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Alternative Sentencing Program LA Graduation Feat. AG Eric Holder, a SWAT Convention, Prosecutorial Power, and Ezell Ford

October 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

US ATTORNEY GEN. ERIC HOLDER TO SPEAK AT GRADUATION OF ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING PROGRAM SPEARHEADED BY ANDRE BIROTTE

SoCal graduates of a unique alternative-to-prison program will celebrate their success with the help of US Attorney General Eric Holder today (Friday). Holder will be speaking at the Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Los Angeles graduation ceremony, as part of his “Smart on Crime” tour.

CASA gives a second chance to certain federal defendants charged with low-level felonies in Southern California. Participants are assigned a special CASA judge and must agree to enter a guilty plea, then they must satisfy a number of requirements, including regularly appearing before a CASA panel and engaging in assigned programs. When participants complete the CASA program, they will either have their charges dismissed or will receive a reduced sentence that does not include prison time, depending on their criminal history.

Although there are state programs of a similar nature, CASA was brought to life by former US Attorney André Birotte who saw the need for such a program at the federal level.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, when asked about the program’s success rate, said that it’s going “very well.” Also, when WLA talked to Birotte about the program last year, he was visibly enthusiastic.

For more reading on CASA, we suggest Jill Cowan’s October 2013 story for the LA Times.

By the way, André Birotte’s formal investiture as a federal judge will take place Friday afternoon.


SWAT-CON: LARGE-SCALE CATERING TO POLICE MILITARIZATION

Mother Jones’ Shane Bauer attended the September 2014 Urban Shield conference, a Department of Homeland Security-funded event for domestic and international SWAT teams. The convention showcases cutting edge military gear, vehicles, and prototypes, as well as things like t-shirts bearing an AR-15 sight that reads, “This is my peace sign.”

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story:

The event felt surprisingly open at first—vendors talked to me freely and I could sit in on workshops—but by the second day, I started noticing cops whispering to each other while looking in my direction. Some came over to feel me out, asking what I thought of the term “militarization.” One of them worked for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a Homeland Security project to coordinate intelligence from local cops and federal agencies like the FBI. As I flipped through the counterterrorism handbook at his booth, he snatched it away. “That’s for law enforcement only,” he said. He told me he knew who I was.

Bauer explains that SWAT teams were originally created by the LAPD to respond to things like hostage situations and mass shootings, but now the majority of SWAT deployments are to serve search warrants, mostly for drugs, and (surprise) disproportionately affecting minorities.

Special weapons and tactics teams were created in the late 1960s for extreme scenarios like saving hostages and taking down active shooters. But police departments soon began deploying them in more mundane situations. In 1984, just 40 percent of SWAT teams were serving warrants. By 2012, the number was 79 percent. In all, the number of SWAT raids across the country has increased 20-fold since the 1980s, going from 3,000 per year to at least 60,000. And SWAT teams are no longer limited to large cities: In the mid-1980s, only 20 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had such teams. By 2007, 80 percent did.

Much of the increase has been driven by the drug war, says David Klinger, a former Los Angeles cop and a professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “If we didn’t think that drugs were the most evilest thing in the history of God’s green earth,” he says, “and weren’t running hither and yon trying to catch people with dope in their house, none of this would have happened.”

Today, 85 percent of SWAT operations are for “choice-driven raids on people’s private residences,” Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University researcher who studies tactical policing, said in a recent Senate hearing. According to a study released by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year, 62 percent of SWAT deployments were for drug raids. The study found that in these raids, drugs were found only half of the time. When weapons were “believed to be present,” they were not found in half of the cases for which the outcome was known.

Besides the gear, the convention included a two-day training in which SWAT teams completed 35 scenarios in 48 hours. The winning SWAT team would receive a trophy.

Bauer was able to film a UC Berkeley SWAT hostage rescue session (click over to Mother Jones for the video) before he was banned from the conference.

I left the training site feeling unsettled. If you were the hostage in a real-life version of one of these scenarios, would you want someone to come and save you? Of course you would. If you were a cop, would you want to be protected against anything that might come your way? Of course. And yet, nearly every SWAT cop I talked to at Urban Shield was spending most of his time doing drug busts, searching houses, and serving warrants.

“When equipment is requested for SWAT teams, it’s common to talk about the threat of terrorism [and] other rare but highly dangerous situations like hostage taking, barricaded suspects, and riots,” David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford law professor who studies criminal law and policing, told me. “But the majority of times that SWAT teams have been deployed, it’s been for more conventional kinds of operations.”

“SWAT teams definitely have legitimate uses,” he added. “But like lots of other things, when they are sitting around they can wind up getting used when they are not required and may do more harm than good.”


MORE POLICE MILITARIZATION, OVERCRIMINALIZATION AND PROSECUTORIAL POWER

Washington Post’s Radley Balko shared two noteworthy videos depicting an unjust criminal justice system.

The first video, by Reason’s Anthony Fischer, tells of a drug raid on a smoke shop in Alpine, TX. While federal charges against the owner, Ilana Lipsen, were eventually dropped, she faced a coercive bond deal, prosecutorial misconduct, and, of course, a violent police raid that resulted in the arrest of her sister and mother.

The second video is from the folks at Right on Crime, a Texas-based, conservative criminal justice reform group. The video tells the story of a retired couple, Jack and Jill Barron, who were handed four felony charges for building on a wetland (that actually was found to be a site just plagued by poor drainage). While the Jack was found not guilty, they sunk their entire life-savings into the legal fees and are still prohibited from building on their own land.


LA CITY ATTORNEY SAYS LAPD OFFICERS SHOT EZELL FORD IN SELF-DEFENSE

According a court filing by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, LAPD officers acted in self defense when they shot and killed Ezell Ford in August. The filing says that the mentally ill man knew what he was doing when he allegedly tried to grab one of the officer’s guns, and caused a necessary use of force by the officers involved.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the story. Here’s a clip:

The two officers shot Ezell Ford, who was unarmed, after he tried to grab one of their guns, according to LAPD officials and the court filing.

The shooting occurred August 11 on West 65th Street in South LA. Ford was 25.

Ford “knew and understood the degree of risk, and voluntarily assumed such risk,” according to documents the city filed in response to a lawsuit by the family. “The forced used…was caused and necessitated by the actions of the decedent, and was reasonable and necessary for self-defense.”

Posted in law enforcement, Prosecutors, Right on Crime, Sentencing, The Feds, War on Drugs | No Comments »

School Discipline, LAPD Chief’s Difficult Decision About Controversial Detective, Prop 47, and Vote!

October 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THIS AMERICAN LIFE TAKES A CLOSER LOOK AT SCHOOL DISCIPLINE PRACTICES

This past weekend, in a show called “Is This Working?” American Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story about school discipline—two different methods in particular—and whether or not they work for kids.

The TAL episode begins by exploring racial disparity in school suspensions and expulsions for infractions like “disrespect” and “willful defiance,” and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Reporter Chana Joffe-Walt talks with writer Tunette Powell and her sons JJ (5) and Joah (4), who have received eight suspensions between them (and whose story we shared here).

And in the second half of the program, host Ira Glass and Joffe-Walt tell of two completely different endeavors to change the way schools discipline kids.

The first is a system of charter schools tailored to poor and minority kids. The charter schools first started popping up around 20 years ago, and boasted strict, methodical discipline coupled with long school days, and a slogan telling kids to “sweat the small stuff.”

The first generation of kids to enter these schools are now adults, and one of these students, Rousseau Mieze, shares his experiences, good and bad, with TAL. For instance, he was suspended on his second day for celebrating a perfect score on a math test, and was frequently disciplined thereafter for talking out of turn. Half of the first class dropped out before the end of the school year, but Rousseau went on to graduate college and is now a teacher at charter school that applies similar discipline methods.

Conversely, another discipline movement has been slowly sweeping through schools across the nation: restorative justice, a model based on healing and conflict resolution between students and their teachers and peers.

The full episode is quite good and worth listening to, even if you are familiar with school discipline issues.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK FACES TRICKY DECISION ABOUT DETECTIVE’S FATE

While speaking at an LAPD training class, Detective Frank Lynga went on a vulgar tirade that included, among other things, calling black civil rights attorney Carl Douglas a “little Ewok,” saying a female captain was “swapped around,” and calling a certain lieutenant a “moron.”

Now Chief Charlie Beck must choose whether to merely punish Lynga, or fire him, as a department board of rights panel has recommended. And it’s a complicated decision because whichever way Beck moves, there will be constituencies who are upset. It is further complicated by the fact that Chief Beck did not fire officer Shaun Hillman who allegedly pulled a gun on a man and used a racial slur during a bar fight (which critics presume was because of his high profile uncle, a former LAPD deputy chief).

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have this complex story. Here’s a clip:

Frank Lyga claimed that he drove his Jeep in the carpool lane at 100 mph, called a prominent black civil rights attorney an “ewok,” quipped that a female LAPD captain had been “swapped around a bunch of times” and described a lieutenant as a “moron.”

Then he recalled his fatal 1997 shooting of a fellow officer, an incident that sparked racial tensions within the department because Lyga is white and the slain officer was black.

“I could have killed a whole truckload of them, and I would have been happy doing it,” Lyga recounted telling an attorney representing the officer’s family.

Nearly a year after Lyga gave his controversial training lecture, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck must choose whether to follow a disciplinary panel’s recommendation issued this week to fire the detective or reduce his punishment and let him keep his job.

The decision presents the chief with one of his biggest tests since his August reappointment to a second five-year term and is likely to reignite criticism of how he handles officers’ discipline. Beck has clashed with his civilian bosses and rank-and-file officers on the issue, with some accusing him of being inconsistent.

On Friday, black civil rights advocates called on Beck to fire Lyga, saying that the narcotics detective’s comments were racist and sexist and should not be tolerated. Meanwhile, Lyga’s supporters say that he is genuinely remorseful, and note that Beck recently rejected another disciplinary panel’s recommendations to fire a well-connected officer who was caught uttering a racial slur.

“This is a police chief’s nightmare,” said Merrick Bobb, a policing oversight expert.


FURTHER PROP 47 READING: ENDORSEMENTS AND CRITICISMS FROM NEWSPAPERS AND JUSTICE SYSTEM LEADERS

A former Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge, George Eskin, urges voters to pass prop 47. In an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent, Eskin, who is also a former assistant DA in SB and Ventura, says that “wobblers”—charges that could be designated as either misdemeanors or felonies—are often filed as felonies by DAs and are later reduced to misdemeanors, creating a needlessly expensive legal process. Here’s a clip from his case for Prop 47:

I was a prosecutor and a defense attorney for 35 years before serving a decade as a judge on the Santa Barbara County Superior Court. In these experiences, I have seen how far we have strayed from sound criminal sentencing policies.

This is especially true of low-level offenses, many of which can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. District attorneys decide which classification to file, and a judge has no authority to influence their decision. DAs routinely file these cases as felonies, even though they are likely to conclude with a misdemeanor disposition.

The end result of this costly process, a misdemeanor conviction, does not justify the financial expense and the valuable resources invested by police, prosecutors, and the courts, and the ability to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate serious and violent crimes is compromised.

And even if a felony conviction stands for these nonviolent offenses, the “felon” label will serve as an impediment to future employment and education opportunities, not to mention the obvious loss of employment and interruption of education and family life while someone is on trial or incarcerated.

UT San Diego, however, is urging voters not to pass 47, saying that while the state’s prison population and recidivism rates do need to be reduced, and our “tough-on-crime” policies did not work, Prop 47 will not solve these problems. Here’s a clip:

Stealing any handgun worth less than $950, now a felony, would automatically be a misdemeanor — and nearly all stolen handguns are worth less than $950; the language is so loose it would even make possession of date-rape drugs a misdemeanor; and the provisions for shoplifting and bad checks could cost retailers and consumers millions.

Finally, the prison money that would be saved and diverted to treatment programs, schools and crime victims — Lansdowne estimated it at $100 million to $200 million — is peanuts for a state the size of California. Which means thousands of criminals would be back on the streets where they would still not get treatment for their mental health disorders or their addictions.

Another former Superior Court judge, Harlan Grossman, who is also a former prosecutor and an FBI agent, in an op-ed for the Contra Costa Times, calls the measure “long overdue” and says it will help the state meet prison population reduction goals as well as save much-needed court resources to use on more serious criminal cases. Here are some clips:

Realignment significantly reduced overcrowding in our state prisons, but the number of inmates has been creeping back up over the past two years.

Without some additional sentencing changes, we will fall short of the goal of prioritizing jail and prison space while also making our justice system more equitable and fair. Fortunately, Proposition 47 could move us forward toward that goal.

[SNIP]

Another benefit of making these offenses misdemeanors is that it should lead to a quicker resolution of these cases, freeing up scarce resources to address the more serious offenses that threaten the safety of our communities.

KPCC has a short and sweet Prop 47 FAQ list with bullet points on what the measure would do, if passed, and why it’s different from current laws.


REGISTER! VOTE!

By the way, today, October 20, is the cut-off to register to vote in the November 4 election. Go register! Quick! You can fill out the online application here.

Posted in LAPD, race and class, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 6 Comments »

State Urged to Intervene at Two More LA High Schools, Kern County School Discipline Lawsuit, Prop 47′s LA Savings, and PPOA Interviews McDonnell

October 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO MORE LA HIGH SCHOOLS NOT GIVING KIDS NEEDED CLASSES, STATE CALLED ON TO STEP IN

On the same day that beleaguered LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy announced his resignation, the ACLU and Public Counsel filed a report at Alameda County Superior Court urged the state to intervene at two more LAUSD schools—Dorsey and Fremont—for failing to educate students.

Last week, Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered LAUSD to work with the state to come up with a plan to fix Jefferson High School’s scheduling system that was giving kids filler classes and sending them home early with minimal instruction. (Read that story, here.) On Tuesday, the state board of education approved the school district’s $1.1 million plan to fix the Jefferson crisis.

Jefferson and Fremont high schools are named in a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Public Counsel, Cruz v. California, challenging the state’s failure to provide an adequate education to kids attending nine schools in LA, Compton, Contra Costa, and Oakland.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the new action. Here’s a clip:

Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered state and local officials to intervene at Jefferson High School on Oct. 8. Less than a week later, Los Angeles Unified officials presented a plan to reschedule students, add more classes and lengthen the school day a half hour so students could catch up on lost time.

The state board on Tuesday approved $1.1 million to pay for the fixes.

The ACLU and Public Counsel found students Dorsey and Fremont high schools are also enrolled in courses they already passed, working as aides or going home early rather than being challenged academically.

In a status report filed in Alameda County Superior Court Thursday, attorneys argued Los Angeles Unified officials haven’t done enough to identify students losing learning time and haven’t clearly stated how they’ll fix the problem.

“Plaintiffs are further investigating the remaining high schools in this litigation and will be taking steps to seek prompt relief for all students at these schools, who like students at Jefferson, have been and continue to be deprived of instruction time due to assignment to course periods with no content or failure to finalize an appropriate master schedule in advance of the school year,” according to the filing.


AND OVER IN KERN COUNTY…A LAWSUIT AGAINST HARSH DISCIPLINE FOR MINORITY KIDS

Last year, we shared Susan Ferriss of Center for Public Integrity’s stories about Latino kids (many English-learners) and black kids in Kern County receiving disproportionate punishment and transfers to remote alternative schools and independent study.

Late last week, a lawsuit against Kern County School District was filed on behalf of a number of the kids in Ferriss’ stories. The suit says the district declined to fix racially disparate practices in accordance with California’s new discipline reforms.

Kern is also accused of misreporting expulsions as transfers, as well as “tricking” and “coercing” parents into waiving kids’ due process rights, allowing the school to immediately transfer disciplined students to alternative schools.

The suit was filed by a number of non-profit and advocate groups including, California Rural Legal Assistance and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund [MALDEF].

Here’s a clip from Susan Ferriss’ latest story on the issue:

…the suit accuses the Kern High School District of failing to comply with new state discipline policies and adopt alternative practices designed to diffuse problems without resorting to kicking kids out.

The suit also accuses the district of labeling students that its regular campuses kick out as “involuntary” or “voluntary transfers” instead of expulsions that must be reported to state and federal databases.

The suit notes that the district — under scrutiny after media reports — did cut its expulsions from 2,040 in 2011 to 256 students in 2013. But the groups argue that enrollment has not declined at alternative schools because of continuing transfers of students that parents — many of them limited English speakers — agree to authorize without fully understanding other options.

The district, the suit alleges, “has implemented a ‘waiver’ system, under which students and parents are convinced through intimidation, coerced or tricked into waiving the due process protections accompanying formal discipline and accepting immediate placement in alternative schools.”

The suit also argues that stark ethnic disparities persist among kids officially expelled from Kern’s high schools.

During the 2012-2013 school year, according to the suit, 67 percent of black students who were expelled were kicked out for infractions that did not include physical injury, possession of drugs or weapons. Only 42 percent of white students expelled were removed for similarly less serious infractions.


MORE PROP 47 STATISTICS ON COUNTY SAVINGS, AND MORE

The Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice has issued a new report on estimated savings and jail population reductions each California county can expect if Prop 47 passes next month. (If you’ve forgotten, Prop 47 would reclassify certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, incurring punishments like probation and treatment, or a max of one year in jail, instead of more lengthy prison sentences.)

The CJCJ brief says Los Angeles would likely save between $100-$175 million, free between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds, and affect nearly 10,000 offenders.

For further Prop 47 reading, the San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has more on the measure’s proponents, which include three three county district attorneys, Newt Gingrich, and a retired SD Police Chief, as well as opponents, which include other DAs and peace officer associations.


PPOA INTERVIEWS LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

A new 33 minute interview by Brian Moriguchi, the president of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), with Los Angeles Sheriff-hopeful, LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell, addresses questions about issues like civilian oversight, leadership, transparency, and field deputy positions. The interview is the first installment in a three-part interview with McDonnell. Watch the entire first video above.

Posted in ACLU, Jim McDonnell, LASD, LAUSD, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 10 Comments »

Innocent Man Freed Amid “A Legacy of Disgrace”….LA Times Pushes for Recordings of Cop Interrogations…..”Chip” Murray Slams Tanaka…Charges Filed Against LA Mom for Kid’s Gun at School

October 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



A CASE OF INNOCENCE, TEENAGERS MAKING FALSE CONFESSIONS AND “A LEGACY OF DISGRACE”

On Wednesday, David McCallum, a 45-year-old Brooklyn man, was freed after spending 29 years locked up for a kidnapping and murder that it has now been found he did not commit, although he and his friend confessed to the crime when they were both 16.

“I was beaten by the officers and I was coerced into making a confession,” McCallum told a parole board in 2012.

When announcing that McCallum and his co-defendant, Willie Stuckey, had been cleared of the killing, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said grimly, “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”

McCallum called his release “bittersweet” because “I’m walking out alone.” His friend Stucky, while also cleared, had died in prison of a heart attack in 2001.

Oren Yanev of the New York Daily News broke the story of McCallum’s impending release on Tuesday, and had more on the story Wednesday.

Here’s a clip:

Stuckey’s mother, Rosia Nealy, sat in her dead son’s stead and she comforted McCallum as he broke down after the judge announced his exoneration. The two then embraced as some in the jam-packed courtroom cheered and clapped.

[Brooklyn District Attorney] Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.

McCallum and Stuckey were both convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and were sentenced to 25 years to life.

McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said he had brought up the case with the conviction integrity unit of ex-DA Charles Hynes, who was defeated a year ago in large part because of the ballooning wrongful convictions scandal.

“Our pursuit of justice for David fell on deaf ears,” he said of the two years or so they’ve been communicating with prosecutors.

“They basically told us, ‘Call us when you find the real killer,’” the lawyer recalled.

Eventually Michelen, along with some of McCallum’s other supporters, did approach the DA’s office with evidence that DNA obtained from a car used in the abduction matched another suspect who had been questioned in 1985 without the defense ever being notified.

McCallum and Stuckey make ten exonerations for Thompson’s office since the Brooklyn DA took office in January— with two of those exonerations issued posthumously.

The video above is a trailer for a documentary about the efforts of famous exoneree, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, along with the filmmaker and his father, to free McCallum.


LA TIMES SAYS CALIFORNIA LAW NEEDED TO REQUIRE VIDEO RECORDING OF ALL INTERROGATIONS FOR SERIOUS FELONIES

David McCallum, in the story above, was convicted in Brooklyn, New York, not California, but the issue of false confessions leading to wrongful convictions potentially affects every state in the union.

The LA Times editorial board wants California to pass a law requiring video recordings of all interrogations for serious felonies.

Here’s a clip from their editorial on the topic:

The Innocence Project says that over 15 years, 64 of 102 erroneous murder convictions nationwide were based on false confessions. About 22% of all wrongful convictions involved coerced or otherwise improperly obtained confessions.

There’s a simple step that can help address this: Require police to videotape interrogations of suspects in serious felony cases. More than 40 California cities or agencies already do this, including San Diego and San Francisco. (Los Angeles does not.) Federal agents in the Department of Justice began doing so in July. The benefits are clear and laudable: a chance to reduce wrongful convictions, protect police from contrived allegations of abuse or malfeasance and save the expense of defending bad cases.

California has considered this before. The Legislature passed such laws in 2005 and 2007, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them because of his fear of constraining police.

[SNIP]

Since 2010, Congress has considered several bills that would have provided matching federal funds to install recording systems, but it has failed to pass them. It should do so.

But even if it doesn’t, the Legislature should work with Gov. Jerry Brown to recraft legislation requiring the recordings. It would protect both the integrity of the criminal justice system and the innocent.


REV. “CHIP” MURRAY WRITES THAT PAUL TANAKA SHOULD NOT BE SHERIFF

Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray has written an unusually strongly-worded Op Ed for the Los Angeles Sentinel outlining why he feels that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka should not be the next Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Murray, as you may or may not remember, was the Vice Chair of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence, the blue ribbon panel appointed by the LA County Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of systemic abuse within the county’s jail system and to recommend reforms.

Now he serves as the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at USC. Yet, he is best known as former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) who in his 27 years at the pulpit, transformed a small congregation of 250 people into a powerhouse 18,000 person church recognized throughout the nation.

Murray writes that he and his fellow CCJV commissioners found their year long process to be “deeply troubling,” which led to his reason for writing the Op Ed.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

…During those hours of testimony, time and time again we were pointed back to the integral role of then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who we heard had little interest in curtailing years of abuse, failed to hold deputies accountable, encouraged LASD personnel to “work in the grey” — on the border of right and wrong — and undercut managers who tried to reign in abuses. Indeed, our report concluded that “the troubling role of [then]-Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored.”

Now, Mr. Tanaka is running for Sheriff and asking the public to ignore or forget the leadership role he had in overseeing the violence and corruption that the Commission uncovered and for which he was eventually forced out of LASD.

While I am not ordinarily vocal in political races, the race for the next Sheriff is too important for me sit on the sidelines. This election is about the future of the LASD and how we treat the men and women of our community and in custody.

[SNIP]

The report issued by the CCJV concluded in no uncertain terms that “Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails.” Our report described in detail how Tanaka “discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct,” “vetoed efforts” to address the problem of deputy cliques and “encouraged and permitted deputies to circumvent the chain of command.” The report also recounted a system of patronage within LASD that Tanaka created: “many department members believe promotions and assignments are based on loyalty to the Undersheriff” (Tanaka) and “campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka furthered the perception of patronage.” This demonstrably poor judgment and misdirected leadership has continued beyond his tenure at LASD; in his race for Sheriff, Tanaka has accepted a large number of campaign donations from current and former employees of the Sheriff’s Department…..

[SNIP]

All in all, Mr. Tanaka’s “leadership” has resulted in the indictment of over 20 former LASD members, federal convictions and prison sentences of seven of those individuals, and legal costs to the County based on civil lawsuits likely to exceed 200 million dollars. And Mr. Tanaka himself remains the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.


LA CITY ATTORNEY FILES CHARGES AGAINST MOM WHEN SON BRINGS LOADED GUN TO SCHOOL

On May 13 of this year, a 17-year-old at a Van Nuys continuation high school got into a fight with another boy on campus. The next day, he reportedly brought a loaded 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol to school, along with an extra magazine in his backpack, and showed the gun to a friend. School police heard about the weapon recovered the gun and ammo from the kid’s backpack.

The following day, when police executed a warrant at the kid’s home, they reportedly found four other unsecured firearms that belonged to the boy’s mother in places like a bedroom drawer and inside a kitchen cabinet.

On Wednesday of this week, LA’s City Attorney charged the student’s mother with four criminal counts: allowing a child to carry a firearm off premises, allowing a child to take a gun to school, permitting a child to be in a dangerous situation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor—counts that each could carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

City Attorney Mike Feuer called a press conference to announce charges against Leah Wilcken, 41, for failing to safely secure a semi-automatic handgun that her 17-year-old son took to Will Rodgers Continuation School in May.

“It has to be the case that when a parent sends their child to school, they do not fear that another child is going to have a weapon on campus,” Feuer said.

Feuer described the charges as the first ever filed in Los Angeles against a parent whose child took a gun to school. But KPCC found records of a 1995 case in which former City Attorney James K. Hahn filed similar charges against a Panorama City woman after her 9-year-old daughter took a gun to her elementary school and fired it on the playground.

California law requires weapons to be safely stored. Anyone who keeps a loaded firearm where children under 18 years can obtain it is required to store the firearm in a locked container or with a locking device that keeps it from functioning, according to state law….

According to the Kate Mather and Richard Winton of the LA Times, who also reported the story, an attorney who is a representative of the NRA thought the “charges seem inappropriate.”

Posted in 2014 election, elections, FBI, guns, Innocence, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

San Antonio’s Mental Health Diversion, Judge Michael Nash Seeks Child Welfare Czar Position, DEA Steals Woman’s Identity, and Combatting Child Sex Trafficking in LA

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SAN ANTONIO SETS EXAMPLE OF HOW TO TURN AROUND OVER-INCARCERATION OF MENTALLY ILL

LA County is facing a federal consent decree over jail conditions and treatment of the mentally ill, and at the state level, a US District Judge ordered California to improve policies regarding the handling of mentally ill inmates languishing in solitary confinement.

And the problem isn’t just here, it’s happening across the country (save for a few special cases): more than half of everyone behind bars in the US has mental health problems.

One of those exceptions is San Antonio, Texas, where 95% of officers have completed specialized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses help train officers on how to treat them. Officers take mentally ill people in crisis to treatment centers instead of jail. The program has saved the city a whopping $50 million.

ACLU Center for Justice Senior Counsel Kara Dansky has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Approximately 95 percent of police officers in San Antonio have gone through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program that teaches them how to spot the symptoms of mental illness and how to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental health crisis.

People with mental illnesses, including Michelle, work with the police officers to teach them how they should be treated. Michelle helps to train them. Even though it’s not the ideal solution, some people call the police when having a mental health crisis. Instead of putting people in handcuffs and taking them to jail, officers in San Antonio take them to a center staffed with mental health professionals.

In the new short film series, “OverCriminalized,” we interviewed several members of the San Antonio police force. They report that they are much more confident and comfortable dealing with mental health crises after going through the training. Most importantly, since the implementation, none of the CIT teams have used extreme force.

But it’s not just about how to police; it’s about the entire goal of these interactions. People struggling with mental illness are no longer taken to a jail cell by way of lengthy and expensive stops in the ER. This program has saved the city about $50 million dollars.

It’s good to celebrate what’s happened in San Antonio. But we need to step back and ask how the city got into this problem in the first place. The answer is that for decades, this county has been shoving social problems like mental illness and drug addiction into a criminal justice system ill equipped to solve them. This mass criminalization has led to way too many people behind bars, often for too long and for reasons that have no business being crimes in the first place. Communities of color have been hardest hit.


HEAD OF JUVENILE COURT JUDGE MICHAEL NASH WANTS TO BE APPOINTED LA’S NEW CHILD WELFARE CZAR

LA County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash says he wants to be LA’s new Child Welfare Czar. (We at WLA think this is a fantastic idea.)

During his time as head of the juvenile court system, Nash has worked to bring public accountability to the children’s court system and the Department of Children and Family Services.

It is yet unclear when the new czar will be named, but LA County’s transition team is working to give the new leader a head start when they are finally appointed.

Daniel Heimpel broke the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Nash told The Chronicle of Social Change that he had indeed thrown his hat in the ring, telling recruiters that he wanted the job.

He said that moving from the courts to a highly politicized office was like, “going from the frying pan into the fire.” But years of experience weighing the complexities of child maltreatment and foster care made it almost impossible for him to resist. “Sadly that’s the way it is,” he added with a chuckle.

Dilys Garcia, who heads Los Angeles County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and works out of Nash’s courthouse, was both sad to see Nash leave the court, and hopeful about his prospects for leading the new office.

“He has been an inspiration to people in the child welfare field,” Garcia said. “Even at the darkest moment he finds a beacon of light to point to. His leaving is going to be a big loss, but I think it would be terrific if he ended up in this new role as child protection czar.”


AN IDENTITY STOLEN “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” …AND THE DEHUMANIZATION OF DRUG OFFENDERS

Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby has an alarming story about a woman whose identity was stolen by the DEA in an attempt to communicate with other drug crime suspects with whom she was associated. A DEA agent used photos found on Sondra Arquiett’s cell phone, including a photo of her wearing only a bra and underwear, and another one with her young son and niece, to create a fake Facebook page while Arquiett was locked up awaiting trial.

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cellphone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.

The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page . . .

The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen.

Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this story points to the dehumanization of drug offenders (by law enforcement and politicians) that has been occurring for decades now.

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

The DOJ filing was in response to Arquiett’s lawsuit. Consider what the federal government is arguing here. It’s arguing that if you’re arrested for a drug crime, including a crime unserious enough to merit a sentence of probation, the government retains the power to (a) steal your identity, (b) use that identity for drug policing, thus making your name and face known to potentially dangerous criminals, (c) interact with those criminals while posing as you, which could subject you to reprisals from those criminals, (d) expose photos of your family, including children, to those criminals, and (e) do all of this without your consent, and with no regard for your safety or public reputation.

The mindset that would allow government officials to not only engage in this sort of behavior, but to then fight in court to preserve their power to continue it is the same mindset that, for example, allows drug cops to compel juveniles and young women to become drug informants, with little regard for their safety — and to then make no apologies when those informants are murdered.


COMMISSIONER CATHERINE PRATT’S EFFORTS TO HELP YOUNG GIRLS CAUGHT UP IN SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has an interesting story about Compton Juvenile Court Commissioner Catherine Pratt and the work she began three years ago to help teen girls involved in prostitution. Until recently, Los Angeles has treated these young girls as criminals, and locked them up, but Pratt and the Los Angeles County Supervisors are working to change that mindset, and instead treat young girls sold for sex as what they are—victims of child sex trafficking.

Pratt devotes Tuesdays to sex trafficking cases, and connects teens with education resources, mentor programs, and legal help. Pratt does her best to divert the girls in her court from juvenile detention and into foster care (the only alternative for these trafficked kids), but sometimes difficulties arise: girls run away from group homes, and return to the streets.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

The humble, affirming approach of Pratt’s Compton courtroom began as an experiment three years ago, when she applied for grant money to provide professional help for the young prostitutes and she set aside Tuesdays to focus exclusively on sex trafficking cases.

Advocates from at least three charities providing mentors, educational liaisons and lawyers sit in the jury box of Pratt’s courtroom to connect with youths as soon as the need arises.

Los Angeles County supervisors launched a plan this year that adopts Pratt’s ethos, and social workers, police officers and others are being trained to take a softer approach to the children involved in prostitution. They are instructed to treat these young prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators.

[SNIP]

“I used to lecture them,” Pratt said. ” ‘You’re making bad choices. This is dangerous.’ I tried to explain to them how short the life span for people in prostitution is. And they were not at all interested. It really didn’t resonate with them at all.”

A personal relationship and trust have to be developed first, she said, and she measures her progress in the pictures, emails and poems that some of the youths send her.

Still, there is risk.

More than 60% of Los Angeles County’s children arrested for prostitution had previously come to the attention of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, and the foster care system’s group homes have become one of most frequent gateways to the sex trade because the children there have fewer family ties and pimps target them for recruitment.

But the foster care system is currently the county’s only alternative to juvenile detention facilities.

Posted in DCFS, DEA, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Judge Slams State With Restraining Order Over Jefferson High’s Scheduling Mess…Powerful Prosecutors…and More

October 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. has taken a good look
at the mess that is occurring at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School, and he is furious.

Here’s the deal: Due to a hideously malfunctioning computer system, Jefferson High—which has been one of LA County’s most troubled high schools off and on for years now— fell into morass of scheduling dysfunction before this school year began in August. Kids were assigned to incorrect classes—in many cases courses they’d already taken. Or worse they were given pretend classes that weren’t classes at all, hours called “Service” periods, or “College Class” or “Adult Class”—each of which turned out, incredibly to provide no instruction. In still other cases, kids were even simply sent home because no classes—even the faux courses—-were available.

Now here we are in October and, according to Judge Hernandez, the debacle is showing no sign of getting straightened out.

As it happens, Jefferson High was already one of nine “high-need schools” named in a class action lawsuit, Cruz v. California, filed this past spring by Public Counsel and the So Cal ACLU (with pro bono support from the law firms Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP).

Cruz v. California challenges “California’s failure to provide meaningful learning time to students” of these nine schools.

Thus, thankfully, when the scheduling crisis erupted, there was already a legal instrument in place to address it.

All this brings us to the very unhappy Judge Hernandez who issued a tersely-worded temporary restraining order on Wednesday demanding that, no later than next Tuesday, Oct. 14, the state and LAUSD must come up with a viable plan to get kids back in appropriate classes, and then have the plan and the needed resources in place by no later than November 3.

“Absent such intervention,” wrote the judge, “there is a significant likelihood that Jefferson students will continue to endure chaos and disruption due to ongoing scheduling issues and low morale, will not have the opportunity to enroll in courses needed to graduate or qualify for college admission, will fail courses or receive poor grades due circumstances beyond their control (including the scheduling fiasco and lack of remedial resources) and, as a result, will be less equipped to succeed in life, in the job market, and (if they are able to gain admission) in college.”

The judge wrote a lot more in that vein about the harm he believed had been done to Jefferson’s students who, he noted, were “disproportionately low income, minority, first generation students, foster children and/or English learners.”

(Here’s a link to the order itself.)

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs praised the judge’s speedy action, but slammed California’s Department of Education for its inattention.

“The State stood by for months while students at Jefferson sat in classes they had already passed, made copies instead of learning math, and were sent home midway through the school day,” said Kathryn Eidmann, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “Students, parents, and teachers deserve better. Today’s ruling recognizes that the State must ensure that all California students have a chance to graduate, attend college, and succeed.”

David Sapp, staff attorney at the So Cal ACLU, added that although the situation at Jefferson is extreme, “it’s also typical of students at schools that have been ignored by the state for too long. We need a new attitude from our state leaders that all students deserve the same opportunity to learn,” he said.

Indeed.


HOW PROSECUTORS CAME TO HAVE SO MUCH POWER

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” said then U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson, in 1940.

In the intervening 74 years, prosecutors have gotten more powerful not less, with almost nothing in the way of legal consequences to rein in those prosecutors who choose to misuse their power.

The Economist Magazine has a good story that explores the matter of prosecutorial power.

Here are some clips:

Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of murdering his daughters in 1991 by setting fire to the family house. The main evidence against him was a forensic report on the fire, later shown to be bunk, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed to have heard him confess. He was executed in 2004.

The snitch who sent him to his death had been told that robbery charges pending against him would be reduced to a lesser offence if he co-operated. After the trial the prosecutor denied that any such deal had been struck, but a handwritten note discovered last year by the Innocence Project, a pressure group, suggests otherwise. In taped interviews, extracts of which were published by the Washington Post, the informant said he lied in court in return for efforts by the prosecutor to secure a reduced sentence and—-amazingly—-financial support from a local rancher.

A study by Northwestern University Law School’s Centre on Wrongful Convictions found that 46% of documented wrongful capital convictions between 1973 and 2004 could be traced to false testimony by snitches—making them the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death-penalty cases. The Innocence Project keeps a database of Americans convicted of serious crimes but then exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 318 it lists, 57 involved informants—and 30 of the convicted had entered a guilty plea.

[LARGE SNIP]

It is not clear how often prosecutors themselves break the rules. According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative outfit, compiled from data obtained from freedom of information requests, an internal-affairs office at the Department of Justice identified more than 650 instances of prosecutors violating the profession’s rules and ethical standards between 2002 and 2013. More than 400 of these were “at the more severe end of the scale”. The Justice Department argues that this level of misconduct is modest given the thousands of cases it handles.

Judge Kozinski worries, however, that there is “an epidemic” of Brady violations—when exculpatory evidence is hidden from defence lawyers by prosecutors. For example, in 2008 Ted Stevens, a senator from Alaska, was found guilty of corruption eight days before an election, which he narrowly lost. Afterwards, prosecutors were found to have withheld evidence that might have helped the defence. Mr Stevens’s conviction was vacated, but he died in a plane crash in 2010.

Prosecutors enjoy strong protections against criminal sanction and private litigation. Even in egregious cases, punishments are often little more than a slap on the wrist. Mr Stevens’s prosecutors, for example, were suspended from their jobs for 15 to 40 days, a penalty that was overturned on procedural grounds. Ken Anderson, a prosecutor who hid the existence of a bloody bandana that linked someone other than the defendant to a 1986 murder, was convicted of withholding evidence in 2013 but spent only five days behind bars—one for every five years served by the convicted defendant, Michael Morton.

Disquiet over prosecutorial power is growing. Several states now require third-party corroboration of a co-operator’s version of events or have barred testimony by co-operators with drug or mental-health problems. Judge Rakoff proposes two reforms: scrapping mandatory-minimum sentences and reducing the prosecutor’s role in plea-bargaining—for instance by bringing in a magistrate judge to act as a broker. He nevertheless sees the use of co-operators as a “necessary evil”, though many other countries frown upon it.

Prosecutors’ groups have urged Mr Holder not to push for softer mandatory-minimum sentences, arguing that these “are a critical tool in persuading defendants to co-operate”. Some defend the status quo on grounds of pragmatism: without co-operation deals and plea bargains, they argue, the system would buckle under the weight of extra trials. This week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vetoed a bill that would have allowed judges to inform juries if prosecutors knowingly withhold exculpatory evidence.


WHY ARE SO MANY WOMEN IN PRISON IN AMERICA? IT’S THE DRUG WAR, STUPID!

I turns out that nearly a third of the women who are incarcerated worldwide, are locked up in U.S. jails or prisons according to the International Center for Prison Studies. (Of course, given our overall incarceration rate per capita, that should not be surprising.)

The Huffington Post’s Nina Bahadur has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

So, why does America imprison so many women? Mandatory sentencing minimums have led to prison overcrowding in general. An estimated two-thirds of women incarcerated in federal prisons are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.

Female prisoners are disproportionately women of color, and one study suggests that 44 percent of female prisoners in the U.S. don’t have a high school diploma or GED. Incarcerating women also plays a huge role in breaking up families — 64 percent of female state prisoners lived with and cared for their minor children before their imprisonment.

Posted in Education, Innocence, LAUSD, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Votes YES on Controversial ICE Partnership….Prop 47 Gathers Support & LA Times Endorses……& A New Tanaka Fan

October 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to keep a controversial immigration policy
known as 287(g), making LA only one of two counties in the state to continue to implement the 1996 statute that permits the federal government to delegate immigration enforcement powers to state and local law enforcement.

Both Riverside and San Bernardino recently chose to halt participation with 287(g), making Orange County and LA the sole California holdouts.

LA would use 287(g) only in the the LA County jails, where immigration agents are embedded, and custody personnel are trained to screen inmates for immigration status.

Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe voted for the measure, while Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.

According to KPCC's Leslie Berestein Rojas, one of the biggest reasons that the Supes and the LASD leadership favored the policy has to do with money.

Here's a clip from Berestein Rojas' story:

"It helps us maintain better records for the purpose of reimbursement from the federal government," said Anna Pembedjian, justice deputy for County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a supporter of 287(g).

What Pembedjian is referring to is a federal grant program known as SCAAP, for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Counties like Los Angeles are partially reimbursed by the Department of Justice for incarcerating certain foreign-born criminals, and the better they can document their inmate population, the better their reimbursement chances.

[SNIP]

But in recent years, funding has been cut. Los Angeles County’s annual SCAAP award has gone from roughly $15 million in the late 2000s to about $3.4 million in 2014.

The county now gets reimbursed roughly 10 cents on the dollar for every SCAAP-eligible foreign inmate, Pembedjian said. Less than before, but it’s money the county would otherwise still have to spend.

“When these individuals are arrested and serving time in our jails, we have no alternative but to provide them with the housing, the mental health care, the medical care, food and security, which costs the county taxpayers millions of dollars every year,” Pembedjian said. “It is imperative for the county to recover the money from the federal government, otherwise if forces cuts in other vital services.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who was one of the three on the board who voted to keep the program, cited public safety as the her primary motivation.

But Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said such a rationale was flawed.

"Sadly, the supervisor has chosen to ignore a mountain of evidence, including DHS’ own published statistics on the program that clearly indicate that vast majority of individuals deported under the 287(g) agreement had not been convicted of a serious crime, or had no criminal history. In 2010, 80% of the people identified for deportation under this program were not convicted of a serious felony."

Indeed, according to a 2011 report by the Migration Policy Institute, nationally, 50 percent of those snatched by the program have committed felonies or other crimes that ICE considers serious. The other half of those detained have committed misdemeanors and/or have been involved in traffic accidents.

Prior to the vote, Villagra and the So Cal ACLU had urged board members to wait until a new sheriff is chosen in November to make up their minds on 287(g). But, as with the two billion dollar jail building decision (about which they were similarly asked to hold off until November) the board declined to delay the vote.

"It is inconceivable that our County leadership has chosen to continue a failed program that has already been abandoned in over 250 jurisdictions throughout the nation- including the City of Los Angeles," said Maria Elena Durazo, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Angelica Salas, Director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in a joint statement.

Yes, well, apparently it's not so inconceivable. But it is very disappointing.


PROP 47 AHEAD IN THE POLLS & THE LA TIMES ENDORSES IT

The New York Times' Erik Eckholm reports that, at the moment, Proposition 47 appears poised to pass, with the September poll by the Public Policy Institute showing 62 percent of voters in favor, 25 against. As you likely know, Prop 47 is the initiative that would reclassify a list of low-level felonies as misdemeanors making them punishable by at most one year in a county jail and, in many cases, by probation and counseling. The changes would apply retroactively, shortening the sentences of thousands already in prison or jails.

Although most district attorneys, and many law enforcement organizations (including the California Police Chief's Association) are against the initiative, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, the former SF police chief and former second in command for the LAPD, has become one of the measure's champions. And 47 has gathered strong support among some prominent conservatives, as well as liberals, and moderates, writes the Times' Eckholm.

Large donations in support have come from the Open Society Policy Center, a Washington-based group linked to George Soros; the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, based in New York; Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix; and Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook.

But the largest single donor is B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman and philanthropist based in Malibu. In one of the most tangible signs yet of growing concern among conservatives about the cost and impact of incarceration, Mr. Hughes has donated $1.255 million.

Mr. Hughes said he had been inspired by the late Chuck Colson to start prison ministry programs in California, and that his firsthand contact with prisoners and their families convinced him that the current heavy reliance on incarceration is often counterproductive.

“This is a model that doesn’t work,” he said in an interview. “For the $62,000 cost of a year in prison, you can send three kids to college,” he said. “But for me, it’s not just about the money, it’s about our fellow citizens who are hurting.”

Mr. Hughes was joined by Newt Gingrich as co-author of an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times urging citizens to vote yes....

The LA Times is the latest to endorse Proposition 47, saying that it will help California make more intelligent use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources, including the allocation of resources "to curb the likelihood of [lawbreakers] committing new crimes."

The San Francisco Chronicle endorsed 47 late last month.

Here's a clip from the Times' endorsement editorial:

Proposition 47 would do a great deal to stop the ongoing and unnecessary flow of Californians to prison for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and would, crucially, reduce the return flow of offenders from prison back to their neighborhoods in a condition — hardened by their experience, hampered by their felony records, unready for employment or education, likely mentally ill or addicted — that leaves them only too likely to offend again. It is a good and timely measure that can help the state make smarter use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources. The Times strongly recommends a "yes" vote on Proposition 47.

The measure has three parts. It would reduce sentences in California for a handful of petty crimes — drug possession and some types of theft, such as shoplifting — that currently are chargeable as either misdemeanors or felonies but should be just misdemeanors. It would open a three-year window during which inmates serving felony sentences for these crimes could apply to have their sentences reduced. And it would direct the savings from lowering the prison population to be spent on the kinds of things that, as data have shown time and again, keep significant numbers of former inmates from re-offending: substance abuse and mental health treatment, reentry support and similar services that also help crime-battered neighborhoods. Much of the savings would also be spent on truancy prevention and support for crime victims.

Opponents offer arguments that are familiar for their fear-mongering tactics but are new in some of their particulars: baseless yet ominous warnings that waves of dangerous criminals will be released; odd predictions about, of all things, date rape; acknowledgment that current sentencing is often excessive and counterproductive, but excuses for not previously having made sensible changes.

The LA Times board notes that it's too bad that such sentencing reform requires an initiative, that changes of this nature should ideally be accomplished by a non-political sentencing commission, or at the very least by state lawmakers but....dream on.

...experience shows that lawmakers, so comfortable with adding new crimes and increasing sentences, are generally incapable of lowering them in the face of pressure from law enforcement and victims' interest groups, even when overwhelming evidence points to better safety, greater savings and other positive outcomes from decreased penalties.

So a proposition is what we have---and one the Times contends will be a boon for even some of its critics:

One likely benefit of Proposition 47 is not advertised but could make a real difference: With fewer crimes charged as felonies, there would be far fewer preliminary hearings (they are not needed for misdemeanor charges), which means fewer police officers pulled off the streets to wait around in courthouses to testify, less preparation time needed by deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders, and less of a drain on local law enforcement and criminal justice budgets. It is one of many ways in which Proposition 47 would be a step forward for California.


FORMER CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF ENDORSES PAUL TANAKA. (YES, REALLY.)

In a slightly odd turn of events, former candidate for LA County Sheriff, retired LASD lieutenant Patrick Gomez, just endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the job according to a release from Tanaka's campaign.

This wouldn't be quite so peculiar were it not for the fact that Gomez spent part of nearly every candidate debate during the primary slamming Tanaka in particular.

For instance, here is what the Daily News reported after one of the early debates:

“Gomez, meanwhile, attacked Tanaka, who had been Baca’s second in command…. “I’m going to request that the FBI request a forensic audit,” Gomez said. “Tanaka talked about being a CPA, yet the auditor released a report in January that said $138 million were mishandled from special accounts within this department. Who was responsible for that?

‘These people talk about there’s been a lack of leadership — (but) these are the leadership people — they’re the assistant sheriff and the undersheriff, current and past. We’ve got to hold them accountable when we vote on June 3rd.’ ”

We guess that everyone's entitled to change his mind if he so desires. We'd just be very curious to know what new points of view persuaded Lt. Gomez to change his in this matter.

Posted in immigration, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 32 Comments »

Visible Tattoos and Recidivism, the Right to a Speedy Trial, Prop 47, and the Right to Remain Silent

October 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: VISIBLE INK ON RELEASED INMATES = HARDER TIME FINDING EMPLOYMENT AND FASTER RETURN TO INCARCERATION

Former inmates who have visible tattoos—on their face, head, neck, or hands—are re-incarcerated nearly two years earlier than ex-inmates with visible tattoos elsewhere on their body, according to a recent study authored by Kaitlyn Harger of West Virginia University. And, inmates without tattoos made it on the outside an average of 3.4 years longer than inmates with tattoos.

Harger used data on a sample of inmates exiting and entering Florida Dept. of Corrections facilities between 2008-2010, and accounted for variables like gender, age, and previous offenses.

Here’s the report‘s abstract:

This study examines whether tattoo visibility affects recidivism length of ex-offenders. Conventional wisdom suggests that visible tattoos may negatively influence employment outcomes. Additionally, research on recidivism argues that employment post-release is a main determinant of reductions in recidivism. Taken together, these two bodies of literature suggest there may be a relationship between tattoos visible in the workplace and recidivism of released inmates.

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections, I estimate a log-logistic survival model and compare estimated survival length for inmates with and without visible tattoos. The findings suggest that inmates with visible tattoos return to incarceration faster than those without tattoos or with tattoos easily hidden by clothing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries often tells a story of the guy who came into his office shortly after his release from prison saying he really needed helping getting a job, that he’d struck out on everything for which he’d applied. Greg looked at the former gang member, and took in the devil horns tattooed prominently on his forehead and said, “Uh, yeah, let’s put our heads together and see if we can figure this problem out.”

Clearly McDonalds was not going to hire the recently released man, as is, to ask “Would you like fries with that?”

Then there was the former homeboy I knew well, a guy nick-named Curly who was having similar problems getting a job when he got out of prison. Bright, good-hearted and personable, Curly—whose mother and dad were both heroin addicts—had struggled with drug addiction for much of his teenage years and adulthood. But now he wanted very much to reboot his life. I looked at him and noted that he had no really onerous tattoos visible. Then I noticed he was holding his eyes peculiarly wide open, without blinking, and I became suspicious.

“Blink,” I said.

And he did. I saw that on one eyelid he had the word FUCK tattooed, on the other eyelid: YOU.

“What were you thinking?!!” I moaned before I could stop myself.

Curly admitted he was a man in need of tattoo removal services. With the offending words removed, his job search went far better.

Many men remove visible tattoos, not just for jobs, but for their kids, who are embarrassed by their dad’s skin markings, and also as a symbol of their personal change, a way of stating, “homie don’t play that anymore….”

So are we surprised at these figures? Not at all. But are we glad that the research supports what common sense could tell anybody. Yes. And hopefully policy and programs will follow after.


TEEN WAITED FOR TRIAL IN SOLITARY FOR ALMOST THREE YEARS ON CHARGES ULTIMATELY DISMISSED

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack that contained a debit card, a credit card, some electronics, and $700. Kalief was not found to have the backpack, but the robbery victim identified him as the thief, and Kalief was hauled away to Rikers Island to await trial.

Kalief’s case was delayed for three years for various reasons, one of which was because the prosecutor’s assigned assistant was on vacation. And although the case against Kalief was eventually dismissed, Kalief spent nearly the entire three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, and the damage was already done. Kalief attempted suicide twice while in isolation, and twice more after his release, landing him in the psychiatric ward. (Last week, Rikers vowed to end solitary confinement of 16 and 17-year-olds.)

Kalief now has a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD, the DA responsible for his case, and the NYC Department of Correction.

The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman has Kalief’s heartbreaking story (it’s quite long, but make sure to read the whole thing). Here are some clips:

In the early hours of Saturday, May 15, 2010, ten days before his seventeenth birthday, Kalief Browder and a friend were returning home from a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. They walked along Arthur Avenue, the main street of Little Italy, past bakeries and cafés with their metal shutters pulled down for the night. As they passed East 186th Street, Browder saw a police car driving toward them. More squad cars arrived, and soon Browder and his friend found themselves squinting in the glare of a police spotlight. An officer said that a man had just reported that they had robbed him. “I didn’t rob anybody,” Browder replied. “You can check my pockets.”

The officers searched him and his friend but found nothing. As Browder recalls, one of the officers walked back to his car, where the alleged victim was, and returned with a new story: the man said that they had robbed him not that night but two weeks earlier. The police handcuffed the teens and pressed them into the back of a squad car. “What am I being charged for?” Browder asked. “I didn’t do anything!” He remembers an officer telling them, “We’re just going to take you to the precinct. Most likely you can go home.” Browder whispered to his friend, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything?” His friend insisted that he hadn’t.

At the Forty-eighth Precinct, the pair were fingerprinted and locked in a holding cell. A few hours later, when an officer opened the door, Browder jumped up: “I can leave now?” Instead, the teens were taken to Central Booking at the Bronx County Criminal Court.

Browder had already had a few run-ins with the police, including an incident eight months earlier, when an officer reported seeing him take a delivery truck for a joyride and crash into a parked car. Browder was charged with grand larceny. He told me that his friends drove the truck and that he had only watched, but he figured that he had no defense, and so he pleaded guilty. The judge gave him probation and “youthful offender” status, which insured that he wouldn’t have a criminal record.

Late on Saturday, seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence. The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. The judge released his friend, permitting him to remain free while the case moved through the courts. But, because Browder was still on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars. The amount was out of reach for his family, and soon Browder found himself aboard a Department of Correction bus. He fought back panic, he told me later. Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island.

[BIG SNIP]

Browder was losing weight. “Several times when I visited him, he said, ‘They’re not feeding me,’ ” the brother told me. “He definitely looked really skinny.” In solitary, food arrived through a slot in the cell door three times a day. For a growing teen-ager, the portions were never big enough, and in solitary Browder couldn’t supplement the rations with snacks bought at the commissary. He took to begging the officers for leftovers: “Can I get that bread?” Sometimes they would slip him an extra slice or two; often, they refused.

Browder’s brother also noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.

On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.

The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.


PROP 47: SUPPORTERS SAY WILL LOWER PRISON POP, SAVE $$; OPPONENTS SAY LETS OFFENDERS OFF EASY

Proposition 47 (which would reduce certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors) is a weighty piece of legislation with strong proponents and opponents, so we will continue to inform readers on this initiative until November. (Previous posts here, and here.)

Backers say the legislation, authored by retired SD Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and SF District Attorney George Gascón, would save hundreds of millions while lowering the outrageous prison population by redirecting offenders to treatment, probation, and shorter jail stints, instead of prison. Opponents, which include San Diego’s current police chief, sheriff, and DA, say that reducing these crimes to misdemeanors will nix the idea of consequences as a crime deterrent—that people will be able to keep committing these misdemeanors. Opponents also say that the legislation will put more of a burden on counties already strained by realignment.

U-T San Diego’s Kristina Davis has more on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Lansdowne, with nearly 50 years in law enforcement behind him, said his time as police chief of Richmond in the Bay Area in the mid-90s left a strong impression on him. “I learned a lot about crime and poverty and the need to reach out and give people opportunity to rehabilitate themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen so many homeless people in and out of jail, mentally ill addicted to drugs and they can’t get any help in the process. … There’s more to this. Just to say it’s numbers and take the people out of it is a terrible mistake.”

Supporter Stephen Downing, a retired former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, called the current tough-on-crime justice system a “war on the people” that unfairly penalizes minorities. More than half the nation’s prison population is black or Hispanic, and many are young, male and poorly educated, with substance abuse and mental health issues, according to The National Academy of Sciences, which issued a report this year on incarceration rates. The discrepancy is higher in California, where 70 percent of prison inmates are black or Hispanic.

[SNIP]

Critics say the law lacks incentives. With lighter punishments, and nothing to punish repeat offenses, what’s to stop someone from continuing to commit these misdemeanors, they ask.

[District Attorney Bonnie] Dumanis points to the slew of measures already in place to send addicts to treatment, including the drug court she started in 1996, which closely monitors addicts’ progress under the threat of jail or prison.

“What we found with drug court is that coerced treatment works. When you take the teeth out of any of these drug laws and have people pushing boundaries … there’s nothing to stop them, so it’s really enabling them,” Dumanis said.


WHEN PRE-MIRANDA RIGHTS SILENCE IS USED AGAINST YOU

People arrested in the United States technically have the right to remain silent, but unless they actually say aloud that they are invoking their 5th Amendment rights, it’s not so simple. Thanks to several California and US Supreme Court decisions, silence during police questioning can be used against a defendant in court.

KPCC’s Emily Green has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Courts have found suspects don’t have to be read their rights upon arrest, but only right before they are interrogated. And there can be a long lag time between the two.

In the case of Richard Tom, for example, he was in custody for two hours before he was read his rights. Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in Tom’s case, and said his silence at the scene of the accident could be used against him.

“The California Supreme Court has left us in a no-win situation, where as soon as you are arrested the prosecutor can use against you say [and] anything you don’t say against you,” says Marc Zilversmit, Tom’s attorney.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar decision in 2013, in a case involving a suspect’s silence prior to arrest. In that case, the suspect voluntarily answered police questions for nearly two hours but refused to talk in depth about a gun found in his house. The prosecutor used that against him at trial.

“Most people assume that if you have a right and you exercise it, that’s all you need to do,” says Standford Law professor Jeff Fisher.

Fisher says the courts’ rulings set a trap for the unwary. The courts said the only exception is if defendants expressly tell police they are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. Fisher says the rulings affect every kind of criminal case, including white-collar investigations where suspects are often questioned at length before being arrested.

“Under these decisions, somebody in that situation, just as much as the person accused of murder or manslaughter, needs to announce that they are relying on the Fifth Amendment privilege,” Fisher says. “It’s not enough to simply refuse to talk to police.”

Posted in Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, Sentencing, solitary | 1 Comment »

Rigid New Screening Process for Visiting CA Prisoners, Black Girls Face Harsher Discipline at School, Risk Assessment in Sentencing…and More

September 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CDCR ANNOUNCES MORE RIGOROUS SCREENING PROCESS FOR CALIFORNIA PRISON STAFF AND VISITORS, IN ATTEMPT TO CURB DRUGS ENTERING PRISONS

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced that, starting mid-October, state prison staff and visitors will be subject to much tougher screenings, in an effort to cut off prisoners’ access to illegal drugs. Both staff and visitors will be randomly chosen to submit to hand swabs and drug-sniffing dogs. Visitors will be strip-searched if either test suggests contact with drugs. While visitors would be allowed to walk away without submitting to a strip-search, anyone found to have drugs on them would be referred for possible prosecution.

Inmate advocates say the significantly more invasive screening process will rely on methods that are often faulty, and will also likely dissuade inmates’ loved ones from visiting them. This is of particular concern, since visits from family and friends have shown to produce better outcomes for inmates, both during the time they are behind bars, and once they are released back into their communities.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here are some clips:

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition said in a statement.

Corrections officials say they are taking the steps to control a growing problem in California’s 34 adult prisons.

“The whole point is to deter and detect trafficking into our prisons,” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said. “It’s a serious issue.”

Drug-sniffing dogs discovered 404 pounds of illicit drugs last year and another 29 pounds through the first half of this year, prison officials said. Since July 1, another 26 pounds was discovered without the use of dogs. Each time, marijuana accounted for most of it.

So far this year, the department has had 546 visitors arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs and cellphones into prisons.

The state plans to spend at least $30,000 for each of the ion scanners that will be used to test the hand swabs. The machines are identical to those used by airport security to detect traces of explosive materials, but in this case will be programmed to scan for traces of the four drugs: marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

California plans to install at least two of the detectors at each state prison if funding permits, starting with 11 where illicit drugs are the biggest problem. The emergency regulations are expected to go into effect on a test basis in October.

[SNIP]

Prison advocacy groups criticized the new policy, saying it relies on two methods that sometimes provide false-positive test results. They said the Federal Bureau of Prisons abandoned its use of the ion-detector hand-swabbing machines in 2008 because of complaints about unreliability.

Representatives of national associations representing state prison and county jail officials and state legislators said they were unaware of any other state or local jail currently using the ion scanners.


BLACK FEMALE STUDENTS FACE EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE DISPARITIES

Black girls frequently receive more severe punishments than white girls for the same offenses at school, despite not being any more likely to act out than their white counterparts, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

According to the Dept. of Education, black girls make up 17% of enrolled female students, but receive 31% of girls’ referrals to law enforcement, and comprise 43% of school arrests of all female students.

The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Klein has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

When Georgia high school student Tiambrya Jenkins was in ninth grade, the teen, who is black, got into a fight with a white classmate. Both girls were transferred to an alternative high school as a result, but the white student returned to regular school after 90 days. Jenkins had to stay in the alternative school for a year.

“It was like being in prison,” Jenkins, now 16, said in a press release for the National Women’s Law Center. “The classrooms had no windows. There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang. A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school. But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me.”

Jenkins’ experience isn’t unusual for black female students, who are routinely given harsher punishments than white students — even though no evidence shows black students are more likely to misbehave, according to a report Tuesday from the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report outlines the discipline disparities for African-American girls, and notes that pervasive racial and gender biases in education often prevent students from succeeding.

While black male students are the most frequently suspended, African-American girls also disproportionately receive harsh punishments, the report says. The discipline disparities for black girls are likely related to racial and gender stereotypes that portray African-American females as “loud, confrontational, assertive, and provocative,” the report says.


TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT RISING USE OF RISK ASSESSMENT IN SENTENCING

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo has an intriguing story about the complexities of judges’ increasing use of risk assessment tools to aid in sentencing rulings.

Risk assessment efforts have been touted as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by estimating an offender’s risk of reoffending. Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using risk assessment look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives. But while risk assessments are potentially useful, they are also extremely controversial because of a number of possible pitfalls.

In August, in response to a risk assessment bill making its way to Obama’s desk, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against using risk assessment to calculate drug sentences, saying that a number of the criteria (like education and location) may have an adverse effect on minorities and the poor. (California, for instance, uses a misguided form of risk assessment to tack on extra time behind bars via “sentence enhancements.”)

Palazzolo’s WSJ story is behind a paywall. Here’s a relevant clip, for those who don’t subscribe:

Many parole boards now weigh risk scores when considering early release, and prison officials use them to determine the level of security offenders need during their stay. But the adoption of such tools has sparked a debate over which factors are acceptable. Attributes such as age or sex, which employers are generally forbidden from including in hiring decisions, are considered by criminal-justice experts to be strong predictors of whether an offender is likely to commit a crime in the future.

The measures vary widely but generally are based on an offender’s criminal history and, in addition to age and sex, may include marital status, employment and education, according to Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Pennsylvania, one of the latest states to turn to actuarial tools in sentencing, is building a test that weighs the nature of offense, criminal history, age, sex and county of residence. The last factor is the most controversial as it could be considered a proxy for socioeconomic status. Missouri takes into account current offense and criminal history, age, whether the offender has a history of substance abuse, education level and employment.

Judges aren’t bound by the evaluations, but there is evidence they are taking them into account. Virginia officials attribute a more than 25% drop in the number of nonviolent offenders sent to prison annually to the assessments, used to score felons convicted of fraud, larceny and drug crimes since 2003. In the past decade, the percentage of offenders serving prison terms for violent crime has risen to 74% from 61%, said Chief Judge Bradley B. Cavedo of Richmond Circuit Court. “It doesn’t really control the outcome, but it is useful information,” he said of the measures.

The efforts have drawn skepticism from Attorney General Eric Holder, who told a group of defense lawyers in Philadelphia last month that basing sentencing on factors such as a defendant’s education level “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities.”

There is no research yet on whether the use of risk evaluations in sentencing has aggravated, for example, the gap between sentences for black and white men for similar crimes. Ms. Starr said the disparities created by risk measures are evident. “When it comes down to it, these assessments stand for the proposition that judges should sentence people longer because they were in foster care as children or had too many bouts of unemployment,” she said.

Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University law professor, said the alternative was potentially worse. “At least these risk-assessment instruments don’t explicitly focus on race or poverty, unlike what might occur in a sentencing regime where judges are making risk assessments based on seat-of-the-pants evaluations,” he said.


UNDOCUMENTED AT HARVARD

Dario Guerrero found out he was an undocumented immigrant at age 16. All at once, he learned that he could not obtain a California driver’s license, legally work, visit his family in Mexico, or receive financial aid to attend most US colleges. But a few private colleges, and all Ivy League schools, did offer assistance and full-rides to students in need, and Guerrero found himself accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship.

Here’s a clip from his story for the Washington Post:

A few weeks later, Oscar and I sat down, college applications in hand, to share what we had learned on our travels. We created a Web site for other undocumented students with everything we had learned by e-mail, phone, and in person. We got to work on our applications. Although we were undocumented applicants, most schools still asked to see some proof of income so they could determine our financial-aid award. Thankfully, my parents had filed taxes since the year we arrived; I sent our latest returns.

I applied to every Ivy League school, the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Wesleyan, Washington and Lee, and College of the Atlantic. On Jan. 11, as I sat in the library doing research for a government class project, I got a call from a Massachusetts area code. The Harvard Admissions Committee had voted to send me a likely letter of admission. (Oscar later got a call from Cornell.) And they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard’s dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I’d finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have.

I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different. But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity — as an undocumented Chicano — that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have.

Posted in CDCR, Education, prison policy, race and class, Sentencing | No Comments »

“Drugging Our Kids” Part 2, Nuestra Familia, City Attorney’s Community Court Program, and Rick Orlov Interviews Paul Tanaka

September 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

D’ANTHONY’S JOURNEY THROUGH 29 DIFFERENT HOMES AND A PLETHORA OF ANTI-PSYCHOTICS

Last month, we linked to part one of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury about the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Part two of de Sá’s series takes us through the heartbreaking story of D’Anthony Dandy, a foster kid who was moved 29 times to various group homes, foster families, and shelters, and prescribed cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs from the age of 13 to improve his behavior. D’Anthony broke free from the psychotropic fog, graduated high school, and is now living in his own apartment and reconnecting with his family through the help of Tara Beckman, his court-appointed advocate.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the beautiful videos):

Whisked away from his drug-addicted mother, then rejected by his adoptive mom, D’Anthony Dandy spent his childhood wondering where he fit in. Often, the trauma made him depressed. Sometimes it made him defiant.

At school, he called his teacher “bald-head,” hurled pencils and got suspended twice in the ninth grade.

So California’s foster care system did what it often does with a complicated kid — it moved him.

Twenty-nine times.

And, in a futile attempt to control his behavior and dull his pain, it medicated him for years with a risky regimen of mind-altering drugs — lithium, Depakote, even an adult dose of the powerful antipsychotic Risperdal.

D’Anthony’s story, revealed through dozens of interviews over 10 months and an exhaustive review of his juvenile dependency court records, illustrates a disturbing pattern detailed in “Drugging Our Kids,” this newspaper’s yearlong investigation: When it comes to managing challenging childhoods, the nation’s largest child welfare system relies on expedient choices that often don’t work and resists tough ones that do.

It took an extraordinary adult who finally listened to help D’Anthony realize there might be a better path, but his frequent moves and a haze of medication made it difficult for him to settle down.

Until then, “nobody actually told me like, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ ” said D’Anthony, now 19. “ ‘What’s goin’ on in the inside? I know you can be a good kid.’ ”

[BIG SNIP]

At least 14 psychiatrists throughout Northern and Central California examined D’Anthony, diagnosing him variously with post-traumatic stress, reactive attachment, major depression, bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity. They prescribed an ever-changing “cocktail” of medications, including two antipsychotics at once, that experts called dangerous and ineffective after reviewing his case at this newspaper’s request. One even called it “disgusting.”

De Sá’s valuable reporting is already having a considerable legislative impact. In late August, lawmakers called for fast-tracked legislation to curb the rampant drugging of California’s foster kids, and the state medical board began investigating doctors at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request.

Now, de Sá reports that, beginning October 1, California doctors will have to obtain additional authorization by pharmacists to prescribe antipsychotics to kids under 17 who are on Medi-Cal, which includes foster kids. Here’s a clip:

Beginning Oct. 1, a state pharmacist must verify the “medical necessity” of each antipsychotic prescription before the medications can be given to children who are 17 and younger and covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for the poor that also includes foster children.

The tightened restrictions come three years after the federal government called on states to better monitor the use of psychotropic medications on foster children….

Doctors involved in statewide efforts to curb overmedication of foster youth called the new measure a good start — though they say it’s still up for debate whether it will have a widespread impact.


IMPORTANT NEW BOOK ON NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S NUESTRA FAMILIA GANG

For more than ten years, award-winning journalist Julia Reynolds followed Nuestra Familia, the powerful northern California gang that was born a half century ago in San Quentin State Prison, then spilled its violence outside the prison walls into the farm towns of Monterey County and beyond. The result of Reynolds’ unprecedented access to gang members and their families is an excellent and deeply-sourced new book, Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang, in which she follows the lives of individual members of Nuestra Familia, and of the local law enforcement who try to combat their influence. Reynolds looks at the decade-long Operation Black Widow, the FBI’s controversial and largely unsuccessful attempt to take down Nuestra Familia, and at the split structure of the gang’s leadership, which now calls shots from inside Pelican Bay State Prison, and from the supermax federal prison in Florence, CO, causing new friction and attendant violence within the gang.

KPCC’s Take Two has more on Reynolds and her new book. Here’s a clip:

“A lot of young kids were dying,” she recalled. In the farm cities along California’s northern coast, shootings and revenge hits were tearing communities apart.

“I finally decided that as a journalist and living in the area, it was my responsibility to face this issue and see what was going on,” said Reynolds.

So she embarked on a journey that took her inside the lives of the gang’s top leaders, operating from Pelican Bay State Prison, to its foot soldiers and recruits on the streets of Salinas, recording both the mundane and the chilling details of Nuestra Familia. She also explores the law enforcement agents and their battle against the gang.


PILOT PROGRAM TO GIVE LOW-LEVEL OFFENDERS SECOND CHANCE TO SERVE COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF FACING JAIL

As part of the City Attorney Office’s Community Justice Initiative, the Neighborhood Justice Program will form community courts in South LA, the Valley, and the Harbor area. The program will give low-level offenders—those who have committed quality of life crimes—a chance to repay their communities instead of going to jail. (We previously linked to the city attorney’s Neighborhood School Safety Program, which is part of the same initiative.)

Park Labrea News’ Aaron Blevins has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

“This is likely to be, if it continues to grow as we anticipate, the largest effort of its kind in the nation,” Feuer said during a meeting with reporters at his office.

The model calls for violators of quality of life offenses to go before a panel of trained community members, who would determine a fitting way for the individual to make it up to the neighborhood.

For example, if an individual is arrested for graffiti, accepts responsibility and his or her case is handled by a community court, he or she could be tasked with repainting the wall that was vandalized. In return, the court would provide the individual with services and the city attorney’s office will not file charges.

Feuer said that is in contrast to the traditional system, in which an individual is arrested, it takes “awhile” for the system to process the charge and, in the end, the neighborhood may or may not notice the intervention of the justice system. With jails being overcrowded, there is very little consequence as a result, he said.

[SNIP]

Feuer said his office opted to partner with neighborhood-oriented locations that are the “centers of community life.” The goal is to host one panel per week at each location, he said.

The city attorney said the approach has been used in San Francisco, though they are not exactly alike. He said the community court there handles approximately 600 cases per year, and he expects the L.A. version to exceed that figure. The office hopes to handle four cases per session, and court will be in session in the early evening to ensure access.


PAUL TANAKA TALKS WITH RICK ORLOV ABOUT HIS CAMPAIGN FOR SHERIFF

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov interviewed former LA undersheriff Paul Tanaka about his campaign for sheriff, which save for a tweet or two and one video, has appeared to be largely nonexistent. Tanaka also discusses his time as undersheriff and as current mayor of Gardena. Here are some clips:

…[Tanaka] insisted in a telephone interview, he remains in the race and is planning an active effort in the final weeks leading up to the election.

“I am absolutely campaigning,” Tanaka insisted in a telephone interview this past week. “I do have a campaign. It is a different type of campaign. Sometimes you need a change in the team makeup. I felt we needed to make some adjustments, and that’s what we have done.”

The changes are stark.

No campaign manager or aides. No active Web page, relying instead on Facebook. No plans for advertising. There are no debates for the runoff, unlike the series of confrontations held in the primary.

[SNIP]

In talking with Tanaka, however, it appears he is still shell shocked over the way the election turned out. He barely managed a second-place finish to McDonnell to force a runoff election. With 49.4 percent of the vote, McDonnell fell just short of avoiding the runoff. Tanaka came in a distant second with 15.1 percent.

“Look, there were six people running against me and they decided to all attack me as if I was the sheriff,” Tanaka said. “I actually had very little to do with all the areas of controversy in the jails. That was outside my area. When I was in charge of the jails, we didn’t have the same problems.”

[SNIP]

Tanaka said he has consoled himself over how he was attacked and with the fact that he was able to make the runoff.

“The fact we are still in this has given a lot of people hope, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people were energized by the fact we have made it as far as we did. It is what keeps me going.”

But Raphael Sonenshein, executive director at the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., said it appears to the public as if the Tanaka campaign has evaporated.

“You see this in other elections where an incumbent faces a light challenge, but in this one, he had a lot of money and an identified base of support that he was counting on,” Sonenshein said. “When he did so badly in the primary, I think the rationale for his candidacy collapsed. After that, he had to keep a low profile.”

After the primary, Tanaka closed down his main campaign office in Torrance and didn’t even inform his staff members.

Tanaka said he simply moved the operation to El Monte and has continued to speak to groups that invite him. His most recent campaign reports show him with a deficit of $18,000.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Foster Care, Gangs, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 7 Comments »

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