Coroner’s data shows that half of those shot and killed by police in Los Angeles in the past five years were Latino. This year, of the 23 killed by police in LA, 14 were Latino.
Now, some of the families of those killed by law enforcement under questionable circumstances are beginning to ask why some deaths seem to have captivated the attention of the media and of community activists, while others have not.
For instance the family of 28-year-old Oscar Ramirez Jr. who was unarmed and committing no crime when he was shot last fall by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies, wonders why they were unable to generate any kind of outcry for an inquiry into Oscar Jr.’s death.
The question is asked outside of LA as well. On February 10 of this year, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a Mexican migrant worker, who had thrown rocks at cars, was shot and killed by police officers in Pasco, Washington. A video of the shooting appeared to show that Zambrano-Montes was running away, turning only at the last minute with his hands raised before shots were fired. Yet, although the story was big local news, interest in the investigation never caught fire nationally in the media.
The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz, Ruben Vives and Marisa Gerber have written a thought provoking story that delves into the question and suggest that a least part of the reason for differences in response might be due to a complex weave of cultural differences between the black and Latino communities, along with separate historical contexts.
Here’s a clip from the story’s opening:
Kris Ramirez never saw police as a threat. Growing up, his body didn’t tense with us-versus-them dread when police cruisers drove through his Southeast Los Angeles neighborhood.
“If someone is wearing a uniform,” Ramirez said, “you show respect.”
Then last year, four days before Halloween, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed his brother, Oscar Jr., along railroad tracks near Paramount High School. Deputies said the 28-year-old didn’t comply with orders and moved his arm in “a threatening manner.” Ramirez was unarmed.
The Ramirez family marched in front of the Paramount sheriff’s station and held vigils, but they struggled to find wider support for their cause. As the family grieved, the national Black Lives Matter movement picked up energy, bolstered locally by the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, a mentally disabled black man, by LAPD officers.
Watching the protests over Ford’s killing, Kris Ramirez felt frustrated: “Why can’t we get that same type of coverage or help?”
The muted reaction to the deaths of Latinos in confrontations with police tells a larger story: Black Lives Matter is starkly different from Brown Lives Matter. In contrast to the fatal shootings of African Americans such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Walter Scott in South Carolina, deaths of Latinos at the hands of law enforcement haven’t drawn nearly as much attention.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a video showing Gardena police officers shooting two men, killing Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed Latino. The video has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. It generated national media coverage, but very little protest.
IS PUTTING YOUNG PEOPLE IN SOLITARY AN ACT OF VIOLENCE? CA CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND HEAD SAYS YES
Nationally, approximately 60,000 youth are held in solitary confinement, the majority for non-violent offenses. Moreover, according to a study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), over 50% of the youth who committed suicide inside a juvenile justice facility were being held in solitary confinement at the time of their death.
A few months ago the name Kalief Browder may not have triggered more than passing recognition. Yet those who question the brutal impact of solitary confinement on youth need to look no further than his ordeal. Kalief, who spent 800 days in solitary during three years at New York City’s Rikers Island after being arrested on a robbery charge at age sixteen, has become the national face of solitary confinement. While he was ultimately acquitted, the toll of solitary confinement had already impacted Kalief and he attempted suicide several times while in solitary confinement and after being released. He should have become a thriving adult, and indeed he was on his way, but the lasting trauma of being held in solitary confinement pushed Kalief to take his own life at the age of 22.
Twenty-seven days before he died, Kalief authored an essay where he described the physical and psychological damage that results from solitary confinement: from chest pains, weight loss, diarrhea, and fainting to psychological symptoms like reduced concentration, confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, paranoia, overt psychosis, violent fantasies, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
Despite evidence demonstrating that solitary confinement is an ineffective rehabilitation strategy, the practice remains prevalent in juvenile facilities. A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation documents substantial evidence of systemic abuse of children, such as placing youth in isolation, in 29 states including California.
A series of lawsuits have addressed the disproportionate number of disabled youth who are held in solitary confinement and deprived of their educational rights. A recent landmark settlement ended the use of juvenile solitary confinement in Contra Costa County (California) after it was discovered that disabled youth were routinely held in isolation for 23 hours a day. One young person known as “W.B.” had to be hospitalized with a mental breakdown after spending three weeks in solitary confinement.
On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release two disturbing videos of Gardena police officers shooting an unarmed man named Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, whose brother’s bicycle had been stolen, causing someone to call the police. As they waited for police to come, Diaz Zeferino and two friends went out to look for the bike but ran into the police instead, who assumed that the three were the bike thieves. The encounter ended with a volley of gunfire that killed Diaz Zeferino and badly injured one of his friends.
The tragedy may have been in part set in motion when the police dispatcher wrongly described the called-in theft as a robbery, suggesting that it involved force.
The June 2, 2013 encounter between the three men and the police was captured by two patrol car-mounted video cameras.
City officials and the Gardena police department have been battling for two years to keep the videos from public view, even though the city had already settled with Diaz Zeferino’s family and others for $4.7 million.
In making his ruling, Judge Wilson was responding to a collective request from the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Bloomberg, which challenged a blanket protective order by 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, that had prohibited the release of the videos and other evidence in the court case.
LA Times reporters Richard Winton and Joel Rueben have more details.
Here’s a clip:
In unsealing the videos, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said the public had an interest in seeing the recordings, especially after the city settled a lawsuit over the shooting for $4.7 million. Wilson rejected last ditch efforts by Gardena attorneys, who argued the city had paid the settlement money in the belief that the videos would remain under seal.
The “defendants’ argument backfires here — the fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos,” Wilson wrote. “Moreover, while the videos are potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict, they are not overly gory or graphic in a way that would make them a vehicle for improper purposes.”
Wilson’s decision comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly have embraced the use of cameras worn by officers and placed in patrol cars to record police interactions with civilians. But few agencies have made their videos public, spurring a debate over the need to balance the privacy of those captured on the recordings and transparency in policing.
IN A MAJOR ADDRESS PRESIDENT OBAMA CALLS FOR SWEEPING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND A REEXAMINATION OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
On Tuesday, President Barak Obama gave what turned out to be a serious policy speech when he addressed the annual conference of the NAACP in Philadelphia. The speech, which was also broadcast, had criminal justice reform advocates madly tweeting to each other: “Is anybody watching this?!!”
President Barack Obama has called for sweeping reforms to the US criminal justice system including curbing the use of solitary confinement and voting rights for felons.
He said lengthy mandatory minimum sentences should be reduced - or thrown out entirely.
“Mass incarceration makes our entire country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” he said.
Mr Obama urged Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill by year’s end.
On Thursday, Mr Obama will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison - part of week long focus by the White House on the criminal justice system.
Speaking to a gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Philadelphia, Mr Obama discussed investments in education, alternatives to trials and prison job training programs.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been tasked with reviewing the overuse of solitary confinement, Mr Obama said.
“Do we think it makes sense to lock people up in tiny cells for 23 hours a day? It won’t make us safer and stronger.”
The country should not be tolerating overcrowding in prisons, gang activity or rape, which Mr Obama called “unacceptable”.
DOES THE TREATMENT OF LAUSD’S RAFE ESQUITH SUGGEST THAT BUREAUCRATS ARE WRECKING EDUCATION?
Robby Soave writing for the Daily Beast argues that “when the feelings of students are prized above all else,” talented teachers like Rafe Esquith “looking to inject a little personality into the classroom are the first to suffer.”
Here’s a clip about Esquith’s case, but read on for other examples:
Teachers with unusual, engaging methods are often mistreated by the education system—even, like Buchanan, when they win awards. Rafe Esquith, an elementary school teacher at Hobart Boulevard in Los Angeles who won numerous teaching distinctions and was dubbed the world’s most famous teacher by The Washington Post, earned a suspension this year for a familiar reason: he told a joke.
Whereas Buchanan said some mildly provocative things to a bunch of full-grown adults, Esquith made a completely inoffensive remark to a bunch of children. He runs his own nonprofit, puts on productions of Shakespeare plays, and takes his low-income LA students on educational field trips—relying on private donations to fund his activities. In March, Esquith joked with his students that unless he was able to raise more money, they would have to perform the play naked. He made this remark after reading a relevant passage from Huckleberry Finn that concerns a king “prancing out on all fours, naked.”
The joke was essentially harmless. But another teacher overheard it, divined some sinister intention, and reported it to school authorities. Esquith had to cancel his production and sit in a rubber room while administrators interrogated his students about his behavior. A California credentialing committee ruled that Esquith did nothing wrong, but the district still hasn’t let him return to teaching.
Last month, Esquith’s attorneys announced that they were filing a class action suit in behalf of “thousands of well-respected teachers deprived of their rights by the Los Angeles Unified School District.”
OBAMA FOCUSES ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND THE U.S. AS “A NATION OF SECOND CHANCES,” COMMUTES 46 SENTENCES AND WILL VISIT A PRISON
On Monday, President Barack Obama, who has previously faced criticism for seldom granting clemency, announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. This brings President Obama’s total number of approved clemency petitions up to 89. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton granted clemency to 61 offenders. There are still nearly 8,000 pending clemency petitions.
In a letter, Obama tells those given a second chance, “…it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change…but remember you have the capacity to make good choices.”
…federal sentencing practices can, in too many instances, lead nonviolent drug offenders to spend decades, if not life, in prison. Now, don’t get me wrong, many people are justly punished for causing harm and perpetuating violence in our communities. But, in some cases, the punishment required by law far exceeded the offense.
These unduly harsh sentences are one of the reasons the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system. Today, he is continuing this effort by granting clemency to 46 men and women, nearly all of whom would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today…
In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.
Obama will also become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he tours the El Reno prison in Oklahoma next week as part of a VICE special documentary for HBO on mass incarceration. The president, along with VICE founder Shane Smith, will tour the grounds and speak with prison staff, prisoners, and law enforcement officials. Here’s a clip from VICE’s announcement:
Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates convicted of violating federal law. It was home to Jason Hernandez, a prisoner convicted on drug charges who had his life sentence commuted by Obama in 2013.
The interviews will be part of a documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America’s approach to crime and imprisonment. The special is the latest in VICE’s ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.
“There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways,” Smith said. “Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one on one conversations with the men and women living this reality. It’s going to be fascinating.”
The President says he will also be discussing bipartisan-backed ideas for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia on Thursday. Stay tuned.
CA REGAINS CONTROL OF HEALTH CARE FROM FEDS AT FOLSOM STATE PRISON
After nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system, the state will regain control in Folsom State Prison—the first from the federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso. Folsom is the first prison to be returned to state control.
Kelso says much progress has been made in Folsom and in other prisons, but U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson says federal oversight will only end after the state has had control of health care in all of its prisons for a full year.
“We’re pleased and ready to start taking back control of medical care,” corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in a statement. “We know that other CDCR prisons are ready to step up in the months ahead and we will continue collaborating with the Receiver’s Office to ensure inmates at all of our facilities receive appropriate health care.”
Don Specter, director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office that represents inmates in the lawsuit, said it’s good that care has improved at Folsom, but attorneys will continue monitoring.
“One of the things I’m most concerned about is whether the state has reformed its processes so that all the improvements that the receiver has made over the last 10 or so years are sustained,” Specter said.
Kelso reported in March that conditions statewide have substantially improved, though some prisons are doing better than others and more work remains to be done statewide.
Under the judge’s rules, Kelso could retake control of a transferred prison if conditions decline, but the goal is for the receiver to eventually monitor rather than run the health care system.
FOSTER KIDS MOVED AWAY FROM THEIR HOME COUNTIES SUFFER LONG DELAYS FOR MENTAL HEALTH CARE
When foster kids are transferred out of their home counties, they face months-long interruptions in much-needed mental health services. The problem is that, under current law, instead of following the kids, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county.
A California bill, which would ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties, will be heard California Senate Health Services Committee today (Tuesday), after passing out of the Assembly.
The bill, authored by CA Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), aims to fix a serious lack of collaboration between departments serving foster kids between counties.
In LA County, 17% of foster kids are in out-of-county and out-of-state placements, in comparison to Alameda and San Francisco—59% and 60% respectively.
AB 1299, which was introduced by State Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), would require the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to create clear policies to guide the transfer of responsibility for mental health services to a child’s county of residence. The bill would also compel the Department of Finance to establish a system to ensure that counties are fully reimbursed for providing mental health services, during the fiscal year when the services are delivered, by May of 2016.
All California foster youth are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program. But under current law, when a foster youth moves to a different county, responsibility for providing mental health services—and any related funding—remains with the county of origin and its network of service providers
As a result, nearly 12,000 out-of-county foster youth—or about one in five of all youth in the state’s child welfare system—are routinely left in limbo, waiting for mental health services that often take months to begin.
A 2011 report from the state’s Child Welfare Council, which is responsible for improving collaboration among child-serving agencies, revealed disparities between children in and out of county who were receiving mental health services. An examination of the data for all 58 counties in California showed that out-of-county youth received fewer average days of mental health outpatient or day services when compared to children with in-county placements (2.3 days versus 2.9).
“Part of the issue is that the counties have been in control of the money up until this point, and the money has not been flowing as it needs to when these kids are moving from one county to another,” said Khaim Morton, chief of staff for Ridley-Thomas. “We want to get to the point where we can collaborate and reach a compromise that will enable more of the money to reach these kids and more swiftly.”
California may once again find itself back in court as part of a class-action lawsuit if there isn’t an agreement soon, according to mental health advocate Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project.
“If there isn’t a solution by the end of the year, either through negotiations under the auspices of the Child Welfare Council or through the work being done in the legislature, a judge is going to have to step in to fix this, because letting this continue is completely unacceptable,” said Gardner.
CA TURNING AWAY FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT…SLOWLY
In 2011, California prisoners went on the first of three major hunger strikes over prison conditions and excessive and punitive use of solitary confinement.
Real efforts toward curbing solitary in state prisons began in late 2012. Prison officials reviewed the cases of prisoners in solitary, and released a modest number of long-isolated inmates back into the general population.
But the process has been slow and hard-fought.
In June, six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.
Even as it prepares for a courtroom showdown over the use of prolonged solitary confinement to keep order in its prisons, California has adopted emergency rules to dial down such isolation.
Inmates may no longer be put in isolation for refusing a cell assignment, for example, one of several prison infractions for which solitary confinement punishment has been reduced or dropped. And those being disciplined with segregation can cut that punishment in half with good behavior.
“This is part of an ongoing evolution in how we manage inmates in segregation,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department. “There will be more changes.”
The new rules went into effect last month, ahead of public hearings scheduled for August. They come atop other changes that have cut the count of California prisoners held in near-constant lockdown from more than 9,800 in early 2014 to just under 8,700 last month.
The revisions also have been made amid an escalating debate over solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, of which California has the largest share.
Advocates for inmates are preparing to release research by a prominent corrections psychiatrist describing a malady he calls “SHU Post-Release Syndrome,” a reference to the Security Housing Unit, California’s name for long-term solitary confinement.
The study documents some of the same psychiatric effects raised last month by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in an unusual opinion in a California death penalty case. He essentially invited a constitutional challenge to long-term isolation and the “terrible price” it extracts.
RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT ANNA DEAVERE SMITH TURNS HER CREATIVE FOCUS ON RACE AND THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE
Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.
When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.
The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.
The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.
All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”
Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”
As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.
Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.
Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.
Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.
In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.
“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.
“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.
“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”
Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org.
AND IN OTHER NEWS….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD LOOKS AT HISTORY & CALLS FOR REAL OVERSIGHT OF THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.
Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.
Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.
In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.
Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.
There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.
To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.
LAPD’S MODEL MENTAL HEALTH UNIT IS THE NATION’S LARGEST
While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.
According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.
Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.
On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.
“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”
If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.
Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.
The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.
Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.
The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.
“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”
AMENDMENTS TO JUVIE SOLITARY BILL DON’T SWAY CRITICS
The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.
Here’s a clip:
In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.
But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.
At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.
Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.
There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.
The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Tuesday, California took a large step closer to banning the use of solitary confinement for the state’s youth when SB 124 passed out of the assembly’s Public Safety committee. The bill needs to pass through one more committee* before it can be up for a vote in the assembly itself. (Th Public Safety committee vote divided along party lines with five democrats voting “yes,” two republicans voting “no.”)
The bill has already been passed by the state senate. So if it is passed by the assembly it goes to Governor Brown for his signature.
As a consequence, the conversation about the use of solitary confinement for juveniles is bound to heat up as the crucial assembly vote nears. With this in mind, in her excellent story below reporter Kelly Davis digs deeply into what we know and don’t know about the issue of kids and solitary.
How do you define solitary confinement? That question is at the core of a California debate over ending the practice in state- and county-run juvenile detention facilities, which are estimated to house roughly 9,000 individuals at any given time.
The debate intensified earlier this year with the introduction of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which would ban the use of solitary confinement as punishment. Under the bill, young people who pose a safety risk can be confined to their rooms—but for no longer than four hours.
Despite three previous attempts to pass similar legislation, Leno believes the bill will succeed, given the increased scrutiny nationwide on the use of solitary confinement.
In May, Illinois became the 20th state to ban the practice in juvenile detention facilities.
“I don’t believe there’s any data that even begins to suggest that there is anything beneficial to this practice,” Leno said in an interview with The Crime Report. “The idea that taking a troubled youth with behavioral problems and putting that youth in solitary confinement—whether for 10 hours or 23 hours—and thinking the behavior is going to improve, is completely irrational.”
The Leno bill defines solitary confinement as “the placement of an incarcerated person in a locked sleep room or cell alone with minimal or no contact with persons other than guards, correctional facility staff, and attorneys.
The state’s influential prison-guard and probation unions have opposed the bill—-and its predecessors—arguing that solitary confinement is an inaccurate description of current practice in juvenile facilities. They say that isolation of juveniles is used sparingly, and is regulated by California’s Minimum Standards for Juvenile Facilities, which were recently revised to urge limited use of room confinement.
Nevertheless, youth advocates—who want to see a ban enshrined in state law—-point to recent examples that they claim could not be described otherwise than “solitary confinement.”
A GAME CHANGER IN CONTRA COSTA
Last month, Contra Costa County, located just east of San Francisco, agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by two public-interest law firms, Disability Rights Advocates and Public Counsel. The lawsuit claimed young people with psychiatric and developmental disabilities were being kept in 12-by-12-foot cells for up to 23 hours a day in the country’s juvenile hall.
Although Contra Costa County’s Office of Education and its Probation Department denied any wrongdoing, the county committed itself under the settlement to ensure that the maximum period of confinement for any youth will be four hours, and only if he is considered a danger to others—which in fact mirrors the language of the Leno bill.
Leno described the Contra Costa settlement as a “game-changer” when it comes to enacting a statewide ban on punitive solitary confinement.
In another case, the Youth Law Center, a San Francisco-based national advocacy group,- has filed a complaint against San Diego County with the Department of Justice, based on an investigation launched in 2013 into reports of excessive use of pepper spray in the county’s juvenile detention facilities. In the course of that investigation, attorneys found examples of young people, some of them suicidal, being confined to their rooms for up to five days—-despite county inspection reports saying that room confinement was never used.
A spokesperson for San Diego County declined to comment—-citing “pending legal action”—–on whether YLC’s complaint prompted any policy changes.
A DISCIPLINARY TOOL OR A SOURCE OF TRAUMA?
Amid the growing national debate over ending youth solitary confinement, California is an example of the disconnect between law enforcement authorities who cling to isolation as a disciplinary tool and experts who say confinement beyond a few hours can cripple a young person’s development.
“Even short term, especially if a young person has an underlying mental health issue, that creates serious consequences,” Jennifer Kim, director of programs for the San Francisco-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a supporter of Leno’s bill, said in an interview with The Crime Report.
“The impact that has on that person’s emotional and physical well-being is going to be exacerbated, whether it’s 72 hours or two months.”
Further obscuring the issue, advocates say, are the variety of terms for the practice. Before a Justice Department investigation shuttered Mississippi’s Columbia Training School, for instance, young female detainees were confined to dark, bare rooms in what was called the “Special Intervention Unit.”
“People call it all sorts of things inside juvenile facilities,” says Dana Shoenberg, deputy director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Children’s Law and Policy.
“They call it reflection time, they call it segregation, they call it medical isolation. But if you lock a kid alone in a room for a sustained period of time, the effects are still the same.”
While a locked room in a San Diego County facility might be a far cry from something like the Columbia Training School, the effects of isolation in either setting, experts say, can undermine rehabilitation and exacerbate mental illness. A 2009 national study commissioned by the Justice Department found that of the 79 detainees who committed suicide in juvenile detention centers between 1995 and 1999, nearly two-thirds had a history of room confinement.
Roughly half committed suicide while in isolation.
In a report last year, the American Civil Liberties Union concluded it was nearly impossible to pin down how many young people are subjected to isolation, why and for how long, since data collection is not required on the state or federal level.
Kim said the semantics of solitary confinement has made it difficult to really measure the scope of the problem in California.
“If you have different counties and the state using different names to refer to the same practice, it provides a way for people to create confusion around how much something is happening,” she said.
“One of the issues this bill is trying to correct is the fact that this practice is happening with very little accountability and very little transparency,” she added.
Getting accurate data is a key hurdle.
“A lot of it is just not being able to objectively see that what you’re doing falls in that definition of solitary confinement,” says Sue Burrell, a staff attorney for the Youth Law Center, a national advocacy group. “For so long, everyone in juvenile justice has dealt with disciplinary problems by locking kids in their rooms.”
Punitive isolation is frowned upon by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that seeks to set national standards. Yet a 2014 survey by the California Association of Probation Institution Administrators found that of the 53 percent of county facilities that responded, all of them used separation as a disciplinary tool.
ITS NOT ABOUT THE SYMPTOMS
Barry Krisberg, a UC Berkeley professor who has studied the use of solitary confinement, said punitive isolation is considered to be counterproductive since it fails to address what made the youth act out in the first place.
“I think that’s sort of the fundamental issue,” Krisberg told The Crime Report. “(Isolation) doesn’t solve the underlying problem. If there’s an issue having to do with mental illness, then you’ve got to have a response to that.
“Putting someone away in a room for a period of time is not a solution.”
The lack of federal guidelines on juvenile solitary confinement could be one reason the system has been so slow to change, youth advocates say. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), established in 1974 to set standards and provide funding for juvenile justice programs, has not been reauthorized since 2002.
On April 30, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) introduced legislation to reauthorize the JJDPA. The 2015 version would add nearly 30 pages to the Act and would require states to create plans to eliminate solitary confinement in juvenile facilities and offer training and technical assistance to “minimize the use of dangerous practices, unreasonable restraints, and isolation.”
Schoenberg of the Children’s Law and Policy Center says the legislation “could have a meaningful impact,” especially the bill’s requirement that facilities collect data on the use of isolation.
She adds: “Folks who examine their data are in a strong position to begin making changes.”
Kelly Davis is a 2015 John Jay/Langeloth Mental Health & Justice Reporting Fellow and a freelance reporter in San Diego who writes about the criminal justice system and vulnerable populations. This spring she launched a successful IndieGogo campaign to help support her fine criminal justice reporting
*We originally wrote that Public Safety was the last committee hurdle that had to be cleared. But, there is still an additional assembly committee that will consider the bill before SB 124 can go to the Assembly for a vote.
offset STARTING NEXT MONTH, CALIFORNIA PRISON GUARDS TRAINING WILL BE SHORTENED BY A MONTH—FROM 16 WEEKS TO 12 WEEKS
Through an agreement between California Correctional Peace Officers Association and Gov. Jerry Brown, the training academy for California prison guards will be shortened from 16 weeks to 12 weeks starting in July.
The shortened training will allow for the CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation to graduate an additional class of around 250 each year, to help the department reach its three-year goal of hiring 7,000 new prison guards.
Some classes will be cut and some will be merged to account for the lost four weeks.
Concerned about their already maligned profession, CCPOA agreed to the shorter training on the condition that a training standards oversight commission be relaunched and funded.
CCPOA under founding President Don Novey, for years fought for a 16-week academy as part of an agenda to elevate the professionalism and safety of front-line prison staff. Part of the calculus was money: The more training and expertise required for the job, the stronger the argument for higher compensation.
So the union was well-positioned in the 1980s when lock-’em-up laws in California sparked a boom in prison construction and a demand for officers to staff those facilities. By the early 2000s, the confluence of politics and policy made California’s prison officers among the highest-paid in the nation.
Today, California state correctional officers earn from $3,172 per month at entry level to $6,644 per month for the most senior employees. The figures do not include officers’ overtime, which has climbed as the state has run short of staff.
Over the last several years, however, court orders to cut the state’s prison population and a shift to incarcerating more offenders in local jails reduced the number of inmates in state prisons. The state also shut down its cadet academy in Galt, effectively choking off the pipeline of new employees to replace hundreds who retired each month. Overtime among prison officers soared.
The union agreed to the shorter academy in exchange for reviving and reconstituting the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which lost funding during the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration.
The new six-member board will be comprised of three seats appointed by the governor and three rank-and-file seats. Before the board went dormant, the department appointed three members and the governor appointed three – essentially making the panel an extension of the executive branch.
SAN QUENTIN DEATH ROW INMATES SUE OVER SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CONDITIONS
Six San Quentin death row inmates held in “extreme isolation” have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard and San Quentin Prison Warden Ronald Davis alleging cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates, who are classified as gang-affiliated, are held between 21-24 hours per day, receive three showers per week, and say they don’t get enough sleep they are subjected to frequent suicide checks.
Courthouse News Service’s Nick Cahill has more on the issue, including the controversial gang-affiliation designation. Here’s a clip:
All are classified “Grade B” prisoners, subjecting them to “stark and cruel deprivations,” including 21 to 24 hours per day in their cell, just three showers per week and lack of sleep due to constant suicide checks by jailers.
Lopez claims that all condemned prisoners deemed to have gang affiliations are classified Grade B, whether they were in a gang or not. He claims the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violates their constitutional rights by making them Grade B prisoners though they have not participated in gang activity at San Quentin.
“The condemned unit has no process or quality control measures for assessing whether plaintiffs and the class remain active participants in prison gangs,” the complaint states. “As a result, plaintiffs and the class are often assessed as having gang allegiances because of their ethnicity and the region in which they grew up.”
Though prison regulations require review of Grade B classification every 90 days, Lopez calls it a “meaningless and perfunctory process.” Though several plaintiffs have no disciplinary infractions at San Quentin, they are subjected to Class B restrictions anyway.
STUDENTS IN FOSTER CARE MOVING ON TO HIGHER ED RECEIVE RECOGNITION, SCHOLARSHIPS AT WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL
More than 170 high-achieving students in foster care received scholarships and were honored at the Walt Disney Concert Hall late last week. In California, only 58% of foster kids graduate high school. Beating the odds, all students honored graduated high school with a 2.8 or higher, and are heading off to college or a vocational school.
KPCC’s Rina Palta and Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery reported on the event and some of the incredible challenges overcome by the students honored.
Palta has the story of quadruplets who were shuffled around in foster care before reuniting and completing high school together. Here’s a clip:
“People definitely look down on us and think you’re not going to make it out of college and stuff – we’re going to end up in jail, we’re going to end up homeless,” said Bianca Lucci, the fraternal sister amongst the quadruplets. “But I believe that’s not true. As long as you have determination and you work hard in school, you’ll achieve your goals.”
The quadruplets are among 175 high-achieving foster children who were honored with scholarships at an event at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday.
They entered the foster care system after abuse and abandonment.
Madison Lucci remembers the exact moment — on Christmas Eve — when the police showed up to take the girls from their home, where they had been left alone.
“Christmas is supposed to be when you’re with your family,” she said. But that day, the sisters were split up and spent the next few years in and out of foster homes and group homes. In 2011, they all finally settled in Rancho Palos Verdes, where they all graduated from high school this month.
Slattery follows the story of Destinee Ballesteros, a straight A student with dreams of becoming Chief Supreme Court Justice whose life was turned upside down when she entered foster care. Here’s a clip:
Destinee was accepted into the competitive magnet program at AV Soar High School, located right on the Antelope Valley College campus in Los Angeles County, where she could challenge herself with college classes.
But during those high school years, her mother began using methamphetamines, which made her hallucinate, Destinee explained in a recent interview. Destinee’s mother would take her and her brother away from their home to escape from “unsafe people.”
“Even though we had a house, she thought it was unsafe,” Destinee said. “So we would bounce from hotels to shelters.” Destinee started missing school because she had no way to get there, and because caring for her younger brother became her top priority.
After a hotel clerk called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), a social worker determined that the two siblings had been neglected. Destinee and her brother entered foster care, and Destinee was transferred to a different school. There, during her junior year, she got her first F.
“It [getting an F] was really hard,” Destinee said. “It really broke my heart, but then again, I realized that sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to appreciate the success.”
POWERFUL “DRUGGING OUR KIDS” DOCUMENTARY RECEIVES NATIONAL AWARD
San Jose Mercury reporter Karen de Sá and photojournalist Dai Sugano have won a well-deserved Edward R. Murrow Awardfor the country’s best news documentary video by a large online organization, for their series “Drugging Our Kids,”—a powerful investigation into the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.
De Sá and Sugano’s five-part series (which won three other national awards) sparked important legislative change and reforms. Read the series and watch the documentary: here.
STATES RELEASE INMATES FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT BACK INTO THEIR COMMUNITIES, WHERE THEY STRUGGLE TO ACCLIMATE, AND OFTEN RETURN TO LOCK-UP
A new collaborative investigation released Thursday between the Marshal Project and NPR gathered and analyzed data from every state on inmates released from solitary confinement directly onto the streets.
Last year, 24 states dumped over 10,000 solitary confinement prisoners, who often need the most reentry assistant, right back into their communities. The other 26 states, along with the feds, either did not track or could not provide data on such releases.
The investigation has particular significance in the wake of Kalief Browder’s suicide. Browder spent three years on Rikers Island, the majority of which he spent in solitary confinement, without a trial. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times before succeeding last Saturday.
These inmates who often need the most help, pre-release and post-release, get the least amount of help. For instance, inmates that remain in isolation until they are released, generally do not get to participate in re-entry classes. And in some states, including Texas, these inmates are often released without supervision. Due, in part to the mental deterioration that happens during prolonged isolation, and without much-needed help, inmates released directly from solitary often find themselves jobless, homeless, in mental hospitals, or back in prison.
The Marshall Project follows the story of Mark, young man with schizoaffective disorder and developmental disabilities who spent the majority of his teenage years in isolation, and lasted just four months on the outside, before he was locked up again. Here’s a clip:
In Mark’s home state of Texas, 1,174 prisoners were freed straight out of administrative segregation — prison jargon for solitary units housing suspected gang members or others deemed a threat to prison security — in fiscal year 2014. More than 60 percent of them emerged without any supervision, compared to only 14 percent of other prisoners released that year.
Prisoners who go straight to the street pose a danger to public safety. Analysts for the Texas Legislative Budget Board found that more than 60 percent of state prisoners released from solitary were rearrested within three years, compared with 49 percent of overall prison releases. Similar studies in Washington and California found people coming out of segregation cells had recidivism rates as much as 35 percent higher than those leaving the general population.
Dealing with the other kids at one of the juvenile facilities, Crockett State School, seemed to overwhelm him. He often retreated to his cell to pace, talk to himself, and cut his arms. His behavior was not new. In the year before his sentencing, Mark made nine trips to state mental hospitals in Austin and San Antonio for cutting and other psychotic episodes. Mark also picked up a new conviction for assaulting a guard, for which he was given three years to be served concurrently. After evaluating him three months before his 18th birthday, psychologists at Crockett concluded: “It is recommended that he be provided therapy….[and] would benefit from a program to learn independent/daily life skills.”
Instead, Mark was soon moved to a maximum-security adult prison, the Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas. And within six months, he landed in a segregation cell for allegedly threatening to escape.
Mark had told his mother that he was nervous around the older prisoners, particularly his cellmate. He had stopped taking his Seroquil and Abilify for schizophrenia, because he said they made him groggy and unable to stay alert and on guard. The other prisoners referred to him as “Crazy Boy.”
Mark was initially relieved when he was moved to solitary, thinking he would be safer. But as his mother observed, solitary was no place for people who “live in their mind.” Mark’s learning disabilities made it difficult for him to fill the time reading books or writing letters. So he paced his cell and listened to the radio. Without any other distractions, his anger and depression worsened. “You have nobody to talk to but yourself,” Mark said. “All I remember doing was just thinking about the people who hurt me.”
During their monthly, no-contact visits, Garcia saw Mark’s behavior change. He began swearing at her, flipping her off, and telling her not to come. “He wasn’t like that when he went in,” she said. She tried to pacify him by recalling happier times — their yearly trips to Disney World, the birthday parties she threw for him. But Mark could not remember any of it.
NPR focuses on Brian Nelson, a man who had similar experiences to Mark, but has managed—sometimes just barely—to rebuild his life on the outside. Nelson is now a paralegal and prisoner’s advocate at the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago. Here’s a clip:
When Nelson’s mother picked him up at the distant supermax prison in Tamms, Ill., he told her how he was given a television during his last year of solitary and kept seeing ads for a fast-food ice cream…
On the drive home, they stopped for a Blizzard at a Dairy Queen.
“And I’m standing there and a guy walked behind me. And I was not used to people being that close to me. And I started cussing. I turned around, I’m ready to fight because I thought I don’t know if he’s going to attack me,” Nelson recalls. “I have prison mentality in my mind. And then I looked up and saw my mom crying, like ‘Oh my God, what have they done to him?’ You know, because I couldn’t handle being around people.”
That was five years ago. It’s still hard for Nelson, 50, to be around people.
The Department of Justice estimates that about 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are in solitary confinement. The system drastically expanded in the past 30 years as the U.S. prison population grew. Corrections officials built supermax prisons and added other new programs to isolate the inmates who were considered the most dangerous.
“The United States is unique and this is a relatively new experiment,” says Alan Mills, who is Nelson’s boss at the Uptown People’s Law Center. “And now we’re dealing with people who have spent a decade in solitary and are getting out. Mental health professionals don’t know how to deal with it. And don’t have treatment for it yet. It’s a brand new world and unfortunately it’s one that we as a society have created for ourselves.”
Mills says, at the least, prisons need to take inmates out of solitary months before they leave prison and give them mental health treatment, job training and other help to get them ready to go back home.
A few states, and the federal prison system, have started doing that.
Unlike most prisoners who are given parole when they are released, inmates in solitary are less likely to get supervision. That’s because they “max out” their sentence and fall outside the parole system.
Be sure to listen to part two, which airs on Friday (today) on Morning Edition.
NEW US BILL TO UPDATE AND REAUTHORIZE JUVENILE JUSTICE DELINQUENCY AND PREVENTION ACT
On Thursday, US Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a bill that would revamp and reauthorize the aging Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act. The JJDPA was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002).
The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.
Scott’s new bill, the Youth Justice Act of 2015, is modeled after Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)’s bipartisan reauthorization bill introduced late last year.
The Youth Justice Act would strengthen the JJDPA’s objectives and add some new functions, including removing those exceptions to keeping kids away from adults in detention facilities, as well as the exceptions that allow kids who have committed certain status offenses to be isolated for up to 24 hours.
In addition, the bill would phase out various confinement practices that some consider dangerous, such as isolation that lasts longer than a few hours.
The measure would also create a new grant program for communities to plan and implement evidence-based prevention and intervention programs specifically designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.
“We have documented the power evidence-based policies have in both reducing crime and saving money, and we have realized the role that trauma plays in the lives of our disengaged youth and what it takes to get them back on the right track,” said Scott. “The Youth Justice Act builds on the strong framework of our colleagues in the Senate, and takes suggestions from our nation’s leading juvenile justice advocates on how we can make our system even safer and more responsive to our youth.”
US DISTRICT JUDGE SETS DATE FOR TANAKA – CAREY TRIAL
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson has set the date for November in the federal trial of former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and ex-captain Tom Carey. Defense attorneys originally agreed on January.
The federal prosecutors are scheduled to try several other use-of-force cases in advance of the two former LASD leaders. The Tanaka/Carey trial is expected to take around two weeks.
The case was initially set for trial next month, but Anderson ordered attorneys for both sides to meet and agree on a later date. Federal prosecutors in the Tanaka/Carey case are scheduled in the coming months to try three separate use-of-force cases involving current or former sheriff’s deputies, along with the trial of a deputy U.S. marshal facing civil rights homicide and obstruction of justice charges.
The Tanaka/Carey case is expected to take at least two weeks, lawyers said.
Evidence to be delivered to the defense includes a Web-searchable database and 4,000 pages of transcripts from a previous related trial, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter.
Tanaka — who is on a leave of absence as mayor of Gardena — and Carey, who oversaw an internal sheriff’s criminal investigations unit, have denied the charges contained in a five-count indictment returned May 13 by a federal grand jury.
LAPD CHIEF RECORDS VIDEO THAT COMMISSION FINDS UPSETTING AFTER THEIR DECISION REGARDING THE DEATH OF EZELL FORD
On Wednesday, after the LA Police Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recorded a video message to express his support for the rank and file…
The video riled the LA Police Commission because in it, Chief Beck tells officers that they have the support of their chief, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and “the vast majority of the people of Los Angeles.” The Police Commission was not included in the list of supporters. The LA Times interviewed the president of the commission, Steve Soboroff, and Chief Beck about the video. Here’s a small clip:
Soboroff bristled at any suggestion that the commission didn’t support officers. “To intimate that I don’t care or don’t have the best interests of officers — it’s hurtful but it’s so untrue,” Soboroff said. “It’s so outrageous and so against anything that I feel or that I’ve ever displayed.”
Beck told Soboroff that it was not his intention to suggest that commissioners didn’t back the officers.
“It was not intended to infer lack of support by the Police Commission,” Beck later told The Times. “I have viewed it [the video] several times and I don’t believe it is reasonable to come to that conclusion based on the content.”
The LA Police Protective League (LAPPL) issued a statement Thursday in support of Chief Beck, calling the commission’s decision “self-serving” and “irresponsible.” Here’s a clip:
Surprisingly, the Police Commission, who was privy to the same facts as Chief Beck, came away with a different conclusion. It unanimously reached a finding that left many, including the LAPPL, scratching their heads and wondering how the Commission could let the usual protesters and external political forces influence their decision on this extremely important matter. Beyond being self-serving, the decision was downright irresponsible and has the potential to put the officers that protect this city at risk by signaling to criminals that it is OK to reach for an officer’s weapon depending on the situation.
The Commission got this wrong. Instead of focusing on the multiple forms of hard evidence, including the fact that Ford was a known gang member with a lengthy criminal history of violent crimes, the Commission cited and stretched thin the “objectively reasonable” standard established in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor. A standard that the court later noted should not be the primary driver determination, noting that “reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
LAPPL President Craig Lally also spoke to the Times about the video, saying that if Chief Beck had included the commission in the list of supporters, it would have discredited the entire video. “You can’t say that you support the cops and make a decision like that,” said Lally.
We will continue to track this story, which is clearly far from over.
JUDGE RECOMMENDS CHARGING CLEVELAND OFFICERS IN THE DEATH OF 12-YEAR-OLD TAMIR RICE
On Thursday, nearly 200 days after the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine ruled that there was probable cause to prosecute the two officers involved in the 12-year-old’s death. (If you need a refresher: Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun outside of a recreation center with his sister when he was shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann.)
A group of activists and clergy filed affidavits asking the court to arrest Loehmann and another officer, Frank Garmback. The ruling is essentially a recommendation to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty and city prosecutors, as the case will automatically go before a grand jury, according to Ohio law. Judge Adrine recommended charging Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, and Garmback of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.
In response to a petition from citizens, under an obscure and little-used provision of Ohio law, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine agreed that Officer Timothy Loehmann should be charged with several crimes, the most serious of them being murder but also including involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Adrine also found probable cause to charge another officer, Frank Garmback, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. He rejected aggravated murder charges against both officers. (The Guardian has the full order here.) Referring to the “notorious” video of Rice’s death, the judge wrote, “This court is still thunderstruck at how quickly this event turned deadly.”
But Adrine did not order the two men to be arrested. He stated that because the law under which the affidavits were filed had been amended in 2006, judges no longer have the authority to issue warrants themselves in such cases.
Instead, Adrine forwarded his opinion to city prosecutors and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who says he is currently investigating the case. And he took pains to note that prosecutors are required to apply a different standard before filing charges, determining that it is more probable than not that a reasonable “trier of fact” would hold the officers accountable for any alleged crimes.
The affidavit filed Monday was intended to jumpstart the process of prosecution; it’s been more than 200 days since Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot and killed in a city park. Adrine’s finding of probable cause may increase pressure on McGinty. But since all murder prosecutions have to go through a grand jury under Ohio law, Adrine’s order just funnels the case back to where it was before—waiting for McGinty to act.
It’s been 199 days since Tamir Rice was shot to death by a Cleveland police officer. And for a group of community leaders in the Forest City, that’s too long to wait for prosecutors to charge the officers involved in the shooting. Instead, they went to a municipal court judge Tuesday morning and asked him to issue a warrant for the officers on charges of murder, aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty.
If that sounds confusing, it’s not just you. The activists made the request under an obscure provision of Ohio law that entitles citizens to file an affidavit demanding an arrest.
In October 2014, The New Yorker ran a shattering story by staff writer Jennifer Gonnerman about a young Bronx man named Kalief Browder who, just before he turned sixteen years old, was arrested then locked up on Riker’s Island. There he remained for the next three years, without a trial, until finally the prosecutors who brought the charges, then dragged their collective legal feet with 36 months worth of unexplained continuances, simply dropped the case.
Kalief was accused of stealing a backpack, an accusation that was fuzzy from the beginning. The youngest of seven children and reportedly well liked at school, Kalief insisted that he was innocent, repeatedly refusing to take the deals the prosecutor offered, even the last one, which would have let him out for time served.
No, he had said. He would go to trial. “I did not do it.”
But the approximately 800 days he spent in solitary confinement during those three years in Rikers took a terrible toll on a once-upbeat boy’s psyche. And, in addition to the damage caused by the isolation, there was also also the beat down by at least one guard, maybe more than one, and another brutal beating by gang members that reportedly ran the area of the jail where Kalief was located—that is when he wasn’t shut up in a 12′ X 8′ solitary cell.
As months then years passed in Rikers with no seeming end in sight, Kalief began to emotionally decompensate. He tried suicide twice when he was locked up, and again a couple more times when he was finally released.
Gonnerman and others who knew Kalief felt that, for a while this spring, things seemed to be getting better for the young man who had grown so fragile after the ordeal that took away half of his teenage years.
Then, on Saturday, she got the news that Kalief had hanged himself.
The primary takeaway from Gonnerman’s fine reporting is this: Kalief Browder was a young man who could have been my son, could have been yours, who was failed and brutalized by multiple levels of the American justice system, and who—this weekend—succumbed to the effects of that 3-year-long psychological beating.
Here’s a clip from Jennifer Gonnerman’s story:
….Late last year, about two months after my story about him appeared, he stopped going to classes at Bronx Community College. During the week of Christmas, he was confined in the psych ward at Harlem Hospital. One day after his release, he was hospitalized again, this time back at St. Barnabas. When I visited him there on January 9th, he did not seem like himself. He was gaunt, restless, and deeply paranoid. He had recently thrown out his brand-new television, he explained, “because it was watching me.”
After two weeks at St. Barnabas, Browder was released and sent back home. The next day, his lawyer, Paul V. Prestia, got a call from an official at Bronx Community College. An anonymous donor (who had likely read the New Yorker story) had offered to pay his tuition for the semester. This happy news prompted Browder to re-enroll. For the next few months he seemed to thrive. He rode his bicycle back and forth to school every day, he no longer got panic attacks sitting in a classroom, and he earned better grades than he had the prior semester.
Ever since I’d met him, Browder had been telling me stories about having been abused by officers and inmates on Rikers. The stories were disturbing, but I did not fully appreciate what he had experienced until this past April when I obtained surveillance footage of an officer assaulting him and of a large group of inmates pummeling and kicking him. I sat next to Kalief while he watched these videos for the first time. Afterward, we discussed whether they should be published on The New Yorker’s Web site. I told him that it was his decision. He said to put them online.
He was driven by the same motive that led him to talk to me for the first time, a year earlier. He wanted the public to know what he had gone through, so that nobody else would have to endure the same ordeals. His willingness to tell his story publicly—and his ability to recount it with great insight—ultimately helped persuade Mayor Bill de Blasio to try to reform the city’s court system and end the sort of excessive delays that kept him in jail for so long.
Browder’s story also caught the attention of Rand Paul, who began talking about him on the campaign trail. Jay Z met with Browder after watching the videos. Rosie O’Donnell invited him on “The View” last year and recently had him over for dinner. Browder could be a very private person, and he told almost nobody about meeting O’Donnell or Jay Z. However, in a picture he took alongside Jay Z, who draped an arm around his shoulders, Browder looked euphoric.
Last Monday, Prestia, who had filed a lawsuit on Browder’s behalf against the city, noticed that Browder had put up a couple of odd posts on Facebook. When Prestia sent him a text message, asking what was going on, Browder insisted he was O.K. “Are you sure everything is cool?” Prestia wrote. Browder replied: “Yea I’m alright thanks man.” The two spoke on Wednesday, and Browder did seem fine. On Saturday afternoon, Prestia got a call from Browder’s mother: he had committed suicide…..
The photo of Kalief Browder is a screen shot of an ABC7 broadcast that was then put through WLA’s art process.
BILL TO PUT HUGE LIMITATIONS ON WHEN KIDS CAN BE PUT IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT MAKES IT PAST CA SENATE
On Tuesday, the California Senate approved SB 124, a bill to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in state and county juvenile correctional facilities. Next, the bill will head to Assembly policy committees. If SB 124, authored by Sen. Mark Leno, makes it past the Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, California will join 19 other states that ban the use of solitary confinement as punishment for locked up kids.
“We applaud members of the Senate for their leadership in voting for SB 124 to protect our incarcerated youth from the trauma of solitary confinement,” said Alex M. Johnson, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, one of the four groups co-sponsoring the bill. (The others are the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the California Public Defenders Association, and the Youth Justice Coalition.)
Specifically, the bill would ban isolating kids except in extreme circumstances in which a kid poses a serious threat to staff or others, and when all other alternatives have not worked. The bill would also clearly define solitary confinement as “involuntary placement” in isolation away from people who are not staff or attorneys. Kids would also only stay in solitary for the least amount of time needed to handle the safety risk.
Last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed Supe. Sheila Kuehl’s motion to back the important bill. (Read more about that here.)
ADVOCATES AND OTHERS WHO WERE HELD IN SOLITARY AS KIDS PRAISE LA COUNTY SUPES FOR SUPPORTING CA BILL TO DRASTICALLY LIMIT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support CA Sen. Mark Leno’s important bill to limit the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities.
In the days immediately following, various advocates, some of whom had personally experienced the trauma of solitary confinement as kids, praised the board’s decision to back the measure.
Sheila Kuehl, authored the motion, which was co-sponsored by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth Justice Coalition, the Children’s Defense Fund of California, and the CA Public Defender’s Association. In response to the positive vote, Kuehl said, “I’m proud to be part of this rehabilitative movement working to change our treatment of incarcerated youth, and want to thank my fellow Supes for joining with me on this critically important issue.”
In her motion, Supervisor Kuehl said the board’s hope is that the county will set a precedent—the “LA Model”—at both the state and national levels by overhauling the way LA County supervises the 1,200 kids in its juvenile detention facilities. As the first step in that model, Kuehl points to the $48 million transformation of the dilapidated Camp David Kilpatrick, now under construction, that will turn it into a facility focused on “relationship-building, trauma informed care, positive youth development, small and therapeutic group settings, quality education, properly trained staff, a relational approach to supervision and an integrated group treatment model.”
An overuse of solitary confinement is not in keeping with the rehabilitative focus of the LA Model, thus the Supes have moved to support Sen. Leno’s proposed legislation.
Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California said that the support of the supervisors for Leno’s bill “moves the state one step closer to ending the use of solitary confinement for youth in California,” and helps “to ensure that youth in L.A. County and across the state receive the healing and rehabilitation they need to succeed rather than be re-traumatized.”
Specifically, the bill would ban isolating kids except in extreme circumstances in which a kid poses a serious threat to staff or others, and when all other alternatives have not worked. The bill would also clearly define solitary confinement as “involuntary placement” in isolation away from people who are not staff or attorneys. Kids would also only stay in solitary for the least amount of time needed to handle the safety risk.
Francisco Martinez, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition described solitary confinement as “horrible – like an animal in a cage.” Martinez lived through solitary confinement at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, CA. “The conditions were a small, dirty concrete room,” he said. Food, dirt, and spit covered the walls and windows, and the mattress was i, according to Martinez. “We were kept in our boxers with a tee shirt and socks, and a thin blanket.” Martinez said the air conditioning, which blew 24-7, “was even worse for me, because I have asthma. I had shortness of breath when I woke up until I went to sleep.”
The passage of Sen. Leno’s bill, say advocates, would be meaningful not only for the kids who are locked away in isolation, but also for their loved ones on the outside, the family members to whom they return, often more damaged than before their incarceration.
“My godson was incarcerated for almost 10 years since the age of 15. His time in solitary confinement hurt him the most, and I was worried the damage would be permanent,” said LaNita Mitchell, board member of the Ella Baker Center. “Our children need help, not torture.”
“Troubled youth need treatment, not isolation,” said Sen. Leno. ““Deliberately depriving incarcerated young people of human contact, education, exercise and fresh air is inhumane and can have devastating psychological effects for these youth, who are already vulnerable to depression and suicide.”
The LA Supervisors’ move came one week after the Contra Costa County Probation Department agreed to ban solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, as part of a groundbreaking settlement.
CA ASSEMBLY TAKES ACTION ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE BILLS
On Thursday, the California Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees took action on a number of weighty criminal justice and foster care bills.
Among other noteworthy justice-related bills, the Assembly Committee addressed measures that aimed to reverse portions of California’s Prop 47—the reclassification of certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.
AB 150 by Assemblymember Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elisnore) which would have bumped gun theft back up to a felony, was blocked, while SB 333 by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), a bill to reinstate the felony classification to the possession of date rape drugs, was sent to the Senate floor for a vote.
Three bills addressing the state’s over-drugging of foster kids made it out of the Senate Committee alive: SB 238 from Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-LA), which would require the state to collect data on how many kids in foster care are prescribed psychotropic (and other potentially dangerous) meds; SB 319 by Sen. Jim Beall, which would establish a monitoring system for public heath nurses to oversee foster kids who have been given psychotropic drugs; and SB 484, also by Beall, which would make the state identify and inspect foster care group homes in which kids are being over-drugged, and create drug reduction plans for those homes.
Other bills that advanced Thursday, and are worth tracking:
AB 1056 by Assemblymember Toni Atkins would use money saved by Prop 47 to house former offenders through the “Second Chance Program for Community Re-entry.”
SB 674 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, (D-LA) would require cops to issue certificates to immigrant victims of crime who have aided law enforcement during investigations. Those certificates could then be used by immigrants to avoid being deported.
MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE AGE OF MASS INCARCERATION
The Sacramento Bee’s Daniel Weintraub has an interesting profile of MacArthur Genius Elyn Saks, a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at USC, in the midst of her own battle with schizophrenia, has become a champion for the mentally ill, fighting against the criminalization of people with mental illness, and pushing for legislation that brings treatment to the community level.
“Everything about my past says I shouldn’t be here,” Saks says.
But here she is – a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California. She is a researcher, an author and the recipient of a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”
Thirty-five years ago, however, Saks was first-year law student at Yale University suffering a terrifying mental breakdown. Studying with friends one night, she started speaking gibberish and singing the Florida “sunshine song.” Then she withdrew inside herself.
That episode eventually landed her in the emergency room and led to five months in a psychiatric hospital. She was placed under restraints for up to 20 hours at a time. Her doctors described her prognosis as “grave.” Some expected her to live out her life in board and care homes, doing menial jobs – or living on the streets.
But with the help of a few close friends, her family, regular therapy and medication, Saks held her life together, and then some.
Her experience led her to become a leading opponent of the use of force to control people with mental illness, a practice she says is largely unnecessary. She also believes it is dehumanizing and probably counterproductive, because it keeps many people from seeking the care they need.
The first time she was “retrained,” Saks said, a sound she had never heard came out of her mouth: “It was a half-groan, half-scream, barely human and pure terror.”
In an op-ed for CNN, Newt Gingrich and Van Jones lay out the ways incarcerating mentally ill Americans does a colossal disservice to taxpayers, cops, and, of course, the mentally ill, and stress the importance of identifying and implementing research-based strategies to keep people with mental illness out of jails and prisons.
Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House who, along with some of his other Right on Crime colleagues, was instrumental in getting both Prop 47 and Prop 36 passed. Van Jones is a former presidential advisor and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media.
America’s approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes — locking them up without addressing the problem — is a solution straight out of the 1800s.
When governments closed state-run psychiatric facilities in the late 1970s, it didn’t replace them with community care, and by default, the mentally ill often ended up in jails…
Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital. With 2 million people with mental illness booked into jails each year, it is not surprising that the biggest mental health providers in the country are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County Jail in Chicago…
Cycling [the mentally ill] through the criminal justice system, we miss opportunities to link them to treatment that could lead to drastic improvements in their quality of life and our public safety. These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time. People who’ve committed nonviolent crimes can often set themselves on a better path if they are provided with proper treatment.
The current situation is also unfair to law enforcement officers and to the people running our prisons, who are now forced to act as doctors or face tense confrontations with the mentally ill while weighing the risk to public safety. In fact, at a time when police shootings are generating mass controversy, there is far too little discussion of the fact that when police use force, it often involves someone with a mental illness.
Finally, the current approach is unfair to taxpayers, because there are far more cost-effective ways for a decent society to provide care to the mentally ill. Just look at Ohio, where the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is projected to spend $49 million this year on medications and mental health care, on top of nearly $23,000 per inmate per year.
FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE PROGRAM TO TEACH KIDS THEIR RIGHTS WHEN INTERACTING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT
Alameda County Public Defender’s Office recently visited an 11th grade class at Oakland Technical High School to teach them the things they should say and do (and things they should not say and do) when stopped by law enforcement. The purpose of the Public Defender’s Office’s unique program, Learn Your Rights in California (LYRIC), is to make sure young people of color—many of whom have been stopped by officers before—are aware of their rights, and to help them have better interactions with cops. The public defenders taught the Oakland Tech students through role-play and skits in addition to a thorough Q&A session.