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Restorative Justice


Lessons the LAPD Can Teach……What About Body Cameras?…..John Oliver on Police Militarization….”Toxic Stress” and CA Kids…..& More

August 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT FERGUSON CAN LEARN FROM THE LAPD

Yes, the Los Angeles Police Department is far from perfect. There was, for instance, the recent revelation that they appear to be deliberately cooking some of their crime stats to shower better numbers than they actually have. Yet, they’ve also undeniably made a huge amount of significant progress in the last decade.

With that in mind, the LA Times editorial board listed a few lessons that the staggeringly problematic Ferguson police department might want to learn from the LAPD

Here’s a representative clip:

….More than two decades ago, civic leaders here grasped the importance of diversity on the police force. Today, the LAPD mirrors the city quite closely — Latinos are the department’s largest ethnic group, and blacks make up just over 10% of the force, roughly equivalent to their representation in the city. Ferguson’s force is almost entirely white — only three of 53 commissioned officers are black — even though the population of the city is two-thirds black. It is difficult for residents to trust a force that feels foreign.

The riots forced deep reflection in Los Angeles over how police should best handle unruly crowds. The department today attempts neither to yield to violence nor to provoke it. It’s not always successful — by its own admission, its handling of a May Day rally in 2007 was cause for “great concern.” Still, the LAPD’s reputation for restraint in crowd control is generally deserved. By contrast, authorities in Ferguson responded to initial protests with heavy arms and tactics; the situation escalated rapidly….

For the rest, read on.


WHAT ABOUT THOSE BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE?

The shooting of Michael Brown has brought up the topic of body cameras for police again and, in his story on the issue, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims notes that the Ferguson police department, like many law enforcement agencies, has a supply of the cameras but has not actually deployed them to officers.

The LAPD has been testing body cameras out but has not gone into any wholesale ordering of the things.

Rialto, California, however, is one of the cities that has required all its officers to use cameras (which are no bigger than pagers).

“In the first year after the cameras’ introduction,” Mims writes, “the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.”

Mims had more to say about the benefits and potential challenges of camera use when he was on Madeleine Brand’s Press Play on Monday.


JOHN OLIVER’S SCATHING TAKE ON POLICE REACTION IN FERGUSON & LAW ENFORCEMENT SHOCK & AWE

John Oliver covered the behavior of the police in Ferguson and the increasing militarization of American law enforcement in his Sunday show “Last Week Tonight.” He makes one false step in calling the convenience store video of Michael Brown irrelevant, but most of the rest of Oliver’s commentary is well-researched, sharply on target, and scathing.


CALIFORNIA SENATE PASSES RESOLUTION ASKING GOV TO LOOK AT INTERVENTION POLICIES TO ALLEVIATE “TOXIC STRESS” AND TRAUMA IN CHILDREN

With a bipartisan vote of 34-0, on Monday, the California Senate passed a resolution aimed at getting the governor to begin to focus on the issue of the effect of childhood traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences”—-or ACES— on a kid’s future.

Big sources of trauma are things like physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, untreated mental illness or incarceration of a household member, domestic violence, community violence….and so on.

The resolution notes that studies now have tracked the effects of too many “ACES,” and the results are alarming. For instance, a child with 4 or more ACES is 46 times more likely to have learning or emotional problems, and far more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system…and more.

It also notes that prolonged “toxic stress” can “impact the development of a child’s fundamental brain architecture.”

Yet research has shown too that intervention in a child’s life can mitigate and heal the potential for damage caused by these toxic traumas.

The resolution—-introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice— is largely symbolic.

But it is also viewed as a big step in acknowledging the importance of early childhood trauma in the lives and future of the state’s children, and the need for policy that provides trauma-informed intervention for the kids most affected.

A concurrent resolution unanimously passed the California Assembly on August 11.


CA PRISONS BEGIN TO REFORM POLICIES TOWARD THE MENTALLY ILL DESCRIBED AS “HORRIFIC”

As the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation begins to comply with the federal court ordered revisions of its long-criticized use-of-force policy with the mentally ill, the California Report’s Julie Small looks at mental illness and California prisons with a series of reports. Here’s a clip from her Monday story, with more to come.

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury.

The issue was brought to light last year through graphic videos shown in court in a lawsuit that was begun in 1990, a lawsuit brought by inmates to improve psychiatric care.

[SNIP]

One video showed custody staff at Corcoran State Prison struggling to remove an inmate who was hallucinating and refusing to leave his cell in order to receive medication.

The inmate had taken off his clothes and smeared feces on himself. When he refused to submit to handcuffs, guards in gas masks sprayed a potent pepper spray into the cell, causing the inmate to gasp for air.

The video showed that as the inmate screamed for help, an officer ordered him to “turn around and cuff up.”

The inmate screamed back, “Open the door!”

When the inmate still wouldn’t “cuff up” the officers sprayed him again, repeatedly.

Later, the video showed guards rushing in and wrestling the inmate to the floor and into restraints.


IF INMATES DESIGNED A PRISON, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

In an innovative restorative justice program run out of one of San Francisco’s jails, men who are awaiting trial on violent crimes rethink their own lives and actions by rethinking what a prison could look like.

Lee Romney of the LA Times has this story, and it’s a good read. Here are a couple of clips to get you started:

All the students wore orange. And on this final day, their paper models were taking shape.

Architect Deanna VanBuren adjusted a piece of tracing paper over Anthony Pratt’s design, showing him how to mark the perimeter to show walls and windows, then urging him to use dots to indicate open spaces.

A towering, broad-chested man with full tattoos adorning both arms, Pratt, 29, was among those sketching out new visions: an airy room with a skylight to cure vitamin D deficiencies and a fountain with a cascading waterfall to represent resilience and adaptability. Privacy barriers for the shower and toilet. A healing center with lots of windows and, in the middle, a talking circle with a sun emblazoned in its center.

The spaces they were planning could be at a New Age retreat, but these were conceived by inmates at San Francisco’s County Jail No. 5.

Most inmates on this 48-man jail pod are awaiting trial on violent crimes. All must agree to participate in a program called “Resolve to Stop the Violence,” which involves concepts of restorative justice, an alternative to traditional criminal justice that focuses on healing victims and offenders alike. This day’s class allowed them to explore their feelings about the system that landed them here and how its physical contours might be altered…..

[BIG SNIP]

Restorative justice concepts were first promoted in the 1970s by global practitioner and theorist Howard Zehr, now a professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The goal was to make the needs of victims central, and by doing so effect broader healing for all, communities included.

Critics of restorative justice contend the process is too subjective and could lead to proposed remedies that are wildly disparate. As a result, some victim organizations and hard-line prosecutors reject it.

But the practice has nonetheless spread globally and throughout the U.S. as a body of evidence grows showing it helps reduce school expulsions, keep youths out of the criminal justice system and prevent youths and adults who have already been sentenced from re-offending.

The conversation has now turned to space.


NOTE: The video at the top was recorded by reporter Mustafa Hussein of Argus media,who was live streaming from Sunday’s protest when a Ferguson police officer allegedly pointed a weapon at him and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t turn off his camera light. Hussein is a graduate student at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, juvenile justice, LAPD, law enforcement, media, prison, prison policy, PTSD, Restorative Justice, Trauma | 5 Comments »

Realignment and Homeless Probationers, San Francisco to Nix Costly Jail Phone Calls, and Restorative Justice in Massachusetts Prisons

July 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INCREASE IN HOMELESS AB109 PROBATIONERS, AND HOW COUNTIES ARE DEALING WITH THE ISSUE

The diversion of lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision through California prison realignment, AB 109, was designed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding and recidivism while saving the state money. But realignment has greatly increased the number of homeless people under county supervision, where they were previously supervised under state parole officers, and many counties are struggling with the expanded responsibility.

Los Angeles County may decide to consider homelessness a violation of an inmate’s terms of release, a “solution” that many advocates see as more destructive than effective (and WLA agrees). Other counties are increasing shelter beds or providing temporary shelter for homeless probationers.

The Associated Press’ Gillian Flaccus has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

Gov. Jerry Brown based his recent overhaul of the state corrections system in part on the idea that having those convicted of lower-level crimes supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole agents when they are released would help them stay clean, find jobs and avoid committing new crimes.

A cornerstone of the law’s success is housing, yet county probation officers throughout the state say homelessness continues to undermine their ability to help ex-cons rehabilitate, get drug treatment and find jobs. Some California counties report that up to one in five of the parolees they supervise under the governor’s realignment law is homeless.

“You’ve got somebody and … they’re gang-involved, you want to get them in classes, but they live under a bridge,” said Andrew Davis, an analyst with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. “They’re not going to show up; they don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Counties across the state are dealing with the problem in different ways. Many are trying a patchwork of solutions as they adapt.

In Marin County, probation officers sometimes pick homeless parolees up at the prison gates and pay for motel rooms until they can find a bed. Santa Cruz County has contracted with local homeless shelters, a move that stirred controversy last year.

Homeless parolees in Riverside County are required to check in at an electronic kiosk and have their photo taken daily. In San Diego County, where nearly 400 former prison inmates are reporting as homeless, there’s a plan to spend $3 million to add 150 shelter beds. Parolees who say they are homeless must check in weekly with probation.

In Los Angeles County, where 758 convicts released under realignment say they have no permanent address, county attorneys are considering whether being homeless could be classified as an automatic violation of a parolee’s terms of release. That’s in part because many counties are finding that former inmates will claim homelessness to avoid close supervision.

Los Angeles has spent more than $6.5 million on housing for convicts who would have previously been the responsibility of state parole.

Counties say the number of lower-level offenders — defined as those who have committed crimes that are non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent — who are homeless upon their release has not necessarily changed since the realignment law took effect in 2011. State officials are still tallying the number.

The difference is that previously, these felons were the state’s responsibility. Counties are not strangers to dealing with homeless probationers, but now the numbers have increased.

Read on.


SAN FRANCISCO MOVES TO LOWER EXORBITANT RATES FOR LOCAL PHONE CALLS FROM JAIL

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. But because the cap only applies to out-of-state calls, contracted companies like Global Tel-Link continue to charge inmates’ families outsized fees for in-state calls and other services.

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to modify the county’s contract with Global Tel-Link to reduce the costs of local and regional calls from SF County jails by up to 70%. San Francisco is one of the first counties to take a stand against contractors like GTL overcharging inmates’ loved ones. We hope other counties in California (ahem, Los Angeles) and other states follow suit.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has the story. Here’s a clip:

The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions — in some cases to pay for inmate programs — while charging fees to cover those costs, according to regulators, lawmakers and inmate advocates.

Now, San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice — one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so.

At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to dramatically reduce the cost of calls, which can burden inmates’ families.

“We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society often depends on strong family ties.

The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70%, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45 — a 38% drop.

Earlier this year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.

So far, most state efforts have focused on prisons, not local jails, like San Francisco’s.

California and at least seven other states ban prisons from accepting commissions…

Verizon, which isn’t in the corrections business, has weighed in against the practice, telling the FCC: “Forcing inmates’ families to fund [inmate services] through their calling rates is not the answer. … Other funding sources should be pursued.”

County-run jails have opposed regulation, and have largely managed to avoid it.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) hopes to change that. He has introduced a bill that would ban commissions and require contracts to be awarded to providers offering the lowest cost of service for inmates. It would apply to all jails and juvenile facilities statewide.

The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes the measure, contending the changes would “negatively impact inmates” by reducing funds for inmate services.

But Quirk said, “I think there are better ways to fund it other than taxing grandma.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.


MASSACHUSETTS TO LAUNCH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROGRAM IN PRISONS

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a new restorative justice prison program (based on the Victim Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison) aimed at reducing recidivism. During the 34-week course, offenders will have the opportunity to connect with victims in a mutually healing environment and take responsibility for harm they caused to others.

The NY Times’ Dina Kraft has the story. Here’s how it opens:

For many of his 15 years behind the soaring prison walls here, Muhammad Sahin managed to suppress thinking of his victims’ anguish — even that of the one who haunted him most, a toddler who peeked out from beneath her blankets the night he shot and killed her mother in a gang-ordered hit.

But he found it impossible to stop the tears as he sat in a circle together with Deborah Wornum, a woman whose son was murdered, and more than a dozen other men serving terms for homicide and other violent crimes. Each participant — victim and inmate — had a very different, personal story to share with the encounter groups that met here on a recent weekend in a process called restorative justice.

Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.

“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”

Lifting his head to look directly at Ms. Wornum, he projected his crime onto the murder of her son: “I kind of feel like I caused the pain, like I’m the one who committed the crime.”

The unusual two-day gathering took place south of Boston at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, one of the state’s oldest prisons as well as its largest, with about 1,500 inmates. Under the whirring of overhead fans in an auditorium of exposed red brick, it brought 150 inmates together with victims, judges, prosecutors and mediators. Gov. Deval Patrick attended briefly and met with a small group of those present.

Restorative justice, a process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures that resurfaced in the United States and abroad in the 1970s, has begun to make headway in some states, including Massachusetts, where legislation was introduced last year to promote its practice. It brings offenders and victims together voluntarily. Offenders take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims and loved ones as well as their own families and neighborhoods. The victim is given a chance to ask questions of the offenders and share how their lives were affected by the crime. Advocates say it is key to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism….

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a curriculum on restorative justice, modeled on a program called the Victim Offender Education Group, which was developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. Meeting weekly for 34 weeks, participants will undergo a probing process aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused.

Posted in Homelessness, jail, Probation, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice | No Comments »

LAUSD Questionable Budgetary Choices…School Discipline…Mental Health in Schools…and Considering Chief Beck for 2nd Term

June 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGE NASH SAYS LAUSD MONEY FOR DISADVANTAGED KIDS SHOULD NOT BE SHIFTED TO SCHOOL COPS

Head LA Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash has sent a letter to the LAUSD opposing a plan to use $13 million in funding earmarked for disadvantaged kids to beef up the school police force.

Nash’s letter says that increasing police presence on campus does not fall under the umbrella of providing better learning experiences and outcomes to kids in low-income families, foster kids, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students, which is what the money is set aside for.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here are some clips:

An unprecedented new California funding plan is poised to distribute billions across the Golden State, which has long been beleaguered by inequities in educational support in low-income communities and waves of budget cuts in more recent years. Earmarked funds are supposed to be slated specifically for low-income and foster-care kids, as well as students classified as still learning English as a second language.

In a June 6 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the L.A. district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.

Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”

“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.

“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.

[SNIP]

In another letter to the district in April, a group of legal aid and community groups involved in school-discipline reform in California praised the L.A. district for proposing to direct $37 million of the new supplemental funds to 37 of the district’s most troubled middle and high schools.

But the groups also objected to the idea of diverting more than $13 million to L.A. school police, for the same reasons as Nash. The groups additionally protested that the district’s draft proposal initially allocates only $2.6 million for certain methods of managing student clashes and misbehavior known as “restorative justice” counseling.

Restorative justice methods are key to the L.A. district’s own adopted “School Climate Bill of Rights,” the groups noted. That bill of rights aims to reduce suspensions and referrals of students to police for fights or misbehavior. The relatively modest proposed spending to hire a relative handful of counselors to lead this effort is “extremely disturbing,” the letter says.

The groups asked for many millions more to be invested in such counseling, including all the $13 million slated for police. But no additional money for restorative justice appears in the latest version of the plan.


SANTA ROSA SCHOOLS SAVE MONEY AND KEEP KIDS IN SCHOOL WITH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

While the LAUSD is only earmarking $2.6M for restorative justice next year, there are plenty of examples across the state (and country) of schools using restorative justice to lower suspensions and expulsions, keeping kids in class and saving money.

The Santa Rosa City Schools District spent $125,000 implementing restorative justice practices at two schools during the 2013-14 year. With a small investment and a citywide push for more effective school discipline, Santa Rosa Schools cut total suspensions and expulsions nearly in half and saved $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The Press-Democrat’s Susan Kinder has the story. Here are some clips:

Santa Rosa schools were suspending and expelling students at a much higher rate than most schools in the state. In fact, in the 2011-12 year, Santa Rosa schools had the fourth highest rate of suspensions per capita in the state.

Eager to find a different approach to school discipline, the Santa Rosa school board did its research and wanted to implement restorative justice, a nationally recognized method of conflict resolution that often involves meeting in restorative circles — with victims, offenders, students, teachers, parents and administrators — in an effort to repair the harm, make amends and get to the very core of the problem.

[SNIP]

In the 2013-14 school year, Restorative Resources served 219 students in suspension diversion program and 188 students in expulsion diversion programs.

At Elsie Allen High School, suspensions were down 60 percent, with 25 suspensions this year compared to 62 suspensions in 2012-13…

At Cook Middle School, suspensions were down 67 percent, with 27 suspensions in 2013-14 compared to 82 suspensions in 2012-13.

But the reduction in suspensions and expulsions was not limited to these two schools. It was part of a districtwide trend that added up to huge suspension and expulsion reductions this year and a total savings of more than $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The savings in suspension diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $340,976. This school year, 1,863 students were suspended for 3,558 days at a cost of $304,173 in lost ADA money. In the 2012-13 school year, 3,206 students were suspended for 7,546.5 days at cost of $645,150.

The savings from expulsion diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $213,840. This year, only three students were expelled at a cost of $40,920. In the 2012-13 school year, 53 students were expelled at cost of $254,760.


STUDY: CALIFORNIA A LEADER IN THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE CONVERSATION

Although many California schools still lag behind in reforming harsh discipline policies, overall, California is high on the list of states swapping out zero tolerance policies and narrowing the racial gap, according to an important new report released Thursday by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Susan Frey of EdSource has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Research and data on school discipline is clear,” according to a synopsis of the 400-page report, School Discipline Consensus Report: Key Findings, Recommendations and Examples of Action. “Millions of students are being removed from their classrooms each year, overwhelmingly for minor misconduct. Students experiencing suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately nonwhite, disabled and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

Suspending students, particularly for minor offenses, is a serious issue because it “substantially increases the likelihood they will fall behind academically, drop out and enter the juvenile justice system,” according to the report.

California’s recent efforts to reduce suspensions and encourage more positive approaches to discipline puts the state “at the top of the list together with a handful of other states” in promoting a healthy school climate, said Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center.

“California has become a real leader in this conversation,” Thompson said. “Top policy makers and school officials have made a positive school climate a priority.”

At the unveiling of the report in Los Angeles on Thursday, one of the policy makers who has been leading efforts to reform school discipline policies, Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said the report is important because it represents a consensus-based approach “for all of those who have an investment in making sure young people stay in school.”

The report involved more than 100 advisers representing policy makers, school administrators, teachers, behavioral health professionals, police, court leaders, probation officials, juvenile correctional leaders, parents and youth across the country. Another 600 individuals shared examples of promising practices that are outlined in the report, which took three years to complete.

In conjunction with the release of the national report, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies on Thursday provided an analysis of state data that showed that 500 out of 745 California school districts reduced out-of-school suspensions between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Although African American students were still over-represented, the racial gap is narrowing, the center reported. The results included only the 745 districts that had discipline data for both years and excluded county offices of education, according to the center, which is part of the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles.

The center also reported an overall reduction in suspensions by 14 percent and a 24 percent reduction in suspensions for willful defiance, which has been criticized as being too subjective and for being used disproportionately with African American students. Dickinson has introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 420, this legislative session to limit the use of willful defiance suspensions. A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dickinson said he is working with the governor to get his support of the current bill.


…BACK TO THE LAUSD BUDGETARY ISSUES

While the LAUSD plans to increase the $57 million school police budget to $70 million, still another subset of students are being underserved. A recent study found that 8 in 10 kids attending LA’s high-poverty schools had experienced three or more traumatic events during the previous year, yet the mental health budget allows for just one counselor per 2,200 LAUSD students.

This means that nearly the only kids actually receiving school counseling are the those whose circumstances are so extreme the district is required to treat them under federal law.

The new California funding plan will allow LA to hire 97 new counselors (but almost all of them are going to a few schools to settle a lawsuit and increase services for foster kids).

The state will also be spending an extra $50 million on “wellness centers” to provide a number of mental and physical health services to students both on and off campus.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue in part two of her series on poverty in LA schools. Here’s a clip:

The district currently employs about 300 psychiatric social workers to serve roughly 800 schools — a ratio of about 2,200 students to one counselor.

As researchers work to solve one of the most persistent problems in public education – why kids in poor neighborhoods fail so much more often than their upper-income peers – more and more they’re pointing the finger at what happens outside the classroom.

Shootings. Food insecurity. Sirens and fights in the night. Experts are finding that those stressors build up, creating emotional problems and changes in the brain that can undermine even the clearest lessons.

In a recent study at high-poverty schools, L.A. Unified officials found that eight in 10 kids had suffered three or more traumatic events in the preceding year alone.

One solution cropping up at a smattering of schools across the country: school-based therapy.

“These children need to feel empowered to be able to feel like they are agents of their own change,” said Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor and psychiatrist at UC Berkeley who’s working on interventions for kids suffering from what’s become known as toxic stress.

“They are going to have themselves for the rest of their life,” he added, “so the best thing they can have is to be equipped to manage traumatic stressors later in life.”

But at the Los Angeles Unified School District, counseling services have been in decline for years.

The issue is money.

Between 2008 and 2013, L.A. Unified lost $2.8 billion in overall funding from the state. School board member Steve Zimmer said it was a battle just holding on to teachers.

“We had a cataclysmic experience in the district with the budget. Everything that was, is no more,” Zimmer said.

A lot of people lost jobs: teachers, librarians, custodians. And counselors.

During those recession-era cuts, prevention and early intervention funds for mental health services all but disappeared said Pia Escudero, director of school mental health at L.A. Unified.

Now, she said, her staff’s caseload consists almost entirely of students whose problems are so severe the district is required to treat them under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Students…aren’t likely to see a school counselor unless they get so sick a psychiatrist diagnoses them as emotionally disturbed.

“You are always summoned to put out fires versus really embedding programs,” Escudero said.

The financial tide is only now starting to turn at L.A. Unified.

California is sending more money to schools to help the neediest students. L.A. Unified will see its budget increase by $332 million next year for a total of about $6.8 billion. But that still leaves the district – and California – near the bottom of school funding in the nation.

Even with the influx of cash, very few students will see a counselor.

The district is adding 97 counselors, but they’re going to a select group of schools to settle a lawsuit, and to help foster kids stay on track.

Yet Escudero said the need across the district is overwhelming…

Read on.


EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION ON KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS

Having an incarcerated parent is one significant source of trauma for kids in Los Angeles and across the nation, but is largely under-researched. A recent National Academy of Sciences study on the rise of the national incarceration rate takes a look at the effects incarceration has on kids (and families) with a locked up parent.

NPR’s All Things Considered has more on the report. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story.

Jeremy Travis, one of the authors of the National Academy of Sciences report, says despite the rate of incarceration quadrupling over the past four decades, no one has really studied its effects on the family — especially kids — before.

“This is an important social question which is not getting enough attention from the research community — not because there is not enough interest, but because we’ve not been willing to pay for it,” Travis says.

Travis says the numbers of kids with an incarcerated parent is “staggering.” He says in the 1970s there were about 350,000 minors with a parent in prison; now, it’s well over 2 million.

“That simply tracks [with] the fact that we’re putting more people in prison,” he says. “And the consequences of that are pretty profound, we think, although they’re not as well documented as they should be.”

What we do know, he says, is that there are higher rates of homelessness among families when the father is in prison, poor developmental outcomes for the children in those families, and that there’s greater family instability in those families.

Travis says the children in those families often end up in foster care and have difficulties in school forming attachments with their peers. All of those difficulties, he says, present challenges for the communities, social workers, educators and family members who want to support that child through such a difficult time.

The first step, he says, is that we should have fewer people in prison, but it is more complicated than that.

“We will always have people in prison, and we should pay attention to the collateral consequences of incarcerating … parents,” Travis says.


EDITORIALS: REAPPOINTING LAPD CHIEF BECK SEEMS OBVIOUS, BUT COMMISSION SHOULD STILL CONDUCT THOROUGH REVIEW

Starting this week, public hearings will be held throughout the month on whether or not LAPD Chief Charlie Beck should serve another five-year term. The Police Commission will then have until August 20 to decide to reappoint Beck or end his term.

Two LA Times editorials take a look at how Beck has served the department and the city and give suggestions on what the civilian commission should consider as it goes about making its decision.

The first editorial says that while Beck appears to be a “shoo-in,” the commission should not skim over the process, but should still examine the statistics, including crime rates over the last five years, complaints against the department, and arrests. Here’s a clip:

Beck is seeking reappointment at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department is free of major controversy and scandal. When he became chief, the LAPD was still under a consent decree the city had agreed to to avoid a lawsuit that would have dredged up the department’s sometimes sordid record of brutality and racism. Chief William J. Bratton embraced the requirements of that decree, and when Beck took over, he steered the department through the final reforms needed to end federal oversight. Crime has continued to decline under his leadership, with gang crime reduced by half. Community relations appear strong — the seething antipathy toward the department that was a fact of life just a decade or two ago no longer dominates the city’s concerns. To Beck’s credit, the LAPD has managed this despite budget constraints, including a cost-cutting policy that keeps some 400 officers home each day rather than pay them overtime.

Given all that, Beck would seem to be a shoo-in for reappointment. It would, however, be wrong for the commissioners to skip through this process. This is an opportunity for the commission to take stock of its chief and imagine the future of the department. It should start by looking at the numbers.

Crime. Last year marked the 11th in a row that crime decreased in the city. Crime has declined in good economic times and bad, and those who deny the role of police in this revolutionary trend are arguing against facts. Los Angeles added officers in those years, and tailored policing strategies to address crime. The result: The number of serious and violent crimes in 2008, the year before Beck took office, was 127,374. The number last year was 100,521. That means that 27,000 Angelenos were spared a misery last year. No one should be cavalier about how much that affects the life of a city.

Yes, it’s true that other forces influence crime, and yes, crime was declining before Beck’s tenure, but the number of violent crimes and major property crimes has continued to drop each year. There are some on the City Council and elsewhere who continue to question whether the police played a significant role in those numbers, and thus whether the city could allow the department to shrink. They’re wrong. Some cities — Chicago, for instance — have seen a resurgence in violence of late, while smart policing has made Los Angeles safer. Indeed, the LAPD’s achievements in this area are all the more noteworthy given the overtime cuts. Beck deserves credit for balancing the department’s budget without sacrificing safety…

Read the rest.

The second editorial says that although there are no strong guidelines for the commission must follow in its decision-making process, it should take cues from the history of the process and the reasons recent chiefs—Williams, Parks, and Bratton—were either reappointed or replaced at the end of their first five years. Here’s a clip:

The current system for naming, retaining and replacing chiefs grows out of the breakdown of civilian oversight of the department in the early 1990s. In those days, Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley feuded nastily, and their mutual dislike was stoked by the controversy that engulfed Los Angeles after the release of a videotape showing LAPD officers beating Rodney G. King in 1991. By the time of the riots in 1992, the two had not spoken for more than a year.

The Christopher Commission, named for Los Angeles attorney (and future U.S. secretary of State) Warren Christopher, concluded that the chief was too unaccountable to the city’s civilian Police Commission, which was supposed to set policy for the LAPD and to supervise its chief. Partly to blame, the Christopher Commission concluded, were civil service protections that in effect created a “chief for life.” Instead, the commission recommended that chiefs be limited to 10 years in office, with a midpoint review. Voters approved that change as a charter amendment over Gates’ furious objections — indeed, on the night that the riots broke out in 1992, Gates was attending a fundraiser to defeat the amendment.

At the same time that the Christopher Commission was trying to put limits on a chief’s tenure, it also wisely suggested that it should be the norm for chiefs to serve the full 10 years. Its final report described the structure as a single term broken into “two five-year increments.” And though the Police Commission was given broad authority to get rid of a chief who had lost its confidence, the midpoint review was intended as an opportunity for a course correction when something was going wrong, not as a routine opportunity to make a switch. That was meant to strike the balance between accountability and stability, both important for leading an organization as complex and powerful as the LAPD.

Since then, three chiefs have applied for renewal. Two, Willie L. Williams and Bernard C. Parks, were denied the additional five years; one, William J. Bratton, was given the extra time. Their experiences are instructive and should guide the commission.

By 1997, with Williams approaching the end of his first five years, there was a strong consensus among the city’s political leadership that he had failed. Though he had helped patch up the LAPD’s relations with parts of the city, notably among blacks, the department’s performance measures were mixed and its leadership was demoralized. Most significant, Williams lost the commission’s confidence when he lied about accepting free accommodations from a Las Vegas hotel.

Parks’ case was more difficult…

Posted in Education, LAPD, LAUSD, mental health, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Program Helps Kids in CA Lockup Repay Victims While Learning a Trade…LASD to Propose Early Release Risk Assessment Program…Sheriff Candidate Updates…and More

March 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM IN CALIFORNIA YOUTH FACILITY ALLOWS KIDS TO LEARN TECH INDUSTRY WHILE EARNING MONEY AND PAYING BACK VICTIMS

Through a tech business program called Merit Partners operating in a California juvenile facility, kids receive training and experience in the tech industry while repaying victims. The program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility gives kids a way to take responsibility for their crimes, and becomes a healing process for many young participants.

Workers earn $8.00 an hour recycling and reselling electronics. Twenty percent of the money they earn goes into a victim fund, another portion to their own restitution fines. The rest goes into a savings account to help kids learn about personal finances and budgeting, and to help them get on their feet when they leave “Chad.”

Alice Daniel has the story for KQED’s California Report podcast. Here’s a small clip from the transcript:

Michael Casaglio introduces himself and some of his colleagues at Merit Partners, an environmentally certified electronic recycling business that’s located within the walls of the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. There’s floor leader Terrance Turner, upcoming floor leader Jordan Rutkes and IT tech Chandler Luce.

“Cables, wires, computers, laptops, computer chips, motherboards,” says Casaglio, as he reels off the types of electronic equipment they resell and recycle.

Merit Partners is the only operation of its kind in a California correctional facility. The incarcerated youth do most of the work; a small support staff trains them. The job pays $8 an hour and teaches valuable skills, Casaglio says.

It’s a far cry from his drug-dealing past. He spent his youth in and out of foster care; his own parents were addicts, he says. He smoked pot at age 9, used hard drugs at 11 and, at 15, held his gun to another dealer.

“And during the course of the robbery, somebody tried to prevent us from getting away, so I shot him five times,” says Casaglio, who has been at Chad five years.

The murder haunts him. “I took somebody’s grandparent away,” he says. “I took somebody’s husband, I took somebody’s dad, and there’s nothing I can do to repay or replace that.”

But he is giving back. Twenty percent of the money he and his peers earn goes directly to victims. The youth contribute to a local victims fund every year, and also compensate the people harmed by their crimes by paying restitution fines.

The compensation is mandatory, but 18-year-old Chandler Luce says he would donate some of his earnings to make up for his past, even if it were optional.

“You look in here, and this is a place full of people who caused harm to the world. And I was part of that,” he says.

(The clip doesn’t do it justice. Go listen to the whole story.)


LASD CONSIDERS NEW PROGRAM TO IDENTIFY LOW-RISK INMATES FOR EARLY RELEASE

The LA County Sheriff’s Department plans to propose (to the Board of Supervisors) a new system for selecting low-risk inmates for early release by predicting the likelihood of each inmate reoffending.

Currently, the state system looks only at the inmate’s last offense, and fails to take into account any previous offenses, even those of a serious nature. Critics (WLA included) have long thought that there should be a more nuanced form of risk assessment that looks at a variety of elements, rather than the broad strokes system that is presently in place.

It is therefore good news that interim Sheriff John Scott and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald want to try an inmate release strategy that they say will be more finely calibrated.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Jack Leonard have the story. Here’s a clip:

The proposal calls for a significant shift for the nation’s largest jail system, which currently determines when inmates get released by looking at the seriousness of their most recent offense and the percentage of their sentence they have already served. Officials say the current system has weaknesses because it does not take into account the inmate’s full record, including serious crimes that occurred years ago.

Supporters argue the change would help select inmates for early release who are less likely to commit new crimes. But it might also raise some eyebrows. An older offender convicted of a single serious crime, such as child molestation, might be labeled lower-risk than a younger inmate with numerous property and drug convictions.

The Sheriff’s Department is planning to present a proposal for a “risk-based” release system to the Board of Supervisors.

“That’s the smart way to do it,” interim Sheriff John L. Scott said. “I think the percentage [system] leaves a lot to be desired.”

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said at the center of the new system would be a computer program that uses each inmate’s criminal history to calculate the chance he or she will reoffend, and release those deemed lowest-risk first.

In addition to making release decisions, the tool could be used to assign inmates to education and treatment programs while in jail, and to decide which are eligible for alternatives to jail such as home confinement.

“It’s more sophisticated to look at risk,” she said. “It makes common sense to most people.”

The department could choose to override the automated risk scores for inmates convicted of certain crimes, but McDonald said it’s too early to say whether it would.

The Sheriff’s Department has not calculated the cost of the system but hopes to seek bids on the project soon if the Board of Supervisors approves.

(Read more about the proposed program, and how Riverside County is faring with its own version of early-release risk assessment.)


GETTING TO KNOW LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JAMES HELLMOLD

KPPC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of LA County Sheriff hopeful James Hellmold (currently an assistant sheriff) that’s worth reading. Here’s how it opens:

A few years ago, when James Hellmold commanded L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in the gang-riddled Lynwood area, he drew the ire of some colleagues.

“They had a legitimate question,” Hellmold recalled. “Why [was I] speaking at a gang member’s funeral?”

Hellmold attended the services for 25-year-old Branden Bullard, who’d been shot by rival gang members, to focus, he said, not on the “the negativity” in the young man’s life, but on the good things.

“In more recent days he had mentored some kids who were athletes, and trying to stay away from gangs.”

When the questions persisted from deputies, Hellmold challenged them.

“I asked them what they’ve done to help somebody else.”

Hellmold, 46, now one of four assistant sheriffs in the sprawling L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, seems just as interested in lending a hand to the needy as handcuffing criminals. Asked for a war story from the streets, he doesn’t talk about the time he shot an armed bank robber. He tells of taking foster kids to UCLA football games….

And as for the ongoing, controversial department issues, Hellmold says he is in favor of more civilian oversight, but denies the notion of “systemic misconduct” within the LASD:

“There have been some mistakes made, and there are some more reforms that need to occur,” Hellmold said. “But it is not true that there’s systemic misconduct happening.”

Hellmold once served as a personal assistant and driver for Baca. He owes his rise in the department in part to the retired sheriff and to another candidate, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. They groomed and promoted him. Baca and Tanaka also faced scathing criticism in a blue ribbon report for failing to stop abuses in the jails. But Hellmold remains reluctant to criticize them publicly.

“It’s very trendy right now to jump on the bandwagon of talking negative of Undersheriff Tanaka,” Hellmold said. “But we can’t deny some of the good things that he’s done for the department.”

Author Joe Domanick, who has written extensively on law enforcement in Los Angeles, wonders how much an insider like Hellmold can reform the agency.

“If he’s risen that high in the department, it’s a rare bird indeed who hasn’t been part of the problem,” said Domanick, adding that Hellmold likely wouldn’t have the big picture view of the department a candidate from outside the agency would bring.

“He’s part of that culture,” Domanick noted. “He’s trained to think, and act within the culture of that department.”


IN OTHER SHERIFF CANDIDATE NEWS: CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS THROWS HER SUPPORT BEHIND JIM MCDONNELL

Late last week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her endorsement of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the Los Angeles Sheriff race.

Here’s a small clip from AG Harris’ announcement:

“Chief Jim McDonnell is an excellent choice, and the best choice to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era,” Harris said. “McDonnell has the integrity, experience and professionalism necessary to protect public safety and earn the trust of the people of Los Angeles.”



FEDERAL ATTENTION ON STAFF RESPONSE TO SUICIDES BY MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

Questionable handling of two successful suicide attempts by mentally ill inmates in California prisons has prompted internal investigations and caught the attention of U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (also on the three-judge panel enforcing California’s prison population reduction).

In both instances, guards would not allow medical staffers to enter the cell and attempt to intervene or revive the inmate.

Judge Karlton has held hearings on the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, and will address one of the two incidents in a court session today (Monday).

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Denny Walsh have the story. Here’s a clip:

At 6:10 a.m. on Oct. 15, a medical technician handling the morning “pill pass” at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County spotted inmate David Scott Gillian hanging inside cell No. 164 from a bedsheet tied to an air vent.

“Gillian is hanging in his cell,” the tech called to a nearby guard, then rushed off to grab the “cut down scissors” and begin the process – mandatory under corrections department policy – of trying to revive the inmate through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to an internal department review of the incident.

Guards and medical staff converged at the cell door, according to the internal report. A sergeant and the medical technician entered the cell where Gillian was housed alone and found no pulse or signs of breathing.

“We need to cut him down, we need to do CPR,” the tech told the sergeant.

Instead, the sergeant refused, according to the review team report; he ordered the cell door closed and locked, even after a doctor and another medical staffer demanded they be allowed to perform CPR. Gillian, 52, would remain hanging for nearly four hours before he was cut down.

The confidential corrections department report, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, summarizes the findings of a suicide review team assigned to investigate Gillian’s death. All suicides in California state prisons are reviewed by a team of corrections officials. The report obtained by The Bee, based on the review team’s interviews with prison staff and inmates, chronicles events leading up to and following Gillian’s hanging.

Gillian’s death has sparked a series of internal investigations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In the review team report, corrections officials investigating the suicide express “several concerns” about the circumstances. Among the concerns cited: that prison guards prevented medical staffers from trying to revive Gillian; and that guards may not have made their regularly scheduled rounds that day, possibly causing a delay in discovering his suicide.

The incident is at least the second documented case in recent months of disputes between medical staffers and guards over when a cell door should be opened to provide emergency medical care and assistance to an inmate.

On Sept. 7, Joseph Duran, 35, an inmate at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County who suffered from mental illness, died hours after he was blasted in the face with pepper spray, according to an internal department review of that case. Duran had undergone a tracheotomy years before, and breathed through a hole in his throat. Agitated and coated with spray, he yanked out the tube he relied on for air, according to the review team report. Guards refused to intervene, despite repeated demands from medical staffers to allow them to enter his cell, decontaminate him and reinsert the tube, according to staff interviews contained in the internal report. Duran was found dead, alone in his cell, seven hours later.

That incident, laid out in a January story in The Bee, prompted U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton to reopen an evidentiary hearing in Sacramento federal court inquiring into the alleged use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates in California prisons.

[BIG SNIP]

The two cases come as the corrections department battles legal action on several fronts tied to medical and mental health care inside California’s 34 adult prisons. Last month, a three-judge court agreed to give California two more years to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, a benchmark designed to reduce the overcrowding that the court in 2009 found is the primary reason for subconstitutional levels of medical and mental health treatment for inmates.

Revelations about Duran’s death have complicated matters for the department in a separate inquiry: the hearing before Karlton involving use of force on mentally ill inmates. Attorneys representing the state’s mentally ill inmates did not learn of the circumstances of Duran’s death until they were contacted by The Bee in January, and they have accused the state of covering up his death and the fact that pepper spray was used. The hearing on use of pepper spray and discipline against mentally ill inmates began Oct. 1 and went into November in Karlton’s court in Sacramento, during the same period that corrections officials were reviewing Duran’s death.

Corrections officials deny they were suppressing the Duran incident, but Karlton ordered a hearing on use of force reopened and has scheduled a court session partially devoted to Duran’s death for Monday afternoon.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Mental Illness, prison, Reentry, Restorative Justice, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Juvenile Justice Roundup: California Suspension & Expulsion Rates Fall, San Francisco School Nixes Zero-Tolerance, Help for Trafficked Girls at an Alameda County Courthouse…and More

January 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUSPENSION AND EXPULSION RATES DROP IN CALIFORNIA

In California, suspensions were down 14% and expulsions dropped 12% in 2013. While this is welcome news, the numbers are still inordinately high at 609,471 and 8,562, respectively.

The LA Times Teresa Watanabe has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

The number of suspensions dropped by 14.1% to 609,471 last year from 709,596 over the previous year. Expulsions declined by 12.3% to 8,562 from 9,758 over the same period, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Suspensions declined among nearly all ethnic groups, including reductions of about 10% for African Americans, Latinos and whites. But, continuing a pattern that has prompted national concern, African Americans were still disproportionately suspended, with a rate of 16.2% last year although they make up 6.3% of the statewide student population.

The data represent the state’s first year-to-year comparison of disciplinary actions taken against students including their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Although fewer students are being removed from the classroom in every demographic across the state, the rates remain troubling and show that educators and school communities have a long road ahead,” Torlakson said in a statement.

(Read on for more, including data on how LA Unified is fairing with its push for alternative discipline strategies.)


WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: A FOCUS ON A SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL’S DISCIPLINE TRANSFORMATION

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of how one San Francisco elementary school, in particular, has dropped its overall suspension rate a whopping 89% by implementing trauma-informed practices. Here are some clips:

For one young student – let’s call him Martin — the 2012-2013 school year at El Dorado Elementary in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco was a tough one, recalls Joyce Dorado, director of UCSF HEARTS — Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools.

“He was hurting himself in the classroom, kicking the teacher, just blowing out of class many times a week.” There was good reason. The five-year-old was exposed to chronic violence and suffered traumatic losses. His explosions were normal reactions to events that overwhelmed him.

This year, Martin’s doing better. That’s because he spent months working with a HEARTS therapist, and that therapist worked with his teachers and other school staff to create a more safe and supportive learning environment. Still, on days when he feels extremely anxious, Martin sometimes asks to visit the school’s Wellness Center, a small, bright room stocked with comforting places to sit, headphones to listen to music, and soft and squishy toys.

“If a student starts to lose it, the teacher can give the kid a pass to go to the Wellness Center,” says Dorado. “The kid signs in, circles emotions on a ‘feelings’ chart (to help the person who staffs the center understand how to help the child). The staff member starts a timer. The kid gets five to 10 minutes. The kid can sit on the couch with a blanket, listen to music, squeeze rubber balls to relieve tension and anger, or talk to the staff member. Kids who use the room calm down so that they can go back to class…

[SNIP]

In 2008-2009, the year before HEARTS was introduced at El Dorado, there were 674 referrals – students sent to the principal’s office for fighting, yelling, or some other inappropriate behavior.

During the last school year – 2012-2013, there was a 74% drop, to only 175. This year, only 50 referrals have occurred.

There were 80 suspensions in 2008-2009. And although suspensions increased for four years to 150 in 2011-2012, last year they dropped 89%, to only 17. So far this year, only three students have been suspended.

As El Dorado Elementary School Principal Silvia Cordero thought when she first heard about trauma-informed practices: “Why don’t all schools have this?”

[SNIP]

It’s a public health issue, explains Dorado, because the toxic stress caused by chronic trauma can harm children’s brains. Toxic stress alters the brain’s structure and functioning, so that a child is hyper-vigilant. With their trigger reset on “red alert”, they can flip into “fight, fight, or freeze” mode even when they aren’t in real danger. As a result, they can have trouble concentrating, learning, or sitting still. They can erupt into rages, lash out at others or hurt themselves. Or they can withdraw in fear and not participate in anything that’s going on around them. None of this behavior is intentional, says Dorado.

Many teachers and principals think kids’ “bad” behavior is deliberate, and that the kids can control it. But it’s often not and they can’t – not without help, says Dorado. Their behaviors are a normal response to stresses they’re not equipped to deal with. Throwing a punch makes sense if they’re jumping in to defend their mother from an alcoholic raging father; screaming in fury is a normal reaction to a bully who continuously harasses them. But when the raised voice of a teacher or a counselor who’s criticizing them inadvertently triggers the same response, these behaviors look “abnormal, rude, or inappropriate,” says Dorado. “So, they’re getting kicked out of class and disengage from school. That puts our kids at incredible risk for later problems, including imprisonment.”


AN ALAMEDA COUNTY COURT’S COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO HELPING EXPLOITED GIRLS

In Alameda County, an innovative court for at-risk girls—primarily aimed at helping young girls forced into prostitution—has collaborated with social services to provide teens with crucial resources and personal guidance to help them out of crisis situations.

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the Alameda County Girls Court’s specialized approach. Here’s a clip:

Girls Court brings an all-hands-on-deck approach to the lives of vulnerable girls, linking them to social service agencies, providing informal Saturday sessions on everything from body image to legal jargon, and offering a team of adults in whom they can develop trust. And while still in its early years, the system is showing promise.

Founded two and a half years ago and carved out of the existing juvenile court, the Girls Court is for young women considered most at risk, especially those forced into prostitution. It is part of a network of a half-dozen or so Girls Courts around the country, each with a different emphasis. The results have been encouraging: The court in Hawaii, a program where both parents and girls attend counseling for a year, has led to a marked decrease in detentions, according to a 2011 evaluation. The Orange County Girls court, which was started in 2009, intervenes in the lives of teenage girls in long-term foster care, with preliminary studies suggesting better grades and fewer placements.

“It’s a unique alignment between adversaries,” Laurel Bellows, a Chicago lawyer and co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s anti-trafficking task force, said of the court’s collaborative approach. “These are not easy victims to deal with.”


MISSING FROM THE STATE OF THE UNION: DRUG POLICY AND MASS INCARCERATION

On Monday, we pointed to an op-ed by Juliet Sorensen (daughter of Ted Sorensen, JFK’s speechwriter and advisor), urging Obama to address drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech. Drug policy was nowhere to be seen in Tuesday’s speech, but that wasn’t the only elephant missing from the room.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf lists several other relevant topics that didn’t make the cut—like the mass-incarceration epidemic.

Here’s a small clip:

Drug reform is the one that disappointed me most. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is hugely significant, given the number of Americans who are locked in cages under prohibition, the disproportionate impact on minority families, and the tension between anti-prohibitionist states and federal law enforcement. Obama told the New Yorker’s editor that state legalization experiments should go forward. But drug policy was missing from his speech.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice, Obama, Restorative Justice, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Seventeen States Projected to Lower Prison Pop. and Save Billions…San Francisco Draws the Line on Police Involvement in Schools…and LAPD-Learned Lessons for Reforming the LASD

January 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

COST-CUTTING, PRISON POPULATION-REDUCING STRATEGY SEES SUCCESS ACROSS 17 STATES

A study released on Monday by the Urban Institute analyzes a cost-effective, evidence-based strategy that some states are using to reduce their prison population. These 17 states are employing a tactic, known as “justice reinvestment.” This relatively new strategy involves cutting prison costs, and using a percentage of the dollars saved to “reinvest” in alternatives, such as community-based treatment, reentry programs, and problem-solving courts. The states participating in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), have received a total of $17 million in program funding from the government and Pew Charitable Trusts. Since employing the JRI strategy, the states have reinvested approximately $166 million into incarceration alternatives, and could see a long-term return of $4.6 billion, according to the study.

California, Texas, and Florida—the states with the largest prison populations—are not a part of this federal “justice reinvestment” program.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest says that with the recently approved allocation of more government money for the program (in the new budget), more states could join in:

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that prison populations nationwide declined for the third consecutive year in 2012, but the number went down by less than 30,000: 1,599,000 to 1,570,400. The jail population rose in 2012, and the U.S. total of offenders behind bars remains well over 2 million, prompting other efforts to deal with “mass incarceration.”

The federally supported justice reinvestment program does not include the federal prison system itself or the three states with the highest prison populations: California, Texas, and Florida.

Texas has operated its own version of justice reinvestment, saying in 2007 that it averted $684 million in projected prison building.

Federal support for justice reinvestment in the states has been modest so far–only $6 million annually–but the Obama administration proposed a big increase for the current federal spending year, and in its recently approved appropriations bill, Congress allocated $28 million for it.

In an NY Times editorial, Bill Keller discusses five strategies for reforming the criminal justice system and bringing down the prison population across the nation. Here are the first two:

SENTENCING: America has long been more inclined than other developed countries to treat crime as a disposal problem; “trail ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em,” is our tough-on-crime slogan. Beginning in the ‘70’s, rising crime rates, compounded by the crack epidemic and the public fear it aroused, set off a binge of punitive sentencing laws. Three-strikes, mandatory minimum sentences and requirements that felons serve a minimum portion (often 85 percent) of their sentence lengthened the time offenders — especially drug offenders, and especially black men — spent in lockup. Restoring common sense to sentencing is the obvious first step in downsizing prisons. New York rolled back its notorious Rockefeller drug laws, California has softened its three-strikes law and several other states have tinkered with rigid sentencing laws. But there is stiff resistance from prosecutors, who use the threat of long sentences to compel cooperation or plea deals. Reformers concede that those draconian laws have had a modest effect on the crime rate, but because of them we are paying to imprison criminals long past the time they present any danger to society. “Keeping a 60-year-old in prison until he’s 65 does close to zero for crime rates,” said Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If we’re really seeing something deep going on here, the proof will be whether legislators have the political will to roll back sentencing.”

SUPERVISION: For every inmate in our state and federal prisons, another two people are under the supervision of probation or parole. Caseworkers are often poorly paid and usually overwhelmed. About all they can do is keep count of an offender’s violations until the system decides to kick that offender back to prison. A few jurisdictions have tried to make parole and probation less of a revolving door back to prison, with some encouraging results. They focus attention on offenders considered most likely to commit crimes. They send caseworkers out of the office and into the community. They use technology (ankle bracelets with GPS, A.T.M.-style check-in stations, Breathalyzer ignition locks to keep drinkers from driving) to enhance supervision. They employ a disciplinary approach called “swift and certain,” which responds promptly with a punishment for missing an interview or failing a drug test. The punishments start small, then escalate until the offender gets the message and changes his behavior — preferably before he has to be sent back to prison. Mark Kleiman, a U.C.L.A. public policy professor who is a champion of the technique, says, “It’s basically applying the principles of parenting to probation.”


SAN FRANCISCO PIONEERS MOVEMENT AWAY FROM ZERO-TOLERANCE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

San Francisco has set an important precedent for schools across the nation by officially limiting the role of officers on campuses. An agreement between the school district and the SFPD—drafted, in part, by Coleman Advocates and Public Counsel, with input from students, themselves—creates a new system of steps to be followed before a student can be arrested. The agreement also requires school officers to take at least one day of free training in more effective “restorative justice” methods of handling disruptive kids.

Susan Ferriss, of the Center for Public Integrity, has done some excellent reporting on this new agreement (and other related school discipline stories here, and here). We recommend reading Ferriss’ entire piece, but here are some clips:

Karn Saetang, an organizer with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, said: “We’re putting the responsibility for student behavior back where it belongs, with educators, students and parents, not with police. When police get involved in school discipline, it sends all the wrong messages to students.”

Coleman Advocates, which pushes the city to fund children’s services, helped draft the agreement, along with Public Counsel, the nation’s largest public interest law firm, which has been involved in reforming discipline policies in various cities.

[SNIP]

…San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told ABC News 7 earlier this month that kids helped draft the agreement: “I think it’s important that we demonstrate to the kids that what’s important to them is important to us, too,” he said.

The agreement spells out requirements for graduated steps before a student can be arrested, and details limits on how arrests are to be carried out on campuses, so they are not disruptive or public, if possible, and are not conducted in connection with behavior allegedly committed outside school unless students are in danger.

Police have discretion but “shall make every effort” not to arrest and refer students to probation authorities until a student commits a third offense after prior admonishments and counseling for low-level infractions. These infractions could include minor school fights that have sometimes been criminalized as battery, battery against a school employee, resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and possession of marijuana for personal use.

The agreement also requires that officers refrain from questioning detained students for at least an hour or until parents have “sufficient time to travel” to a campus from their jobs or home.

“I think this clause is very important — that students are questioned in the presence of their parents,” said Sandra Lee Fewer, president of the board of education.

Fewer also insisted that the agreement contain the word “shall” as part of a requirement that school resource officers who are based at schools receive at least one day of free training, sponsored by the district, in methods of ‘restorative’ justice. That’s a regime of in-school discipline the district has adopted in an effort to get students to own up to disruption and problems they’ve caused — and, in turn, receive help to address the roots of their poor behavior.


OP-ED: LESSONS TO BE FOUND IN LAPD’S HISTORY FOR LASTING LASD REFORM

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, and Miriam Krinsky, a policy consultant for the California Endowment (who also served as the executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence), suggest that important lessons can be gleaned from the LAPD’s history of serious misconduct and subsequent federally-enforced reform when fixing the Sheriff’s Department.

In particular, Krinsky and Chemerinsky call for civilian oversight, and for an outside (non-LASD) leader to take over the department. Here are some clips:

For decades, the LAPD was plagued by a culture that tolerated, and at times encouraged, civil rights violations. Every time there was a major incident of misconduct, department and city leaders said the misconduct was the result of just a “few bad apples.” A study would be done and there would be proposals for reform. Some would be adopted; most would be ignored. The problem would be deemed solved until the next incident precipitated the same pattern of responses.

This cycle ended with the Rampart scandal in 2000, which exposed officers in an anti-gang unit who planted evidence on innocent people and lied in court to gain convictions. In the wake of these revelations, the Justice Department informed city officials that it was contemplating suing Los Angeles for a pattern and practice of civil rights violations. The city entered into a consent decree that mandated many changes overseen by a monitor and a federal judge. Mayor James Hahn appointed a police chief from outside the department, William J. Bratton. Real reforms occurred and the LAPD today is a vastly different department.

Important lessons can be drawn from this experience. First, civilian oversight is essential. A police or sheriff’s department is in many ways a paramilitary organization. Civilian engagement and a transparent vehicle for accountability is critical…

[SNIP]

It is also important to bring in leadership from outside the sheriff’s office. The Christopher Commission, and every major study of the LAPD, found that the central problem was the culture of the department. Studies of the sheriff’s office have said the same thing. It is difficult for a person who is a product of that culture and environment to be the one to change it. It is not coincidental that the major changes in the LAPD occurred only after a strong leader from outside the department was appointed as its chief.

(Do go read the rest of this worthwhile op-ed.)

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, prison, Reentry, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 17 Comments »

Don’t Close Child Dependency Court…Lee Baca’s Approval Rating… Baca Uses the “B” Word: Bitter…..”Circle It!” Don’t Suspend Say TX Students….Graduation & Crime & Money

December 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


PLEASE DON’T CLOSE CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT. JUST DON’T DO IT!

On Wednesday there was a hearing in front of the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals that is to determine whether or not the order issued by Judge Robert Nash in January 2012 to finally open Los Angeles County’s child dependency courts to the press under certain controlled circumstances was legal.

These are the courtrooms where foster care cases are heard, that have too long been secretive and disastrously short of sunlight.

The LA Times editorial board asks the 2nd Circuit to leave the situation as is. As does Christie Renick for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip from what the Times had to say, with which we strongly agree:

Has openness perfected the Dependency Courts? No. But parents who felt their cases were being rushed through by overburdened lawyers and social workers have expressed relief to have outside eyes present; lawyers who complained of judges delaying cases have welcomed coverage that creates a disincentive to dawdle; judges say coverage has focused attention on questionable lawyering. Meanwhile, the tentative ruling cites no instance in which any child has been harmed by the presence of reporters.

This is an important work in progress; the appellate court should not end it. If it tries, the Legislature should pass a bill keeping the courts in Los Angeles open or, even better, extending the principle of Nash’s order to the entire state.

We’ll let you know when we learn more.


IS LEE BACA’S APPROVAL RATING DIVING? A CHALLENGER’S TAKES A POLL

Early Wednesday morning Los Angeles County Sheriff’s candidate and Lee Baca challenger Bob Olmsted released a poll that showed that incumbent Baca’s approval ratings could be in the midst of a bad slide.

The poll was a live telephone survey of 406 likely June 2014 voters in LA County conducted December 16th – 17th 2013. Olmsted’s campaign paid for the survey.

Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly got the fastest story up on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca has had a rough couple of years, but it’s gotten really bad in the last two weeks, ever since federal prosecutors brought corruption charges against 18 of his deputies.

Baca is up for re-election next year, and the unending scandals have taken a toll on his approval ratings. That’s according to a new poll released today by one of Baca’s opponents.

The survey shows that Baca’s favorability rating has plunged in the last two years, and a majority of likely voters now disapprove of Baca’s handling of his job. Not a good sign for the 71-year-old lawman.

[SNIP]

As with any internal poll, take it with a grain of salt.

With that, the results:

Baca (job approval)

Positive: 34%
Negative: 52%

Baca (favorability):

Favorable: 41%
Unfavorable: 33%

His favorability rating has declined sharply since the fall of 2011, according to another poll the Weekly obtained last month.

Baca (2011 favorability)
Favorable: 66%
Unfavorable: 23%

That’s a 35-point drop in his net favorability rating in the last two years.

As Maddaus said, one should take insider polls with a dash of good sel de mer. Plus the sheriff has a big powerful political machine plus nearly two decades worth of popularity that one would be unwise to discount.

Yet, there is without a doubt blood in the water.


BACA FINALLY TALKS & CALLS HIS OPPONENTS “BITTER & A QUITTER”,

After not meeting with the press for months, Sheriff Lee Baca has emerged from his bat cave to speak with reporters a number of times in the last week. On Wednesday he met with KCAL 9′s Dave Lopez.

Be sure to watch the video, which includes a change of clothes on the part of the sheriff so that he could speak about the election legally—AKA out of uniform.

After talking about what he describes as his utter non-involvement with the FOS—Friends of the Sheriff—hiring program, he did his clothes change and chatted emphatically about his campaign.

Here’ a bit of what he said:

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” he said. “Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy.”

Baca’s two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle. [Actually that isn't accurate, but whatever]

Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.

“My opponents – one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you’ve got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter,” he said.

Okay, I count three in that statement. One bitter, one a quitter, and “one who is bitter but should have been a quitter.’

Who’s the third guy, sheriff? Just asking.

NOTE: ABC-7 has a story on the Friends of the Sheriff issue, that is worth checking out as well.


“CIRCLE IT!” SAN ANTONIO, TX, SCHOOL USES INNOVATIVE STRATEGY TO SUCCESSFULLY REDUCE SUSPENSIONS

The term “circling it” has become an important part of the vernacular at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Jim Forsyth at WOAI Radio has the story. Here’s a clip:

Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it ‘Restorative Discipline’ and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.

“What’s happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate,” she told 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board. “Not just change the kids’ behavior.”

She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal’s office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers ‘talk out’ the issues in what are called ‘restorative circles.’

“When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven’t had before,” Armour said.

She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior…


STUDY SAYS H.S. GRADUATION PREVENTS CRIME AND SAVES $$

A recent report draws a correlation between graduation rates and entry into the criminal justice system—and then does the math. Obviously one cannot draw a straight line of cause and effect, but the relationship is there, and the study is worth noting.

Isabelle Dills of the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

strong>Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.

[SNIP]

There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.

“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.

The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.

It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, Education, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 40 Comments »

Black Kids 8% of SF Students and 50% of “Defiance” Suspensions…LA Supervisors on LASD Indictments…and Gov. Brown Gets More Time to Drop Prison Pop

December 12th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SF SCHOOL DISTRICT MOVES TOWARD ELIMINATING SUSPENSIONS FOR “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” AFTER ALARMING STATISTICS SURFACE

While African-Americans teenagers comprised just 8% of San Francisco’s public high school students in 2012, they accounted for a whopping 50% of suspensions for “willful defiance,” according to SF Unified School District data obtained by Public Counsel.

On Tuesday, in light of this data, a member of the district’s Board of Education introduced a resolution that would end suspensions for “willful defiance” by the beginning of the next school year, in addition to discipline alternatives like “trauma-informed counseling.”

Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has more on the data and what it means for San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.

The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population. Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance.

Just as The City by the Bay is challenged by sharp income divides, its schools, too, suffer from a wide gap in academic achievement between white student and those who are black or Latino.

High rates of suspension result in poor academic performance as out-of-school kids fall behind and disengage from school, said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s California statewide education rights director.

“These go hand in hand,” she said. “They are not separate.”

Suspensions, Public Counsel has said, are like an “unsupervised vacation” from school, with damaging consequences for students.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education began considering a resolution introduced by a member to eliminate, by next fall, the option to suspend students for willful defiance.

“We’ve made some progress in reducing suspensions overall,” said Matt Haney, who introduced the “Safe and Supportive Schools” resolution.

Despite that, Haney said, “the numbers for African American students remain not just troubling, but shocking.”


SUPES DISCUSS LASD ARRESTS AND POSSIBLE FUTURE OVERSIGHT

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors held a closed-door meeting to discuss the controversial arrests of 18 current and former LASD officers Monday morning. (Read the backstory here, and here.) In the regular Tuesday board meeting, the Supervisors did not report that any decisions were made during the closed session.

In an interview with the LA Times’ Seema Mehta and also with Warren Olney of Which Way LA? on Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called again for a citizens’ commission to oversee the sheriff’s department. The potential blue ribbon commission will be up again for consideration by the board next month, though a third vote is needed to move forward. At the moment, only Ridley-Thomas and Molina are in favor of the commission.

Here’s more on the issue from Abby Sewell and Seema Mehta. Here are some clips:

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina earlier this year proposed setting up a citizens’ panel similar to the one that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department, which was hit by misconduct convictions during the so-called Rampart scandal in the 1990s.

The other supervisors did not support the plan, saying the inspector general’s office — which was set up at the recommendation of a panel that studied jail violence — would be a more effective watchdog. Ridley-Thomas said he hopes the recent arrests will lead them to reconsider. The proposal for a citizens’ commission is slated to come back before the board next month.

“There is a model that has made [LAPD] better. It would seem to some that the county of Los Angeles would be anxious to do something similar if not better, particularly in light of today’s revelations,” Ridley-Thomas said. “…This is a cultural problem, fundamentally so, and this is tantamount in some ways to the stench of Rampart.”

[SNIP]

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who does not support creating a citizens’ oversight commission, said during the board’s weekly meeting Tuesday that he does support continuing efforts to hold wrongdoers in the Sheriff’s Department accountable.

“We know that continuing investigations are going on and very likely this is only the tip of the iceberg and it’s going to go higher up the chain of command,” he said.

Molina, a longtime critic of Baca, said in a biting statement, “Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform — they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years.”

We also wanted to make sure you did not miss the excellent Monday LA Times editorial about the arrests and underlying “deep-seated” culture of abuse in LA County jails. Here’s how it opens:

Any lingering doubt about whether there are deep-seated problems of abuse at Los Angeles County jails should be put to rest by Monday’s arrests following the unsealing of formal charges against 18 current or former sheriff’s deputies. Any inclination to pass off more than two years of news reports and official probes detailing inmate beatings as simply the result of a few rogue deputies should be shelved.

Some of the allegations are familiar, involving inmates suffering unwarranted abuse and beatings. One of the challenges in coming to grips with civil rights violations perpetrated against convicted criminals is that the victims receive little sympathy from most of the voters and taxpayers who put the sheriff in office and who pay his department’s bills; after all, the thinking goes, criminals deserve punishment.

They do not, however, deserve to be beaten. A civilized society is entitled to punish lawbreakers, but officials with badges, guns and the authority to ensure safety and order are not vested with the right to abuse those they guard. Nor are all inmates criminals; many are in jail awaiting trial, presumed innocent until the jury verdict…


CALIFORNIA GIVEN 53 EXTRA DAYS TO FIX PRISON OVERCROWDING

On Wednesday, federal judges granted Gov. Jerry Brown an extension on the deadline to reduce the California prison population, moving the date to April 18 (from February 24). The judges also pushed back the deadline for negotiations on how to solve the overcrowding problem to January 10, but also said that they intended it to be the final extension. The good news is that the extra time does strongly suggest that the judges are rooting for the more progressive solution (rehabilitation, reentry programs), not solely the simple reduction of the numbers in the short term. (For previous WLA posts on the issue go here and here.)

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

The judges previously moved the deadline to February while a court-appointed mediator works to find a long-term solution with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and attorneys representing inmates who say crowding leads to conditions so poor that they violate constitutional standards.

The judges ordered that those talks continue until Jan. 10. But their one-paragraph order warns that they plan no further extension in the negotiations “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

“The court is bending over backward to accommodate the state,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the attorneys representing inmates in the case. “We’re anxious to either complete the negotiation process, or if that’s not successful, to resume litigation at the earliest possible time.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, race, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Critical Juvenile Justice System Needs, Senate Committee Hearing on Prisons, March Against Child Sex Trafficking, and Gay Marriage in Illinois

November 8th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(Jump down to the second section for the story on the above photo.)


COMPONENTS OF A COMPETENT JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake says locking kids up should be considered the last available option and used “for the shortest time possible.” He says, however, that putting fewer kids behind bars is not the only missing piece of the youth justice reform puzzle.

Here are some clips:

The overwhelming lessons of science and experience should be enough to convince policymakers to use detention, jail or prison as a last resort and for the shortest time possible. Instead, most states perpetuate large punitive institutions at great cost even though best practices demonstrate that local community-based, family-involved treatment is more effective at reducing juvenile crime. Imprisonment fails as a strategy to rehabilitate because it seldom changes behavior except to worsen it.

I do not mean that incarceration is never necessary nor that any state should ignore the need for swift action to remove a kid from the public in exigent circumstances. And I don’t mean that any kid should not be held accountable for his or her criminal actions.

But our juvenile justice systems should be held accountable also – to increase public safety through attention to the individual circumstances of a child in conflict with the law.

[BIG SNIP]

…sending fewer kids to prison is only one step on the path to a rational, competent and effective system. What follows is a list of some necessary components – means to the ends of greater public safety, positive outcomes for kids in conflict with the law and greater fiscal responsibility.

- Data. The system often doesn’t have research data or ignores it. Instead, it relies upon shorthand formulas, such as bright-line rules like “three strikes and you are out of society and into prison.” Real world information about the characteristics of the juvenile population is needed at all decision points in the system.

- Restorative justice. Crime creates real harm to real people, not just an infraction against state rules. The offender, the victim and the community must be included…

- Training. Creating a common vocabulary and a common understanding of juvenile characteristics, science and effective practices requires training at all levels.

(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)


“IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK”

Bokeh, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s art blog, has featured some wonderful photographic creations by kids in an art program at a Rhode Island detention center. The program, known as AS 220, serves kids in the state’s juvenile detention center, and holds classes at a middle school for at-risk youths and in the community through their brick and mortar studio. Creative programs like this one have proven to be hugely beneficial by providing kids with an emotional outlet, and a sense of empowerment and self-worth, and by helping them develop problem-solving skills.

Here’s a clip from Katy McCarthy’s story on the program:

In the striking images from AS 220’s “If these walls could talk,” the magic made is not an illusion. Like a surrealist painting, the manipulated photos employ metaphor and symbol to create dynamic portraits.

Two students pose with giant light wings blossoming out behind them: Her’s white and linear, his multi-colored confetti-like squiggles.

We all know the myth of Icarus. If you fly too close to the sun you’re bound to be burned, an appropriate analogy for young people reflecting on the decisions they’ve made and paths they have chosen.

Scott Lapham, the program’s photography coordinator, is the adult brain behind the project. As he sees it, “Ancient Greek myths are of great interest because their characters often posses both supernatural powers and human frailties … [the students] are also encouraged to reflect on how the myths of Icarus, Odysseus and Midas can pertain to their own past and future decision making.”

[SNIP]

It seems especially crucial that children serving time for mistakes they have made should be able to re-compose their histories up to that point. Reflect on their lives and situations as something other than “system-involved.”


TWO TAKES ON SENATE HEARINGS ON FEDERAL PRISON POLICY

A US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Wednesday to discuss problems facing federal prisons. The hearing featured testimony by Bureau of Prisons Chief Charles Samuels Jr., who said that overcrowding in federal prisons is putting prison guards in danger. Samuels endorsed AG Eric Holder’s reform package as a solution, and also stressed the importance of rehabilitative reentry programs to curb recidivism.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo and Ryan J. Reilly have the story. Here’s a clip:

“The staff are putting their lives on the line every single day,” said Samuels in his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on challenges facing the federal prison system.

There is one corrections officer for every 150 inmates in the system’s housing units, Samuels noted. To manage this population, the bureau is doubling and tripling the number of inmates bunking cells, and converting television rooms and open bays into sleeping quarters.

Still, “challenges remain as the inmate population continues to increase,” Samuels said.

There are 219,000 inmates in the federal prison system, compared with 25,000 in 1980, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half of these inmates are in prison for drug crimes.

Changing how the government prosecutes those crimes could help reduce overcrowding, Samuels said.

He endorsed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which calls for federal prosecutors to consider providing certain non-violent offenders with access to special drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration.

These efforts “will help stem the tide of offenders entering the bureau and lead to lower average sentences where appropriate, and thus should decrease our population somewhat over the long term,” Samuels said.

Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic, was critical of the hearings and felt that senators failed to ask Samuels the hard questions on crucial issues. Here are some clips:

If you think Congressional “oversight” of an unelected official who controls the everyday lives of over 200,000 American prisoners ought to include probing questions and candid answers about dubious life-or-death practices and policies, then you surely would have been disappointed Wednesday morning watching members of the Senate Judiciary Committee play patty-cake with Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels.

[SNIP]

Only Senator Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, mustered up a serious question for the prisons chief. In fact, he asked one of the questions I had asked someone to ask of Samuels. Senator Durbin wanted to know: What had the Bureau of Prisons done since June 2012, the last time Samuels appeared before the Judiciary Committee, to study the relationship between solitary confinement and mental illness among federal inmates? It’s a question that goes to the heart of the BOP’s most controversial practice—as well as one that directly implicates the “cost” component of confinement.

Samuels told the Committee that there are approximately 4,000 fewer inmates in “restricted housing” today than there were then but, given the bureaucratic nature of prison-speak, it’s hard to know precisely what that means. Samuels did not even mention mentally ill federal prisoners in his response to Senator Durbin’s question about them. The senator, for his part, inexplicably did not press the BOP chief for such a response, and then the pair moved on to talk about the relative costs of confinement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as opposed to confinement on the American mainland.

That was it. From this Committee, that single question and non-responsive answer was the extent of anything that could be remotely considered “oversight” in the classic sense of that word. Sure, they talked about how expensive it is to house federal prisoners—far more expensive than it is to house state prisoners. And they talked about how important it is to ensure the safety of correctional officers. And they talked about all the shiny programs the BOP says it employs to help inmates prepare themselves for their eventual release.

But true accountability and transparency? No.


MRT’S MARCH AGAINST CHILD EXPLOITATION THROUGH SEX TRAFFICKING

In his November newsletter, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced a march and rally for Los Angeles’ children who have fallen victim to human trafficking. The march will take place on November 21st from 6:30p.m. to 8:30p.m. along Long Beach Blvd. Ridley-Thomas has been pushing for new solutions on this issue, and we hope he keeps it up.

Here’s a clip from Supe. Ridley-Thomas’ website:

“I encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of our children to join us Friday, November 21,” said the Chairman. “A concerned community must turn out to let these victims know we care, tell the neighborhood that this blight will not be tolerated and to send a warning to the customers and traffickers that we are watching you and we will come after you.”

On any given day along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard that traverses the cities of Compton, Lynwood and into South Gate, scores of young girls can be seen walking along in short skirts and tight tops while older men in cars slow down to arrange a purchase. It continues to be called prostitution, yet in many cases it is not – it is actually the sex trafficking of children. Trafficking is an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative trade that is now largely run by gangs as part of a criminal enterprise. With victims often expected to have sex with as many as 20 adult men per night, and a nightly quota set by the pimp to bring in between $1,000 to $3,500 per day, it is also becoming more profitable than drug dealing.


GAY MARRIAGE ARRIVES IN ILLINOIS

In case you missed it, Illinois lawmakers passed a gay marriage bill on Thursday. After Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill on Nov. 20th, Illinois will join the list of (now) fifteen states that boast marriage equality.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, prison, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice, Sentencing | No Comments »

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