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2 Jurors Replaced at LASD Fed Trial…SCOTUS Clears Way for Conversion Therapy Ban….Booker & Smith Introduce Better Options for Kids Act

July 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



REPLACEMENT OF 2 JURORS MEANS PATH TO VERDICT IN LASD TRIAL GETS LONGER

Jurors began deliberations last Tuesday on the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

By Friday afternoon, attorneys and trial watchers speculated optimistically that the jury might have the end of its deliberations at least in sight, and thus could possibly produce a verdict some time Monday.

Then Monday rolled around and all optimism vanished when two jurors were replaced alternates.

The first juror, a woman, was replaced Monday morning after she sent the judge a note resulting in a series of lengthy sidebars between Judge Percy Anderson and the two groups of attorneys involved, the prosecution and the defense.

Although Anderson sealed the content of the note, the reason that the juror needed or wanted to be replaced appeared to be something singular enough that it required animated discussion on the part of judge and lawyers prior Anderson making a final decision on the matter. Hence the sidebars.

Finally at 9:45 a.m., Anderson called the remaining eleven jurors back in and announced to them that an alternate was to replace one of their number. This meant, he explained, that they were now a brand new jury and must begin deliberating all over again as if their previous deliberations had never occurred.

The eleven who’d been at this for more than four days did not look thrilled at this “start your deliberations anew” set of instructions, but they filed out dutifully.

After about a half hour of deliberations the “new” jury sent a note to Anderson wanting to know if they could change their lunch location, which seemed to suggest that they had not yet gotten into any kind of deliberative stride.

Then at 12:30 or so, yet another note. This time from a second juror (also a woman) who, because of some kind of emergent personal situation, needed to be excused permanently right away. The juror appeared to be controlling distress and Judge Anderson excused her without much fuss after thanking her formally but warmly, for her time and service.

In came the rest of the jury members who were, again, told that one of their group was being replaced. This time the alternate juror was a man, disrupting the previous six-six split of males to females on the panel.

The jury was informed that it was now a new new jury, and thus must again “start your deliberations anew…” and so on.

If the panel members looked uncheery before, at this second set of instructions to totally reboot they looked visibly grim. Yet, they also still looked, for the most part, reasonably willing and determined.

With the exception of one last jury note that had something to do with a juror whose boss was getting irritated that he or she had been out so long, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful….

….and without a verdict.


U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS NO TO HEARING APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA LAW BANNING GAY CONVERSION THERAPY

California’s first-of-its-kind law banning “reparative therapies,” which are designed to turn gay kids straight, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in fall 2012, but it has yet to take effect because of court challenges by those opposed to the statute.

In August 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that the practice, which is not supported by the scientific mainstream and has been shown to be damaging to youth, often producing depression and suicidality, was not protected by the First Amendment nor could it be challenged on religious grounds.

The law’s opponents then tried the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the challenge, thus opening the path for the important ban to finally take effect.

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press has the story Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for enforcement of a first-of-its-kind California law that bars psychological counseling aimed at turning gay minors straight.

The justices turned aside a legal challenge brought by supporters of so-called conversion or reparative therapy. Without comment, they let stand an August 2013 appeals court ruling that said the ban covered professional activities that are within the state’s authority to regulate and doesn’t violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that California lawmakers properly showed that therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, the law’s sponsor, said Monday. “The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles.”


SENATORS COREY BOOKER & CHRIS MURPHY INTRODUCE BILL TO INCENTIVIZE STATES TOWARD BETTER YOUTH JUSTICE POLICIES USING EXISTING FEDERAL $$$

Last week, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced something called the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill designed to “incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.”

Interestingly, the bill uses existing funding streams to reward states that adopt policies that replace a purely punitive approach with those that improve youth outcomes. As examples, the bill lists:

Limiting court referrals for school-based non-criminal status offenses (truancy, curfew violations, et al)

Incentivizing school district to have clear guidelines regarding the arrest powers of school resource officers on school grounds

Providing training or funds training for school districts to use non-exclusionary discipline. (NOTE: “Exclusionary discipline” means suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom.)

Shifting funding formerly dedicated to secure detention for minors into community-based alternatives for incarceration

Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities that ensures educational continuity and success.

“This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system” said Cory Booker in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Murphy also stated strong sentiments. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run,” he said. “We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

After he was elected U.S. Senator, former Newark New Jersey mayor Booker promised to make juvenile justice reform one of his top priorities. The Better Options for Kids Act looks like a promising step in that direction.

We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Civil Liberties, FBI, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 15 Comments »

Combatting Crime by Paying People to Not Kill, Repaying the Wrongfully Convicted, and SoCal Districts Cutting Suspensions

June 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA PAYS PEOPLE AT RISK OF VIOLENT CRIME TO STAY AWAY FROM TROUBLE

In 2006, the Contra Costa city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. The situation was so dire, the city authorized an unheard of new program that would identify the most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and pay them to keep out of trouble.

Four times per year, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, conceived and developed by DeVone Boggan, selects 50 candidates under 25, and enrolls them in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for 9 of those months, along with education, mentoring, and other services.

The program has its critics, and it has yet to be thoroughly evaluated, but it may actually be working. In 2013, Richmond saw its lowest homicide rate in 33 years, and 65 of 68 of the young men who had been enrolled in the program over the previous four years were still alive.

Tim Murphy has the story for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine. Here are some clips:

It was a crazy idea, but Richmond, California, wouldn’t have signed off on DeVone Boggan’s plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation’s worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new—now. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten,” says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. “It was time to do something different.”

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren’t the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who’d been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn’t expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. “They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt,” he recalls.

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that’s introduced the “Richmond model” for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program’s street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. “It’s the only agency where you’re required to have a criminal background to be an employee,” Boggan jokes.

So far, the results have been promising: As this story went to press, 65 of the 68 “fellows” enrolled in the program in the previous 47 months were still alive. One had survived a shooting and three had died. In 2007, when Boggan’s program began, Richmond was America’s ninth most dangerous city, with 47 killings among its 106,000 residents. In 2013, it saw its lowest number of homicides in 33 years, and its homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000. Rates are dropping nationwide, but not so steeply. (In 2013, nearby Oakland’s homicide rate was 23 per 100,000; Detroit’s was 47 per 100,000.)

[SNIP]

Here’s how it works: A team of seven “neighborhood change agents” patrol the streets like beat cops, keeping tabs on the 50 high-risk members of what Boggan calls the “focus group.” The coordinators, most of them former convicts, check in with their sources at corner stores, barbershops, and churches and report back daily on what they’ve heard. “I want us to hunt ‘em like they hunt, and I want us to hunt for information,” Boggan says. “We have better information than the police.” Once a certain level of trust has been established between the coordinators and their targets, a meeting is arranged, and the pitch is made.

In exchange for shunning dangerous behavior, ONS fellows receive anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month, depending on their progress following a “life map” of personal and professional goals. If they team up with someone from a rival community to renounce violence altogether, they can get even more money—though that’s yet to happen. Fellows can receive stipends for 9 of their 18 months in the program. The city gave ONS $1.2 million for its operating budget last year, but the money for the stipends came from a handful of private donors, including the health care giant Kaiser Permanente. (A Kaiser spokeswoman says the program is good for “diffusing community tensions and reducing violence,” thereby limiting stress-related health risks like heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.)

ONS staffers help fellows take concrete steps toward stability, from providing assistance in getting a driver’s license or a GED to helping raise $5,000 for a merchant-marine training class. Though the program officially cuts off when fellows turn 25, Boggan says ONS tries to stay in touch with them as long as possible.

[SNIP]

“The analogy here is infectious disease,” says Barry Krisberg, a UC-Berkeley criminologist who has advised Boggan. For years, crime fighters had combated epidemics of violence by quarantining criminals in prison. Boggan took what he’d seen in other cities and adopted a new course of treatment: By inoculating the carriers of violence, perhaps you can protect an entire community.


HOW MUCH DO INNOCENT PEOPLE RECEIVE AFTER THEY ARE EXONERATED?

NPR’s Planet Money takes a look at what kind of payment people who are wrongfully convicted receive for every year of their incarceration.

The federal government and 17 states pay a fixed amount per year, and some states evaluate compensation case-by-case, but there are 21 states that offer no money to innocent people who go to prison.

From the pool of states paying a fixed amount to people who have been exonerated, Texas pays the most at $80,000 per year spent behind bars, and Wisconsin pays the least at $5,000. Experts say that the states offering a moderate fixed amount are likely trying to avoid a lawsuit and a higher settlement later.

Here’s a clip:

Several states and the federal government offer $50,000 per year for people wrongly convicted in federal court. Why is that such a common figure?

Federal payments were set by a law passed a decade ago. At that time, Alabama had the highest compensation at $50,000 per year, so the feds simply decided to match that, according to Stephen Saloom, policy director at the Innocence Project. Other states may have followed the lead of the federal government.

“There doesn’t seem to be any other rationale behind the number,” said Paul Cates, also at the Innocence Project.

Unfortunately, even in states that offer compensation, the claim process is often complicated. For instance, California pays $36,500 per year of wrongful incarceration, but (as of 2013) only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process easier.)


SOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS LOWER SUSPENSIONS, BEAT THE STATE AVERAGE

According to a new UCLA study, four out of five Southern California counties achieved lower suspension rates than the statewide average. The study compares data from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino together reduced their suspensions by 37,325 over the previous year, while also decreasing the racial disparity.

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

Districts in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties imposed 37,325 fewer suspensions last year than the year before and posted sharper declines in their respective suspension rates than the statewide average, according to an analysis of selected California counties by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

L.A. County, for instance, reduced its rate by about 42% more than the state; the other counties outperformed the state by 12% for San Bernardino, 59% for Riverside and 60% for Ventura.

Orange County’s reduction equaled the state average. But Orange reported the lowest number of suspensions per 100 students last year — 3.4 compared with 9.12 for San Bernardino County and 5.10 for Los Angeles County, according to the analysis of state discipline data released last week.

“These are unquestionably positive results. California school districts are beginning to understand that extreme suspension-first policies neither improve school climate nor boost academic achievement,” said Daniel J. Losen, the study’s lead author and director of the UCLA project.

Losen added, however, that suspension rates remained too high and that students are still sent home on a daily basis for minor infractions unrelated to fighting or drugs.

In another interesting example of why stamping out harsh school discipline is so critical, data from the New York Dept. of Probation shows that, last year, kids entered the juvenile justice system at a rate 53% higher in May than in August. Because summer is traditionally a higher crime season, the data suggests that schools are pushing kids into the juvenile justice system.

WNYC News’ Kathleen Horan has the story. Here’s how it opens:

New York City has the largest school district in the country and a reputation for doling out harsh penalties. Even the Justice Department has warned that routine infractions should land a student in the principal’s office — not in a police precinct. As another school year wraps up, pressure is on Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce discipline policy reforms.

The kind of trouble that can land students in jail is more likely to happen while while they’re in school rather than out on summer break. Fifty percent more juveniles went through the criminal justice system in May 2013 than in August that year, according to Department of Probation intake data. “They aren’t better behaved during the summer than the winter,” observed former DOP Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in February. “They’re just less surveilled.”

As senior advisor in the administration’s Office of Criminal Justice, Schiraldi is now focused on coming up with a plan that will help reduce the number of kids getting hauled out of school in handcuffs, attempting to close what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Posted in Innocence, juvenile justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF ELECTION UPDATES: MEDIA BANNED FROM TANAKA’S ELECTION NIGHT PARTY…AND MORE

On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.

[SNIP]

Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


150K BALLOTS STILL UNCOUNTED

There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


TEDxIRONWOOD: FIRST EVER TED TALKS EVENT IN A PRISON

On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.

[SNIP]

TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WLA ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND

WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


GRAY WOLF GETS ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS IN CALIFORNIA

It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

California “Lifers” and Parole, Sex Trafficking in LA, Kids Unrepresented in Court, Sheriff Candidate Updates, and Oregon Legalizes Gay Marriage

May 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE FOR FORMER “LIFERS” ON PAROLE IN CALIFORNIA

Over the last six years, California has seen a considerable increase in “lifers” winning parole. This is largely due to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that changed how the parole board and the governor handled parole decisions.

In the latest installment of the KQED California Report series “Second Chance: Lifers and Parole in California,” reporter Scott Shafer looks at the positive environmental shifts this significantly increased chance of parole is creating inside prisons, and speaks with former “lifers” now paroled and living on the outside.

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

For decades, California inmates serving sentences like 25-years-to-life had very little chance of being released. Parole was routinely denied by the Board of Parole Hearings, or blocked by the governor.

But in the past few years, there’s been a dramatic change. Since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008, the number of so-called “lifers” winning parole has steadily climbed. Since then, more than 1,700 lifers have been released.

The change is being felt on both sides of the prison walls. At a recent graduation day at San Quentin State Prison, about 50 inmates — most of them lifers — collected their diplomas from a course in leadership.

After the ceremony, Associate Warden Jeff Lawson said that as more and more lifers are granted parole and leave prison, the inmates are taking notice.

“Most of these guys understand there is light at the end of the tunnel now,” Lawson says. “So it just helps improve the overall environment for them. And it gets the ones who were maybe straddling the fence to get off the fence and get on the right side.”

Inmate Duane Reynolds just completed the leadership course. On the way back to his cellblock, he describes the crime that sent him away more than 25 years ago.

“As a matter of fact, what I did was, I murdered my uh, my supervisor,” Reynolds says. “High on drugs. So my life was out of control.”

Reynolds was 30 at the time. His sentence: 26 years to life. He’s now 54. Despite being denied parole three times, Reynolds is hopeful. Next month, he says, the parole board will decide — once again — if he’s suitable for parole and no longer a risk to society. I ask him if he thinks he’s suitable?

“That’s a very difficult question for me,” he answers. “I will say this: I’m a changed individual. But the fact that I took another human being’s life, that’s a hard question for me.”

Reynolds says he and his fellow San Quentin inmates are very aware that after years of routine denials of parole, word is out: If you do the work, complete the programs and stay in line, release is a very real possibility.

“The fact that people are going home is really encouraging to a lot of individuals,” he notes.

Since 2009, more than twice as many lifers have been paroled than in the previous two decades combined. There are several reasons for that. State Supreme Court rulings that made it tougher to deny parole to inmates who are no longer a threat to public safety.

Also Gov. Jerry Brown’s 12 appointees on the parole board are granting parole at a much higher rate than previous commissioners.

And unlike his predecessors, who usually blocked parole for murderers, Brown is allowing 80 percent of the parole recommendations to go forward.

While you might think that freedom after decades in prison is all upside, the reality is more complicated…

Listen to/read the rest.


LA DAILY NEWS TAKES AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT SEX TRAFFICKING IN LOS ANGELES

http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20140518/prostitution-in-los-angeles-court-gives-girls-in-sex-trade-a-second-chance
The LA Daily News has a compelling new series on sex trafficking in Los Angeles,
who the real victims of the trafficking are, and new ways city officials and law enforcement agencies are combatting the problem.

A particularly good story in the series, this one by Christina Villacorte, explores programs created to help teen girls escape sexual exploitation and start their lives over, through relocation, education and job training, and other crucial services. Here’s how it opens:

Her face marred by a tattoo that a pimp had used to mark her as his property, the teenage girl told the judge in a plaintive voice, “I just want to go home.”

Later, another teen girl wearing too much makeup and too little clothing admitted running away from a group home for juvenile delinquents after attacking someone there for insulting her.

“Someone called me a prostitute and I lost it,” she explained to the judge. “I blacked out.”

Her bravado faded, however, when a probation officer explained that she was found wandering the streets afterwards, having gotten lost while looking for her mother, who had abandoned her.

When she cried, she revealed the child she still was, underneath the makeup, sheer top and short skirt, with high heels and matching red purse.

This is the STAR Court in Compton, a pilot program that specializes in cases involving commercially sexually exploited girls, and Commissioner Catherine Pratt presides with a focus on rehabilitation over punishment. The acronym stands for Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience.

Pratt does not immediately dismiss the prostitution-related charges against the girls so they can remain eligible for wraparound services offered by Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system. These include placement in a group home or juvenile hall — a safe place away from pimps — gang intervention programs, educational opportunities, job training, and even family reunification services.

“Most of these kids have experienced betrayal, if not worse, from people in positions of authority throughout their whole lives that skews their view of the world,” Pratt said. “What we’re trying to do for these kids is to show them there are people in positions of authority who do care.”

When the girls are ready and able to leave the life, she can order their juvenile criminal records sealed, allowing them to start over.


DENYING CHILDREN THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

Rolling Stone Magazine has an interesting story by Molly Knefel that looks at the reasons indigent kids often go unrepresented by an attorney in courts across the nation and what one state is doing to remedy the issue. Here’s a clip:

…In juvenile courts across the country, children often face the full weight of the criminal justice system without the protection of a defense attorney. According to a report from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “Some systems ensure that every child in the system is represented, while others allow 80-90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” Children may be unrepresented for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to a public defender or pressure from judges or prosecutors to waive their constitutional right to an attorney.

Earlier this month, Colorado scored a victory for juveniles in criminal proceedings by passing House Bill 1032, a law that will ensure that all children will be represented by counsel when they appear in court. The Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) found in 2012 that at least 45 percent of juveniles did not have a defense lawyer at any point throughout their case, with many more receiving counsel late in proceedings. Kim Dvorchak, CJDC’s executive director, says that early advocacy is crucial for children who have been arrested. “There are many places statewide where kids are showing up in a jumpsuit and shackles and the judge is deciding whether they get to go home,” she says, “and no one is there making an argument for them.”

Dvorchak says there’s a similar problem for children who receive summonses and have to appear in court. Those are called “first appearances,” and many children face them with literally no defense attorney in the room. “You’ll have a busload of kids and families in the room,” she says. “There will be a prosecutor there who calls out their names, talks to them right there in open court in front of all the families, let’s them know, ‘I’ve reviewed your case and I’m offering you a plea bargain.’” Without a lawyer, she says, those families have no one to tell them the potential impact of accepting a plea – and they may feel pressure to plead guilty even if their child is innocent. “They may think, ‘Oh probation, that sounds good, you’re not putting my kid in jail.’ But they’re not understanding what probation will mean for their lives.”

Read on.


LOS ANGELES SHERIFF CANDIDATES’ NEW AD CAMPAIGNS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has recorded a radio advertisement in support of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Paul Tanaka also has a new radio ad, and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold had a glossy insert in the Sunday LA Times last week.


OREGON BECOMES 18TH STATE TO LEGALIZE GAY MARRIAGE

On Monday, a U.S. District Judge Michael McShane tossed Oregon’s ban on gay marriage. His ruling will likely not be challenged. (Hooray!)

The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes has more on the ruling (in addition to some lovely photos of gay couples finally allowed to get marrried). Here are some clips:

Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down Monday by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who ruled that the prohibition violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

Jubilant couples who anticipated a favorable decision from the judge began the rush to officially wed at locations around the state. McShane ordered that his ruling take immediate effect.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest,” McShane wrote in his decision, “the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were the first couple to marry in Multnomah County following the ruling.

Oregon becomes the seventh state where a federal judge has struck down a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court last year invalidated key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Unlike in the other states — Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas — there was no one with the immediate standing to appeal the decision.

[SNIP]

The judge said gay and lesbian families and their children were harmed by Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in “a myriad of ways,” including adoption rights, tax laws and spousal benefits granted by employers.

McShane said that preserving the traditional definition of marriage was not a strong enough argument for Oregon’s law to stand. If that were the case, he wrote, tradition could be used as a “rubber stamp condoning discrimination against longstanding, traditionally oppressed minority classes everywhere.

Posted in juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, parole policy, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

Suspending & Expelling Preschoolers, SF District Attorney Says to End Capital Punishment, AG Eric Holder Says Juvenile Facilities Overuse Solitary Confinement

May 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUSPENDING AND EXPELLING THREE AND FOUR-YEAR-OLDS…IN CALIFORNIA AND NATIONWIDE

Back in March, the Civil Rights division of the US Dept. of Education released a report on school discipline that revealed nearly 5,000 preschoolers were suspended in the 2011-2012 school year.

Many California school districts say they do not suspend or expel preschool-aged children, LAUSD included, but Yale professor Walter Gilliam discovered California schools are, indeed, suspending and expelling three and four-year-olds. In 2005, Gilliam conducted a national study that found California schools were expelling preschoolers at a rate of 7.5 per 1000 kids, a number higher than the national average.

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has the story. Here’s a clip:

In March, the U.S. Department of Education released statistics showing that 5,000 preschoolers nationwide were suspended at least once during the 2011-12 school year. Half of them were suspended more than once.

That’s not even the complete picture; those numbers only include children at public schools, not private preschools or home-run childcare centers…

And one national expert doubts the federal numbers are accurate, even for public-school-based programs.

Some of the largest school districts in California – Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Oakland, San Francisco – showed zero preschool expulsions in the 2011-2012 federal data, the first year the federal government required school districts to report it. The state doesn’t require school districts to break out expulsion reports by grade.

L.A. Unified school district has an unwritten policy against suspending or expelling preschoolers, said Maureen Diekman who runs the district’s early education programs.

“When there’s a child with challenging behavior, we work with the family and work to find out how best to meet that child’s individual needs,“ she said.

California Head Start officials also said they enlist the help of parents and guardians to curb behavior issues, rather than expel children.

Yale professor Walter Gilliam doesn’t believe that California’s preschools are not suspending or expelling kids. When he set out to conduct the first major national study on preschool expulsion in 2005, he said officials told him they had policies against it, too.

But when his research team surveyed teachers directly, they found that – whatever schools’ policies may be — teachers were indeed asking problem preschoolers to leave. Often.

“Pre-kindergarten children were being expelled at [a] rate well over three times that of K through 12 combined,” he said.

In California, the expulsion rate was 7.5 children per thousand preschoolers, well above the national average of 6.7 per thousand. That made it the 16th highest state in the nation for preschool expulsion rates.

And, just like in upper grades, both Gilliam’s study and the new federal data show suspension rates are higher for African-American children than students of other races – even in preschool.

For 2011-2012, the federal data shows half of the preschool children suspended were black, even though black children made up only 18 percent of all preschoolers.

Read the rest.


SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY (AND FORMER ASSISTANT CHIEF OF LAPD) SAYS TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY

In an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury, San Francisco DA George Gascon says that the death penalty should be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Gascon says the death penalty is both costly, and an ineffective crime deterrent.

And the most urgent reason to end capital punishment, he says, is the alarming percentage of death row inmates found innocent. (A recently published study by the National Academy of Sciences found that one in 25 people handed a death sentence between 1973-2004 were wrongly convicted.)

The stand is particularly significant because of Gascon’s background in law enforcement—he has served as the Assistant Chief of the LAPD, Chief of Police for Mesa, Arizona, and Chief of the SFPD.

Here is a clip from DA Gascon’s op-ed:

Arriving at my current views involved a process that was highly analytical and deeply emotional. Like many people, I have gone through an evolution in my thinking that has led me to believe the death penalty is irreparably flawed and marred by a history of incorrect information.

My journey began with the realization that in my 30 years in law enforcement, the death penalty has had no impact on public safety. Strengthening families and neighborhoods, holding criminals swiftly accountable and ensuring every child receives a quality education are more effective in deterring violent crime than remote threats of execution.

This is especially true in California, where the 745 people now on death row likely will die of old age rather than execution. The truth is that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is the most severe punishment and the most effective solution to deal with the most dangerous murderers.

The costly reality of our death penalty system also played a critical role in my evolution. Study after study in California, including the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, has concluded that replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole will save California $130 million every year. That is $130 million of precious taxpayer money that should be spent to prevent crime, to solve crime and to educate our kids.

But the most important stop on my journey was innocence. Even under the most scrupulous practices, the legal system occasionally makes mistakes. Just since 1973, more than 140 people on death rows around the country have been exonerated, thankfully before they were executed. To me, this number was evidence enough that the death penalty invites deadly mistakes.

Last week’s report escalates a disturbing situation into one that deserves public outcry. The researchers calculated that 4.1 percent of the 7,482 accused sentenced to death in the United States from 1973 to 1984 were wrongly convicted. This, according to the researchers, is a “conservative estimate.” That means there may be 30 innocent people on California’s death row right now.


US ATTORNEY GENERAL CONDEMNS OVER-USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN JUVENILE FACILITIES

On Wednesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against excessive solitary confinement of kids—especially those with disabilities—in detention centers.

Holder said, moving forward, the DOJ would work with states to rein in the use of isolation in juvenile facilities. (It should be noted that LA County Probation still uses isolation in their juvenile probation camps.)

Here is a clip of the transcript from the Dept. of Justice website:

“In a study released last year by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 47 percent of juvenile detention centers reported locking youth in some type of isolation for more than four hours at a time. We have received reports of young people who have been held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, often with no human interaction at all. In some cases, children were held in small rooms with windows that were barely the width of their own hands.

“This is, to say the least, excessive. And these episodes are all too common.

“This practice is particularly detrimental to young people with disabilities – who are at increased risk under these circumstances of negative effects including self-harm and even suicide. In fact, one national study found that half of the victims of suicides in juvenile facilities were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent of victims had a history of solitary confinement.

“Let me be clear, there may be times when it becomes necessary to remove a detained juvenile from others in order to protect staff, other inmates, or the juvenile himself from harm. However, this action should be taken only in a limited way where there is a valid reason to do so, and for a limited amount of time; isolated juveniles must be closely monitored, and every attempt must be made to continue educational and mental health programming while the youth is in isolation.

“At a minimum, we must work to curb the overreliance on seclusion of youth with disabilities. And at the Department of Justice, we are committed to working with states to do this going forward.

Posted in Death Penalty, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Tricking Teenagers into Breaking the Law, Inmate Allowed to Sue Baca Personally, TX Gov. Perry and PREA, and an ALADS Story Update

April 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

RIVERSIDE COUNTY’S PENCHANT FOR UNDERCOVER HIGH SCHOOL DRUG STINGS

In 2012, Jesse Snodgrass, an autistic high school student in Temecula, was pressured into buying $20 worth of marijuana for an undercover officer posing as a new classmate and friend. Jesse—a kid who had no idea how to obtain marijuana before he was ensnared by an undercover sting operation—was thrown into the juvenile justice system.

And Jesse is not the only kid who has been solicited and entrapped by undercover officers posing as high schoolers in Riverside County. Jesse is not even the only special-needs student caught up in one of Riverside Sheriffs’ high school stings.

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Theshia Naidoo and Lynne Lyman (senior staff attorney and California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, respectively) call Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and school districts to task for the “ill-advised” and harmful use of undercover drug stings in high schools.

Here’s a clip:

…Should we really allow adults to dress up as kids, embed themselves in school classrooms and trick children into breaking the law?

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department regularly targets high school students, sometimes, as in this case, inspiring crime where it otherwise would not have existed. In the last four years, the department has staged four undercover sting operations in which adult officers, masquerading as high school students, repeatedly pressured students to obtain illegal substances for them. Over the last four years, nearly 100 students, a number of whom were special-needs students, have been arrested.

It is unclear why the Riverside sheriff continues to use this ill-advised strategy, and why area school districts continue to allow it. Such stings have been abandoned by many law enforcement agencies and banned by school districts across the country. The Los Angeles Unified School District hasn’t allowed undercover stings in its schools since 2004, when it concluded that they had the potential to harm students but had not reduced the availability of drugs on campus. The National Assn. of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officials has concluded that undercover high school operations have a high potential for bad outcomes for kids without evidence of corresponding good results for communities.

For a more in-depth account of Jesse Snodgrass’ “entrapment,” Rolling Stone featured an excellent longform narrative by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in their March issue. Here’s how it opens:

Jesse Snodgrass plodded around yet another stucco corner, searching for Room 254 in time for the second-period bell, only to find he was lost yet again. Jesse felt a familiar surge of panic. He was new to Chaparral High School and still hadn’t figured out how to navigate the sprawling Southern California campus with its outdoor maze of identical courtyards studded with baby palm trees. Gripping his backpack straps, the 17-year-old took some deep breaths. Gliding all around him were his new peers, chatting as they walked in slouchy pairs and in packs. Many of their mouths were turned up, baring teeth, which Jesse recognized as smiles, a signal that they were happy. Once he regained his composure, he followed the spray-painted Chaparral Puma paw prints on the ground, his gait stiff and soldierly, and prayed that his classroom would materialize. He was already prepared to declare his third day of school a disaster.

At last, Jesse found his art class, where students were milling about in the final moments before the bell. He had resigned himself to maintaining a dignified silence when a slightly stocky kid with light-brown hair ambled over and said, “Hi.”

“Hi,” Jesse answered cautiously. Nearly six feet tall, Jesse glanced down to scan the kid’s heart-shaped face, and seeing the corners of his mouth were turned up, Jesse relaxed a bit. The kid introduced himself as Daniel Briggs. Daniel told Jesse that he, too, was new to Chaparral – he’d just moved from Redlands, an hour away, to the suburb of Temecula – and, like Jesse, who’d recently relocated from the other side of town, was starting his senior year.

Jesse squinted and took a long moment to mull over Daniel’s words. Meanwhile, Daniel sized up Jesse, taking in his muscular build and clenched jaw that topped off Jesse’s skater-tough look: Metal Mulisha T-shirt, calf-length Dickies, buzz-cut hair and a stiff-brimmed baseball hat. A classic suburban thug. Lowering his voice, Daniel asked if Jesse knew where he might be able to get some weed.

“Yeah, man, I can get you some,” Jesse answered in his slow monotone, every word stretched out and articulated with odd precision. Daniel asked for his phone number, and Jesse obliged, his insides roiling with both triumph and anxiety. On one hand, Jesse could hardly believe his good fortune: His conversation with Daniel would stand as the only meaningful interaction he’d have with another kid all day. On the other hand, Jesse had no idea where to get marijuana. All Jesse knew in August 2012 was that he had somehow made a friend.


APPEALS COURT AFFIRMS THAT INMATE CAN SUE SHERIFF LEE BACA PERSONALLY

In 2006, Juan Roberto Albino was booked into Men’s Central Jail under suspicion of rape. LA County officers placed Albino in general population where fellow inmates beat and raped him under the alleged mistaken belief that he had sexually assaulted a minor. Albino was attacked two more times, and hospitalized.

He asked guards to put him under protective custody on multiple occasions. They refused. Albino is now blind is right eye, deaf in his left ear, and walks with a cane.

Normally, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Albino would have to go through the jail’s internal complaint process, but Albino says officers never told him of existing complaint forms or procedures.

In a 9-3 decision, California’s full 9th Court Circuit ruled in Albino’s favor, allowing him to move forward with a lawsuit against LA County and (former) Sheriff Lee Baca.

Courthouse News Service’s Tim Hull has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County jail officials ignored an accused rapist’s pleas for protective custody after inmates mistook him for a child abuser and brutalized him, the full 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.

Jailers housed the 5-foot-3, 123-pound Juan Roberto Albino in the general population of a high-medium security housing unit after booking him into the county’s Central Jail on suspicion of rape in 2006.

He was soon beaten, cut and raped by fellow inmates under the allegedly mistaken belief that he had raped a 16-year-old girl. Though charged with rape, Albino had not been arrested for abusing a minor.

Albino allegedly requested protective custody before and after he was attacked, but he said the guards always told him to talk to his lawyer.

The detainee suffered two more attacks in general population after a stay in the hospital. He now has nerve damage on the right side of his face, uses a cane, and can’t hear with his right ear or see with his right eye.

A federal judge awarded the county summary judgment on Albino’s pro se complaint after finding that he had failed to exhaust his administrative options through the jail’s formal complaint process.

Though a three-judge appeals panel affirmed, the 9th Circuit agreed later to consider the issue en banc.

The court revived Albino’s civil rights claims against the county and its sheriff, 9-3, Thursday, finding that guards had neglected to inform him how to file an official complaint…

“Albino was beaten several times and repeatedly complained orally to deputies in the jail, asking repeatedly to be placed in protective custody,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the majority. “The jail had a manual describing a procedure for handling inmate complaints, but this manual was for staff use only and was not made available to inmates…


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING INMATES FROM RAPE…

An NY Times editorial directs some righteous indignation at Texas Governor Rick Perry’s refusal to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Here’s a clip:

Mr. Perry’s complaints about the rules are without merit, but the governor wants to show that he’s opposed to federal oversight of any sort. Unfortunately, his cynical stance could prompt state corrections officials to ignore policies that protect inmates from sexual predation. The consequences could be terrible since the Texas system is replete with the sexual violence that prompted Congress to pass this law.

Mr. Perry announced his intention to flout the law in a March 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. He implied that Texas had its own rape-prevention measures and did not need federal oversight. Federal data consistently tell a different story. A 2013 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that Texas had more prison facilities with high rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence than any other state.

There are several rules that seem to particularly irk Mr. Perry. One requires states to periodically audit rape prevention programs. Another requires them to certify that their prisons are in compliance. Mr. Perry complains that he couldn’t possibly certify compliance because he can’t audit all of the facilities covered by the law at once. However, the rules make clear that only one-third of the covered facilities need to be audited each year.

Moreover, the Justice Department has explained that the compliance process is flexible — the governor does not have to rely solely on audit data but can take into account internal reports or any other information that could be used to gauge whether the system meets the requirements of the law.

Mr. Perry also takes issue with a provision that sets minimum staffing levels for juvenile facilities so that young people are adequately protected from predators, including those who might be part of the institution’s staff. The levels set in the rules are consistent with those used in a dozen states and are deemed necessary to keep young people safe. The states are not required to reach those levels until 2017.


AN UPDATE ON THE ALADS BATTLE

Last week, we reported on the power struggle between two factions of the LASD deputies’ union, and the $2.5 million in sheriff campaign PAC money at stake.

Finally, last Wednesday, in a welcome moment of sanity, LA County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has declared the union leaderless until a court hearing on April 17. In the meantime, a panel of three individuals—one from each faction and a neutral party—will make union decisions. (Thank you, Judge Chalfant!)

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, prison policy, School to Prison Pipeline, War on Drugs | 5 Comments »

Holder & Duncan Shocked at Pre-School Discipline #’s….Child Abuse Deaths Up….Looking at Sheriff Candidate Bob Olmsted….and More

March 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ERIC HOLDER & ARNE DUNCAN SHOCKED AT SUSPENSION OF PRESCHOOLERS

This past Friday the Civil Rights division of the US Department of Education released a report detailing the disturbing number of suspensions and other forms of discipline in American schools. The statistics on preschool suspensions, in particular, were so high that they succeeded in shocking the US Attorney General and the Secretary of Education.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed shock at data released Thursday showing that thousands of preschool kids were suspended nationwide during the 2011-2012 school year. The suspensions fell heavily on black children, who represented 18 percent of preschool enrollment yet 48 percent of all suspensions.

“I was stunned—I was stunned—that we were suspending and expelling four-year-olds,” Duncan said at a Washington D.C. elementary school, where he and Holder discussed findings of the latest Civil Rights Data Collection by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The survey showed that nearly 5,000 preschool students were suspended in the 2011-12 academic year.

“This preschool suspension issue is mind-boggling,” Duncan said. “And we need to as a nation find a way to remedy that tomorrow.”

Duncan said training is needed at schools that suspend large numbers of kids at all grade levels to demonstrate a “better way” of handling problem behavior. “We know there is a correlation between out-of-school suspensions and ultimately locking people up,” Duncan said. “And folks don’t like it when we talk about it. But for far too many children and communities the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ is real.”

Here’s the report.


SAME DATA FINDS AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESCHOOLERS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE SUSPENDED

Jesse Holland of the Associated Press looks deeper into the racial disparities in school suspensions found in the recently-released Dept. of Education report, including suspensions in the nation’s preschools, where African American preschoolers account for a stunning 48 percent of suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.


ALARMING SPIKES IN CHILD ABUSE & NEGLECT IN VARIOUS STATES

The Wall Street Journal reports about the frightening rise in child abuse deaths that is getting lawmakers to pay attention. Since the WSJ is hidden behind a pay wall, The Crime Report summarizes the story. Here’s a clip:

Seventy-eight children died in Florida last year as a result of abuse or neglect—36 of whom had prior involvement with the state Department of Children and Families, says the Wall Street Journal. The string of deaths triggered public outcry, plunged the state’s child-welfare system into crisis and led to the resignation of the agency’s secretary. Now, the Florida legislature has made overhauling the system one of its top priorities in the session that began this month. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican seeking re-election this year, has called for nearly $40 million in additional funding. Other states and localities are embroiled in similar controversies. In Massachusetts, the September disappearance of a 5-year-old boy, who is feared dead, went unnoticed by the state’s child-welfare agency for three months, prompting the governor to order an independent review. In California, the brutal death of an 8-year-old boy allegedly abused by his caregivers led Los Angeles County supervisors to create a commission on child protection that is due to issue recommendations next month…..


KPCC’S FRANK STOLTZE PROFILES BOB OLMSTED

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of retired LA County Sheriff’s Department commander Bob Olmsted. That makes three candidates that Stoltze has interviewed and profiled. (He’s also done stories on candidates Jim McDonnell and James Hellmold.)

The profiles aren’t long but they’re smart, featuring those who express pros and cons on each man.

You can find the podcast here, and here’s a clip from the written version of the Olmsted story:

Whistleblowing cops usually end up as pariahs. Bob Olmsted is no different.

“I’ve got a problem with a guy who runs to the FBI,” says retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Craig Ditsch. “We have some very good people who have been indicted.”

A federal grand jury has indicted 20 current or former sheriff’s officials on civil rights and corruption charges – in part because of Olmsted. Most of the charges relate to excessive use of force against jail inmates, or efforts to cover it up.

Now, Olmsted is using his whistleblower past to distinguish himself among the seven candidates hoping to succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca as head of one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Olmsted once oversaw Men’s Central Jail as a commander, and went to his superior seeking to remove a problem captain. When Olmsted didn’t get the help, he went higher.

“I told my chief, ‘I’m going over your head,’” Olmsted recounts. He sounds like a worried parent when he describes the corrosive effect of bad deputies.

“Who is protecting these young guys, the good guys?” he asks. “Nobody.”

In 2011, when Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka (now a candidate for sheriff), refused to help, according to Olmsted, he went to the FBI. Olmsted had just retired from the department.

Last summer, before Baca abruptly resigned and a slew of other candidates jumped into the race, Olmsted announced his run for sheriff. It was a bold move by a political novice against a powerful incumbent.

“It was my duty to run,” Olmsted says.

[SNIP]

While many current and former deputies loathe the idea of a whistleblower becoming sheriff, retired Commander Joaquin Herran is a proud supporter of Olmsted.

“He had the guts to go do the right thing for the right reason,” Herran says. “Other people did not.”


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC, HERE’S WHAT THE DAILY NEWS SAYS ABOUT THE LASD SHERIFF CANDIDATES AND THE RACE

The Daily News’ Christina Villacourte interviews experts about what the voters need to look for as they contemplate whom to choose as LA County’s new sheriff, and talks briefly to the candidate themselves.

Here’s a clip:

[Laurie] Levenson, the criminal law professor, said the new sheriff must meet stringent criteria.

“I think integrity is key,” she said. “It should be somebody who’s experienced in law enforcement, and who has the confidence of law enforcement personnel.”

“He should be a good manager, politically savvy, and with a great deal of courage to take on the different issues that confront the county — from homeland security to modern approaches toward law enforcement, even inmate rehabilitation and penal reform,” she added.

If a candidate were to win the majority of votes on June 3, the county Board of Supervisors could remove interim Sheriff John Scott, and appoint the sheriff-elect to lead the department immediately. If no candidate exceeds 50 percent, the top two would face a runoff election on Nov. 4 and the winner would be sworn in Dec. 1.

If voters choose poorly, the consequences can be costly — literally.

“County taxpayers paid about $40 million last year in settlements and jury verdicts for illegal behavior on the part of the Sheriff’s Department,” American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Peter Eliasberg said.


Pre-art photo of preschool kids from PreschoolMatters.org

Posted in 2014 election, DCFS, Education, Foster Care, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 34 Comments »

New LASD Inspector General Says Fire Existing LASD Watchdogs…. & Effort to Make LA Schools “Less Toxic” is Hit & Miss

March 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LASD INSPECTOR MAX HUNTSMAN SAYS THAT IT’S TIME FOR THE OLD OVERSIGHT METHODS TO GO

In a Tuesday afternoon letter to the Board of Supervisors that startled many, Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended to the LA County Board of Supervisors that contracts be terminated. with both longtime LASD watchdogs, Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb.

Huntsman was appreciative of the work of the OIR and of Merrick Bobb, but he didn’t pull any punches.

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has a good story on the letter and some of the reactions to it. Here’s a clip:

…“The Office of Independent Review has functioned primarily as a part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Huntsman said. “The office has had an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, was housed within the department, and assumed an integral role in the disciplinary system.

“This model has created the perception that OIR is not sufficiently independent to act as a civilian monitor,” Huntsman added. “This perception is not entirely without basis.”

He said the OIR’s role as a “trusted adviser” to former Sheriff Lee Baca, who had recommended its creation, “limited its effectivess in reporting information to the public and the board.”

Gennaco disagreed.

“Some people have that perception but our reports are hard-hitting and factual, and we don’t pull any punches,” Gennaco said.

“Because of our work, a number of deputies have been made accountable who otherwise would still be working at the department,” he added, noting the OIR recommended 100 deputies for discipline, including termination, for various acts of misconduct just in the past year.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has some good angles on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Huntsman said he is not planning to work with sheriff’s officials on individual discipline cases the way Gennaco’s organization did. He said he would rather take a more systemic approach and stay out of individual cases so that he can report his opinion on those that are mishandled without a conflict of interest.

However, in his letter he mentioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Department hiring some of Gennaco’s attorneys to fill that role in order to advise sheriff’s officials in determining appropriate discipline on a case-by-case basis. He said the organization’s attorneys have had a positive effect on encouraging thorough misconduct investigations and appropriate discipline.

Even as he recommended cutting his contract, Hunstman also complimented Bobb, saying he provided an “invaluable” outside perspective, including pushing for a database that tracks deputy discipline.


GETTING LA’S TRAUMATIZED STUDENTS THE HELP IN SCHOOL THEY NEED, IS ANYTHING BUT EASY

Journalist/advocate Jane Ellen Stevens, who runs the wonderfully informative website ACEsTooHigh, has become expert in the effect of trauma on kids an others.

Right now, she is working on an investigative series into “right doing—which looks at how some schools, mostly in California, are “moving from a punitive to a trauma-informed approach to school discipline.” The series, which is funded by the California Endowment, includes profiles of schools and programs in Le Grand, Fresno, Concord, Reedley, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Diego—and LA.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ most recent story, “Trying to make LA schools less toxic is hit-and-miss; relatively few students receive care they need.”

In it she describes the ways in which certain people inside the LAUSD really understand the problem of kids acting out because of trauma, but struggle to find resources to help.

For millions of troubled children across the country, schools have been toxic places. That’s not just because many schools don’t control bullying by students or teachers, but because they enforce arbitrary and discriminatory zero tolerance school discipline policies, such as suspensions for “willful defiance”. Many also ignore the kids who sit in the back of the room and don’t engage – the ones called “lazy” or “unmotivated” – and who are likely to drop out of school.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which banned suspensions for willful defiance last May, the CBITS program (pronounced SEE-bits), aims to find and help troubled students before their reactions to their own trauma trigger a punitive response from their school environment, including a teacher or principal.

[SNIP]

Every semester, Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker, gives all the children in Harmony’s fifth grade a brightly colored flyer to take home. It asks the parent to give permission for her or his child to fill out a questionnaire about events the child may have experienced in, or away from, school. “Has anyone close to you died?” “Have you yourself been slapped, punched, or hit by someone?” “Have you had trouble concentrating (for example, losing track of a story on television, forgetting what you read, not paying attention in class)?” are three of the 45 questions.

Garcia’s son was one of a small group of students whose answers on the questionnaire, as well as his grades and behavior, were showing signs that he was suffering trauma. He joined one of the two groups, each with eight students that met once a week for 10 weeks at the school. In the group, the students don’t talk about the event or events that triggered the trauma. Instead they talk about their common reactions to trauma, and learn strategies to calm their minds and bodies.

Each student also meets twice individually with Maher; so do the child’s parent or parents. For some parents, it’s the first time they hear about the traumatic event – such as bullying or witnessing violence in the neighborhood – or what their child says about a traumatic event. So, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, says Maher, it’s not because he’s being a bad kid. It’s because he remembers how during his last trip to the grocery store, his mother threw her body over his when gunfire broke out and wouldn’t let him move until the police came to help them, and now he’s afraid to return.

In the case of Garcia’s son, he was having problems at school because he was witnessing his stepfather beating her up. The first time Garcia talked with Maher, Garcia wondered what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t know if she would call the department of social services on me or not,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“After I had a talk with her, I realized it wasn’t a bad choice,” she says. “At first, it hurts to open up, because you don’t want anybody to know about your situation. I was a victim of domestic violence and never opened my mouth. We’re taught that what happens at home stays at home. I was reassured that I wasn’t the only one going through this.”

[SNIP]

CBITS had its beginnings in 1999, when clinician-researchers from RAND Corporation and the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with LAUSD School Mental Health to develop a tool to systematically screen for their exposure to traumatic events. The screening tool – a questionnaire – was first used with immigrant students, says Escudero. When it became evident that students were witnessing violence in their neighborhoods and domestic violence and other abuse in their homes, social workers began making it available for all students. This experience led the team to develop CBITS. Since 2003, CBITS has been disseminated through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and is used in hundreds of schools in the U.S. and other countries. It has a new site – traumaawareschools.org – that is focused on helping schools implement CBITS and teacher training.

“I was one of the originators of CBITS,” says Pia Escudero, director of the LAUSD School Mental Health, Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. “When we started, folks did not want to talk about family violence. Our gateway was to talk about community violence.”

Read on!

Posted in Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, OIR, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

The Cost of Trauma & Tales of Resiliance

March 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the late 1990s, a couple of researchers named Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda
conducted a landmark study that examined the effects of adverse childhood experiences—which they named ACEs. These ACEs included abuse, neglect, domestic violence and family dysfunction, among other issues. Interestingly, the study involved 17,000 mainly white, mostly well-educated, middle class people in San Diego, not those living in high violence areas. Felitti and Anda were surprised when they found a significant connection between the level of adversity faced and the incidence of various health and mental/emotional and social problems.

Further research found that kids with high ACE scores were far more likely to be suspended from school, and or to get into trouble in other ways.

Over the last 10 years, related studies conducted by some of the nation’s top trauma experts began to find that as many as one-third of children living in our country’s violent urban neighborhoods have experienced sufficient family and/or environmental trauma to have PTSD at a rate than that was greater than that reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those studies involved middle school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

For school age kids, PTSD can mimic attention-deficit disorder, with the same lack of concentration, poor grades and inability to sit still.

Not surprisingly, kids suffering from intense trauma—whether measured as ACEs or PTSD—often wind up in the juvenile justice system.

According to the National Center for Mental Health and Justice, youth in the juvenile justice system are 8 times more likely to suffer from PTSD than kids in their communities.

The prevalence of PTSD is higher among incarcerated female adolescents (49%) than among incarcerated male adolescents (32%), and 8 times higher than among youths in the community.

For too long, we have ignored the effects of trauma on the mental and emotional states of kids and adults when we design public policy.

Fortunately, that attitude is beginning to change.


TRAUMA & RESILIENCE: TUNE IN!

With the above in mind, at 1 pm on Monday, March 17, The California Endowment is hosting an afternoon long program called “Health Happens with Everyday Courage” to explore community-based solutions for building resilience—in individual and the community itself—to the chronic stress and trauma that plagues many California neighborhoods.

Daily stress is normal, but traumatic stress—especially without the right support, can produce PTSD plus the risk of a range of physical and socio-emotional health problems.

Monday’s event is sold out. (WLA will be there and will report back.)

But you can live stream all or part of Everyday Courage

HOWEVER, IF YOU WANT TO LIVE STREAM YOU NEED TO SIGN UP HERE.

We strongly recommend you check it out.

In the meantime, take a look at this story written by Fania Davis for Yes! Magazine about how some Oakland classrooms are trying healing instead of punishment for traumatized kids who act out.

Posted in Community Health, juvenile justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

Fixing the “Truancy Crisis,” NYC Art Program Diverts Teen Taggers, Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row…and More

March 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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KEEPING CALIFORNIA KIDS IN SCHOOL AND ON TRACK

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and state lawmakers proposed a group of bills targeting elementary school truancy, which they describe as having reached crisis-level.

Harris’ office put together a report on the issue of “chronic” absence and truancy across California. The report found, for instance, that an alarming one out of five elementary school kids were reported as truant during the 2011-12 school year. Here’s a clip from the executive summary:

…In the 2012-2013 school year, approximately one million elementary school children in California were truant and almost 83,000 were chronically truant (missing 10% or more of the school year – calculated from the date of enrollment to the current date – due to unexcused absences).

The same sample reveals that hundreds of thousands of students in California are chronically absent from school. Over 250,000 elementary school students missed more than 10% of the school year (over 18 school days); and a shocking 20,000 elementary school children missed 36 days or more of school in a single school year.

Given these disturbing statistics, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris commissioned a study to examine the scope, causes and effects of truancy and absenteeism in California. The study also focused on what law enforcement, parents, educators, non-profits, public agencies and concerned community members can and must do about this problem. The findings are stark. We are failing our children.

Truancy, especially among elementary school students, has long-term negative effects. Students who miss school at an early age are more likely to struggle academically and, in later years, to drop out entirely. One study found that for low-income elementary students who have already missed five days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%. Lacking an education, these children are more likely to end up unemployed and at risk of becoming involved in crime, both as victims and as offenders.

The five bills proposed by Harris and lawmakers address some of the report’s recommendations, with an overall goal of keeping kids in class without turning to harsh school discipline. Several of the bills focus on attendance data-gathering by the AG’s office, the Department of Education, and county School Attendance Review Boards (which would be made mandatory by one of the five proposed bills).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Harris said California needs to better collect student attendance data and put it to use instead of waiting for that person to be deemed a menace to society and pouring billions into the criminal justice system.

[SNIP]

“We need to try to get ahold of our young people early and make sure they end up in the classroom and not the courtroom,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who authored one of the bills.

“With this slate of bills, we are not putting more students in the juvenile justice system, but inviting communities to intervene before they end up in the penal system.”

Harris’ report was the first statewide assessment of the truancy crisis, specifically examining elementary schools in each county and relaying the financial impact.


NEW YORK CITY NON PROFIT PARTNERS WITH PROBATION DEPT. TO GIVE YOUNG TAGGERS FORMAL ART LESSONS

In partnership with NYC Dept. of Probation, a nonprofit, “Paint Straight,” takes kids arrested for tagging and redirects them with formal painting lessons and mentorship. At the end of the 8-week program, parents, friends, and probation officers attend Paint Straight’s art show where the kids’ paintings are sold through a silent auction.

We at WLA think this is a much better way to address the issue of young people tagging, than former city attorney Carmen Trutanich’s push for gang injunctions against taggers back in 2009.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Laura Bult has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Elijah Henriques, 15, always loved to draw. He began drawing on paper, then on his schoolbooks and eventually he started making graffiti. After a neighbor witnessed Henriques tagging mailboxes in his Ozone Park, Queens, neighborhood, police officers pulled him off a city bus and arrested him and his friends.

Two months later on a Saturday afternoon, his graffiti was exhibited at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the East Village in Manhattan. His artwork was part of a show organized by the “Paint Straight” program, a nonprofit that’s designed to encourage teenagers who have been arrested for vandalism to express their art in safe and legal ways.

“It helps you understand that doing it illegally is a waste of time. That you can do it on canvas, too,” Henriques said at the “All-City Paint Straight Program Finale.”

Eighteen other young artists who had been arrested for graffiti displayed their work alongside Henriques. Colorful 18-by-21 canvases rested on easels throughout the small dark bar. A DJ spun hip-hop records as probation officers and family and friends of the artists streamed in to view and bid on the art in a silent auction.

Ralph Perez, 49, founded “Paint Straight” five years ago in collaboration with the New York City Department of Probation for teens who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes. The program lasts eight weeks and is often a requirement of probation or offered as an alternative to community service.

“Paint Straight” participants meet once a week at their respective borough’s family court facilities and receive art education and mentorship. Perez said that, out of the 111 kids whom he has helped in the last year, only four have been re-arrested for vandalism…

(Read the rest.)


LOUISIANA MAN EXONERATED AND FREED AFTER A STAGGERING 30 YEARS ON DEATH ROW

Glenn Ford, a man who spent 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit, was exonerated and released Tuesday afternoon. Through a massive miscarriage of justice—by police, prosecutors, judges, “experts,” and the defense attorneys—Ford was convicted by an all-white jury in 1984. His release makes him one of the longest-serving death row exonerees, to date.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has the story. Here’s a clip:

Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.

Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.

There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.

Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.

During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).

After Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts…


LA TIMES SEZ SUPE. MOLINA IS -MOSTLY- RIGHT TO BE FRUSTRATED BY COUNTY COUNSEL DENYING ACCESS TO LASD INTERNAL INVESTIGATION DOCS

Last week, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina insisted county counsel should grant the board access to LASD internal investigation documents on questionable use of force incidents that wind up triggering lawsuits against the county. For instance, Molina wanted access to documents on one investigation in particular, regarding a deputy’s seventh shooting (after which he was placed back on patrol). Molina said, without being able to look at the files, the board could not hold the sheriff’s department accountable to the county, which last year had to pay $89 million in judgments and settlements. (We pointed to the story—here.)

An LA Times’ editorial says Molina is right to be frustrated by the county counsel’s withholding, but there’s more to it. Here are two clips:

She is correct that the county counsel prevents too much information from coming to people who need it to do their jobs. That’s in part because he must obey canons of legal ethics requiring him to protect the interests of his client — which is not simply the Board of Supervisors.

Like all municipal lawyers, the county counsel’s position is curious. His client is the county, a governmental entity consisting of elected officials such as the sheriff and the district attorney as well as the Board of Supervisors; thousands of workers; and in the case of Los Angeles County, 10 million constituents. With so many people who claim to be the client, and with so many competing legal interests to balance, the county’s lawyer can take on enormous power. He sometimes seems to be on both sides of the attorney-client privilege, directing the supervisors’ actions instead of taking directions.

The Times then points to the Supervisors’ own tendency towards secrecy in these cases:

But the supervisors have rarely hesitated to make that awkward relationship work in their favor. They frequently withhold information from the public or meet behind closed doors, then seek to excuse their actions by hiding behind legal advice that they are perfectly free to reject. The county counsel is their tool at least as often as he is their obstacle.

When it comes to obtaining confidential reports on the actions of sheriff’s deputies, members of the Board of Supervisors may have their hands tied by the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, a state law that, in the name of privacy, keeps far too much information about deputies’ use of force out of the hands not just of the supervisors but of the public. If the supervisors wanted to, they could put their not inconsiderable clout behind a legislative measure to modify that law.


REMINDER: SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

The first debate among Los Angeles County Sheriff candidates (save for Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold) is scheduled for tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 pm, at the Van Nuys Civic Center (6262 Van Nuys Blvd.).

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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