnel records that showed lying, cheating, excessive force and irresponsible use of firearms.

The two matters aren’t related in any formal sense; none of those arrested Dec. 9 was among the group that moved over to the Sheriff’s Department in 2010 when the county’s public safety police force was dissolved. But it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to recognize a link between bad hiring practices and bad deputy conduct, especially if the sheriff’s hiring of those 280 public safety officers three years ago followed standard policy….


LA COUNTY TO LOBBY FOR MORE REALIGNMENT MONEY FROM STATE & PROBATION CHIEF POWERS OUTLINES PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES 2 YEARS IN

The serendipitously-named Luke Money of the Santa Clarita Signal reports about LA County’s determination to get a larger slice of California’s realignment dollars. Here’s a clip:

With state savings likely totaling more than $2 billion and county resources strained to provide adequate services for thousands of offenders, county supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to dole out more dough to fund the cost of the controversial state prison realignment program.

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided during their meeting Tuesday to request more funding from the state to help supplement services that have been strained by an influx of inmates under the 2011 law, which shifted responsibility for some criminals from the state to counties.

“Realignment resulted in a 25 percent increase in the jail population over the first two years of the program,” reads a board report. “The population count was 15,463 on Sept. 30, 2011, and 19,225 on Sept. 30, 2013.”

The state will likely save in excess of $2 billion as a result of realignment, according to Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, while sending out less than $1 billion to California’s 58 counties to help offset the cost of the prisoner shift.

AND… PROBATION CHIEF JERRY POWERS REPORTS ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF REALIGNMENT IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, Probation Chief Jerry Powers presented an extensive two-year report on how realignment is going in LA County, which Powers said, gets 30 percent of the realignment prisoners. Among his points, Powers outlined some parts of the county’s approaches to the realignment challenges that are beginning to succeed, such as the use of “flash incarceration,” short jail terms of around 10 days, that are used for small infractions instead of parole revocation.

Allison Pari of KHTS AM Radio has more on Powers’ lengthy and comprehensive report:

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers opened the report by explaining that L.A. County is currently the only county in the state that has created a year two report on the results of AB 109.

He and the other presenters also emphasized that some of the data from year two is not complete, because those offenders released during 2013 may not have completed their probation or treatment.

During the first two years, more than 18,000 prisoners were released into the county under the Post-Release Community Supervision program, but the active probation population peaked at 10,300, according to the Probation Department’s full report, available here.

Powers said that of those 18,000 who have gone through the program so far, 1,900 have outstanding warrants, a similar ratio to other counties in the state.

He also said that flash incarcerations have significantly increased between years one and two–from more than 2,500 to more than 9,700–primarily because the Probation Department has become more comfortable with using this method of dealing with probation violators.

Flash incarcerations are seven to 10 day sentences given to AB 109 offenders for technical violations, such as failing to report to their probation officer.

Concerning recidivism, Powers said that the percentage of rearrests has been cut in half between years one and two– 43 percent rearrested vs. 21 percent rearrested…

Posted in Board of Supervisors, CDCR, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy, Realignment | 9 Comments »

California DOJ’s New Recidivism Branch, New Report on Juvenile Isolation, and Ohio’s False Confession Saga

November 22nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA AG HARRIS LAUNCHES INITIATIVE TO FIGHT RECIDIVISM

California AG Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that she will be spearheading a new division of the California DOJ to research the state’s sky-high recidivism rates and to bring in grant money to expand effective programs across county lines. (Way to go, Kamala!)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Her overall message was that, thus far, the system has been more focused on tradition than outcomes. She pointed out the state’s notoriously high incidence of former prisoners committing new crimes within three years of release – referred to as the “recidivism” rate. Recidivism in California has hovered above 60 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 67 percent in recent years.

“If we were talking about a business that had a failure rate of that number, we would reorganize, we would reexamine and we would guide our approach by a well proven method which asks us to think about what is the return on our investment,” Harris said.

Instead, she said, the system’s been all about “business as usual,” meaning that it is dependent on imprisoning repeat wrongdoers, at a cost of about $47,000-per-year, per prison inmate. Harris said cutting the recidivism rate by just 10 percent could save the state $233 million annually.

The attorney general said that a new division of the state’s DOJ – which will be paid for with current resources – will act as a clearing house for aggregating data and reports on innovative, successful programs around the state. DOJ staff will also help local law enforcement agencies find grants to fund such projects and develop technology to bring law enforcement into the digital age.

“You’d be shocked at how obsolete we are,” Harris said.

Rina Palta also reported Harris’ new initiative in Thursday’s California Report episode, linking it to realignment. Here’s a clip from the transcript:

When realignment rolled out two years ago, the hope was that counties would develop innovative ways of handling such offenders. The problem, Harris said, is no one’s been tracking any of that progress.

[Harris:] Why not take advantage of what we can do—look at the issues statewide, and then highlight the best practices capable of replication?

Harris said her first task will be creating a way of measuring recidivism rates in each county.

Even the seemingly minor task of establishing a state-wide definition of recidivism will be an important undertaking for the division. Here’s a small clip from the Associated Press:

“We have a huge state with 58 counties with 58 different ways of doing things,” said Dean Flippo, president of the California District Attorneys Association, who added there may be 58 definitions of recidivism.

“How do we measure if every one of us are measuring under something different?” he asked.


YOUTH SOLITARY IS NOT A TRIP TO THE “REFLECTION COTTAGE” OR A “TIME OUT,” SAYS ACLU

The ACLU released a new report on juvenile solitary confinement this week detailing the crushing mental, physical, and developmental effects isolation has on young people, in particular. Here’s a clip from the report’s accompanying article:

“I developed techniques to survive. I’ve learned to play chess with other [kids] through a six-inch wall to keep myself occupied. But for others, it breaks them, makes them either violent or suicidal.”

These are the words of Lino Silva, who had been incarcerated in a juvenile facility for over seven years when she wrote them. The “it” she mentions is solitary confinement, a practice that juvenile facilities routinely use on the approximately 70,000 kids in this country who are in their care on any given day.

For Lino, the conditions of solitary were so devastating she believes many of the kids subjected to it will not be able to “function anywhere other than adult prison.” She writes:

Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag.

For children, a short time alone may sometimes be necessary to defuse a moment of crisis. But this does not give license to juvenile facilities to hide their practice of subjecting kids to prolonged isolation behind seemingly innocuous euphemisms like “time out,” “room confinement,” “restricted engagement,” or a trip to the “reflection cottage.” These terms mask the fact that hours of isolation can be extremely damaging to young people.

The report also calls on lawmakers and detention facilities to ban solitary confinement of minors and to collect meaningful data on use of isolation practices. Here’s a clip from the report:

Solitary confinement of children under 18 should be banned. This practice can be ended by state legislators, local officials, and juvenile facility administrators. Other, shorter-term isolation practices should be strictly limited and regulated because of their harmful and traumatic effect on children and because they are often accompanied by other serious deprivations (like denial of education).Children should never be subjected to any practice that involves significant levels or durations of physical or social isolation. Isolation should only be used as an emergency measure and for as short a duration as necessary. Separation practices to protect, manage, or discipline youth should be used sparingly and should never rise to the level of solitary confinement…

Governments rarely systematically collect data on the use of solitary confinement or other isolation on young people in juvenile detention facilities—or make public what is available. Reforms to solitary confinement and isolation practices must be accompanied by monitoring of isolation practices, recording of data, and public reporting about policies and practices as well as data about their use. Such transparency is necessary to give public and elected officials, and the general public, the information required to meaningfully engage in debate and appropriate oversight.


CHICAGO’S HISTORY OF KIDS’ NIGHTMARISH FALSE CONFESSIONS

Cook County, Illinois—Chicago, in particular—has the most proven false confessions in the entire United States. (For our previous post on 60 Minutes’ “false confession capital” story, go here.)

Steve Drizen, a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern, and his colleagues, turned up 18 shockingly detailed contaminated confessions from juveniles from 1986 to 1999 in Cook County. In a story for the Huffington Post, Drizen says his prior assumption that all false confessions were accidental, resulting from shoddy police-work, is long-gone. Here are some clips:

Many of Cook County’s false confessions have involved juvenile offenders. My colleagues and I at Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth have documented at least 18 false confessions from children under the age of 18 between 1986 and 1999. All of these false confessions were to murders, rape-murders, or rapes. All of the false confessors were black.

Most of these false confessions were highly detailed, often containing facts of the crime that had not been released to the public and thus could only have been known by the true perpetrators. The fact that these juveniles supposedly knew this “inside information” became the centerpiece of the State’s cases and the main reason why most of the defendants who took their cases to trial were wrongfully convicted.

Because DNA and other evidence has proven them innocent, we now know that these defendants did not have specialized knowledge of the crimes to which they confessed. Police officers and prosecutors contaminated their confessions by feeding the details to them.

Law professors who have studied false confession cases, including me, have suggested that contamination is inadvertent, the result of sloppy police interrogation practices like using leading questions, showing suspects crime scene photos, or taking them to visit crime scenes. Such tactics leak details to innocent suspects who use them to cobble together seemingly credible confessions after their wills have been broken by hours of coercive questioning. But after reviewing the content of some of Cook County’s juvenile false confessions, I am no longer persuaded that all such contamination is accidental.

In Cook County’s juvenile false confession cases, police officers and prosecutors have taken confession contamination to a new level. Not only did they feed facts to suspects, they scripted entire narratives for them. These story lines often contained false characterizations of the crimes, the defendants and their motives and even made-up bits of dialogue between the defendants that were clearly designed to demonize the juvenile defendants, inflame the passions of jurors, and ensure that jurors would convict them.

And here are two disturbing accounts of kids’ contaminated confessions (but do go read the others):

In April 1997, 14-year-old Don Olmetti confessed to shooting to death a Chicago school teacher in the school’s parking lot — a confession later proven false when evidence showed that Olmetti was sitting in class at the time of the crime. At Olmetti’s bond hearing, a Cook County prosecutor, pointing to Olmetti’s confession, urged the court to deny him bond, arguing that Olmetti lacked remorse because he “took the bus home afterward to take a nap and watch cartoons.”

This same cartoon-watching callousness appeared again a year or so later in August 1998 in perhaps Chicago’s most infamous juvenile false confession case. In that case, a Chicago detective obtained a confession from a 7-year-old boy in which implicated himself and his 8-year-old friend in the murder and sexual assault of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. According to the detective, the boy said that after killing her, he “rode his bike home and watched cartoons.”

But Illinois is working to prevent future false confessions:

The good news is that Illinois has taken steps to fix the problem of confession contamination. Laws requiring the electronic recording of the entire interrogation of all homicides and other serious felonies will now expose contamination if it exists and allow judges and jurors to see what, if any, details were fed to unknowing suspects.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Innocence, juvenile justice, Realignment, Reentry, solitary | 1 Comment »

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