Friday, December 9, 2016
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Orange County Wraparound Program Slashes Youth Recidivism by Focusing on Mental Health – by Sara Tiano

December 5th, 2016 by witnessla

Manuel Dircio and Jesus Vasquez, both 20, are star alumni of the Youthful Offender Wraparound in Orange County, California


By Sara Tiano

Manuel Dircio, 20, a business administration student at Fullerton College boasts a 4.0 GPA.

He is also a recovering alcoholic with a history of arrest and incarceration in juvenile detention — not quite what you’d expect from a seemingly model college student with a stellar grade point.

Dircio credits the Youthful Offender Wraparound program (YOW), which he says “helped [him] grow successfully.” It’s what’s known as a full-service partnership (FSP) in Orange County, California, that uses a nontraditional approach to help kids identified as having “complex needs.”

Dircio was a dual status kid, meaning he had been been under the supervision of both the county’s child welfare system and the juvenile justice system. Dual status or “crossover youth” have higher rates of detention and recidivism than other justice system-involved youth. They are also statistically more likely to develop substantial behavioral health needs, according to a 2014 report from the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice.

Knowing his situation, Dircio’s probation officer referred him to the YOW program. The referral enabled YOW to get in touch with Dircio while he was still locked up in Orange County’s juvenile hall. Then 18, he had been living in a group home in the foster care system for two years after being under his older brother’s guardianship from age 9.

“It was a disaster,” Dircio said of his life prior to enrolling in YOW and getting sober. “It was horrible. I was drinking, smoking drugs, not going to school, not having a job.”

The fact that Dircio turned 18 while incarcerated meant he’d aged out of the foster care system. Thus, he would have nowhere to go once released. The fact that he had been struggling with alcohol and drugs — and getting into legal trouble for it — made the situation worse. When YOW entered the picture, they paid for Dircio to move into a private sober living treatment center.

After moving into that facility’s stable environment, he started working on recovery from substance abuse and eventually found a job on his own. Though it wasn’t Dircio’s first attempt at sobriety, this time it stuck.

“I tried alone, and I failed miserably,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh. “Once I decided to actually start accepting the help, and accepting advice from positive people, that’s when I started making that change.” Now Dircio works while keeping up his grades, and sometimes does outreach with YOW for kids with difficult family circumstances who are starting to get into trouble as he did.

Dircio’s success story is an emblematic example of what YOW was designed to accomplish: promoting the positive development of juvenile justice-involved youth who struggle with mental health diagnoses, substance use disorders and histories of trauma by providing a variety of supports to manage these challenges.

“Why we’re here is to look at the underlying reasons why they are participating in the delinquent and criminal behaviors,” said Hether Benjamin, director of youth development for Community Service Programs (CSP), the nonprofit that operates YOW.

Orange County’s FSPs are intensive treatment programs that coordinate a unique menu of mental health services for each client to address individualized needs. YOW is one of 12 programs run by CSP that incorporate shelter services, crime victim assistance, youth development programs, comprehensive support for at-risk youth, conflict resolution and community education programs.

Once enrolled, YOW clients have access to an array of positive, proactive services that may seem unconventional, but are all aimed at addressing the causal mental health issues at play.

YOW’s game and rec rooms add appeal to the guidance center, and also provide a space for clients to have informal, lower-pressure therapy sessions with their counselors, Hether Benjamin says.


YOW is available to 16- to 25-year-old Orange County residents who have both a mental health diagnosis and a history with the county’s juvenile justice system. It provides traditional individual, family and group therapy, along with substance abuse treatment and anger management. In addition, YOW offers skill-building opportunities, like computer tutorials, career and education guidance, as well as job interview outfits.

The atmosphere inside YOW’s Fountain Valley strip-mall guidance center is a lot warmer than the formal listing of its services might suggest. There youths have access to a couple of game rooms with air hockey and ping pong, access to art supplies and musical instruments, culinary arts classes and fitness classes, like yoga and jiujitsu.

According to YOW staff, this array of activities accomplishes two goals: creating a safe, healthy space where the kids actually want to spend time, and using unconventional techniques to provide services without the kids necessarily even knowing they’re getting help.

“Everything we do is tied into alleviating the symptoms that led to the behavior that got them incarcerated,” Benjamin said.

Even the rec rooms serve a double purpose at YOW, according to Benjamin. They’re crucial to creating the nonthreatening, living room environment the administration hopes to achieve, while also serving as informal therapy rooms.

When clients are having a bad day and can’t sit through a therapy session, Benjamin explained, they’ll come talk with staff over foosball and have the counseling session without realizing it. YOW offers laundry facilities that clients can sign up to use — and often they wind up chatting with their coordinator on the couch while they wait for their clothes.

The idea is that the more relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere will make the treatment more organic and accessible, in contrast to the conventional “therapeutic dose” of 50 minutes per week with a clinician. The center—which is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.—is designed to encourage clients to drop in anytime the need or whim strikes, rather than just during scheduled appointments.

“Having those quick interactions of ‘Hey, how’s it going,’ or ‘Hey, do you want to go get something to eat’ … those are what I think makes the biggest difference,” said YOW Program Director Amy Sutherland. It is also what differentiates the program “from traditional therapy,”

Hether Benjamin, director of youth development (left), and YOW Program Director Amy Sutherland say unconventional thinking and interagency collaboration are keys to YOW’s success.

Jesus Vasquez, another YOW alumnus, said this kind of daily support, even hourly, if needed, was pivotal to his recovery process. He described himself as an outcast in his own family and said the only time he ever got attention was when he would get arrested. Before enrolling in YOW, Vasquez said he “didn’t know where to turn” when he had bad days.

“They were always there for me, every single person. They always had something positive to say,” Vasquez, 21, said of the guidance center staff. “If it was my old friends they’d tell me, ‘Come on, man, you need a drink,’ and that’s what I don’t need anymore.”

‘They never gave up on us’

What further differentiates YOW from other juvenile diversion models, according to Vasquez and other YOW graduates, is that the positive support system didn’t disappear or punish him when he had a setback in his recovery process, he said. Vasquez told about the time he showed up at the guidance center one morning after having gotten into trouble the night before, sobbing because he thought he’d forfeited all the progress he’d worked so hard to make.

Instead — according to Sutherland, who was part of the crisis intervention team that morning — nearly half a dozen staff members rallied around Vasquez, telling him, “OK, let’s problem solve. What needs to be done?”

Vasquez was briefly reincarcerated due to his bad night. “But he knew we weren’t going to go anywhere in that time,” Benjamin added. “We visited him, continued our treatment plan with him, in custody.”

Clients who return to YOW after getting into trouble again are welcomed with open arms and lots of encouragement, Benjamin said.

It’s a sign that they had a good enough experience the first time to reach back out and try again, agreed Sutherland. Some clients need to return two or three times.

“If they relapse, go back into incarceration, well then, it wasn’t this time — it’s the next time. We get excited that they call again,” Benjamin explained. It’s all about resiliency, building on strengths and creating positive reframes around struggles past and present, she said.

And the strategy works. According to CSP, YOW and the organization’s other youth development programs have succeeded in reducing recidivism: Clients exhibit, on average, a 75 percent decrease in episodes of incarceration, as well as a 91 percent decrease in days homeless and a 94 percent decrease in episodes of psychiatric hospitalization compared to their lives before joining the program.

YOW started in 1972 as a collaborative study with the University of California, Irvine’s social ecology department to divert youth who were going to juvenile hall for minor offenses such as curfew violations. YOW serves an average of 250 clients each year.


YOW’s often-invoked motto is “Whatever it takes,” which means several things in the YOW playbook. It refers both to a policy of flexibility in treatment options, and a promise of an individualized, adaptive service plan. It also gives the message to the clients of what Benjamin and other staff call “sovereignty.”

YOW’s clients are both “partners and consumers” in their treatment plan, Benjamin said. “They have just as much say as the county of Orange does, as the probation officer does. Because it’s their life.”

Sutherland says giving the patients power in their treatment goes a long way in making them more receptive. The people in YOW have “been dictated to for so long,” she said, and they shut down when they start being told what to do. YOW coordinators “work alongside” the clients, allowing them to focus on the issues they want to address, in the way they want to address them, ultimately working toward the goals they want to achieve.

“If they’re having a horrible time managing their mood and they can stabilize that by running on a treadmill, doing a punching bag, we will pay for a gym membership. There’s a mental health need for that service,” Benjamin said. “Tattoo removal. If those tattoos are preventing them from having self-esteem, good body image, getting a job, being looked at seriously by other peers, we will help them remove those tattoos if that’s what they want.”

Vasquez is among the clients who have benefited from this particular offering.

Services such as culinary arts classes serve as life skills training, job skills training and a form of art therapy, according to Amy Sutherland.


YOW is able to provide their level of specialized service via flexible funds designated for individualized services and supports. Funding originates through the mental health services 1 percent tax on California residents earning $1 million or more annually. The money is distributed through county governments. In Orange County, the OC Mental Health Care Agency “takes those dollars and specializes it down to these really underserved populations,” Sutherland said.

That a program like this is being funded with mental health dollars is noteworthy, according to Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit juvenile justice research group. There’s been a “big push” for systems integration, in which the juvenile justice, child welfare, mental health and education departments share information and resources, she said.

According to Sickmund, systems integration represents a hopeful path to more flexible funding of rehabilitative services for youthful offenders. “Part of the juvenile justice reforms that are happening would encourage that kind of a thing,” she said. There’s currently no statewide protocol for systems integration in California, but some counties have enacted their own protocol for how the courts should work with dual status minors, Orange County among them.

(Los Angeles County adopted its dual status protocol for crossover kids in 2011 under the leadership of then presiding judge of the juvenile court, Michael Nash.)

Sutherland said YOW’s adaptable funding system is a big part of what differentiates it from many full-service partnerships that provide each client with the same menu of services. It provides for truly individualized treatment plans, in keeping with a fundamental tenet of the wraparound theory, and it lets administrators empower clients with more choices in their own treatment, she said. It also allows the program to go to extreme lengths when needed, such as temporarily paying for a bed in sober living to avoid a kid becoming homeless, as they did with Dircio.

Yet, it’s not necessarily the speciality services that keep Dircio connected to the program and coming back to help post-graduation — it’s Adrian Grow, who helped him enroll in Fullerton College; it’s Christina Tompkins, who helped him get his driver’s license and secure a place to stay.

“That’s what I got out of this program the most — not financially, just the good support system they have,” Dircio said. The YOW staff was always there for him, and still is, he said, which is why he reciprocates by doing youth outreach with them — and talking to the press.

“Whenever they call me or need me I’m going to help them.”

This story is part of a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, which is the product of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Posted in juvenile justice, mental health, Reentry | No Comments »

Federal $$$ to Improve Local Justice Systems

September 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Over the past week, a number of noteworthy federal funding awards have been announced. Several of them, including a grant to fund veterans courts, have been awarded to jurisdictions in California. We’ve compiled a short list of some of the noteworthy grants.


Riverside County Probation Department and the California Superior Court in Solano County are among 13 state and local jurisdictions chosen to receive a combined $4 million to help develop and run treatment courts for veterans. (Riverside will receive $300,000 and the CA Superior Court in Solano will receive $296,875.)

Veterans courts aim to help, rather than punish, vets who are often suffering from PTSD, mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The veterans courts are similar to alternative drug courts and offer low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration.

The use of veteran-specific court programs is on the rise in California and in other states, but many veterans in smaller counties don’t yet have access to alternative court programs.

A bill that died in committee this year would have required the Judicial Council of California to analyze veterans courts run in 25 of the state’s 58 counties, as well as the need for the specialized courts in the other 33 counties.


On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced $20 million in grants to 106 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to expand use of officer-worn cameras nationwide. In California, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties were chosen to receive funding under the Fiscal Year 2016 Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program from the Office of Justice Programs.

Attorney General Lynch says the funds will assist dozens of agencies in improving transparency and accountability and public trust in local law enforcement.

“As we strive to support local leaders and law enforcement officials in their work to protect their communities, we are mindful that effective public safety requires more than arrests and prosecutions,” said AG Lynch. “It also requires winning—and keeping—the trust and confidence of the citizens we serve.”

Contra Costa County was also selected to receive $400,000 in federal aid to participate in the Smart Defense program to ensure that indigent defendants have a public defender or court-appointed lawyer with enough time, skills, and resources to provide a proper defense. The money will go to hiring defense attorneys and providing specialized training and technical assistance to attorneys representing poor defendants.


The county was selected for a third federal grant that will help develop strategies for improving re-entry success for inmates leaving lock-ups in Contra Costa. Just under $6 million will be split between six jurisdictions, including Contra Costa.


The Department of Justice also announced a pile of $107 million to be divided between 248 grants to more than 131 Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages, and other tribal groups to boost public safety and help victims of domestic violence.

Native Americans experience disproportionate rates of victimization and violence and have minimal access to the services available to their non-native peers.

Children growing up in tribal communities experience violence at a rate higher than any other race, according to a 2014 Justice Department report. More than $3 million of the pot will go to toward studying sex trafficking on tribal land and to supporting the the American Indian/Alaska Native Defending Childhood Policy Initiative, which works to reduce kids’ exposure to violence, and to treat the long-term negative effects of violence on children, including physical and psychological harm, as well as an increased risk of future contact with the justice system.

“These vital grants support everything from hiring law enforcement officers to empowering native youth, giving tribes the resources they need to meet the particular challenges facing their communities,” said AG Lynch. “We are also proud to continue support for those tribes exercising greater authority over crimes of domestic violence under the VAWA 2013 tribal provisions, the direct result of a proposal by this Justice Department and written into law by Congress that is today making communities safer and stronger.”

Posted in Reentry, Veterans | No Comments »

Report Says LA County Probation Dept. is Failing Incarcerated Kids Badly After They Are Released

February 16th, 2016 by witnessla


More than two years ago, LA County Probation pledged to improve its awful juvenile reentry statistics by instituting a new program to help kids when they get out of the county’s juvenile camps and halls. But a new series of reports says the program is still failing most of the youth it claims to serve.

by Alex Reed and Veronica Quezada

In Los Angeles County, one in every three young people released from a juvenile camp or other placement are arrested again within a year. And even if a kid manages not to return to juvenile hall or camp, the reentry process can be difficult, and the young person often faces it without any help.

Smith Chan, 22, felt constantly on the defensive for a long time after he was released from an LA County juvenile camp in late 2011.

He didn’t receive any help with reentry into his community from any of the camp staff, and he doubted they could help at all, he said.

“There’s not really that much resource they can give you, just probably a couple hotlines you can call when you’re like in distress or something,” Chan said.

He had a probation officer when he got out, he said, though they had little interaction.

“She didn’t really talk to me,” Chan said. “I was supposed to see her once every two weeks, but I never seen her.”

Chan’s camp-induced paranoia gradually subsided and life began to normalize when he got a job several months later, without the help of his probation officer or anyone else in the probation system. He said the county should have a program for helping people like him find jobs so “they understand how it works to be a grown person.”

Since Chan was released, LA County Probation has introduced new resources to combat poor outcomes for youth coming out of juvenile camps and halls. Primary among them is the Camp Community Transition Program (CCTP). The program, which was put into place two years ago, was meant to provide services for young people transitioning from a juvenile camp or other placement to their home community.

CCTP aimed to be unique in that services and interaction with a probation officer would begin before release. After release, the goal was to have a probation officer supervise each kid intensely for 30 to 60 days to ensure school enrollment, and involvement with other community-based organizations and programs, as needed.

However, many young people who have been released since CCTP began have not seen much difference in the quality of reentry services.

Luis Zepeda, 19, has gone to juvenile camp three times. His most recent release was about a year ago, but his interaction with probation officers in camp and after his release was similar each time.

“I didn’t get no resources,” Zepeda said. “It was always punish, punish, punish, punish.”

He added: “Once you’re out, it’s like, [the probation officers are] done. They did their job once you’re in there. Once you’re out, you’re on your own.”

Zepeda eventually found help at Homeboy Industries, the nationally-known LA-based gang recovery program founded by Fr Gregory Boyle. Homeboy gave Zepeda a job and the opportunity to participate in classes, attend therapy, and to build professional skills and life skills. Zepeda has a younger brother, who also ended up in the system, and a newborn son, both of whom he feels responsible for showing them the way and keeping them out of trouble.

Most young people who get released from a juvenile camp “don’t know what’s in store for them,” he said.

“They don’t know how to go about getting a job. They don’t know how to be respectful because I don’t think they were ever taught to be like that,” Zepeda said.

Eduardo Mora, 18, who was released from a juvenile camp for the fourth time a few months ago, expressed similar feelings toward LA’s juvenile probation services.

“[Probation officers] tell me, ‘You’re a gang member,’ like ‘You’re not going to do anything in life, you’re just gonna keep getting busted,’” Mora said.

Mora, who has also landed a job at Homeboy Industries—no thanks to the county—said he feels that probation officers negatively stereotype the young people they work with.

“They see someone walking and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s a gang member,’ and he could just be a normal person who just wanted to shave his head,” Mora said.


LA County Probation Commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez, a former gang member who also made several trips through LA County’s juvenile justice system when he was younger, agreed with Mora’s observations. How a juvenile looks can affect the help they get from their probation officers, although this shouldn’t be the case, Martinez said.

“I can have a tie on, dress really nice and your assessment, based on my appearance, is that I can be helped, versus me coming in with a beanie, white shirt and baggy pants,” Martinez said. “Too often, probation has already given up on the kid with baggy pants and a beanie—not because of assessment, but because of appearance.”

In LA, the Probation Commission is largely an advisory body, with two commissioners appointed by each member of the county board of supervisors. (Martinez was appointed by Hilda Solis, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, now an LA County Supervisor.) But, in his most recent term, Martinez has made it his special mission to make sure the department is giving young people adequate resources when they’re released.

With this goal in mind, starting in August of last year, Martinez conducted a series of unannounced visits to probation field offices. One of his primary purposes was to observe CCTP at work to see how the program was working. The reports from his visits make clear he was not pleased.

For instance, after his August 27, 2015, visit to the CCTP’s San Gabriel area office, his report was scathing:

“… there are serious issues and concerns,” he wrote. “The visit was alarming and extremely unacceptable. There appears to be a disconnected relationship with the community and client. There is no relationship between staff, their clients and community based organizations.”

San Gabriel probation officers he observed seemed “complacent” and unprofessional, he wrote. Their methods of case planning were not consistent and they were not effectively using the resources available for their clients.

Most of these officers had less than 10 cases assigned to them, he wrote. Despite the low caseload, none of them could discuss a client’s case sufficiently when asked.

When Martinez made an unannounced field visit to the Pomona office in October 2015, he found conditions similarly “unsatisfactory.”

All the minors were listed as being gang members or gang-involved in their files, but few had been offered appropriate resources for kids struggling with gang involvement, such as a referral to something called the Prospective Authorization Utilization Unit (PAUR), which offers an array of extra programs and services. “Or the kid’s probation officer could tell the gang probation officer in the area to keep an eye out for him, so there was an extra set of eyes on him out in the street, to make sure he was doing okay.”

Additionally, according to Martinez, while the juvenile probation officers in the Pomona office had no more than eight kids on their individual caseloads at the time of the visit, he found their files showed they were not coming close to exhausting all the appropriate resources in any of their cases. He also found that violation reports “requesting an excessive sanction on a minor” were filed for some of the youth, without any record of utilizing less extreme methods first. “In one case, a few weeks before, the probation officer had written in her report that the probationer was an excellent kid. And now, without trying any kind of services or intervention, she wanted to lock him back up in juvenile hall,” he explained.

“After all my visits it is felt that the CCTP program has to ensure that services are in place prior to a minor leaving camp,” Martinez wrote. “There is a delay of services and breakdown in providing services.”

Proper assessment by probation officers is crucial, or “we’re going to lose [kids] to the pipeline and they’re going to end up in prison,” he said.


Though Martinez’s reports reflect poorly on some juvenile probation officers and their supervisors, he made a point of saying that, in spite of the problems with the system, there are other probation officers who work hard to help their young clients, beginning by conducting thorough assessments of their needs.

Lily Anda is one such officer. She says the necessary services are available for released youths. However, the officer must spend time getting to know the client, and often their family, to determine exactly what resources will benefit the person most, she said.

In cases where the family is part of the problem, the job of the probation officer, and other adults in the juvenile’s life, such as school counselors, is to be the support system.

“No matter what, you can’t change your family and you can’t change your parents. But if you have a probation officer who’s pushing you, and a counselor who’s pushing you, and your teacher who’s pushing you,” this constitutes a positive support group, “and then you will see change,” Anda said.


In April 2015, a team of researchers headed by Dr. Denise Herz, of California State University, Los Angeles, released a study measuring outcomes of juvenile probation in Los Angeles County. The study, which was overseen by The Advancement Project, and funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation, looked at the cases of every juvenile released from a camp or other placement during 2011.

The researchers found “a lack of integration between county departments,” said Kristine Chan, MSW, who was one of the primary researchers on the project.

Probation officers don’t have all the access they need to be as effective as they could be, she said. They are limited in the help they can provide a recently released young person because they don’t have a full picture of their background and individual needs.

The study triggered a motion passed by the LA County Board of Supervisors in September 2015 to establish a work group that would address the issues the report raised.

The motion, written by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and co-sponsored by Supervisor Hilda Solis, stated: “The report underscores the need for service integration, collaboration and data sharing that protects confidentiality across County departments to better serve juvenile justice youth and their families who may require evidence-based trauma informed mental health services, substance abuse treatment, health services, educational services, housing or other supports … It is unsound to continue placing these youth back into the same situations without additional support and then expect different outcomes.”

So far, according to Sal Martinez and others, little has improved.


David Muhammad, the former chief of probation for Alameda County, now a leader in criminal and juvenile justice, also has ideas about how the reentry system in Los Angeles County can become more effective.

“We, first and foremost, need to continue to reduce the number of youths in the system,” he said.

If there are fewer young people put in juvenile camps and other placements, fewer young people will need reentry services, Muhammad explained. Additionally, fewer young people in the system means more resources and services can be refocused on the kids who need it most.

The population in juvenile halls and camps has decreased by 34 percent since 2004 in an attempt to only commit individuals who commit higher level offenses, according to the LA County Probation Department’s website. With lesser offenses, such as “shoplifting, fare evasion, or possession of alcohol,” according to the department website, probation attempts to divert some young people to other programs such as community service, counseling, or some form of “educational classes.”

But Muhammad believes that the camp and hall population can and should be reduced more. There is a lot more state funding now for reentry services, but the money is not being appropriated effectively, he said.

“If you talk to young people and their families, they don’t see that resource, very little of it,” Muhammad said. “A lot of that is pure bureaucracy and a lack of interest and passion of folks who are resource holders that don’t do enough to get that money and those resources to youths, to families directly and also to service providers.”

Muhammad is now working for Impact Justice, a national innovation and research center focused on reducing the number of people involved in the justice system. And in the last few years he has helped develop the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), a nonprofit organization founded by film producer Scott Budnick in 2013.

ARC is a membership-based support network for those who “pledge to live crime-free, gang-free, drug-free, be in school and/or working and be willing to serve their community.”

Though ARC has seen tremendous growth in the three years since its founding, Muhammad said they, along with all reentry-focused organizations, could be doing more for formerly incarcerated young people.

“Service providers, [ARC] included, have to improve. We have to improve our reach in terms of making sure that all of the young people that are coming home from those areas of detention camps and out-of-home placements know about our services and that we’re providing quality services to those young people,” he said.

But Sal Martinez and other juvenile advocates, say there is a fundamental disconnect between the young people coming out of LA County’s juvenile camps and the help the county can and should be giving them.

“They’re trying to survive in an environment that doesn’t open doors for them,” Martinez said. “It’s the probation department’s job to open those doors.”

This story is the 2nd in a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The series is part of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

PHOTO CREDITS: Top photo by Veronica Quezada, 2nd photo courtesy of Sal Martinez, video by Veronica Quezada

Posted in Reentry | 3 Comments »

LA County’s New Prop 47 Task Force

December 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

As the 2017 deadline for California’s Proposition 47 nears, LA County will ramp up efforts to help the 690,000 county residents eligible for felony sentence reductions.

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis to collect data on people who stand to benefit from Prop. 47′s reclassification of six low-level felonies to misdemeanors. The county will also create an inter-agency outreach task force to notify those eligible before the November 2017 deadline, assist with the complex application process, and connect them with crucial reentry services.

Out of the hundreds of thousands who stand to benefit from Prop. 47, LA County Public Defender Ronald Brown said his office has processed and granted 16,702 petitions. An estimated 4,000 petitions have been processed and approved through the alternate public defender’s office. According to a recent survey commissioned by the California Endowment, only 29% of Los Angeles residents were aware of Prop 47.

“If this deadline passes without a significant acceleration in applications,” said Supervisor Solis, “Los Angeles County will have missed a significant opportunity to set people on the road to productive citizenship, and by default, we will make our neighborhoods more vulnerable to potential crimes.”

Supervisor Ridley Thomas added that Prop. 47 offers low-level offenders a powerful (and time-sensitive) second chance. “We must not squander this opportunity, this mandate, to reform our criminal justice system so that it’s less punitive and more humane, with the potential to be healing and transformative.”

The task force will pull from many different county departments and organizations. The California Endowment, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, LA County Federation of Labor, and LA Trade Tech College, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, the county’s mental health and public health departments, and at least two community members formerly impacted by incarceration and barriers to successful reentry, among others, are expected to participate in the large-scale effort.

The county will also pursue state legislation to extend the deadline for Prop. 47 petitions past 2017, or eliminate the deadline altogether.

The motion also called for collaboration between the Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Reentry and the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry to apply for state grants to bolster reentry programs for Prop 47ers leaving lock-up and those who have already been released and are in need of reentry services.

The Supervisors approved the creation of the Office of Diversion and Reentry in August, following the release of a major report from LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey full of recommendations on how to divert the mentally ill from county jails into community treatment. The city’s Office of Reentry was created to formulate programs and policies that “support formerly incarcerated individuals find stability, resources, employment, housing, and reunification with their families.”

“Our communities grow stronger when we show mercy, compassion and understanding for those who have made mistakes in life and deserve a second chance,” said Mayor Garcetti. “It is also our mandate to help them rebuild their lives after incarceration, and today L.A. County took a tremendous step forward on the principle of restorative justice.”

Mayor Garcetti said that the city’s reentry office is ready to get to work with the county “to make a positive impact on the lives of the formerly incarcerated and to make our communities safer, and restore dignity to those who have been marginalized for too long.”

Posted in Reentry, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

More on the LASD Deputy Who Vanished….. Heroin Use and the Rise in Numbers of Foster Kids…The Need for Civil Attorneys…& Prop 47

October 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Magazine story by Claire Martin about the disappearance of Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Aujay is now online.

The tale as Martin tells it is long, very deeply researched, fascinating, and disturbing. It is also a must read for those with any interest in the workings of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Martin doesn’t solve the mystery of what happened to Jon Aujay after he took off for an all-day desert run in the Devil’s Punchbowl area of Antelope Valley on June 11, 1998, and never returned. Instead, she takes us through the investigations by the former department members who do not believe that Aujay killed himself as the LASD officially concluded. Nor do they believe he took off for Alaska, or rejoined the military as some other friends suggested. Instead, they believe he was murdered, and Martin delves into the reasons for their conviction.

One of those who became convinced Aujay met with foul play is Larry Brandenburg, a homicide detective who began investigating the case in early 2000. But when he wanted to search a fellow deputy’s house, his superior reportedly became furious and shut the investigation down, threatening to fire Brandenberg. When Brandenburg then appealed to the chief of the detective division and a commander in the homicide bureau, another detective was sent to collect all of his files.

Next there is former Deputy Darren Hager who was part of an interagency task force called “Operation Silent Thunder,” which was investigating the invasion of meth manufacturers and distributors in the Antelope Valley. In the course of delving into the drug action, Hager found what he believed were important leads into the Aujay case, and began digging. He came to believe a deputy named Richard Engels was involved and wanted to probe further. Instead, Hager was pulled off the case and ultimate terminated having to do with his investigating of Engels. Hager sued for wrongful termination and was award $8.5 million by a jury.

(It was when Martin attended Hager’s case trial that she first became fascinated with the story of Aujay’s disappearance. The trial, she wrote, “shed new light on the department’s handling of Aujay’s case as well as its approach to policing itself.)

Another haunted by Aujay’s disappearance was his former partner when the deputy was on SWAT, David Rathbun, now a reserve deputy with LASD search and rescue teams. Rathbun looked for Aujay for months with other friends after the official search ended.

Still one more man who couldn’t settle for the official story was Aujay’s last boss, retired captain Mike Bauer who now lives in Idaho. Bauer has devoted much of the past decade to hunting down new leads in the Aujay mystery, and believes he likely knows who killed the former sharp shooter turned K-9 handler.

Anyway, there’s much, much more to this well told Rashomon of a story.

To get you going, here’s a clip from one of the sections on Bauer’s ongoing investigation:

Last year Bauer wrote to John L. Scott, the interim sheriff, raising concerns about the department. When the captain of Internal Affairs called him, Bauer aired his theory; the captain vouched for the integrity of Bauer’s main suspect, he says, accusing Bauer of jumping to conclusions and then only seeking facts to support them. Bauer is still outraged. He could understand some skepticism, but he expected the sheriff’s department would take him seriously, given his background. This wasn’t the first time he felt rebuffed by the department over Aujay. Three years ago he spent half a day going over his evidence with deputies. “I expected a phone call from the captain of homicide a week later saying, ‘You know, we looked at your stuff and you might have something. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll keep you posted on what we find out,’ ” he tells me. He heard nothing, but it wasn’t a total surprise. Bauer says he retired early, at 53, because of the corruption that flourished under Sheriff Baca, who wound up resigning in 2014 amid a barrage of federal indictments of staff who helped hide an informant from the FBI. That’s what led to Bauer’s second attempt, which wasn’t any more satisfying. Scott wrote him back that Aujay’s case “is disturbing to us all” and expressed confidence that the investigation had been thorough, noting that homicide detective Bob Kenney “continues to actively follow up on leads.”

Bauer was perplexed: If the department was sticking with the suicide theory, why was there an open homicide case? And if it was vigorously investigating, why hadn’t he heard about it from any of the dozens of people he has stayed in contact with in the course of his work? Debra, for one, says she has not been contacted by members of the sheriff’s department since 2001, when she was interviewed by Joe Holmes. Now that many of the players involved in the original investigations are retired and a new sheriff, Jim McDonnell, is in charge, Bauer and several others who knew Aujay have raised the question of whether the department would or should reevaluate the case. Aujay is still classified as a missing person with a possible suicide, according to homicide detective Larry Brandenburg. When I called Kenney in September to inquire about the status of the Aujay investigation, he replied, “I have no comment about that case at all.” Sheriff McDonnell also declined to be interviewed for this article.

The man serving as second in command to McDonnell is Neal Tyler, a 40-year department veteran and the former commander of the Antelope Valley region. Tyler was briefed on the Internal Affairs inquiry of Darren Hager, whose task force confidential informants had fingered Engels for murder, and he personally fired him….

Now read the rest for yourself.


A report issued this past summer by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that, after years of decline, the number of kids coming into and staying in foster care is on the rise. And one of the reasons for the increased numbers, according to some child welfare officials, is that an uptick in the use of heroin and abuse of prescription opiates, has rendered an increasing number of parents unable to care for their children.

According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released in May, thirty-four states saw an increase in the number of children in foster care, and California, Oklahoma, Indiana and Arizona were the states that saw the largest rise.

A new NPR story by Jake Harper takes a look at the phenomenon through the lens of foster care in Indiana.

Here’s a clip:

Between September of 2013 and September of 2015, Indiana saw the number of “children in need of services” jump by 40 percent. In more than half of new cases in which children had to be removed from their homes, substance abuse was listed as a reason. As in other states (such as nearby Ohio), officials in Indiana blame heroin and prescription painkillers.

The increase is taxing the child welfare system, officials say. Children of addicts often need special care and counseling, and they often stay in the system longer because it can take months or years for their parents to get clean.

“We have more children than we’ve ever had in our system in Indiana,” says Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the state’s Department of Child Services. “That puts a stress on the staff, a stress and strain on providers.” And it’s increasingly a challenge, she says, “to find and recruit and train qualified foster families.”

If the Houglands hadn’t provided a home for their foster son, he might have ended up at an emergency shelter like the Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit in Indianapolis. The organization takes in kids from the Department of Child Services when a foster family can’t be found quickly.

“Kids come in here 24/7,” says Tina Cloer, who directs the Children’s Bureau. “So we accept kids all day and all night, and we get calls all day and all night.”

The shelter has been full more often this year, she says, as it has become harder to find kids foster homes. Last year, the average stay was just two days — now, it’s 10. “We have kids that have been here as long as 2 [or] 2 1/2 months,” Cloer says.


We know that Americans who are charged with a crime but who cannot afford to pay a lawyer have the right to legal representation paid for by the government. That right is enshrined in US law by the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright of 1963 that guaranteed everyone charged with a criminal act the right to counsel.

With civil procedures, there is no such guarantee. However, there is an increasing awareness of the need for some kind of system of civil legal aide. The need is particularly demonstrated among people being released from prison who, along with the many daunting challenges to reentry, often find there are lingering legal issues as well, most of them not criminal in nature.

For example, many returning men face debts in the tens of thousands of dollars in back child support that has been accumulating while they were in prison and had no ability to pay. Once out, even if they are able to get a job quickly, those positions are rarely high paying. Thus keeping up with current child support, while paying extra back payments is often completely defeating, and can lead to a return to prison. However, a civil attorney can help negotiate a payment system that both is practical for the recently incarcerated father, and fair to mother and children as well.

Civil attorneys can also assist in getting driver’s licenses restored, which can be crucial to getting and keeping a job, or helping to clear a former inmate’s criminal record, thus improving the likelihood of finding employment….and so on.

Writing for Rebecca Vallas and Billy Corriher have more on the need for civil legal aide and what’s in the works to fill that need.

Here’s a clip:

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an appropriations bill that—while far from sufficient to meet demand—would boost legal services funding for FY 2016 by $10 million. Meanwhile, House appropriators have called for slashing legal services funding by $75 million—a staggering 20 percent below the current funding levels. While Congress has passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded until mid-December, as it continues to debate the budget it should ensure that any proposal includes adequate funding for civil legal aid. Additionally, Congress should take swift action to reauthorize and boost funding for the bipartisan Second Chance Act. This legislation allows the Department of Justice to award federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations—including civil legal aid programs—that provide services to support re-entry.

If the criminal justice reform legislation introduced this fall is enacted, many currently incarcerated individuals will have an opportunity to petition for reduced sentences or early release. Civil legal aid lawyers will be important partners in helping these individuals transition back into our communities and get back on their feet. Neglecting the back end of mass incarceration—including by failing to adequately invest in civil legal aid—is a recipe for ensuring that most people will end up behind bars again, and that many of the gains we see from criminal justice reform will be short-lived.


Here’s the next in the LA Times series discussing Prop. 47. In this essay, editorial board member Rob Greene looks at the “felony hammer” prosecutors say they need to get drug offenders into treatment, that Prop. 47 has taken away. Here’s a clip:

In police and prosecutorial parlance, the hammer is the weapon of choice that gets drug defendants to go to treatment. The hammer is the felony charge, or in some cases, the “wobbler” that prosecutors could choose to charge as either a felony or a misdemeanor. With the hammer of a felony charge in hand, the prosecutor used to be able to tell the defendant that he was looking at three to five years in state prison on a drug possession charge. The defense lawyer might advise his client that his actual exposure was more like 18 months, but still — that’s real time in prison. Plus a felony rap sheet, which forever after would affect the defendant’s ability to get a job, get a professional license, go to school, get housing, adopt a child, become a foster parent, and interfere with numerous other aspects of daily life.

So the drug defendant could allow himself to get hit with that hammer.

Or, to avoid being hit, he could choose drug treatment. In some counties, even that meant pleading guilty to a felony, with the plea held by the judge but tossed out when the treatment program was completed, or reinstated when the defendant failed. Other counties had “pre-plea” programs, which allowed defendants to complete the program without first entering a guilty plea.

Yet defense attorneys and justice reformers say there’s also another way of dealing with the problem that doesn’t have to involve the felony hammer blow.

Read the rest here.

Posted in LASD, Reentry | 34 Comments »

Report Recommends Continuing Effective Women’s Diversion Court in LA

September 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


An important LA County diversion program, the Second Chance Women’s Reentry Court (WRC), is slated to be defunded in December 2015, after receiving a six-month extension in June.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has conducted an assessment on whether to keep the program funded past its scheduled end-date in December.

After running the numbers, the Department of Public Health recommends extending the program, which according to DPH, saves the county money, keeps women out of lock-up, and helps women build better lives for themselves and their families. (We at WLA agree, and hope that the program will be saved.)


The program, which has helped more than 300 women since its inception, is a multi-agency effort between the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Department of Probation, LA County Superior Court, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, County Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, and the Department of Public Health’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Control Program.

By participating in the WRC, women charged with non-serious felonies or probation violations take part in at least a six-month residential program and then up to a year of outpatient care instead of serving a jail sentence. The alternative court program relies on evidence-based, trauma-informed, and gender-specific strategies to treat women’s underlying issues, rather than punish alleged offenses.

Women in the program receive mental health services and substance abuse treatment, as well as help with housing and employment and family reunification services, when needed.


In the three years after graduating from the program in 2011-2012, 18% of WRC participants had come back into contact with the criminal justice system, compared with a recidivism rate of nearly 50% for women released from CA prisons in 2008-2009.

The rate of homelessness was cut in half for women coming out of the court program than when they were admitted. Women also built better relationships with their families and kids, and had significantly higher rates of employment and school enrollment.

The assessment also found that women who received the gender-specific treatment were one-fifth as likely to exhibit signs of PTSD a year after the end of the program, as compared with women who did not receive gender-specific help.

“Women constitute the fastest-growing segment of people in U.S. jails and prisons,” said LA County’s Interim Health Officer Jeffrey Gunzenhauser. “Women in the criminal justice system often suffer from mental health problems, chronic drug and alcohol addictions, and trauma histories, and are more likely than men to be the primary caretaker of children prior to incarceration.”


Besides extending the program, the Public Health Department also recommends boosting the number of programs like WRC that serve women with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues.

The assessment also calls for increased staff numbers to provide more help for women transitioning between residential and outpatient treatment through WRC, and for those graduating from the WRC.


Be sure to check our updated version of last night’s story.

Posted in Courts, PTSD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Trauma, women's issues | No Comments »

A Ride Home, Fresno’s Restorative Justice, $$ Spent on Misconduct in Biggest Police Departments, and Obama Visits Prison

July 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Carlos Cervantes and Roby So, members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), pick up men newly released former third-strikers from prison to help them through their often overwhelming first day on the outside.

Through their Ride Home Program, Carlos and Roby, who spent 11 and 12 years in prison themselves, often travel hours to meet people exiting prison, to help them acclimate and bring them up-to-date on what they missed while they were locked up.

When men and women come out of lock-up, they are often given just $200 to start over with, and if they don’t have family waiting to meet them, they have to navigate the unfamiliar alone.

NY Times’ Jon Mooallem has a great longread (and documentary video) on Carlos and Roby and their Ride Home program. Here are some clips:

Unlike typical parolees, third-strikers are often notified of their release just before it happens, sometimes only a day in advance. (It can take months for a judge to rule after papers are filed.) They’re usually sent out the door with $200, a not-insubstantial share of which they often pay back to the prison for a lift to the nearest Greyhound station: An inmate might be released from a prison outside Sacramento and expected to find his way to a parole officer in San Diego, 500 miles away, within 48 hours. Stanford’s Three Strikes Project was setting up transitional housing for its clients, but initially, a lot of the third-strikers weren’t making it there — they were just blowing away in the wind. Then, Carlos and Roby started driving around the state and waiting outside to catch them.

The job started as a simple delivery service, to carry some of these discombobulated bodies from one place to another. In late 2013, the director of the Three Strikes Project, Michael Romano, contacted a nonprofit called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which has built up a close community of formerly incarcerated people in Los Angeles. (Romano, who is also an A.R.C. board member, is a friend of mine.) Romano asked if A.R.C. could dispatch one of its members to pick up third-strikers and drive them to their housing near the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A.R.C. recommended Carlos, a dependable young man just three years out of prison himself, who — most important — also had his own car and a credit card to front money for gas. Carlos was hired, for $12 an hour, to fetch an old man named Terry Critton from a prison in Chino. On the way back, Critton asked if Carlos wouldn’t mind stopping at Amoeba Records, so he could look at jazz LPs — he’d been a big collector. They wound up spending almost two hours in the store, just looking. Then, Critton wanted a patty melt, so Carlos found a place called Flooky’s, where they ordered two and caught the end of a Dodgers game. It was extraordinary: All day, Carlos could see this man coming back to life. He wanted to do more pickups, and he wanted to get his friend Roby involved. He told his bosses he needed a partner.

By now, Carlos and Roby — officially, A.R.C.’s Ride Home Program — have done about three dozen pickups, either together or individually, waking up long before dawn and driving for hours toward prison towns deep in the desert or up the coast. Then they spend all day with the guy (so far they’ve picked up only men), taking him to eat, buying him some clothes, advising him, swapping stories, dialing his family on their cellphones or astonishing him by magically calling up Facebook pictures of nieces and nephews he’s never met — or just sitting quietly, to let him depressurize. The conversation with those shellshocked total strangers doesn’t always flow, Roby told me. It helps to have a wingman.

‘‘The first day is everything,’’ Carlos says — a barrage of insignificant-seeming experiences with potentially big consequences. Consider, for example, a friend of his and Roby’s: Julio Acosta, who was paroled in 2013 after 23 years inside. Acosta describes stopping for breakfast near the prison that first morning as if it were a horrifying fever dream: He kept looking around the restaurant for a sniper, as in the chow hall in prison, and couldn’t stop gawking at the metal knives and forks, ‘‘like an Aztec looking at Cortez’s helmet,’’ he says. It wasn’t until he got up from the booth and walked to the men’s room, and a man came out the door and said, ‘‘How you doin’?’’ and Acosta said, ‘‘Fine,’’ that Acosta began to feel, even slightly, like a legitimate part of the environment around him. He’d accomplished something. He’d made a treacherous trip across an International House of Pancakes. He’d peed.

But what if Acosta had accidentally bumped into a waitress, knocking over her tray and shattering dishes? What if that man had glared at him, instead of greeting him, or snapped at him to get the hell out of the way? Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Re-entry Institute at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told me that even the smallest bungled interactions on the outside leave recently incarcerated people feeling ‘‘like they’re being exposed, like they’re incompetent. It’s feeding into their worst fear, their perception of themselves as an impostor who’s incapable of living a normal life.’’ Carlos and Roby have learned to steer their guys through that perilous newness — and to be nonchalant about it, to make the sudden enormity of life feel unthreatening, even fun. On one ride home earlier this year, I watched a third-striker venture inside a convenience store, alone, to buy a candy bar while Roby pumped gas. The man seemed emboldened after a few hours of freedom, actually hopping a bit as he walked. But then he tripped over the curb and tumbled forward, arms thrashing, nearly face-planting in front of the door. Roby just shrugged and said, ‘‘Well, you’ve got to get that one out of the way.’’

‘‘Been a long time since I looked at a menu,’’ Dale Hammock said. He was sheltered in a corner of a booth at a Denny’s near the prison. The restaurant was overcrowded, loud and full of the kind of hyperdifferentiated nonsense that ordinary Americans swim through every day, never assuming it can or should be fully understood. But Hammock was having trouble sorting the breakfast menu from the lunch menu, and the regular Denny’s menu from the Denny’s Skillets Across America limited-time menu. There were two kinds of hot sauce and four different sweeteners on the table. On the Heinz ketchup bottle, it said: ‘‘Up for a Game? Trivial Pursuit Tomato Ketchup.’’

The first meal after a long prison sentence is an ostensible celebration laced with stress. The food tastes incredible. (Roby gained 60 pounds after his release, desperate to try the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion and other fast-casual delicacies he’d seen commercials for on TV.) But ordering — making any choice — can be unnerving. Waiters are intimidating; waitresses, especially pretty ones, can be petrifying. So at Denny’s, Roby started things off, ordering a chocolate milk. Hammock ordered a chocolate milk, too. Then he reconsidered and said: ‘‘I want a milkshake! I’ll just have that!’’ He ordered a Grand Slam. Then he changed it to a Lumberjack Slam. And when the waiter shot back with ‘‘Toast: white, wheat or sourdough?’’ Hammock went stiff momentarily, then answered: ‘‘Toast, I guess.’’


The Chronicle of Social Change’s Lisa Jenkins looks at efforts in California to steer kids away from the juvenile justice system, with a particular focus on the Keeping Kids in School Project and the Victim Offender Reconciliation program (VORP), an important part of the restorative justice efforts in Fresno schools. Here’s a clip:

The 2013 KKIS conference was the first concrete step in changing the tone of the conversation around truancy. At the core of the 2013 conference was a recognition that students need to be physically in school in order to receive the state’s educational services. Being deprived of these services, as inevitably happens when one is chronically absent, has been tied to other problems; research presenters at the conference utilized statewide data showing a direct link between missing school, suspension from school and ultimately dropping out.

Making this link clear to parents, guardians and other stakeholders is the most important part of the work that KKIS is doing, said Gordon Jackson, director of the coordinated student support division in the California Department of Education, in a phone interview.

“Of course, all across the span of economics or earned income, there is this common thread among parents of wanting good things to happen for their kids,” Jackson said. “There is really a focus on the challenge of catching students early, before they develop truancy patterns, and involving the parents.”

This idea has been taken to heart in Fresno County, where the regional KKIS focus group and other stakeholders are working to improve academic performance of elementary and middle school students in order to prevent their eventual court-system involvement. This means targeting those with complicated home situations, and even creating personalized plans for how students will get to school. There is a particular focus on literacy, as studies have shown that students with strong reading engagement experience less absenteeism.

According to education specialists, one promising solution to this excessive absenteeism (and to numerous other justice questions) is a coordinated system of restorative justice.

Restorative justice programs involve two crucial components: a discussion among those involved with the crime or truancy, and a concrete plan for rectifying the situation. The oldest such program in the state, VORP of the Central Valley, was founded in 1982 by Ron and Roxanne Claasen, but has only relatively recently gained the momentum to become a part of the local juvenile justice vocabulary.

For the Claasens, who also founded the Discipline That Restores program at Fresno Pacific University, these techniques are an important part of getting students to reconnect with their school communities. After involvement with restorative justice techniques, VORP estimates that eight of every ten juvenile offenders successfully move on from crime and return to school. Instituted across school districts, these results are significant; when comparable California communities have instituted district-wide restorative justice policies, they have cut suspensions by up to 60 percent in just five years.


The ten cities with the largest police departments paid out a total of $248.7 million last year in officer misconduct settlements and court judgments. That number is up 48% from 2010′s grand total of $168.3 million. Between those five years the ten cities paid out a combined $1.02 billion. New York City was responsible for a whopping $601.3 million, more than half of that 2010-2014 grand total. In comparison, Los Angeles, while still among the top three cities that spent the most, had a five year total of $57.1 million.

Los Angeles, Baltimore, Phoenix, unlike the other seven cities, experienced a decline in payout amounts between 2010-2014. And in LA, 39% of payout dollars were spent on misconduct cases. In Chicago, misconduct cases accounted for 89% of the total.

The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosh have more on the numbers.

Cities are cutting more checks to people who were wrongfully imprisoned years ago because of police misconduct. As more wrongful convictions come to light, jury verdicts have risen, with some now exceeding $2 million a year behind bars.

New York City agreed last year to pay $41 million to five black and Hispanic men imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park, then freed after another man confessed and DNA evidence confirmed his story. City lawyers under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought a lawsuit brought by the five men, which alleged that detectives coerced confessions from them as teens. Under current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city agreed to a settlement equal to about $1 million for each year each man spent behind bars.

New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said the settlement “should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions of these five plaintiffs were the result of law-enforcement misconduct.”

Chicago has been trying to resolve cases stemming from allegations that detectives, led by former commander Jon Burge, tortured black and Hispanic suspects with implements like electric cattle prods, coercing confessions from them and putting them behind bars from the 1970s to early 1990s for crimes they didn’t commit. Those cases have cost the city more than $60 million in payouts. In May, Chicago launched a $5.5 million reparations fund for some of the victims.

A Chicago police spokesman called Mr. Burge’s actions a “disgrace.” Mr. Burge was convicted of federal perjury and obstruction charges in 2010. Mr. Burge, who has been released from prison, declined to comment.

In New York, settlements and judgments in misconduct cases hit $165 million in fiscal 2014, up from $93.8 million in 2010. Both New York and Los Angeles, which paid out $10.7 million on such cases last year, now are tracking claims more closely and trying new approaches to risk management.

New York City’s government-run hospitals were for years the city’s leading source of liability payouts, primarily because of medical-malpractice settlements. But beginning in the 2010 fiscal year, the police department surpassed the city hospitals in total liability payouts.

The trend caught the attention of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who launched a program to track legal claims called ClaimStat. “Instead of accepting rising claims and settlements as the cost of doing business,” Mr. Stringer says, the city can use the data to identify underlying problems and make changes to prevent future suits.

The number of new claims filed against New York City police, including allegations of police misconduct and damage from car crashes, rose 71% between 2004 and 2013, according to the comptroller.

“While the filing of a lawsuit does not prove any misconduct on the part of an officer, the department is aware of the increasing number of actions filed against the NYPD,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the department is “addressing these very real concerns” with the creation of a risk-management bureau and police litigation unit.

The settlement with Mr. Garner’s estate came nearly a year after his confrontation with officers who accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes—a scene captured in a widely viewed video. Mr. Stringer said the settlement “acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the city.”


On Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. NPR’s Scott Horsley has the story on the president’s visit.

Posted in LAPD, Obama, Reentry, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

LA’s Top Cop and Former CA Senate Prez Awarded for Mental Health Efforts, and NYC’s Bail Reform, and LA’s Crime Rates

July 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and former CA Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg were honored on Thursday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for their efforts to decriminalize mental illness and to boost community-based support and programs available to LA and CA’s mentally ill and their families.

DA Lacey founded the Los Angeles County Criminal Justice Mental Health Project, the goal of which is to divert the mentally ill from jails, and established alternative courts for non-violent offenders. Read more about Lacey’s work.

Lacey says she is grateful for the award, but that there is still “a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that the mentally ill can receive the care they need” and called the use of jails as de facto mental health institutions “inefficient, ineffective, and…inhumane.”

On the legislative side of things, former Sen. Steinberg authored and pushed a number of bills to improve mental health services and to keep people suffering from mental illnesses off the streets and out of jail in CA:

*Passage of Proposition 63, the 1% “millionaire’s tax” that funds innovative mental health programs and has provided over a billion dollars per year for mental health initiatives.

*Establishment of the Steinberg Institute for Advancing Mental Health Policy, after leaving the legislature, to help build a comprehensive network of community services and supports.

*Provision of prevention and early intervention services through schools, community centers and faith-based organizations.

*Legislation targeting resources to people with mental illness who are at greatest risk for hospitalizations, homelessness or incarceration.

On Wednesday, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s office announced an important new citywide initiative to put people on supervised release when they can’t afford to post bail.

The program will use $17.8 million in city funds and asset forfeiture money to help 3,400 poor people waiting to be charged. The bail alternative will allow participants to remain with their families and continue to work. The mayor is requesting proposals to contract pre-trial supervision.

Kalief Browder’s tragic suicide drew public attention to the issue. Browder spent three years on Rikers Island, the majority of which he spent in solitary confinement, without a trial because his family could not post $3,000 for his release.

De Blasio says it is “unacceptable” that “people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose.”

The Marshall Project’s Alysa Santo explains why the mayor’s program would not have done anything to help Browder. Here’s a clip:

The program would more than triple the number of defendants in pretrial supervision, rather than have them languish at the city’s main jail at Rikers Island. An impetus for the change, city officials said, was the recent suicide of Kalief Browder, who was held at Rikers for three years and released at age 19, when prosecutors dropped charges. Browder, who endured abuse and long stints in solitary confinement, was initially jailed because his family could not afford his $3,000 bail. He was 22 when he killed himself last month.

But Browder would not have been eligible for the city’s new pretrial supervision program because he was charged with second-degree assault, a violent felony, among other charges, for stealing a backpack. Under the expanded pretrial program, judges can place those charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors under supervised release, which monitors defendants, rather than leaving them to struggle to come up with bail, as thousands of people do every year. “If bail is not met right away, then those kids are on a bus to Rikers,” said Browder’s attorney, Paul Prestia.

The city estimated the new bail system will allow about 3,400 people to be diverted into pretrial supervision programs at any given time. “This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Peter Goldberg, executive director for the Brooklyn Bail Fund, an organization that raises money for indigent misdemeanor defendants. “But this does not fix New York’s broken bail system,” said Goldberg, because about 45,000 people are detained in New York City each year over their inability to make bail. “For those who don’t fit the city’s criteria, such as Browder, their poverty alone is still going to incarcerate them.”

In California, AB 109—also known as realignment—meant that certain convicted felons were funneled to the county jails to serve out their terms, rather than state prison. The resultant increase in jail populations should have sent counties scurrying toward bail reform, and a system of risk-informed pre-trial release. After all, statewide, unsentenced individuals comprise over 60% of the jail population (some say more like 70%).

Plus, as part of AB 109, the state legislature gave the various county boards of supervisors the power to vote to give the sheriff of their county the legal ability to do risk-based pretrial release.

Some counties, like Santa Cruz, embraced the opportunity to pair down their nonviolent non sentenced jail inmates through a well-planned system of pretrial release.

Other counties, like Los Angeles, have done…well, not much.


LA’s crime rates shot up during the first half of 2015 following more than a decade-long decline. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.3% over 2008, there were 20.6% more violent crimes overall, and the number of shooting victims increased by 18.5%.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti said that, in addition to current nationwide tension between law enforcement and communities, Prop 47—which reclassified certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors—could not be ruled out as possible reasons for the unusually high crime rates.

An LA Times editorial questions whether it might be due to the fact that the county has been lagging on using state realignment funds to expand reentry and treatment services to help former offenders stay out of lock-up.

Here’s a clip:

…it’s hard to see the connection between the non-arrest of drug users and the uptick in domestic violence, rape and other violent crimes.

Asked at a news briefing Wednesday whether he believed Proposition 47 was a mistake, Garcetti answered only by saying that funding for treatment and other programs — which, under the ballot measure, is to be distributed to local governments only after a year’s time — ought to be in place before penalty reductions.

In a perfect world that might well be the case. But as the state legislative analyst noted in February, the reduction of those six felonies offers immediate savings in reduced workload to counties — to prosecutors, to public defenders, to jailers. That’s money that could be spent on treatment and other programs right away.

Garcetti’s neighbors up the street, in the county Hall of Administration, also did a notoriously poor job of making use of new funding for treatment and anti-recidivism programs when it became available under a previous law change, AB 109′s public safety realignment in 2011. They only now have begun readjusting their workload and budget to expand such programs. It would be a shame — in every sense of the word — if the increase in crime were due in part to inaction at the county level and poor coordination between the county and the city.

Posted in District Attorney, LAPD, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 4 Comments »

Shuttering LA’s Troubled Youth Welcome Center, Reforming LASD’s Antelope Valley Stations, For-Profit Policing in CA, and Pat Nolan

June 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A new report headed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says the county must shut down operation at its Youth Welcome Center, which has become an ill-equipped warehouse for kids, thanks, in large part, to a lack of available homes for foster kids.

The Youth Welcome Center, opened in 2012 (video above), originally intended as a place to house kids new to the system for 24 hours while social workers found them foster parents or group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like older teens, LGBTQ kids, and those suffering from mental illness.

The report, which will come from a committee formed by the Supes, recommends creating a 30-day emergency shelter for these kids, while also beefing up the number of group homes.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf, who has been reporting on the ongoing troubles at the Youth Welcome Center, has the story. Here are some clips:

The centers are allowed to keep children for only 24 hours and are not licensed for the lengthy stays some of the youths endured. They lack sufficient bedding, bathrooms and showers, as well as mental health and the education professionals necessary to meet their needs.

Over time, the number of youths without a proper foster home grew. It the last year, there were 800 violations of the 24-hour rule at both welcome centers, a county commissioner said.

Following The Times report, state officials in April took a harder line and sued the county, pushing the centers to comply to the letter of state law. The county and state reached a settlement agreement the same month and agreed to begin the licensing process to bring the existing facilities up to the state’s standards.

These changes would include establishing facilities at the centers that provided the required amenities and opportunities so young people could be legally housed there for up to three days.


Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youths, said that the DCFS plan to solve the centers’ problems by establishing a three-day facility is insufficient.

“For the hardest-to-place youth, I’m skeptical that we will do much better in 72 hours than what we do in 24. We will once again be in the position where we are just looking for a bed — any bed” to move a child out of a welcome center, she said.

Both she and the commission’s report recommend more sweeping change, including vast improvement in the inventory of foster homes and a 30-day emergency shelter. Only more ambitious reforms such as those, she said, “will ever solve the revolving door” of children failing to find lasting foster homes and repeatedly returning to the welcome centers.


Advocates say the Los Angeles Sheriff’s stations in Lancaster and Palmdale are making huge strides to eliminate racially discriminatory practices that led to federal intervention.

In April, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale stations. The settlement followed two years behind a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. There are 150 requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement.

One of the advocates who brought allegations to the feds, Miguel Coronado, says discriminatory drug raids on people receiving subsidized housing assistance and other racially biased practices have all but vanished.

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

Coronado, who sits on Lancaster’s planning commission, was among those who brought allegations of racially biased policing in the area to federal authorities. He now has the cellphone numbers of high-ranking sheriff’s officials on his speed dial — and he says they pick up when he calls.

Residents rarely call him anymore to complain about the department, when he used to get several complaints a day, he said.

The settlement approved in April came less than two years after federal prosecutors identified a pattern of discrimination that included unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and excessive force against blacks and Hispanics in Palmdale and Lancaster.

Deputies harassed and intimidated blacks and others in public housing, showing up for inspections with as many as nine officers, sometimes with guns drawn, the Justice Department said in its June 2013 report.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang broke this story.


A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial says California Highway Patrol’s monthly goals regarding the number of “enforcement contacts” made seem dangerously similar to quotas. For California law enforcement agencies, implementing quotas for arrests and citations is illegal.

It’s not just a CHP problem. LAPD motorcycle officers have successfully sued the city over arrest quotas. Law enforcement agencies should look closely at practices and policies, like quotas and civil asset forfeiture, that value profit and punishment over public safety, says the editorial board. Here’s a clip:

Under questioning from attorneys for Harrison Orr – a Citrus Heights man who won a $125,000 judgment – CHP motorcycle Officer Jay Brame testified that he has for years been admonished by his CHP superiors to have at least “100 enforcement contacts” a month while on patrol duty. This testimony has been backed up by Brame’s formal performance reviews, which criticized him for “enforcement contacts” that were “well below the shift average.”

It is illegal under state law for law-enforcement officers to be given quotas for arrests and/or citations. The CHP flatly denies it has quotas for its Sacramento bureau or anywhere in the state. But pressing officers to meet numerical goals on “enforcement contacts” certainly seems problematic. And the fact that it is far from the first time that police agencies in California have faced such allegations provides crucial context. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has repeatedly been successfully sued by its motorcycle officers over arrest quotas set by their superiors.

This practice is dubious in many ways, starting with the fact that it creates incentives that make an officer’s job more about punishing drivers and collecting fines than about maintaining highway safety…


The New Yorker has an excellent longread profile on Pat Nolan, a former California Republican Assemblymember who, after being busted in a federal racketeering sting, had a very personal wake up call about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system. Nolan’s whole world (and perspective) was turned upside down. He spent 25 months behind bars, and then four months in a halfway house, during and after which, he became a vehement advocate for reform. Nolan is now the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Project at the American Conservative UnionFoundation, and partners with the Texas-based Right on Crime group, and has had a hand in the passage of Prop 47, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and the reetry-focused Second Chance Act.

Here are some clips from the New Yorker story:

“I went to the legislature very pro cop and with a get-tough-on-crime attitude,” Nolan told me. He wanted to reinstate the death penalty, which the Supreme Court had temporarily suspended. He believed that the exclusionary rule, which disallows evidence improperly obtained by the police, had become a loophole that lawyers exploited to allow guilty clients to go free. He excoriated a colleague in the assembly for proposing a law that would extend workers’ compensation to inmates injured in prison labor programs. And he was a leading sponsor of a prison-building boom in the state, which included, to his eventual regret, the Pelican Bay supermax facility, where inmates are kept in long-term solitary.

The F.B.I. sting, he says, dispelled his unconditional faith in law enforcement. In Nolan’s telling of it, trophy-hunting agents browbeat his aides and his campaign supporters to build a case against him, leaking tidbits to the press in the hope of breaking his resolve. The prosecutor loaded the charge sheet so heavily that Nolan concluded that he couldn’t risk going before a jury. Like roughly ninety-five per cent of people convicted in America, he pleaded guilty and took a lesser sentence rather than take his chances at trial. He began to wonder how many of the people he had dismissed as bad guys had simply succumbed to prosecutorial bullying. He said, “I saw that the F.B.I. and the government prosecutors weren’t interested in the truth, and that was a shock to me.”

By the standards of American incarceration, Nolan had it easy. He served twenty-five months in two prisons that housed the least menacing felons. The Federal Prison Camp at Dublin, near San Francisco, was a compound of former Army barracks surrounded by landscaped flower gardens. There was a small coterie of white-collar criminals, but the majority of the inmates were blacks and Latinos serving time for relatively minor drug convictions. Nolan helped organize religious-study groups, and—to judge by his accounts in an unpublished memoir—he treated his fellow-inmates as a constituency to be charmed. (He still corresponds with some of them.) From prison, Nolan produced a chatty newsletter that his wife, Gail, distributed to some two thousand supporters. He had regular visits from his family and a loyal band of political friends. After ten months, he was transferred to Geiger Corrections Center, near Spokane, where the supervision was even less oppressive. Still, his time in prison exposed him to what he came to see as the cynical cycle of American justice: sweep up young men, mostly from broken families in underprivileged neighborhoods, put them away for a while, send them back onto the streets with no skills, and repeat. To call this a “corrections” system seemed a sour joke.

“I had assumed they did all they could to help prepare the guys to return to society and make a better life,” Nolan told me. “But they were just warehousing them.” There was a pervasive sense of defeat. “The implication is: you’re worthless, you come from nothing, you are nothing, you’ll never be anything.” He added that when prisoners were released the guards would say, “See you in a few months.” He was surprised, too, at the number of elderly and infirm inmates. In his memoir, he wrote that “incarcerating people who aren’t a physical threat to society is expensive and counter-productive”—something that “only a nation that is rich and vindictive” would do.

Nolan was still an inmate when he ventured into the politics of reform. In 1994, in the California Political Review, he published an attack on that year’s crime bill—President Clinton’s signature contribution to mass incarceration, which earmarked $9.7 billion for prisons, imposed tougher sentences, and, among many punitive provisions, eliminated college grants for prison inmates.


There are whole areas of policy where bipartisan consensus remains far out of reach. Guns, for starters, are untouchable. (Norquist likes to provoke liberals with the creative theory that the crime rate has fallen because more Americans have concealed-carry permits.) For most Republicans, outright legalization of drugs, even marijuana, “is one we can’t touch,” Nolan says. The idea of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which has the support of Rand Paul and Nolan as well as Bernie Kerik, appeals to many Democrats but terrifies most Republicans. “They have this image of hordes of criminals” flocking to the polls to vote for Democrats, Nolan said. Conservatives tend to look more favorably on privatizing prisons, prison services, and probation, a scheme that liberals view with deep distrust. The death penalty, which divides the right, is not on the shared agenda.

The most significant question is whether conservatives are prepared to face the cost of the remedies, from in-prison education and job training to more robust probationary supervision and drug and mental-health treatment. Joan Petersilia, a criminologist who teaches at the Stanford Law School, points to the last great American exercise in decarceration, half a century ago: President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, which aimed to reduce by half the number of patients in state mental hospitals. The promised alternatives—hundreds of community care facilities—were never fully funded, and thousands of deeply troubled people were liberated into homelessness. The mentally ill now make up a substantial portion of inmates in state prisons and county jails.

“The direction forward is not really clear, because, on the one hand, the right is saying less government, less spending,” Petersilia told me. “And the left is saying we need more investment.” She offers the example of California, which for nearly five years has been under a Supreme Court order to cull the overcrowded prisons that Nolan once helped build. “The success story of downsizing prisons in California is like nothing the nation has ever experienced,” she said. “We have downsized in less than five years twenty-five per cent of all prison populations. But look what is happening at the local, community level, which is that they’ve upsized jails, and they’ve got a homeless population, they’ve got police officers complaining about the mentally ill. We didn’t answer the question: if not prisons, what?”

Nolan agrees about the cost of alternatives: “In each of the Right on Crime states, we have insisted that a large part of the savings be put back into the system.” As for his home state, Nolan says, “we were not a part of that mess.” Nolan thinks that Governor Jerry Brown failed to plan adequate prison alternatives because “he just wanted to get the court off his back.” When conservatives did venture into California, last November, to help pass Proposition 47, the measure required that two-thirds of any money saved be funnelled into alternative correctional programs. Nolan said, “Conservatives have insisted that money be plowed into services because we know that just releasing prisoners or diverting them from prisons without services would increase crime.” That is true, but it tends to be relegated to the fine print in conservative reform literature. The headlines promise tremendous savings to taxpayers.

Nolan has another worry: that one sensational crime, or a spike in the crime rate, or the distraction of more polarizing issues could send Republicans and Democrats back to their corners. “We’ve all said we’re one bad incident away from having this erode on us,” he said. But if the bipartisan movement can accomplish the things it agrees on, Nolan has a wish list of additional reforms that he will pitch to conservatives. He would like to see abusive prosecutors lose their licenses. He would require the police to videotape interrogations from beginning to end, not just a confession that may have been improperly extracted.

And, mindful of the prisoners who have been exonerated while waiting on death row, he would like to end capital punishment.

Posted in Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Right on Crime, The Feds, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Protecting Kids with Locked-Up Parents, German Prisons, LA Investigating Social Workers after Brutal Beating of Baby…and More

June 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Nearly 80% of Alameda County jail inmates are parents or caregivers of kids under 25-years-old, according to a soon-to-be-released survey of 1100 inmates by the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP). (It is estimated that there are 2.7 million kids nationwide with parents behind bars.)

And out of a separate, smaller survey of 100 kids with incarcerated parents in San Francisco, nearly half had watched their parent get arrested. And more than half of those kids said they had witnessed officers rough up their parents during the arrest.

ACCIPP is comprised of advocate groups, government agencies, service providers, and others committed to bettering the lives of kids with locked-up parents, and reducing the effects of trauma. At the coalition’s fourth annual meeting in Oakland, attendees heard from kids with incarcerated parents, parents who had been locked up, as well as child welfare and law enforcement representatives.

The ACCIPP is calling on the Alameda County Police Department to implement a model policy from “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents,” by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Melinda Clemmons has more on the particulars of the policy and why it’s important. Here’s a clip:

The report is part of a White House Domestic Policy Council justice initiative focused on reducing trauma experienced by children who have parents in prison or jail.

The model policy is informed by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, first published in 1998, which shows the connection between adverse childhood experiences and health status in adulthood. Parental incarceration is recognized as one of the adverse childhood experiences that heighten a child’s risk of negative outcomes in adulthood…

“Where possible,” the policy states, “officers shall determine whether any child is likely to be present at the location” when an arrest is planned. “When reasonably possible, officers may delay an arrest until the child is not likely to be present (e.g., at school or day care), or consider another time and place for making the arrest.”

If delaying the arrest is not possible, arrangements should be made to have child welfare services or a partner agency at the scene. The policy also calls for officers to directly ask arrestees if they are parents and whether or not a child is present.

Tim Birch, manager of research and planning for the Oakland Police Department, told the May 18 gathering that the department will incorporate as much of the model policy as is feasible for the department.

“We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do a better job taking care of children when their parents are arrested even when the children are not present or it is not obvious that the arrestees are caretakers of children,” Birch said.


The Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice hand-selected a group of prison officials, prosecutors, researchers, and advocates from across the nation to send on a week-long tour of prisons in Germany.

On the International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange tour, the 17 criminal justice field-trippers will have the opportunity to observe how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and more. And Germany has methods worth learning. Germany’s incarceration rates are almost 90% lower than the US.

Among those chosen to participate are Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at Charles Koch Institute (formerly of Right on Crime), and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movies and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah is also on the tour and will be providing updates along the way. Here’s a clip from his first story:

The Vera Institute has chosen these leaders in hopes that they’ll take the European lessons seriously, and that they have the clout and credibility to enact change once they return home.

The track record for this idea is short but promising. In 2013, Vera took a similar group on tours of prisons in the Netherlands and Germany. John Wetzel, who runs the prison system in Pennsylvania, adapted ideas from the trip as he revamped the way his state handles prisoners before they’re released. He learned how in Germany, correctional officers are more like therapists than guards, and when he returned, Wetzel told me, he increased training in communication skills for his employees, “shifting the whole focus around humanizing offenders and lifting the expectations for officers, to get every staff member to feel some ownership over outcomes.” Wetzel also increased mental health training because “when people understand the root cause of behavior, they are more likely to not interpret something as disrespectful.”

The point of all this, Wetzel added, is to figure out what’s causing prisoners to commit crimes so you can find out how to make sure they’re less likely to commit more once they leave prison, thereby protecting the public. “It almost smacked me in the face when they said that public safety is a logical consequence of a good corrections system, and not the other way around.”

Beyond policy, comparing American and German prisons will surely unearth some deeper undercurrents in the histories of both societies. Just as no study of American prisons is complete without looking at the history of race relations all the way back to slavery, German incarceration exists in the shadow of the 1940s and that decade’s unspeakable combination of prison, factory, and slaughterhouse.

“I’m interested in how contemporary German officials imagine the past in relation to their current practices,”f said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and will be on the trip. He has argued in the past that American public discourse is far more willing to examine the horrors of the Holocaust than to reckon with the legacy of slavery.

Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen is also a member of the group touring Germany prisons.

Contra Costa Times’ Tracey Kaplan has more on Rosen and his impression of German incarceration practices, thus far. Here’s a clip:

The group includes people from both ends of the political spectrum, from Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Patrick “Dan” Malloy to a senior research fellow at the conservative Charles Koch Institute, Vikrant P. Reddy. Rosen, who also is a Democrat, was one of only three district attorneys in California to advocate easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, which had allowed life sentences even for nonviolent third felonies. He also supported Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for crimes such as petty theft.

Other members of the tour include Craig DeRoche, who helps run the largest prison ministry in the world and was once Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in Michigan, and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movie series and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles.

The only other district attorney is Milwaukee’s John Chisholm, a Democrat profiled by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker magazine recently for his uphill efforts to right the racial imbalance in American prisons.

The institute conducted a similar tour two years ago, but it was mostly for law enforcement and corrections officials.

“We wanted a broader range this time so we can reach more people,” Vera spokeswoman Mary Crowley said.

The eclecticism of the group reflects a sea change in the ranks of criminal justice reformers. An increasing number of tough-on-crime advocates now agree with social justice champions on the left that the prison-only approach for nonviolent offenders is failing and that there are more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars to make communities safe.

Rosen already has taken some steps to change the status quo. Among them: a pre-filing diversion program that allows about 1,500 people a year who trespass or commit other petty crimes to avoid having a criminal record by letting them take classes and make restitution.

“It’s saving tens of thousands of dollars a year,” Rosen said.


LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services officials are reviewing the actions of social workers leading up to the near-death beating of a 13-month-old by his mother’s boyfriend. Detectives said they did not expect the boy, Fernando Garcia, to survive. When LA deputies found Fernando last week in near Compton in his family’s home, the toddler was not breathing, and his body, covered with bruises and a burn, had gone cold.

Social workers chose to keep Fernando’s three sisters with their mother following the June 7th beating and the arrest of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez.

DCFS is investigating whether social workers should have paid more heed to callers to the child abuse hotline who gave reports of domestic violence involving men and Fernando’s mother.

DCFS has ordered the social workers to be retrained pending the investigation.

After a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection recommended 163 important action items last year to reform the dysfunctional DCFS, county child welfare has seen some improvements, but there are still some major problem areas that need to be addressed. For instance, WLA reported recently on an audit that found, over a period of four months, at least $160,000 worth of MTA passes and/or tokens—but most likely $571,000 worth of those passes/tokens—were never given to foster kids in desperate need of them.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s deputies responding to a call arrived at the boy’s home and discovered that he was not breathing, according to sheriff’s records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of finger marks covered his chest and abdomen, and a burn mark covered a portion of his leg, according to the DCFS records.

Investigators later learned that Fernando received a gash under the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez. The boy’s mother also told detectives and the DCFS that she had observed Hernandez poking the boy. Witnesses reported that Fernando was visibly afraid and would cry when Hernandez was in the room, the DCFS records say.


In February 2009, a caller to the county’s child abuse hotline reported that the mother’s boyfriend at the time pushed her while she carried one of her daughters. Social workers ruled the report to be “unfounded” and did not require court-ordered domestic violence services for the family, the DCFS records say.

That September, a caller told the hotline that the mother’s boyfriend — who was not Hernandez — was violent toward the mother. Social workers found significant bruising on the mother’s back, but they accepted her story that the injuries were self-inflicted. They did not pursue further evaluation by doctors or other professionals and ruled the allegations “inconclusive,” the DCFS records say.

The department closed the mother’s case the following month without further interventions. Social workers did not explain their rationale, the DCFS records say.


Former OC Assistant Sheriffs Jack Anderson and John Davis, and former captains Brian Cossairt, Deana Bergquist and Robert Eason are alleging that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens unfairly terminated them, using a $28 million budget shortfall as an excuse to get rid of them.

The plaintiffs say they were let go because of their affiliation with the former, scandal-plagued OC sheriff, Mike Carona, from whom Hutchens took over the department after Carona’s downward spiral for which he served time for witness tampering. The former command staff argue that Hutchens aimed to cleanse the department of top brass she considered to be involved in the corruption, and that she did not allow them the hearings they were entitled to. (But under Hutchens’ assertions that they were laid off to save the department millions, hearings would not be necessary.)

The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement and millions in combined damage.

The OC Register’s Sean Emery has the story. Here’s a clip:

Carona was in the midst of his downfall from being dubbed “America’s Sheriff” to serving time as a felon convicted of corruption charges. One of his closest allies, former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, had already been convicted of tax evasion.

Hutchens, a veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, had been appointed by a tight 3-2 vote by the Orange County Board of Supervisors with a mandate to reform the demoralized Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Among those Hutchens brought on to her newly created command staff were John Scott and Michael Hillmann, who she had worked with during her time with the LA County Sheriff’s. They joined high-level sheriff’s officials who remained with the department during the transition.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchens, Scott and Hillmann “made clear their belief” that, compared to Los Angeles, Orange County was a “backwoods” territory that was still “rife with corruption,” even after Carona’s departure.

Joel W. Baruch, who is representing the five former sheriff’s officials, said Tuesday that the new leadership soon clashed with Anderson, who they accused of not informing them quickly enough about several incidents, including a reserve deputy acting inappropriately during an event involving presidential candidates at Saddleback Church and a deputy being arrested during a “peeping tom” incident.

“They told him ‘quit acting like the sheriff, there is a new sheriff in town,’ ” Baruch said.

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

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