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Sentencing


The Power of LASD Inspector General…Breakdown of Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…DOJ to Consider Thousands of New Clemency Requests…and More

April 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DOES LASD CIVILIAN WATCHDOG MAX HUNTSMAN HOLD ENOUGH SWAY TO CLEAN UP THE DEPARTMENT?

In January Max Huntsman took on the role of Inspector General over the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But as civilian oversight of a department with an elected sheriff, Huntsman does not have the power to enforce reform. The only way he can turn up the heat on the department is by focusing a public spotlight on areas in need of reform, and making recommendations.

Monday NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at Huntsman’s power as IG, and whether it will be enough to bring some lasting change to the department.

Here’s a clip (but go take a listen):

Max Huntsman’s job — in the newly created role of watchdog — is to help clean up the department. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any real power.

In a sign perhaps of how unglamorous his new job will be, Huntsman’s new digs are a cramped collection of dark offices and cubicles, two floors above the famous food stalls of LA’s Grand Central Market.

On a recent visit, he had just one employee — a receptionist — but soon a team of 30 lawyers, auditors and retired law enforcement officers will be in place here. They’ll help Huntsman set up a system to monitor the Sheriff’s Department — namely its jails.

Just blocks from here, at the Men’s Central Jail, deputies are accused of beating and choking inmates without provocation, harassing visitors, then conspiring to cover it all up. In the indictments last fall, federal prosecutors portrayed a “culture of corruption” inside the agency.

“The bottom line is, I think you need to have people looking over your shoulder and knowing what you’re doing in order to make sure those cliques don’t develop, that you don’t get a group of people in the jail who think of themselves more as a gang than as deputy sheriffs,” says Huntsman. “That’s when you don’t have that light shining that that happens.”

That “light” is really the only tool Huntsman will have. Unlike a police chief in a big city who answers to the mayor or a civilian commission, LA’s sheriff is elected and enjoys a lot of autonomy. Huntsman can only present his findings and recommend reforms.

So far he’s gotten a warm welcome and promises of cooperation — but it’s early.

“They really, really want to respond to all these problems,” says Huntsman, “as they should. I mean, there are federal indictments on the table, there’s talk of a federal consent decree, or a memorandum of understanding.”


THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON FOSTER CARE’S FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORMING DCFS AND BETTER PROTECTING LA’S MOST VULNERABLE

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has a helpful analysis of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s recommendation for a new and separate entity to oversee and unite the Department of Children and Family Services and other county departments involved in child welfare.

Kelly also breaks down the rest of the commission’s final report and recommendations presented to the Board of Supervisors, including lower caseloads for social workers and boosted funding for relatives taking care of children in the DCFS system who would otherwise be in foster care.


DOJ OPENING UP CRITERIA FOR CLEMENCY APPLICATIONS TO PRE-FAIR SENTENCING ACT NON-VIOLENT DRUG OFFENDERS

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (mostly) balanced out the 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sale convictions and those for crack cocaine sales. Still, there are thousands of drug offenders serving longer sentences than they would be given under the FSA.

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Dept. is launching an initiative to grant clemency to non-violent crack cocaine offenders sentenced under pre-FSA outdated and harsh mandatory minimums.

The DOJ will also be beefing up the number of attorneys in the pardons office to handle the influx of clemency applications.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder has announced a series of initiatives to tackle disparities in criminal penalties, beginning in August, when he said that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would not be charged with offenses that call for severe mandatory sentences. He has traveled across the country to highlight community programs in which nonviolent offenders have received substance abuse treatment and other assistance instead of long prison sentences.

Underlying the initiatives is the belief by top Justice Department officials that the most severe penalties should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. On April 10, after an endorsement from Holder, the U.S. Sentencing Commission — the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges — voted to revise its guidelines to reduce sentences for defendants in most of the nation’s drug cases.

In the meantime, however, thousands of inmates are still serving federally mandated sentences that imposed strict penalties for the possession of crack cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed in 2010, reduced the disparity between convictions for crack and powder cocaine, and Obama has called sentences passed under the older guidelines “unduly harsh.” The law also eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the simple possession of crack cocaine.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said Monday. “This is simply not right.”

[SNIP]

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce details about the new criteria the Justice Department will use in considering clemency applications and how the department plans to review those applications.

The department has asked the American Civil Liberties Union and other nonprofit groups to help identify candidates for clemency. Some of those groups are likely to help inmates submit the necessary paperwork.


PARTISAN SHIFTS IN SENTENCING REFORM STANCES

As sentencing reform is picking up steam at national and state levels, once stark party lines are blurring. The realities of mass incarceration, especially the fiscal consequences, have created a shift in positions. Conservatives, formerly of a tough-on-crime mindset, are now some of the strongest supporters of sentencing reform.

For instance, the Texas-based conservative program Right on Crime has—successfully—led Texas’ prison reform agenda. Once faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis, the state has built up rehabilitation programs and incarceration alternatives. Instead of building new prisons and leasing more space in private facilities (looking at you, California), Texas is closing prisons and saving millions.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has more on the partisan shift. Here’s a clip:

…As the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most far-reaching changes in years to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups seeking to rehabilitate convicts.

A surprising number of high-profile Republicans are working arm in arm with Democrats on legislation to shorten jail terms and hasten prisoner releases. At the same time, in their own reversal of sorts, key Democrats are arguing against the legislation in its current form.

“It’s a little counterintuitive,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a conservative former judge who is co-sponsoring a proposal to let tens of thousands of inmates out of federal prisons early if they complete rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

As soon as this month, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that combines two bills that easily passed the Judiciary Committee. One cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and the other makes it easier to win early release. The combined measure would also make retroactive a 2010 law that reduced sentences for those previously convicted of possessing crack cocaine.

The legislation has attracted strong support from Republican conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. “I think it’s a mistake for people to assume that all conservatives or all Republicans have the same view in this regard, that we should kill them all and let God sort it out,” said Paul Larkin, a criminal justice expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Sentencing nonviolent offenders to decades in prison is “costly, not only in dollars but also the people involved,” Larkin said. “Sending someone to prison for a long time is tantamount to throwing that person away.”

But the new politics of crime remain complicated, with some old-line Republicans still opposed to the proposals. “Do we really want offenders like these out on the streets earlier than is the case now, to prey on our citizens?” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a recent Senate speech, referring to the bill to ease mandatory-minimum sentences. Grassley, however, supports the early-release proposal.

In a twist, some key Democrats are also opposed to the efforts to relax mandatory minimums and allow early releases, while others remain on the fence. Facing a Republican campaign to seize control of the Senate this fall, Democrats are concerned about appearing soft on crime, a vulnerability that has haunted them in the past.

Posted in Foster Care, Inspector General, LASD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 6 Comments »

Are We Creating “Monsters?”….Education: The Next Juvenile Justice Reform….A Former “Bad Child” Speaks Out…Oregon Prisons Rethink Their Family Visit Policy

April 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


MAKING MONSTERS: A NEW LOOK AT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Beginning on Tuesday, April 22, PBS’s Frontline takes a look at the consequences of the use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

In addition to examining the effects that solitary has on prisoners, Frontline looks at what it does for the rest of us. Do we gain anything by imposing this kind of extreme isolation on those whom we lock up? This is a question that is particularly relevant when we isolate prisoners who will one day be released.

Admittedly, the matter of the use of solitary confinement is not simple.

As California in particular has struggled with the hold that prison gangs have on all of our lock-ups, solitary has has been viewed as one way to keep the various gangs’ shot callers from communicating with their troops. (Not that it appears to have worked. But that’s another conversation altogether.)

The truth is, most people in prison eventually will be released, and that includes those in solitary. And even in the cases of those who will never leave prison, do we have the moral and legal right to impose conditions so dehumanizing that they produce mental illness and the disintegration of an individual’s personality?

While the Frontline broadcast doesn’t air until Tuesday, the Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen has seen it it, and here’s a clip from his musings about what the program presents.

“This is what they create in here, monsters,” one inmate tells Frontline’s reporters. “You can’t conduct yourself like a human being when they treat you like an animal.”

“It’s like being buried alive,” another prisoner says off camera.

Now, every inmate in the history of the world likely has complained about the conditions of his confinement. But the point of the film, I think—and perhaps the best argument against the continued use of solitary—is that regardless of how inmates feel about it, there is no redeemable value to it to the rest of us.

Solitary confinement surely makes prisons safer—that’s the argument wardens use over and over again to justify its continued use. But it also creates or exacerbates mental illness in the men who are condemned to it. And that illness, in turn, pushes inmates in solitary to engage in harmful or self-harming conduct that, in turn, prompts a severe disciplinary response from prison officials.

That, in turn, causes the men to turn deeper into their own insanity. And then these broken men are released back into the world without adequate mental health treatment or “step down” services that will help reduce their chances of recidivism. It’s a cycle everyone recognizes but cannot seem to change. It’s madness upon madness.

Adam Brulotte, one of the inmates featured in the film, gets caught in this cycle. He’s a young man who says he wants to study for his GED so he can get a real job, instead of selling drugs, when he is released. Because he has broken the rules, he is placed in isolation. And because he is in isolation, he goes mad. And because he goes mad, he breaks more rules. The prison is safer but we see Brulotte broken before our eyes. If this young man is not treated now, how much will the rest of us pay when he is ultimately released?

Also, on April 29, Frontline begins airing a second documentary that looks at our reliance on incarceration in general.


THE NEXT JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: A FOCUS ON EDUCATION

The new study released last week by the Southern Education Foundation looking at how poorly kids are being educated in the nation’s juvenile lock-ups—California’s kids priminently listed—has been stiring up a lot of well-deserved attention. (We linked to the study last week here.)

Among the commentary the study stimulated was Sunday’s New York Times editorial stating that education should be the next area of focus for juvenile justice reform. While the essay is slightly clumsy in places, its primary point is an important one. Here’s a clip:

…It is a mistake to assume that all children held in juvenile facilities represent “hard cases” beyond redemption. Indeed, a new study, by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta, shows that nearly two-thirds of the young people who were confined in 2010 were confined for nonviolent offenses.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Even those kids who are in for violent offences, do not represent "'hard cases' beyond redemption. Good grief, NYT Ed Board! What are you thinking??]

Moreover, disproportionate numbers of these young people have special needs. Federal data from 2010 show that 30 percent had learning disabilities, 45 percent had problems paying attention and 30 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse. It should come as no surprise that most of the young people entering juvenile residential institutions are behind in reading and math.

These children do not get the attention in school that they need to succeed and get even less of it in juvenile justice facilities. A federal study showed that in 2009, fewer than half of students in state juvenile justice programs earned even one course credit and that fewer than one in 10 earned a high school diploma or a G.E.D. This makes it unlikely that most of them will succeed at school once they are released and more likely that they will get in trouble again.

The good news is that it is possible to create strong schools inside juvenile facilities that actually help the most troubled children. This can be done by improving coordination between the public schools and the juvenile justice system. States can also seek to emulate models like the one used at the Maya Angelou Academy in a juvenile facility in the District of Columbia, which hires talented teachers with high expectations, uses individualized instruction to meet particular student needs and weaves special education services throughout its lessons.

It is also good news that, while it has a long way to go, LA County Probation and its partner in the matter, The Los Angeles County Office of Education, has taken important steps forward in instituting some new and effective educational programs in some of its juvenile probation camps, and it is expected to take still more steps in the fall.

More on all that soon.


CAN A CHILD BE BORN BAD?

Juvenile justice advocate, Xavier McElrath-Bey, was sentenced to 25 years in prison at age 13 after he was involved in a gang-related murder. In this recent TEDX talk at Northwestern University he discusses his early life, the physical abuse by his father, worse abuse by his step father, his mother’s mental illness, the horror of his foster care placement that should have provided safety, and his eventual path to a string of criminal convictions, involvement in a murder, and prison.

Underneath all his trauma, McElrath-Bey was a smart kid and, at 18, he managed to find enough sense of self to turn his life around when he was inside. By the time he was released at age 26, McElrath-Bey had acquired a degree in social science and a Master of Arts in human services, both from Roosevelt University.

These days, he works for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing for Youth. And just prior to his new job, McElrath-Bey worked for five years on a clinical research project at Northwestern where he conducted more than 800 clinical field interviews with formerly incarcerated teenagers as part of a longitudinal study of the mental health needs and outcomes of individuals who are locked up for long periods as kids.

He was startled to find how similar the backgrounds of those in the study were to his own. Kids “who had been virtually abandoned.”

“Despair was the dominant theme of my life and the lives of my friends,” he said. “….It was natural for me to join a gang. …I felt safer in the streets than I did in my home.”

Listen to his story.


OREGON PUSHES INMATE FAMILY VISITS BECAUSE RESEARCH SHOWS—IT WORKS: CONTACT HELPS PRISONERS DO BETTER ON RELEASE

The whole thing started after Oregon Department of Corrections officials read a November 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections that concluded “visitation significantly decreased the risk of recidivism,” and that “visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in reducing the risk of recidivism…” (Interestingly, visits from ex-spouses, did not have such a positive effect.)

This is not the only such study. For years, research has shown that family contact is one of the most important predictors of who is going to do well on the outside, and who is likely to cycle right back in. But the Minnesota study was a large, new longitudinal study that followed 16,420 offenders from Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007, and came up with some significant data. So the Oregon folks paid attention.

Bryan Denson of the Oregonian has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Oregon Department of Corrections officials read the Minnesota study and were staggered when they crunched the numbers and found that 59 percent of the roughly 14,000 prisoners in their lockups got no visitation.

Officials looked at their own visitation policies, according to spokeswoman Betty Bernt, and asked themselves tough questions: How much of the poor visitation rate was their fault? What were their policies on keeping nuclear families together? What about their policy of not allowing people with criminal backgrounds to visit?

Corrections officials from across the state set up a working group to improve the dismal percentage of inmates connecting with their families.

They recently passed out a survey to a large segment of inmates to help guide ways they could improve visitation. The questionnaire asked them questions about what type of support might be helpful to their transition from prison to home. Responses are due by April 30.

Corrections officials also considered setting up prisoners with trained volunteer mentors and relaxing visitation rules for inmates who are in disciplinary housing units.

They also increased visiting hours and special events. Salem’s Santiam Correctional Institution, for instance, began Thursday visiting hours earlier this year designed for inmates to spend time with their children.

One of the most startling and intriguing things about the way Oregon officials approached the matter was that they aggressively questioned their existing policies rather than assuming that the reasons for the lack of prisoner visits should be laid solely at the feet of the prisoners and their families.

The new programs have not been in place for long enough for Oregon to determine if the family contact will affect prisoners’ outcomes when they are released.

But more prisoners are getting visits from family members. More prisoners are having contact with their children. The first step has been taken.



Solitary photo/Frontline

Posted in crime and punishment, Education, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

West Virginia Eliminates Juvie LWOP….Deputy Clique Sexually Harasses LASD Women, Candidate’s Gag Call Criticized

March 31st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: LIGHT POSTING TODAY….as I’m a bit under the weather. More news coming tomorrow.


WEST VIRGINIA ELIMINATES JUVIE SENTENCES OF LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

The state of West Virginia voted on Friday to make all those sentenced as juveniles in adult court to be eligible for parole after 15 years, a decision that lawmakers hailed as maintaining public safety as well as being sound policy.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth has the story:

Here’s a clip:

West Virginia has eliminated the practice of sentencing children to die in prison. Every child convicted and sentenced in adult court will be eligible for parole no later than after serving 15 years. With this new law, West Virginia is among a growing number of U.S. states that have either abandoned this sentence or severely limited its use. The U.S. is the only country in the world that imposes this sentence upon children.

“We applaud West Virginia for responding in a meaningful way to the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that children are ‘constitutionally different’ from adults and should not be subject to our nation’s harshest punishments,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director & national coordinator of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “This new law ensures young people are held accountable for harm they have caused in a way that accounts for their unique characteristics as children and offers them hope of a second chance.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed HB 4210 into law on Friday. The bill passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in the House of Delegates and unanimously in the Senate.

“This bill demonstrates that we take seriously our responsibility of caring for young people and for making sure our communities are safe,” said Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Under HB 4210, children who are convicted of serious crimes will be held accountable for their actions. However, they will also be given a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate later in life that they have been rehabilitated and deserve a second chance. This bill represents our understanding that children are different from adults and that our courts need to take these differences into account when dealing with children. It is also sound fiscal policy for West Virginia, allowing us to maintain public safety while ensuring that we make the best use of our state’s limited financial resources.”


LA SHERIFF’S DEPUTY CLIQUE DEMANDED SEX FROM FEMALE TRAINEES, SAYS LAWSUIT

In a lawsuit filed last week, Guadalupe Lopez, a ten year veteran of the force who is now getting her law degree, describes how members of an 80 member deputy clique who called themselves the Banditos sexually harassed, threatened and demanded sex from her as part of “training” when she was transferred to the department’s East LA station in 2011, according to a story first broken by NBC’s Andrew Blankstein.

Here is a clip:

Guadalupe Lopez, who was assigned to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station in Boyle Heights beginning in 2011, is seeking unspecified damages for alleged sexual harassment, hazing and retaliation that included being run off the road by another deputy, being slammed into a wall while she held a loaded shotgun, and having a dead rat placed under her car after she reported objectionable behavior, according to the lawsuit.

There were about 80 deputies associated with the Banditos, whose full members sported numbered tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bullet sash and pistol, the suit alleges. Probationary deputies, meaning trainees, were allegedly described as “prospects” or “puppies.”

Female trainees were expected to “submit” and “provide sexual favors for male training officers and their associates,” according to the 33-page suit filed by attorney Jason M. Wymond. The suggestion was that if a trainee provided these favors, she would become a full-fledged patrol deputy rather than being forced to work at a Los Angeles County jail, where most deputies begin their careers.

“Plaintiff was made to understand that she was expected to be ‘One of the Girls,’ which included drinking, partying, and the fulfillment of the ‘sexual needs’ of her male training officers and their associates,” the complaint alleges.

Several other lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by superiors have been filed in the last two years against the sheriff’s department, as have other lawsuits reporting threats and repeated retaliation aimed at department members who attempt to report wrongdoing in the LASD.


SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE CRITICIZED FOR GAG CALL

Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, who is one of seven candidates running for sheriff, is in the news for using what sounds like an attempt at an east Indian accent in a 2010 faux complaint call that the Los Angeles Times reports was part of a prearranged skit recorded for a watch commander’s retirement party.

LAT’s Robert Faturechi reports:

The gag call starts out with Hellmold asking for “the watching commander,” a play on the traditional title of watch commander. In accented English, Hellmold says: “Deputy sheriff don’t care about the community….That’s why I call now.”

Back in 2010, when The Times first inquired about the call, a sheriff’s spokesman mostly defended the incident, calling it a “prearranged sound bite” that “did not influence public safety.”
But records reviewed by The Times show that after the newspaper’s inquiry, Hellmold received “documented counseling” in connection with the joke. Hellmold’s boss at the time wrote “you disguised your voice in a manner that sounded representative of another ethnic group.”

WLA obtained the recording as well, and learned from LASD sources that the call was criticized by department members at the time as immature and showing less than ideal judgement for someone of Hellmold’s then rank of captain.

On Friday, Hellmold’s campaign spokesman told the LA Times that the “candidate ‘certainly meant no disrespect” with the gag, ‘and regrets if anyone may have taken offense.’”


Posted in 2014 election, LASD, LWOP Kids, Sentencing | 13 Comments »

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

March 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WHILE 5 CANDIDATES OPINED, 2 CANDIDATES WERE MISSING

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Previn in high theatrical form.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS & BUDGET PRIORITIES TO WATCH in 2014

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

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

BILLS

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

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

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

BUDGET PRIORITIES

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

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

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

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

Click here for the rest..


TREATING PREGNANT WOMEN IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

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

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


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

Influx of Second-Strikers in CA Prisons, Smarter Sentencing & Recidivism Reduction Bills, Investigating Alleged DOJ Misconduct…and More

March 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRISON ADMISSION NUMBERS FOR SECOND STRIKERS JUMPED 33% LAST YEAR

In 2012, California amended the “Three Strikes” law to only trigger a sentence of 25-to-life if a person’s third strike was categorized as a violent or serious felony. As of September 2013, over 1000 third-strikers were freed, and more than 2000 were still awaiting approval for resentencing. But another part of the “Three Strikes” law pertains to those with two strikes, and doubles a person’s sentence if the second strike follows a serious or violent first strike.

According to state prison officials, 5,492 people went to prison on second-strike convictions during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, a jump of 33% over the previous year.

This sudden increase may prove problematic as Gov. Jerry Brown works to lower the prison population to the federal judge-ordered level.

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

Enacted in 1994, the Three Strikes law did two big things. The first is that for anyone who has committed two previous serious or violent felonies, it increased the penalty for any third felony to 25 years to life in prison. And for “second strikers” — anyone who commits any felony after previously committing a serious or violent felony — their sentence was automatically doubled.

Third strikers have gotten a lot of attention since the law passed, like the story of the L.A. man sent to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza (from a group of children, to be fair). A judge later reduced his sentence, and he spent about six years in prison, but the “pizza thief” remained an emblem of a movement to reform Three Strikes. Which California voters eventually decided to do in 2012 with Proposition 36, which required a third strike be a serious or violent felony, not a lower-level crime like drug possession — or pizza theft.

The lesser-publicized second strike rule, however, hasn’t changed. And now state officials worry the proliferation of second strikers is making it difficult for California to lower its prison population enough to meet court-ordered levels.

[SNIP]

The approximately 35,000 second strikers, with their lengthy prison terms, are proving a major obstacle. About 24,000 of them are in prison on a non-violent second-strike offense.

“We’re certainly concerned that if this trend in increased admissions continues, it is going to make it harder for the state to comply,” said Aaron Edwards, senior analyst at the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. “The state will have to figure out some kind of way to accommodate them.”

That means either finding a facility for them, or figuring out a way to cut admissions, Edwards said. And cutting admissions likely means figuring out why the population has increased in the first place.

(In his proposed 2014 budget, Gov. Brown did help non-violent second-strikers by increasing their ability to reduce their sentences with good-time credits from 20% to over 30%, in addition to credits for completing rehabilitation programs.)


TWO MEANINGFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILLS MAY HAVE A CHANCE AT MAKING IT THROUGH CONGRESS

According to a NY Times editorial two good and important bipartisan criminal justice reform bills may actually have a chance of making it past Congress, where nearly all bills “go to die.”

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.

Here’s how the NYT editorial opens:

Two bipartisan bills now under consideration aim to unwind our decades-long mass incarceration binge and to keep it from happening again. This fact is remarkable not only because of Congress’s stubborn standstill, but because crime and punishment has long been one of the most combustible issues in American politics.

And yet the depth of the crisis in the federal system alone has been clear for years. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws have overstuffed prisons with tens of thousands of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders serving excessively long sentences. Federal prisons now hold more than 215,000 inmates, almost half of whom are in for drug crimes. Many come out more likely to reoffend than they were when they went in, because of the lack of any meaningful rehabilitation programs inside prison and the formidable obstacles to employment, housing and drug treatment that they face upon release.

The proposed legislation would address both the front and back ends of this problem.

The Smarter Sentencing Act — introduced in the Senate last year by Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, the Utah Republican — would halve mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes, which currently stand at five, 10 and 20 years. It would also give judges more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some cases, and it would provide a chance at early release for thousands of inmates sentenced under an older law that disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders.

The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs.


ALLEGED DOJ MISCONDUCT ONLY RECEIVES INTERNAL INVESTIGATION, BILL WOULD GIVE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL JURISDICTION

Between 2002-2013 650 instances of Department of Justice misconduct (by federal prosecutors and other DOJ officials) were documented, according to a new report by the Project on Government Oversight, but very little information about the misconduct is ever released to the public.

Currently, the Dept. of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) handles all investigations of alleged DOJ misconduct.The process is entirely self-contained: the OPR answers directly to the head of the DOJ—the Attorney General.

A bill introduced late last week by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would remove the conflict of interest and grant the Office of the Inspector General, an independent entity, complete jurisdiction over DOJ misconduct investigations.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Lee’s website:

The Inspector General Empowerment Act would eliminate a problem in the law that requires allegations of attorney misconduct at DOJ to be investigated by an agency that reports directly to the Attorney General rather than the autonomous Office of the Inspector General. The bill would remove this obvious conflict of interest and grant the OIG complete jurisdiction throughout the department. Senators Grassley and Murkowski are also original cosponsors.

“The rules that apply to inspectors general in other federal agencies should apply at the Department of Justice,” said Senator Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Current law invites undue influence from the Attorney General’s office into the process and should be changed to ensure the integrity of investigations of misconduct within the Justice Department.”

Here’s what Sen. Lee’s announcement says about the misconduct report:

A report just released by the Project on Government Oversight revealed that the Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency overseen by the Attorney General, documented more than 650 instances of misconduct, yet details on if and how these cases were handled are not available to the public.

For example, a 2013 report from USA Today revealed that complaints from two federal judges who said Justice Department lawyers had misled them about the extent of the NSA surveillance program were never investigated. Had the OIG been in charge, it could have investigated these complaints without conflict of interest and the results of their report would have been made available without requiring a Freedom of Information Act request.

And here’s why Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she’s supporting the bill:

“When Americans pledge to abide by ’Liberty and Justice for all,’ that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions – it means everyone that in America everyone is held equally accountable,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.


AND SPEAKING OF QUESTIONABLE FEDERAL CONDUCT

Earlier this month, on This American Life, Boston Magazine reporter Susan Zalkind told the baffling story of Ibragim Todashev, a man loosely connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. In May 2013, Todashev was was shot seven times in his living room after attacking agents at the end of a five-hour FBI questioning about a triple murder in 2011.

The FBI says that Todashev verbally confessed to the crime and implicated Tsarnaev as his accomplice, but there is no signed confession. The FBI has been silent about the incident, except to say that it is being investigated. But nine months after the fact, as questions and theories multipy, there is still no word from the FBI. Go take a listen.


DON’T FORGET: LIVE STREAM PROGRAM ABOUT CREATING RESILIENCE IN TRAUMA-PLAGUED COMMUNITIES

On Friday, we alerted you to a California Endowment event (“Health Happens with Everyday Courage”) that will explore ways to build up community and individual resilience to trauma and stress.

The program is today (March 17) at 1p.m., and can be watched via live-stream, but you need to SIGN UP – here.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma | No Comments »

Big Problems With Idaho’s Private Prison…. A New Sheriff Candidate Debate!….CA Needs Sentencing Reform…Out of Control Prosecutors…..& Paul Tanaka Has a Plan – UPDATED

March 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FEDS INVESTIGATE AWFUL PRIVATE IDAHO PRISON (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA??)

The FBI has launched an investigation into Idaho’s largest and most violent prison, a for profit facility run by the private prison behemoth, Corrections Corporation of America—or CCA. The chronically understaffed prison has a reputation for being so out of control that inmates reportedly call it “Gladiator School.”

The facility got bad enough under CCA’s management that, in January of this year, Idaho decided to take back oversight of the place.

And now the FBI is stepping in.

It is sobering to note that California also contracts with CCA. Right now they house approximately 8000 of our state’s inmates, with that number scheduled to rise, making us CCA’s second largest customer.

Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press has the story on this latest CCA scandal Here’s a clip:

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA has operated Idaho’s largest prison for more than a decade, but last year, CCA officials acknowledged it had understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center by thousands of hours in violation of the state contract. CCA also said employees falsified reports to cover up the vacancies. The announcement came after an Associated Press investigation showed CCA sometimes listed guards as working 48 hours straight to meet minimum staffing requirements.

[BIG SNIP]

The understaffing has been the subject of federal lawsuits and a contempt of court action against CCA. The ACLU sued on behalf of inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center in 2010, saying the facility was so violent that inmates called it “Gladiator School” and that understaffing contributed to the high levels of violence there.

In 2012, a Boise law firm sued on behalf of inmates contending that CCA had ceded control to prison gangs so that they could understaff the prison and save money on employee wages, and that the understaffing led to an attack by one prison gang on another group of inmates that left some of them badly injured.

The Department of Justice requested a copy of a forensic audit done for the Idaho Department of Correction earlier this year. That audit showed that CCA understaffed the prison by as much as 26,000 hours in 2012 alone; CCA is strongly contesting those findings. CCA’s Owen has said the company believes the audit overestimates the staffing issues by more than a third.


VAN NUYS HOSTS FIRST SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE’S DEBATE ON WED. NIGHT, MARCH 12

The debate will take place this Wednesday night starting at 7:00 pm.

It will be held at the Van Nuys Civic Center, at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., on the ground floor of the building.

The only candidates for LA County Sheriff who are, at the moment, not coming are Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Perhaps that will change. Let us hope so.

UPDATE: Paul Tanaka is now confirmed and, with luck, they’ll also get Hellmold. (Note to Jim: Call these people back. Now!)

PS: THIS NEWLY ANNOUNCED VAN NUYS DEBATE IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ACLU/LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTORS DEBATE that will take place next week on March 20. We’ll remind you again when we’re closer to the date.


CALIFORNIA NEEDS A SENTENCING COMMISSION SEZ THE NY TIMES

We may have modified our Three Strikes statute, and that’s a welcome step, but California still has a great many laws on the books that are not in the best interest of public safety, and which have much to do with why we have been struggling with overcrowded prisons.

The NY Times weighs in on the topic of our need for sentencing reform.

Here’s a clip:

California should move quickly to set up a commission. Over the past few decades, the federal government and about one-third of the states, from Alabama to Washington, have established commissions to address overcrowding and other issues. By using data-based assessments of who is more or less likely to re-offend, they help correctional systems both protect public safety and save money. A 2010 report by the California state auditor estimated that the longer sentences imposed under the three-strikes law will cost the state an additional $19.2 billion.

As important as reducing prison populations is making sure that people don’t go right back in. That will require postprison programs focusing on jobs, housing, and treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. California has budgeted for this as part of a statewide reform initiative, but the money needs to be spent wisely. (A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to move prisoners to county jails and private prisons. It said the state should focus on longer-term solutions, like reducing sentences for some crimes and diverting more offenders away from prison.)

Governor Brown, who has thwarted meaningful reform in the past, has begun to show some openness to change — for example, in signing off on parole releases at a far higher rate than any governor in decades…


PROSECUTORS SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW? A NOVEL CONCEPT?

It is fairly well established that American prosecutors have too much power, and too little accountability.

A 2009 study that looked at the primary causes for wrongful convictions overturned based on DNA evidence found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in from 36% to 42% of the convictions. And what happens to those prosecutors whose shaving of the legal dice has resulted in someone doing time for something he or she didn’t do?

For the most part, nothing.

Finally, however, a few judges in various areas of the country are starting to speak out against prosecutorial misconduct. Last year, Alex Kozinski of California’s 9th Circuit did so memorably.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about other judges who have also spoken up—basically saying that prosecutors have to abide by the law.

And how have prosecutors reacted to this criticism? Not well, writes Balko.

Here’s a clip:

….Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.

The state’s prosecutors didn’t see it that way.


CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF PAUL TANAKA RELEASES HIS “POSITIVE VISION” FOR THE LASD

On Monday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka released his eight topic plan for “changing the direction of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The plan divides its recommendations into eight categories: executive staff, accountability, transparency, budget, officer training, patrol, jail operations and crime.

Among its notable points, Tanaka pledges “100% cooperative effort with the Inspector General.” If elected, he also intends to “establish a promotional testing process, which will ensure that only the highest qualified employees are considered – based on experience, knowledge and effort,”

There’s lots more so read the details here.

Posted in 2014 election, Innocence, Paul Tanaka, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

WLA on Madeleine Brand Show Wed. Talking About Baca & LASD….Closing the Camp Kilpatrick Sports Program?…. How Has Prez Done on Criminal Justice?….Farewell to Harold Ramis

February 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WITNESSLA ON MADELEINE BRAND SHOW AT 12 NOON WED TALKING ABOUT LEE BACA & THE LASD: UPDATED

I’ll be on KCRW’s new Madeleine Brand show on Wednesday at 12 noon, 89.9 FM. We’ll be talking about my lengthy article on former Sheriff Lee Baca that is in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine (due out Wednesday).

UPDATE: I originally thought it was going to be broadcast Tuesday, but although it was taped Tuesday morning, it’ll be broadcast on Wednesday.

You can listen in real time. I’ll also link to the podcast after the show.

(And here’s a link to a sort of teaser interview that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me about the story.)

Obviously, I’ll let you know when the story itself is out!


CLOSING THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM?

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a story on the possible closure of the famous juvenile sports program at LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick.

We’ll have a lot more on this issue in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from Banks’ column:

A sports program that brought national acclaim to a Los Angeles County probation camp is headed for extinction — unless it can prove that it helps youthful offenders stay trouble-free.

For more than 20 years, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has been the only juvenile correctional facility in the state to field teams that compete against public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.

The camp’s football team inspired the 2006 movie “Gridiron Gang” and sent several players to college. Its basketball team has come close to being a regional champion. Its soccer program produced this year’s Delphic League MVP.

But Camp Kilpatrick is being torn down next month and will be rebuilt on a new model — one that stresses education, counseling and vocational training over competitive sports.

It’s part of a long-overdue shift in the county juvenile justice system, from boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach to rehabilitating young people.

Still, it would be a loss to the young men incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick if sports are a casualty of reform….

We agree. Read the rest here.


NY TIMES’ BILL KELLER ASSESSES OBAMA ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE RECORD & HOLDER SEZ SENTENCING REFORM WILL BE DEFINING

In his final column for the paper, outgoing NY Times editor-in-chief, Bill Keller grades President Obama on his criminal justice reform record.

Here’s a clip:

I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin.

It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.

Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had high expectations.

In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project (after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this president has lived up to those high expectations so far…..

[HUG SNIP]

“This is something that matters to the president,” [US Attorney General Eric] Holder assured me last week. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.”


A FAREWELL TO HAROLD RAMIS….TOO SOON! TOO SOON!


Radiantly, brilliantly, humanely funny.
It seems terribly wrong that Harold Ramis is dead.

Above is writer, actor, director Ramis talking to students about “good comedy.” With his films such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and more, Harold Ramis showed how it was done.

Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LASD, Life in general, Obama, Probation, racial justice, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 12 Comments »

LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and More

February 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES

The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”

[SNIP]

E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.

This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.

“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.

E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:

“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”

But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.

By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)


CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK

In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.

Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.

DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…

Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.


SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY

On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.

In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.

The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…

Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…

But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.


QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:

“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”

He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.

Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.

He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.

“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”

(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott | No Comments »

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

January 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUSPENSION AND EXPULSION RATES DROP IN CALIFORNIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s a small clip:

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

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

Homeboy Needs Funding to Continue Crucial Services…Cams in LA Jails a Success…More LASD Indictments?…and Drug Sentencing Reform and the State of the Union

January 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES FORESEES MORE LAYOFFS WITHOUT DESPERATELY NEEDED FUNDING

Of late, it has become a distressing fact of LA County life that, for all the indispensable work done by Homeboy Industries—the respected gang recovery program that for over 25 years has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—in the past few years, the program’s famous founder, Father Greg Boyle, has not been able to raise enough money keep Homeboy’s services fully afloat. As a consequence, last year, Boyle had to lay off 40 people. This year, if more government funding doesn’t find it’s way to Homeboy, an estimated 60 additional people will have to be laid off.

This doesn’t seem to prevent various LA County agencies from relying on Homeboy for services—without paying a penny in return.

This was part of the message that Boyle brought when Chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff, invited the priest to speak at last week’s commission meeting.

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.

Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.

Making ends meet.

“Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%,” Boyle told the police commissioners.

And then he had this pithy observation:

“I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we’d be endowed by now. But we’re a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It’s a tough sell, but a good bet.”

[SNIP]

Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.

“I’m heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%,” Boyle told the commission. “And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that.”

But Boyle didn’t hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy’s services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.

“We shouldn’t be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself,” he said. “They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”

[SNIP]

…this is Los Angeles, home to 22 billionaires at last count. Home to a Hollywood crowd that congratulates itself for its social conscience and, in just one night at George Clooney’s house, raised $15 million for Barack Obama — more than Homeboy’s annual budget.


CAMERAS PLACED IN LA COUNTY JAILS PROVIDE “AN OBJECTIVE EYE,” SAYS OIR REPORT

Video cameras installed in LA County jails in 2011 have proven to be greatly helpful in determining which party is telling the truth in excessive use-of-force allegations against deputies, according to a new report from the LASD watchdog, Office of Independent Review. The cameras (more than 1500 between CJ, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center) were put up amid a 2011 federal investigation into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report released by the agency’s civilian monitor Thursday found that the footage has helped to exonerate deputies who were falsely accused and build cases against those who break the rules.

“The department now has a video record of 90% of force incidents in its downtown jails and is no longer completely reliant on ‘observations’ of inmates and jail deputies,” the report by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review stated.

Dozens of cameras were installed inside the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2011 — when the FBI’s investigation of deputy misconduct inside the lockups first became publicly known. Today there are 705 cameras in the facility, with about 840 more in the sheriff’s other downtown jail facilities, Twin Towers and the Inmate Reception Center.

Gennaco’s report found that there are still areas of the lockups that cameras don’t cover, causing shortcomings in some investigations, but that overall, use-of-force investigations have improved because of the cameras.

A multi-million dollar surveillance system for CJ was in the works all the way back in 2006, only to be abandoned by LASD officials. (You can read more in the first installment of Matt Fleischer’s “Dangerous Jails” series.) A number of cameras were purchased later, in 2010, and then tucked away in someone’s office for a year before actually being installed at Men’s Central.

In their latest report, the Office of Independent Review laments that the cameras were not put in place sooner:

…the success of the cameras causes us to question why it took so long to heed our requests for this technology. However, rather than labor to try to understand the delay, we embrace the video cameras that help us with making credibility and accountability calls that were not possible in the years during which the LA County jails did without.


ARE THERE MORE INDICTMENTS IN STORE FOR THE LASD?

David Ono of ABC7 digs into rumors of further indictments headed for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Here’s the backstory, if you missed it.) Here’s how it opens:

Seven sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant’s FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?

Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?

Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.

That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”

It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men’s Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown’s cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.

What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

“They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI,” said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.

Brown was moved — allegedly hidden — for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.

“These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department,” said Eliasberg.

(Read the rest.)


OBAMA SHOULD CALL FOR SENTENCING REFORM IN HIS STATE OF THE UNION, SAYS SORENSEN

In an excellent piece for the Atlantic, Juliet Sorensen, daughter of Ted Sorensen (JFK’s advisor and speech-writer) makes a case for Obama including drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Here’s how it opens:

In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.

As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”

President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs. In a January 8 statement, Obama endorsed the very same priorities articulated in LBJ’s War on Poverty and catalogued exactly 50 years ago in Johnson’s own State of the Union address. This indicates that he will also focus on income inequality—21st century lingo for entrenched poverty—in his speech on January 28. While a renewed commitment to tackling persistent poverty is laudable, Obama should also seize the moment to further another, related legislative aim of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations: reduced sentencing for drug-law violators who are nonviolent offenders.

The stark increase in federal inmates in recent decades has overcrowded prisons, impeded rehabilitation, and cost taxpayers millions. A “lock them up and throw away the key” response to the rise of crack cocaine 30 years ago—echoing Johnson’s reaction on that December night—resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners in the United States between 1980 and 2012…

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, jail, LASD, Obama, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | 7 Comments »

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