Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | No Comments »

How is LA doing on DCFS Reform?….Hostage Deaths and the LASD Oversight Debate….Feds Find Unchecked Violence Against Teens at Rikers….and a Homeboy Food Truck

August 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM “CHECKUP” REPORT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA PRESSURE TO KEEP DCFS REFORMS MOVING

Fostering Media Connections has released a 23-page report stressing the necessity for “hyper-vigilance” to propel LA County’s efforts to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with a final report and 42 recommendations.

The report, the first of a series of quarterly “checkups,” says that progress is being made on some of the recommendations (the county is working toward appointing a child welfare czar, for instance), but that momentum has slowed, and no new money seems to be making its way toward implementing these recommendations meant to better protect kids involved in the child welfare system.

Here are some clips:

The problem is that the county’s public administration is immense, and its bureaucracy can grind down the highest-minded of reforms. Soon, two new supervisors will replace those who have termed out, and two more are slated to change over in two years. The county’s chief executive officer has announced his resignation.

Any chance of seeing the dramatic change envisioned by the BRC will require hyper- vigilance.
In December 2013, the 10-person commission filed an interim report with a list of recommendations that were all but ignored by the Board of Supervisors.

The commission was so incensed by the lack of action that it laced its final report, released in April of this year, with hyperbole meant to attract media attention and influence the supervisors to action.

“Sustainable reform will require the Board of Supervisors to declare something akin to a STATE of EMERGENCY within the child welfare system, since clearly, the present system presents an existential threat to the safety and protection of our children,” the commission wrote.

It worked. The news media ran headlines decrying this “state of emergency,” and two months later, the Board of Supervisors approved all of the commission’s recommendations. This included the creation of an Office of Child Protection, which would be headed by a leader with the power to alter budgets and staffing decisions across child-serving agencies. By the end of June, the supervisors had named nine members to a “transition team” charged with creating a new child protection czar.

On August 12, 2014, the transition team will present a five-page progress report to the Board of Supervisors, which includes a job description for the Office of Child Protection and describes its role in implementing the BRC’s reforms.

Besides the creation of advisory bodies, designation of roles and public hearings, what has changed for children in Los Angeles County?

[SNIP]

There has been some movement to increase law enforcement’s role in child protection, definite steps toward designating a child protection czar, and concurrent developments that align with the BRC’s recommendations on increasing payments to kinship caregivers. But we have not uncovered any evidence that new monies have followed the recommendations, or any concrete assurance that the county will follow through on the myriad child protection improvements approved by the Board of Supervisors.

If child protection reform is viewed in terms of child development, one could say that it is still in its infancy in LA County. While able to swipe at broad concepts with unsure hands, the reform movement as laid out by the BRC is as of now incapable of manipulating its nascent but growing authority with much substance. It’s likely too early to know whether or not the reform’s development is delayed, but it is clearly not precocious.

Understanding the news media’s unique power to impel action, Fostering Media Connections is offering these quarterly checkups in the hopes that they will spur continued attention and nourish the reform effort.

KPCC’s Rina Palta interviewed Fostering Media Connection’s founder, Daniel Heimpel, about the report. Here’s a clip:

“What we see is a lack of real strong urgency,” Heimpel said. “A lot of that has evaporated and that’s been a little bit disheartening.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission made 42 recommendations the board then endorsed, but Heimpel said he’s unclear how they will be carried out.

“We have not seen any evidence that any financial resources have been committed to these reforms,” Heimpel said.


LASD IG SAYS OFFICERS’ MISTAKEN KILLING OF HOSTAGES HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR ACCESS TO LASD RECORDS

Today the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider establishing a civilian panel to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The board will also discuss what kind of access to LASD records Inspector General Max Huntsman should have. (Interim Sheriff John Scott has called for an IG-LASD relationship bound by attorney-client privilege. Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell told ABC7 he doesn’t believe it’s necessary.)

Huntsman says recent officer shootings of innocent people highlight the need for his office to have open access to LASD records, including personnel files, in order to make certain the department’s internal investigations are thorough.

On Friday, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an innocent man he mistook for a suspect during a hostage standoff. Frank Mendoza’s death marked the second mistaken killing by a deputy since April, when John Winkler, an LA production assistant who had been held hostage was gunned down by officers while trying to escape. (Winkler’s family has since filed claim against the sheriff’s dept. to the tune of $25 million.)

The LA Times’ Catherine Saillant and Jeff Gottlieb have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Frank Mendoza, 54, was shot when a deputy mistook him for an armed suspect who had broken into the Mendoza home late Friday afternoon, authorities said. The gunman, 24-year-old Cedric Ramirez, took Mendoza’s wife captive and held her until a tactical team entered the house and fatally shot him eight hours later, authorities said. The wife was unharmed.

The case is now under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department’s internal affairs unit as well as the district attorney and coroner, as is customary in officer-involved shootings.

But Max Huntsman, the new civilian monitor in the Sheriff’s Department, said Sunday the case underscores the need for his unit to also review all records, including a deputy’s personnel files, in deciding whether the department does a thorough job investigating.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Huntsman after a series of scandals in the department, which culminated with federal charges against sheriff’s officials over alleged inmate abuse in the jail system.

The Sheriff’s Department and Huntsman are still negotiating how much access the inspector general should have.

[SNIP]

Huntsman said his office will be closely involved with internal investigations that are underway in the Pico Rivera case.

The inspector general cannot conduct an independent investigation without access to the deputy files. But the office will review the sheriff’s inquiries to “make sure they are done in a correct way,” Huntsman said. If better training or changes to in-field tactics are necessary, his office will follow up with recommended changes, he said.


FEDERAL INVESTIGATION FINDS “DEEP-SEATED CULTURE OF VIOLENCE” AT RIKERS ISLAND’S JUVENILE FACILITIES

The office of United States Attorney Preet Bharara released a 79-page report detailing Rikers Island guards’ excessive (and unchecked) use of force against incarcerated teenage boys. The report says the NYC Department of Corrections does not adequately protect boys between the ages of 16-18 from unnecessary harm from guards, other inmates, and overuse of punitive solitary confinement. The investigation found that since 2012, nearly 44% of teens at Rikers had been subjected to at least one use of force, and that blows to the boys’ faces and heads occurred “at an alarming rate.”

The US Attorney’s office has given the NYC DOC 49 days to respond to the report, and threatened a federal lawsuit if the city did not begin working toward remedying the problems highlighted in the report.

The NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser and Michael Schwirtz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The report, addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other senior city officials, singled out for blame a “powerful code of silence” among the Rikers staff, along with a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. The result was a “staggering” number of injuries among youthful inmates, the report said.

The report, which comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the jail complex after a stream of revelations about Rikers’s problems, also found that the department relied to an “excessive and inappropriate” degree on solitary confinement to punish teenage inmates, placing them in punitive segregation, as the practice is known, for months at a time.

Although the federal investigation focused only on the three Rikers jails that house male inmates aged 16 to 18, the report said the problems that were identified “may exist in equal measure” in the complex’s seven other jails for adult men and women.

In just one measure of the extent of the violence, the investigation found that nearly 44 percent of the adolescent male population in custody as of October 2012 had been subjected to a use of force by staff members at least once.

Correction officers struck adolescents in the head and face at “an alarming rate” as punishment, even when inmates posed no threat; officers took inmates to isolated areas for beatings out of view of video cameras; and many inmates were so afraid of the violence that they asked, for their own protection, to go to solitary confinement, the report said.

Officers were rarely punished, the report said, even with strong evidence of egregious violations. Investigations, when they occurred, were often superficial, and incident reports were frequently incomplete, misleading or intentionally falsified.

Among more than a dozen specific cases of brutality detailed in the report was one in which correction officers assaulted four inmates for several minutes, beating them with radios, batons and broomsticks, and slamming their heads against walls. Another inmate sustained a skull fracture and was left with the imprint of a boot on his back from an assault involving multiple officers. In another case, a young man was taken from a classroom after falling asleep during a lecture and was beaten severely. Teachers heard him screaming and crying for his mother.


BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES’ NEW FOOD TRUCK THIS FALL

Homeboy Industries has announced the launch of a new Homeboy food truck that will grace the streets of LA this fall. The gourmet food truck will make its debut in September, creating new jobs for Homeboys and new connections with the community.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, media, Sheriff John Scott, solitary, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

Juvenile Lifers and What They Face in the System….”My Brother’s Keeper” Leaves out the Girls….CA Bill Would Bring “Religious Freedom” into Child Welfare…and More

July 31st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THE REALITIES OF SENTENCING KIDS TO DIE IN PRISON

Data and discussions about the causal effects of childhood traumatic stress in minors who commit crimes is replacing the “superpredator” fear-mongering of the 90′s. Still, more than 2000 people in the United States have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors—300 of them in California. And when kids sentenced as adults reach lockup, they are treated worse than adults. often placed in solitary confinement, or worse, in the name of keeping them safe—despite opposition from the UN and research showing how prolonged isolation exacerbates existing trauma and can lead to mental illness.

Joshua Rofé has more on the issue for LA Weekly. Here’s a clip:

The extreme violence of the early 1990s in places such as Compton, South Los Angeles and the Eastside helped spawn public fear of the juvenile super-predator and the thrill killer.

But, as psychologist and juvenile justice consultant Marty Beyer showed in her study of juvenile intent, most of these youths were marred by severe trauma long before they pulled the trigger or plunged the knife.

Such experts say that juvenile lifers experience a culminating day in which the effects of trauma, violence and youth boil over into the communities or households that wittingly or unwittingly turned a blind eye.

In Jasmine’s case, the streets raised her, not her parents.

“My dad wasn’t really never in the picture,” she recalls. “I was yearning for my mom and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there. She worked double shifts, like, 16 hours a day. This is not an excuse, this is just the way it was for me coming up.”

At 14, she’d acquitted herself well during gang initiation. “I had to fight all the girls in my neighborhood. All at the same time. I come from three brothers, so I really knew how to fight. So it wasn’t that easy to get me down.”

Two years later, she shot a girl she didn’t know. Her court-appointed public defender assured her that she’d be tried as a juvenile and then placed in a California Youth Authority facility for seven years.

Instead, Jasmine was sent into the much tougher adult court system.

“I really did not even understand what was going on,” she says. “The lawyer just kept telling me, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ Next thing I know, I’m pleading guilty and there’s no trial. They give me a life sentence.”

In the United States, more than 2,000 children have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger.

Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law giving California’s 300 lifer children a chance at parole after 15 years — if they did not kill a cop or torture their victim. Now, often having reached middle age in prison, like Jasmine, some have been freed.

Beyond this, child advocates say it’s past the time to offer serious help to children who kill.

Katharine C. Staley, associate director of the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, says children develop traumatic stress, a cousin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “when either the stressor is huge and just completely unexpected, and overwhelms any ability to cope with it, like a school shooting, for example; or, as is much more often the case, when the stressor is significant, unpredictable — frequently repeated.”

Some children kill an adult tormentor who raped or tortured them — often a parent, relative or family friend. Others are set off by “being exposed to ongoing violence between parents or gang members.”

Jasmine’s initial week in an adult prison set the stage for her horrifying life there. Juveniles often are placed in solitary confinement, also known as “segregated housing” — for their own safety, according to prison officials.

But at age 17, when Jasmine was processed and admitted, all the solitary confinement cells at California Institute for Women in San Bernardino County were occupied. A quick decision was reached: This girl would be housed on Death Row.

You can watch Joshua Rofé’s documentary “Lost for Life,” (trailer above) on iTunes.


GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR EXCLUDED BY OBAMA’S “MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” INITIATIVE

President Barack Obama launched a $200 million initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia University and UCLA, and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, points out that My Brother’s Keeper overlooks girls and young women of color, who face similar disparities and hardships and need just as much support.

Black girls are suspended more than any other girls. They are also more likely than other girls to be sex-trafficked or die violently.

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Crenshaw calls the initiative an “abandonment of women of color” by Obama. Here’s a clip:

Gender exclusivity isn’t new, but it hasn’t been so starkly articulated as public policy in generations. It arises from the common belief that black men are exceptionally endangered by racism, occupying the bottom of every metric: especially school performance, work force participation and involvement with the criminal justice system. Black women are better off, the argument goes, and are thus less in need of targeted efforts to improve their lives. The White House is not the author of this myth, but is now its most influential promoter.

The evidence supporting these claims is often illogical, selective or just plain wrong. In February, when Mr. Obama announced the initiative — which is principally financed by philanthropic foundations, and did not require federal appropriations — he noted that boys who grew up without a father were more likely to be poor. More likely than whom? Certainly not their sisters, who are growing up in the same households, attending the same underfunded schools and living in the same neighborhoods.

The question “compared with whom?” often focuses on racial disparities among boys and men while overlooking similar disparities among girls and women. Yet, like their male counterparts, black and Hispanic girls are at or near the bottom level of reading and math scores. Black girls have the highest levels of school suspension of any girls. They also face gender-specific risks: They are more likely than other girls to be victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, more likely to be involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and more likely to die violently. The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.

Proponents of My Brother’s Keeper — and similar programs, like the Young Men’s Initiative, begun by Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011 when he was mayor of New York — point incessantly to mass incarceration to explain their focus on men. Is their point that females of color must pull even with males in a race to the bottom before they deserve interventions on their behalf?

Women of color earn less than both white men and their male counterparts from the same ethnic or racial groups, across the spectrum. Even more disturbing: the median wealth of single black and Hispanic women is $100 and $120, respectively — compared with almost $7,900 for black men, $9,730 for Hispanic men and $41,500 for white women.

Read on.


BILL WOULD ALLOW CALIFORNIA’S RELIGIOUS CHILD WELFARE PROVIDERS TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST GAYS, UNMARRIED COUPLES

A California bill introduced Wednesday would protect religious child welfare providers from losing government funding and contracts for discriminating against gays or unmarried heterosexual couples or anyone else who conflicts “with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014 is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Brian Rinker has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Many private providers of adoption and foster care services are faith-based organizations, which contract with the state to recruit adoptive/foster parents. Some religious providers only recruit married men and women to be foster parents, refusing to serve same sex or unmarried couples because of their religious beliefs.

A handful of states have enacted civil union and same-sex marriage policies that strip the funding and contracts from faith-based organizations that refuse to incorporate those practices in their adoption and foster care services.

“Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” said Enzi in a press release. “This legislation will help make sure faith-based providers and individuals can continue to work alongside other agencies and organizations, and that adoptive and foster parents have access to providers of their choice.”


VIRGINIA’S BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL

On Monday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The ruling is a far-reaching one, as the Appeals Court has jurisdiction over North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, as well.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has more on the ruling.

Posted in LGBT, LWOP Kids, racial justice, Sentencing, solitary, Trauma, women's issues | 7 Comments »

Sen. Rand Paul and Cory Booker Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform…Filmmaking for Disadvantaged Kids…ACLU Sues Over Lack of Representation for Immigrant Kids…and More

July 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL BIPARTISAN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL

On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.

The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.

REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Rand Paul’s website:

The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”


LA FILM PROGRAM FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.

Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.

The LA Times’ Caitlin Owens has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.

Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.

“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.

Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.

The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.

The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.

“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”

Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.

It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…

Read on.


ACLU AND OTHERS SUE FEDS FOR NOT PROVIDING ATTORNEYS TO KIDS IN DEPORTATION HEARINGS

On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.

Here are some clips from the ACLU of Southern California’s website:

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

[SNIP]

Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.


BUT WILL THE LAWSUIT CAUSE FURTHER DELAYS IN IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS THAT COULD ALSO BE HARMFUL TO SOME OF THESE KIDS?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.

But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?

This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.


SENTENCING REFORM AND PUSHBACK FROM PROSECUTORS

NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)

Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.

And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.

“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”

Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.

Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.

In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.

“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.

So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.

One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.

“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.

Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.

[SNIP]

The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds, Uncategorized, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

LA Foster Care Documentary, Los Angeles DA Calls for Split-Sentencing, Solitary Confinement and Kids’ Brains, and LASD Oversight

July 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WATCH THIS TONIGHT: LOS ANGELES FOSTER CARE DOCUMENTARY ON OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

Tonight (Thursday) at 7:00, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air an episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling,” exploring foster care in Los Angeles County and the children, families, and foster parents involved in the system.

In his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel tells us more about the documentary episode, which he co-produced, and why media access, when used to child dependency court proceedings is so important. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday July 3, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air an episode of its acclaimed docu-series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which focuses on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. It is important to me, because as a co-producer I worked very hard to make sure that we were granted access to a world often cloaked in confidentiality.

[SNIP]

[In March,] a California appeals court struck down a court order issued by Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, which had substantially eased media access to the largest juvenile dependency system in the nation. And despite spirited editorials by John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle calling for legislation that would, like Nash’s order, ease media access, no politician has stepped forward to take up the issue.

Of course, there is reason for caution. Children who have already been traumatized can be forever scarred by irresponsible media coverage. The potential costs to individual children supersedes the potential social good that exposing these systems to public scrutiny would bring, or so the argument goes.

And when journalists continue to chase the most salacious child welfare stories, it is understandable that attorneys and other child advocates are loathe to let the notebooks and cameras in. The media is hard to trust.

So into that absence of trust, I, alongside the incredible production team from Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, stepped lightly and came away with incredible access and an under-told story.

When you watch this episode on Thursday night, you will see what that access has won, and what we have chosen to do with it. You will see a simple, honest depiction of what the largest child welfare system in this country is up against; what every child welfare system in the country is up against. You will see, I hope, a picture not painted in black and white or even a scale of grays, but rather a story filled with color, vibrancy and the promise that the best in people can be forced to the surface by the hardest of moments.


LOS ANGELES TO (FINALLY) BOOST USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING—THANKS, DA JACKIE LACEY!

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has instructed attorneys in her office to begin seeking split-sentences—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation—for certain low-level felons convicted under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment.

This is certainly welcome news, as the jail system is hazardously overcrowded and Los Angeles is far behind other counties successfully implementing split-sentencing and reducing their jail populations.

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

Lacey said part of her reasoning for the policy shift is due to changes under prison realignment, the state’s policy that shifts responsibility for lower-level would-be state prison inmates to California’s counties.

Previously, nearly everyone leaving prison went on parole for one to three years. Now, that same population upon leaving jail gets released to the community without any supervision.

That is, unless they’re sentenced to split time.

“It makes sense that we utilize this tool in order to make sure they successfully reintegrate into society and don’t commit any new crimes,” Lacey said.

While some counties (including many with limited jail space) have embraced split sentencing — such as Riverside County and Contra Costa County, which sentence 74 percent and 92 percent respectively of their lower-level felons to half time in jail and half time on supervised release — L.A. County’s rate has hovered between 4 to 5 percent.

[SNIP]

Probation Chief Jerry Powers said he’s not sure how many new offenders will be coming his way, but his department can handle it.

“Having the district attorney say that she’s going to look at this and she’s not opposed to it is important,” Powers, who has pushed for more split sentencing in L.A. County said. “But you still have to get the judge to impose it. It’s progress.”


MORE ON THE DAMAGING (AND STILL WIDESPREAD) USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS

The Atlantic’s Laura Dimon has an excellent story on the use of solitary confinement on kids in the US—the disastrous effects on young brains, and the continued use of isolation in spite of increasing research and opposition. Here are some clips:

Solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in cells that are barely larger than a king-sized bed for 22 to 24 hours per day. It wreaks profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger. Boston psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote that “even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the EEG pattern towards an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium.”

If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, though, it can shatter a juvenile.

One of the reasons that solitary is particularly harmful to youth is that during adolescence, the brain undergoes major structural growth. Particularly important is the still-developing frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for cognitive processing such as planning, strategizing, and organizing thoughts or actions. One section of the frontal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, continues to develop into a person’s mid-20s. It is linked to the inhibition of impulses and the consideration of consequences.

Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, has been studying the psychological effects of solitary confinement for about 30 years. He explained that juveniles are vulnerable because they are still in crucial stages of development—socially, psychologically, and neurologically.

“The experience of isolation is especially frightening, traumatizing, and stressful for juveniles,” he said. “These traumatic experiences can interfere with and damage these essential developmental processes, and the damage may be irreparable.”

[SNIP]

The ACLU said that just hours of isolation “can be extremely damaging to young people.” In December 2012, the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence issued a report that read, “Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”

They noted that among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the victims were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent had a history of solitary confinement.

The task force requested that the practice be used only as a last resort and only on youths who pose a serious safety threat. The UN expert on torture went further and called for an “absolute prohibition [of solitary confinement] in the case of juveniles,” arguing that it qualified as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

In April 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a statement saying they concurred with the UN position. “In addition, any youth that is confined for more than 24 hours must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist when one is available,” they wrote.

Despite these declarations, there are about 70,000 detained juveniles in the U.S., 63 percent of whom are nonviolent. And in 2003—the most recent survey data available—35 percent had been held in isolation. More than half of them were isolated for more than 24 hours at a time.


WHAT THE SHERIFF DEPARTMENT NEEDS, MOVING FORWARD

On Tuesday, jurors found six LASD officers guilty of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system. After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about the “toxic culture” within the Sheriff’s Department.

An LA Times editorial says that the issue here is not the criminal actions of deputies, but instead, the structure of a department with an elected sheriff who has no accountability to the citizens who put him in office. The editorial calls, once again, for a civilian oversight commission to “create an incentive to act wisely.” Here are some clips:

…whose idea was this whole scheme in the first place? Was top management at the department so lax or vague that deputies felt entitled to come up with such a plan on their own? Or, as the defense argued, were they instead following direct orders from their superiors, including, perhaps, then-Sheriff Lee Baca? And if they were following orders, did they believe that their only possible courses of action were to commit crimes or give up their careers?

Any of those possibilities, and a dozen more besides, underscore the central problem at the Sheriff’s Department: not deputies committing crimes, although that is one especially troubling manifestation of the problem, nor deputies beating inmates, although that’s one result of it, but rather that unaccountable management of a paramilitary organization embodied in an elected sheriff with no effective civilian oversight and few limits on his powers is an invitation to abuse.

[SNIP]

…any sheriff, no matter the degree of his or her integrity or ability, must operate within a structure that creates an incentive to act wisely. And legally. Criminal prosecution of officials should not be considered one of the basic checks or balances on power, but rather an indication that those safeguards have failed and need repair.

The six convicted sheriff’s personnel might not have brought their misgivings, if they had any, to an oversight commission, if one had existed, so it’s impossible to demonstrate that such a panel would have prevented the crimes. But they might have. And either way, its presence would have reminded the sheriff that he and his command staff would be held accountable, in a public forum, for their actions.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, solitary | 5 Comments »

Study Sez Letting Prisoners Out Early On Supervision Lowers Crime, County Counsel Must Disclose $$ Paid to Private Attorneys in LASD Suits…and More

June 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MAXED OUT PRISON SENTENCES AND THE IMPORTANCE OF POST-RELEASE SUPERVISION (AND SPLIT-SENTENCING) FOR LOWERING RECIDIVISM

Nationwide, in 2012, one-in-five prisoners maxed out their sentence in prison and reentered their communities without supervision (a rise of 119% from 1990), according to a new Pew Charitable Trusts report. Conversely, data collected on prisoners in New Jersey showed that offenders who served part of their sentence on parole were 36% less likely to return to prison within three years of release than those who served the entirety of their sentence behind bars.

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

Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew, said studies the group conducted in New Jersey and elsewhere found that, overall, offenders who serve a portion of their sentence on supervision were arrested or returned to prison 30 percent less than those who served their entire sentence in custody.

“It just doesn’t make sense to take somebody who’s been institutionalized, locked up in a prison 24/7, and put them straight back on the street without any supervision or accountability or monitoring or support whatsoever,” Gelb said.

Yet nationwide, the number of offenders serving their full sentences has gone up over the past two decades. Between 1990-2012, the number of inmates released without supervision went up 119 percent.

That could change, Gelb said, and has already started to. In the past few years, eight states — including California — took steps to make it easier to release offenders early to supervision.

California’s policy — called “split sentencing” — came out of prison realignment, which passed in 2011.

The policy — a response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to cut the state prison population — shifted the job of punishing lower-level felons from the state to the county level. It also gave the counties a tool to use if they choose: permitting these felons to be sentenced partially to time in county jail and partially to community supervision by the local probation department…

In California, prison realignment (AB 109) has reduced the number of max-outs in state prison to less than 1%, but it’s unclear to what extent max outs have transferred to the local level. Some counties (Contra Costa, for instance) have used their realignment funds to implement split-sentencing—in which sentences are “split” into part jail time, part probation—with favorable results. (Unfortunately, Los Angeles is actually backsliding in its use of split-sentencing.) Here’s what the Pew report has to say about the issue:

In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act. The landmark legislation transferred jurisdiction of lower-level offenders from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the counties. Felony offenders who are classified as nonserious, nonviolent, nonsex registrant, known as “non-non-nons,” are now sentenced to county jail instead of prison, supervised by county probation departments under post-release community supervision, and sent to local jails if they violate the terms of their release. As a result, the number of inmates released from California prisons fell by more than half between 2011 and 2012, from 109,467 to 49,574.

Other elements of realignment also affected the number of California prison releases. All revocations for state parolees, except those with an original sentence of life, go to county jail instead of state prison for a maximum of 180 days. Additionally, the non-non-nons are being diverted from state prison at sentencing, reducing both admissions and releases.

As a result of these changes, the number of max-outs from state prisons fell in the first full year of realignment from 12 percent in 2011 to less than 1 percent in 2012. Under the new system, non-nonnons—more than 30,000 offenders who accounted for 62 percent of releases—are released to their county of last legal residence and supervised under post-release community supervision. Offenders diverted to supervision are eligible for discharge at six months, and sanctions for violators are capped at 180 days. Counties have discretion to determine the type of supervision provided. The remaining 36 percent of inmates released in 2012 were serving sentences for serious or violent crimes; they remained under the jurisdiction of state parole agents.

The extent to which realignment has shifted max-outs to the local level is unclear. County judges can now exercise their discretion to impose either a straight jail sentence without supervision or a split sentence that combines a jail term with a period of mandatory supervision to follow. Current use of split sentencing varies widely among the counties. Some order it in more than 80 percent of cases, while several, including Los Angeles and Alameda counties, use it less than 10 percent of the time. Without greater use of split sentences, large numbers of non-non-nons may be returning to California communities without supervision.

And here’s what the Pew report suggests to both lower the max-out rate and keep former inmates from reoffending:

1. Require a period of post-prison supervision for all offenders.
2. Carve out community supervision period from prison terms.
3. Strengthen parole decision-making.
4. Tailor supervision conditions to risk and need.
5. Adopt evidence-based practices in parole supervision.
6. Reinvest savings in community corrections.

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Attorney General Kamala Harris praises the Realignment Act for easing overcrowding in California prisons, but calls for implementation of alternatives to incarceration and evidence-based rehabilitation and re-entry services to lower recidivism. Here’s a clip:

Realignment shifted responsibility for the incarceration and supervision of low-level, nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to California’s 58 counties. It also directed significant financial resources to counties to handle their increased responsibilities and to create localized alternative solutions to incarceration.

Three years in, Realignment has achieved one of its primary purposes — reduction of the population of California’s prison system. Following implementation of Realignment, the state redirected 30,000 recently convicted offenders who would have gone to state prison to county jail and shifted supervision of 50,000 offenders from state parole agents to county probation departments. Realignment has also forced an examination of California’s return on its investment in incarceration. The state spends an estimated $13 billion per year on criminal justice, but almost two thirds of those released from state prison go on to commit another crime within three years. This rate of recidivism is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it is a threat to victims of crime and to public safety in general.

As a career prosecutor, I firmly believe there must be swift and certain consequences for all crime, and that certain offenses call for nothing less than long-term imprisonment. But I also believe that the way our system deals with low-level, nonviolent and non-serious offenders wastes resources needed to fight more serious crime.

Rather than a one-size-fits all justice system that treats all crime as equal, I have argued for a “smart on crime” approach — one that applies innovative, data-proven methods to make our criminal justice system more efficient and effective. Such an approach will not only hold offenders accountable for their actions; it will make our communities safer by taking steps to ensure that they don’t commit new crimes.

Read on.


JUDGE RULES LA COUNTY COUNSEL MUST SAY HOW MUCH IT SPENDS ON PRIVATE LAWYERS IN LAWSUITS AGAINST THE LASD

Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel.

Here’s an ACLU clip from last October when the lawsuit was filed:

ACLU SoCal and Mr. Preven submitted several California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests for the documents that list not only money paid to private attorneys, but also the contracts between the County and individuals hired to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The County Counsel denied the requests. Lawyers from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are representing ACLU SoCal, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California is representing Mr. Preven.

During the fiscal year 2011-12, lawsuits against the Sheriff’s department cost the county $37 million, not including the costs the County paid to private lawyers to defend LASD, according to Supervisor Gloria Molina. The cost of defending LASD likely adds millions of dollars to the total. In just the first six months of fiscal year 2012-13, the total the County spent on verdicts and settlements on lawsuits against LASD was $25 million, not including the costs of defending those suits.

“We are asking the officials of Los Angeles County to be transparent and tell taxpayers how their money is being spent on private attorneys to defend deputies accused of savage beatings and other illegal actions,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU Foundation of SoCal.

John F. Krattili, county counsel, responded to the CPRA requests saying that billing records that document the tasks and time for which private firms were billing the County are exempt from disclosure.

“The County is paying out millions of dollars to private law firms, and when we, the people, ask to learn more about how that money is being spent, the answer is ‘none of your business!’ Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.” said Petitioner Eric Preven. “We’re demanding an end to the secrecy around practices that may well have cost the taxpayers far more than they’ve saved.”

And here’s a clip from what we at WLA said about the lawsuit when it was filed:

…of course, what the ACLU/Preven lawsuit rightly points out is that the $37 million total we have been given for last year is not, in fact, the real total. It’s not real because it doesn’t include the money paid to the private attorneys hired to defend the county in lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s department—suits like the recently concluded Willis case that we wrote about here.

Willis v. Rodriguez is the one where, after a week-long trial, a federal jury unanimously found Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable for punitive damages in relation to the brutal beating Mr. Willis received from deputies when he was a guest at Men’s Central Jail. (The jury also found 4 other present and former department members liable for damages as well.)

Willis’ attorney, Sonia Mercado, told me that originally Willis wanted to settle, that he wasn’t interested in punitive damages. He simply wanted his doctor bills and injury-related expenses paid for.

But the county’s hired gun lawyers refused to settle. Instead they pushed for a trial. And guess what? They lost resoundingly at trial. Now, we’ve been told that Baca intends to appeal—which means a brand new round of attorneys’ bills.

And, as with every other case filed and eventually settled against the sheriff’s department, we, the taxpayers, will pay the tab for all of it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clue how much those tabs are really costing us.


TWO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CASES—ONE IN CALIFORNIA, ONE IN ARIZONA—RECEIVE CLASS ACTION STATUS

This week, a federal judge granted class action status to a lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s solitary confinement conditions and the policies keeping a number of prisoners in isolation for decades. (Backstory here and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

The inmates allege physical and psychological abuse when California puts inmates in Pelican Bay’s windowless isolation cells. The prisoners are confined 22 hours a day and, in some cases, have been in solitary for years and decades at a time.

The Pelican Bay inmates, in their federal lawsuit, also challenged the administrative process California uses to determine who to send to the super-maximum security cells for an indefinite stay….

In courtroom proceedings, lawyers for the state have argued that isolation is necessary to keep the peace within prisons, and to hinder gang activity inside and outside prison walls. They said that by creating a so-called “step-down” program last year that allows some prisoners to eventually earn their way out of isolation, the state had made sufficient improvements.

In her ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken narrowed the class action case to just those Pelican Bay inmates who have not been accepted into the state’s step-down program.

[SNIP]

The class action motion was filed by 10 Pelican Bay inmates in solitary confinement, but California has since moved five of them to other quarters. Wilken’s order allows the remaining five prisoners to represent the larger class of some 500 Pelican Bay prisoners who have spent more than a decade in isolation, and some 1,100 put into solitary because of alleged gang associations.

And in another piece of good news, on Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed an ACLU lawsuit alleging mistreatment of Arizona prisoners to proceed as a class action case. The suit alleges denial of adequate healthcare and unconstitutional use of isolation. East Valley Tribune’s Howard Fischer has more on the issue.

Posted in LASD, Los Angeles County, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

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

May 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Death Penalty, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

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

April 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


MAKING MONSTERS: A NEW LOOK AT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE NEXT JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: A FOCUS ON EDUCATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on all that soon.


CAN A CHILD BE BORN BAD?

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to his story.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Solitary photo/Frontline

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

What Does CA’s Use of Juvie Isolation Look Like?…..Stop Locking Up Truant Kids in CA! ….The Lousy State of Education in Juvie Lock-Ups, CA’ s included….North Carolina Sheriff Takes On Wrongful Convictions….Farewell to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

April 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING LOOKS HARD AT CA’S JUVIE SOLITARY

In addition to the shock and perplexity felt by many over California State Senator Leeland Yee’s arrest for what is alleged to be extravagant corruption and wrongdoing, the even larger disappointment is over the loss of his extremely valuable work in the arena of juvenile justice now that he’s been disgraced.

A case in point is, the legislation Yee (Dem-San Francisco) introduced earlier this year to ban solitary confinement as a form of punishment for juvenile inmates in California. Now, sadly, bill appears to have nearly zip chance of passing after Yee’s indictment last month on corruption charges.

Trey Bundy reporting for the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a look at the way California juvie lock-ups are still using solitary confinement. Here is what he found in one of the state’s most progressive juvenile facilities in Santa Cruz, CA.

Although solitary confinement for extended periods is considered one of the most psychologically damaging forms of punishment – particularly for teenagers – no one knows how many juveniles are held alone in cells in California.

Neither the state nor the federal government requires juvenile halls to report their use of isolation for minors – and no laws prohibit them from locking down youth for 23 hours a day.

One thing is clear: Even the county considered one of the most progressive in the state sometimes resorts to solitary confinement to control adolescents.

The Center for Investigative Reporting was given a rare glimpse inside juvenile isolation cells at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. Considered a model youth detention facility by many juvenile justice experts, Santa Cruz still places youth in 23-hour isolation, sometimes for days on end.

But amid a growing national debate over juvenile solitary confinement, the way Santa Cruz manages its youth population could serve as a guide for lawmakers as they attempt reform in various states.

The cells at Santa Cruz look like what you would find in a prison: gray concrete floors, cinderblock walls, a bunk, a window, a heavy green door and a metal sink-toilet combo.

When isolation is used at the hall, teenagers usually are kept in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. Guards check on them every 15 minutes, and they can receive visits from nurses, lawyers, pastors and administrators. Officials refer to the practice as room confinement. In extreme cases, inmates can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows that sit behind two sets of doors off the main hall. It’s clear by talking with youth here that even a few days alone in a cell can take a toll.

Sitting on a bunk in his 8-by-10-foot cell, one 15-year-old boy described throwing a fit when he thought he was unfairly locked inside for several days.

“I started, like, banging on my wall all day,” he said. “I got all kinds of toilet paper and I covered my light and was throwing up on my walls and making a big old mess.”

Santa Cruz probation officials allowed CIR to interview juvenile inmates on the condition that their names not be revealed.

The boy, who is now 16, has been detained at the hall nine times since April of last year on charges ranging from gun possession to auto theft. His stays lasted between two days and three weeks. This time, he was in room confinement for trying to pick a fight with an inmate from a rival neighborhood.

His mother has had drug problems and doesn’t always have a fixed address, so he couch-surfs a lot. He sometimes has to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of release. Occasionally, he said, life becomes so draining and chaotic and that he violates the monitor on purpose to get back here.

“I kind of feel safe here,” he said. “I come here back and forth, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be back in here.”

The boy was released a week after speaking with CIR and, as he predicted, was back 14 days later. “I’m probably my own worst problem when I’m in here,” he said.


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA

It doesn’t happen in every county, but the locking up of kids for so called status offenses like truancy has to stop says head Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash, explaining that kids are just made worse by this kind of incarceration, and that most often truancy is a symptom of a family situation or an emotional issue that the kid is dealing with.

The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.

Here’s a clip:

With all the talk about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, many people may be surprised to learn that California still, in the year 2014, allows kids to be locked up for not going to school. On its face, state law prohibits this, but court decisions have created a loophole that allows incarceration when truants are deemed to be in contempt based on their truancy. Although a majority of California counties do not use this practice, a few persist in locking up truants. Senate Bill 1296 — the Decriminalization of Truancy Act, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, would close the loophole. It deserves widespread support.

The loophole stems from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which originally prohibited the incarceration of “status offenders” — including truants, runaways and incorrigible youth — because Congress didn’t want youth who had committed no crime to be treated like criminals. Unfortunately, the law was later amended to allow confinement if the young person continued to violate court orders. A few California courts have used that amendment to justify locking up truants.

Over the past decade, there has been increasing opposition to the needless incarceration of truants through loopholes in state law. Fourteen states have changed their laws already, and elimination of the federal exception has been a central part of efforts to reauthorize the law. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles has introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act aimed at eliminating the exception once and for all.


HOW BAD ARE THE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN AMERICA’S JUVENILE LOCK UPS? VERY, VERY BAD.

A new study by the Southern Education Foundation looks at how well or poorly various states are doing in getting kids who are locked up to the goal line of a high school diploma. The answer in most states—California prominently included—we are doing very, very badly.

Here’s a clip from the report’s introduction:

There is every reason to predict that today most of these students, like those who came before them in the juvenile justice systems, will never receive a high school diploma or a college degree, will be arrested and confined again as a juvenile or adult, and will rarely, if ever, become self-supporting, law-abiding citizens during most of their lives. Yet, substantial evidence shows that, if these children improve their education and start to become successful students in the juvenile justice systems, they will have a far greater chance of finding a turning point in their lives and becoming independent, contributing adults. The cost savings for states and state governments could be enormous.


NC SHERIFF BECOMES INNOCENCE CHAMPION—AND SAYS ITS GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

One day, after reading a nonfiction novel by popular author John Grisham, North Carolina Sheriff Chip Harding arrived at a blinding conclusion; one of the best ways to convict the right person for a serious crime, he concluded, is to avoid convicting an innocent.

Lisa Provence has the story for C-Ville.com Here’s a clip:

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has always approached his work as a cop through his background as a social worker and through his Baptist faith. But after a four-decade law enforcement career that includes nearly 30 years putting criminals behind bars as a Charlottesville Police Department investigator, he had a come-to-Jesus moment reading John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. The true story of a once major-league baseball player named Ron Williamson who spent 11 years on death row for a brutal Oklahoma rape and murder before being cleared by DNA evidence hit Harding like a punch to the stomach.

“It embarrassed me, that I’m part of law enforcement that did that,” he said.

Last month, Harding sent a rallying letter to the 123 sheriffs and 247 police chiefs in Virginia asking for their support in forming a justice commission to help prevent wrongful convictions like Williamson’s in the Commonwealth.

“I think we can change practices to lessen the likelihood of convicting the innocent while strengthening our chances of convicting the actual offender,” Harding wrote. “If police chiefs and sheriffs were to propose and or support reform—we would be taken seriously.”

That Harding would be the one leading the charge to overhaul the criminal justice system, one known for its resistance to change, shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s long been on the cutting edge of investigative work as the guy who pushed for the General Assembly to fund Virginia’s DNA databank in the 1990s. And while he aggressively—and successfully—pursued hundreds of felony cases during his years as a detective, he also serves as the vice chair of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which provides Bible classes and counseling services to inmates at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Realizing he was part of a system that put innocent people behind bars—or worse, to death—was “humbling and shameful,” Harding said. “And it induced a rage. From there I started wondering how often that was going on.”

Here’s a hint at how often: Nationwide, 1,342 people have been exonerated, often after spending decades in jail, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools. In Virginia, 36 people have been cleared of committing heinous crimes, 17 of those thanks to DNA evidence.

“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding, who went on to read UVA law professor Brandon Garrett’s Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, an examination of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA.


FAREWELL TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, LATIN AMERICA’S MYTHO POETIC TRUTH TELLER, COLUMBIAN ALCHEMIST WITH WORDS, IRREPLACEABLE GENIUS

Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at age 87. He had been ill for a long time.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Garcia Marquez to literature in general, and to Latin American writing specifically.

And of course to his legions of entranced readers. (Your editor included.)

To glimpse the power of the man referred to in the Spanish speaking world as Gabo, one has only to read the opening sentence to Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, long considered one of the best first line’s in literature:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

(What book lover with any sense would not wish to read on after that?)

Each of his ten novels produces its own kind of revelation. But for me, after One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book of his I most treasure is Love in the Time of Cholera Gabo’s novel about lovers whose story takes fifty years, nine months, and four days to finally entirely bloom.

It has its own great opening line as well:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

NPR’s Mandalit del Barco has more in a wonderful appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez here.

Gabo, rest in peace. We will miss your light, of course. But we are grateful beyond words that you left so much of it behind for us.

Posted in art and culture, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Life in general, literature, solitary, Trauma, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for Sheriff

April 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS

In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.

Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.

Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:

California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.

When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.

But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.

Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.

“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.

Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.

Even the laundry became a battleground.

Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.

Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.

“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”

But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.

Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.

“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”

The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.

Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.

The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.


MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY

On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:

“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…

[SNIP]

According to the report:

• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;

• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;

• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;

• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”

“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.

But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”

“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.

He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.

Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.

He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.

On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.

Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.

An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.


FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.

The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.

Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.

Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.

Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.

The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.

Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.

[SNIP]

Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.

He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.


LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:

[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.

Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.

The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.

Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.

The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”

He’ll have to live up to that…

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, LASD, Mental Illness, prison policy, solitary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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