Wednesday, July 30, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

solitary


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 | No Comments »

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

April 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


MAKING MONSTERS: A NEW LOOK AT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE NEXT JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: A FOCUS ON EDUCATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on all that soon.


CAN A CHILD BE BORN BAD?

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to his story.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Solitary photo/Frontline

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

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 »

Isolation’s Effects on Kids…LAPD Motorcycle Officer Christopher Cortijo Has Died…Dismantled LAPD Dash-Cam Update…What’s Really Blocking Child Welfare Reform…and a New Prison Overcrowding Compliance Officer

April 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHILD PSYCHIATRIST SAYS LOCKING KIDS IN SOLITARY IS “THE ULTIMATE MESSAGE THAT WE DON’T CARE FOR YOU”

Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy, who has consulted on Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, and several other catastrophic events involving children.

In a Q&A with Trey Bundy of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Dr. Perry explains in clear terms why solitary confinement is so psychologically damaging to the kids unlucky enough to get locked inside.

Here’s a clip:

We hear a lot of stories about prolonged isolation, but what are the effects of just a few days of solitary confinement on kids?

They end up getting these very intense doses of dissociative experience, and they get it in an unpredictable way. They’ll get three days in isolation. Then they’ll come back on the unit and get two days in isolation. They’ll come back out and then get one day. They end up with a pattern of activating this dissociative coping mechanism. The result is that when they’re confronted with a stressor later on, they will have this extreme disengagement where they’ll be kind of robotic, overly compliant, but they’re not really present. I’ve seen that a lot with these kids. They’ll come out, and they’re little zombies. The interpretation by the staff is that they’ve been pacified. “We’ve broken him.” But basically what you’ve done is you’ve traumatized this person in a way that if this kid was in somebody’s home, you would charge that person with child abuse.

Kids in isolation must lose all sense of control. What’s the impact of that?

One of things that helps us regulate our stress response is a sense of control. With solitary, when you start to take away any option, any choice, you’re literally taking somebody with a dysregulated stress response system, like most of these individuals in jail, and you’re making it worse. The more you try to take control, the more you are inhibiting the ability of these individuals to develop self-control, which is what we want them to do.

How does it affect a kid’s sense of self-worth to be locked away from everyone else?

Most of these kids feel marginalized to start with. They feel like they’re bad, they did something wrong, they don’t fit in. And isolation is essentially the ultimate marginalization. You’re so marginalized you don’t even fit in with the misfits, and we are going to exclude you from the group in an extreme way. In some ways it’s the ultimate message that we don’t care for you. We are neurobiologically interdependent creatures. All of our sensory apparatus is bias toward forming and maintaining relationships with human beings. When you are not part of the group, it’s a fundamental biological rejection.

Do go read the rest of this worthwhile Q&A.


WELL-LIKED LAPD MOTORCYCLE OFFICER CRITICALLY INJURED IN CRASH, HAS DIED

Christopher Cortijo, an LAPD motorcycle officer, who was struck on Saturday by a driver allegedly under the influence of drugs, has died.

Cortijo, who was assigned to DUI enforcement, was stopped at an intersection in North Hollywood when a driver hit his motorcycle, pinning him between her SUV and the Honda in front of him. Officer Cortijo lost the fight for his life Wednesday.

Our hearts go out to Cortijo’s family, friends, and fellow officers. The death of a law enforcement officer is an unimaginable loss for loved ones, but it is also a blow to the greater community.

The LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar and Kelly Goff have the story. Here’s a clip:

Officer Christopher Cortijo was a 26-year police veteran who was assigned to DUI enforcement. He was gravely injured and went into a coma after a Chevy Blazer slammed into his motorcycle, which was stopped at a red light at Lankershim Boulevard and Saticoy Street, around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The driver, a Pacoima woman whose license had expired years ago, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. After several days in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, with officers or family at his bedside around the clock, Cortijo was taken off his ventilator on Wednesday, officials said.

The 51-year-old North Hollywood resident, who had served in the U.S. Marines, was married with adult children.

“It’s a tremendous sadness for all of us,” Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, who oversees the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, said in a telephone interview. “He was not only a great officer, but a great person. Everyone’s thoughts are with his family. His family will be our family forever.”

About 100 officers lined the walkway outside the ICU at Providence in Mission Hills as Cortijo’s body was taken to the coroner’s van, wrapped in a flag. Nurses similarly lined the hallways inside the building, according to hospital spokeswoman Patricia Aidem.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by about a dozen LAPD motor officers who worked with Cortijo, spoke to reporters late Wednesday afternoon in downtown.

“I was devastated when I heard the news,” Garcetti said. “My heart sank when the chief called me.”

Garcetti said Cortijo’s death was a reminder of the “sacrifice that our bravest heroes make.”

Garcetti said he ordered city flags lowered to half-staff in Cortijo’s honor.

Cortijo was twice named Officer of the Year as a motorcycle cop, Beck said. He arrested more than 3,000 people driving under the influence during his career, Beck said.

“The ultimate irony is that Chris spent his life keeping all of us safe from people who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol,” Beck said.


IN OTHER LAPD NEWS…

Yesterday, we pointed to a story about the unauthorized dismantling of 80 LAPD in-car surveillance cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate.

Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the LAPD union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League), has a story from February on the union’s blog that gives a little bit of extra context—another piece of the puzzle. Ingemunson says that many officers feel the tool is being used against them unfairly, in instances other than “crime documentation and prosecution.”

Read Ingemunson’s story about an officer who was punished for an accident that would have likely been considered non-preventable, if not for a questionable conversation he had with his partner (recorded by the dash-cam) right before the collision.

Here’s a small clip:

The accused officer and his partner engaged in a conversation that higher management did not like and felt reflected on the cause of the accident. This, of course, ignores another special order regarding the DICVS. Special Order 45 states “The Digital In Car Video System is being deployed in order to provide Department employees with a tool for crime documentation and prosecution and not to monitor private conversations between Department employees.”

While it does not excuse the officers who tampered with the cameras, it raises an issue that management might want to think about.


BUREAUCRACY IS THE TRUE KILLER OF DCFS REFORM

Later this month, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, established by the LA County Board of Supervisors, will present their final report, chock-full of recommendations for reforming the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. But these recommendations may not be all that new. The commission found 734 recommendations presented over the years, either not in play at all, or stuck in the beginning stages of implementation.

On March 28, at second-to-last meeting of the LA County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, commission-member Andrea Rich said that bureaucracy, itself, is what’s blocking past and present child welfare reforms.

Two members of the Board of Supervisors (Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina) are terming out and new faces will take their seats. Two years from now, two more supervisors will be replaced (Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe).

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says this change-up is a real opportunity for reform, if only the supervisor candidates will rise to the challenge. Here’s a clip:

“Bureaucracies not carefully managed and consistently improved have characteristics that are destructive to client-oriented services, impede innovation, stifle efforts at self-improvement,” she said. “This sort of narrow span of control and bureaucratic risk-aversion typical of the bureaucratic process constantly thwarts efforts toward meaningful reform. And we’ve seen it over and over in our studies here and in testimony.”

Commission Chairman David Sanders also headed an L.A. County department – the often-criticized Department of Children and Family Services – but he said Monday that he was surprised at the extent of the dysfunction he saw from his new perspective compared with what he saw at DCFS.

Translation: The county is messed up. Efforts to reform the child protection system are doomed without a thorough overhaul – not of DCFS but of the entire county governmental edifice, the way it thinks and the way it works.

So how can that kind of overhaul happen? There are two ways to answer the question. One way is to look at the list of 734 recommendations for improving the child protection system offered to the Board of Supervisors and various county departments over the years that the commission found gathering dust on shelves or at best stalled in some early stage of implementation, and conclude that county government is hopeless.

The other is to look at the looming change in county leadership, with two of the five supervisors leaving office this year – the first time there has been that sweeping a change since Michael D. Antonovich ousted Baxter Ward and Deane Dana booted Yvonne Burke a generation ago, in 1980 – and candidates vying to replace them. Antonovich, still serving on the Board of Supervisors 34 years later, and Don Knabe, who succeeded his boss and mentor Dana, will likewise be replaced in two years.

Los Angeles County can have the exact same government and culture with slightly different faces, or it can embrace an opportunity for new thinking.

It’s fine for candidates to talk about how they would hire more child social workers, although the county is already on track to do that. Or how they would change deployment, although those kinds of changes are constantly discussed and always seem to be in the works.

In the view of the commission – this is preliminary, because the final report is yet to be adopted – there is an even more global mandate, and while members of the panel may insist that their recommendations are all about ensuring child safety, a closer look suggests that they go to the heart of numerous challenges that this big, awful bureaucracy faces in order to accomplish anything: Explicitly define its mission; put someone in charge of executing it; measure success and failure.

Sitting supervisors may well protest that these things are already being done, and candidates may be puzzled at marching orders that sound more like a homework assignment in an MBA student’s organization behavior class than social work.

But that’s the point. The county has grown and segmented itself so quickly that it has lost its sense of priorities; or rather, its sense of priorities is set by news headlines, scandals, outrages and political campaigns.

Read the rest.


CALIFORNIA GETS A NEW PRISON POPULATION COMPLIANCE OFFICER

On Wednesday, federal judges named Elwood Lui California’s prison population “compliance officer.” Lui, a former associate justice of the California Court of Appeal, has been tasked with releasing prisoners if the state fails to comply with the judges’ population deadlines throughout the next two years. (Backstory here.)

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lui was one of two candidates for the position suggested by lawyers representing the state. He has agreed to serve without compensation but to have reasonable expenses reimbursed, according to the order from the panel issued Wednesday afternoon…

The judges originally ordered California in 2009 to cut its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, but appeals delayed that and resulted in the Feb. 10 order giving the state two more years to comply.

The February order also gave the compliance officer authority to release the necessary number of inmates to ensure that California meets the court-ordered deadlines.

The compliance officer now has the authority to release inmates if the prison population is not cut to 143 percent of capacity by June 30 (or 116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, solitary | No Comments »

More on the NY Mag Prisoner Hunger Strike Story, LASD Inspector General Wants Town Hall Meetings, a Rundown on Sheriff Candidates…and More

March 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR’S FRESH AIR: HOW CALIFORNIA’S LARGEST PRISON HUNGER STRIKE WAS COORDINATED

On Tuesday, we pointed to an NY Magazine story by Benjamin Wallace-Wells about how an unusual foursome of California prison gang leaders in solitary confinement coordinated a hunger strike over isolation conditions that more than 30,000 prisoners participated in.

NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross speaks with Wallace-Wells about the NY Mag article. Gross also talks with UC Santa Cruz professor of psychology Craig Haney, who has been studying the psychological effects of solitary for decades (and is cited in the NY Mag story).

Here’s a clip of the transcript (but definitely take a listen, especially if you missed the NY Mag piece):

Wallace-Wells: In 2006, prison officials at Pelican Bay reorganized the SHU; they reallocated the prisoners into different spots in the Security Housing Unit. They thought that the gangs had found ways to work even within these extremely isolated environments. Gang leaders ended up next to gang lieutenants and they wanted to break that up.

So what they did, effectively, was they took all the people who they thought were the most influential, of whom they were the most scared, and they put them all together in one small part of the SHU — it’s called the Short Corridor. The theory was you would separate the guys who were very heavily monitored … from the guys who had become accustomed to doing their bidding, the more junior players. One thing that this did, effectively, was it brought all of the most senior and most influential men in the prison system into physical proximity with one another …

Every cell in solitary is part of a pod of eight cells, and though the prisoners don’t see each other, they can shout to the people in those other seven cells. Also, prisoners are ingenious, and they have figured out how to shout through toilet drains in their own cell to people in other cells and nearby parts of the prison. They figured out how those drain networks go.

On how long it took for the strike leaders to come together:

Wallace-Wells: I think it took a long time. These four men who led the hunger strike — Todd Ashker, [allegedly] of the Aryan Brotherhood, had the initial idea; Sitawa Jamaa, who is allegedly from the Black Guerilla Family; and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly a senior leader of the Mexican Mafia; and Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of the three “generals” of Nuestra Familia — they were put together in basically the same space years ago, in 2006, and it took five years for them come together.

That was a long process. They were very wary around one another at first, but they are each in their own way political and both Ashker and Sitawa Jamaa in particular had been reading revolutionary texts for years. In their own way, each of them had come to see their fight as fundamentally with the system itself rather than fundamentally with each other.

They also are all about the same age. They’re now in their late 40s and early 50s and they had a ton of time in the pod and they had nothing to do but talk. So what they will say is that they first came together, they first developed some intimacy, not by talking about the abuses that they believed they were suffering and not by talking about gang politics, but by talking about their families. The kind of catalyst, after all, of that was Ashker and the other white inmate on the pod … had become a kind of revolutionary book club and they would talk about these books by shouting through the pod. The impact for Ashker was to kind of highlight that they were members of a prisoner class, that the racial divisions among them were artificial and had been coached along by the guards.


LASD IG MAX HUNTSMAN WANTS INPUT FROM COMMUNITY REGARDING DEPARTMENT ISSUES

Inspector General for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, says he wants to hold town hall meetings to give LA County residents a voice regarding the Sheriff’s Dept. matters. Hunstman, who was hired in December to provide oversight of the LASD, says he wants to build a stronger connection between the department and the community it serves.

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I view my job to be, in part, reaching out to the community and getting input from them over to the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll act as a buffer because there are certainly some people in the community who have very extreme views, and you can’t just vomit out that whole collection of thoughts on the Sheriff’s Department.”

Patrisse Cullors, who founded the community organization Dignity and Power Now after accusing deputies of assaulting her mentally ill brother in jail, believes town hall meetings are critical to restoring public trust. She even offered to help host and organize them.

“People who have been impacted by deputy violence are extremely angry,” she said. “They expect to get answers at these town hall meetings about what happened to their loved ones, who may have been beaten, shot, brutalized.”

American Civil Liberties Union legal director Peter Eliasberg said town hall meetings could indicate the seriousness of problems at the LASD.

“If people are coming in routinely angry, it doesn’t mean everything they say is true, but it’s a form of early warning.”

A Sheriff’s Department representative pointed out town hall meetings have been held at various stations for years. Those, however, suffered from a lack of public trust.

Huntsman wants his town hall meetings to create a bridge between the people and the LASD.

“It certainly has its limitations, but it’s very helpful,” he said. “I’d like to create something like that, because my job is to bring the community and the Sheriff’s Department together, try to get them to the same place as much as possible about what they want policing to look like.”


A GUIDE TO THE SEVEN LA SHERIFF HOPEFULS

WLA’s editor put together a comprehensive LA County Sheriff candidate rundown for LA Magazine. Here’s the intro:

In the March issue of Los Angeles, Celeste Fremon details the jaw-dropping details about the breakdown in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Sheriff Lee Baca. This June, L.A. County voters have an opportunity to cast their vote for a new sheriff and, hopefully, a new approach to policing within the LASD. You can’t complain if you don’t vote, but how to vote if you don’t know much about the candidates? Here, Fremon provides a rundown of each of the men who want to run the fourth largest police force in the country.


STATE BAR OF TEXAS TO INVESTIGATE PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT CLAIMS MADE BY EXONERATED DEATH ROW INMATE

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has a worthwhile story about Texas death row exoneree Anthony Graves, who is taking on the prosecutor in his case, after being wrongly imprisoned for 18 years (where he faced scheduled execution twice). Graves announced on Wednesday that the State Bar of Texas would be investigating the grievance he filed against Charles Sebesta, a former Burleson County district attorney.

Here’s a clip:

Graves was convicted in 1994 of killing a 45-year-old woman, her 16-year-old daughter and four grandchildren in a single stoplight town about 90 miles northwest of Houston in 1992. The victims were variously beaten, stabbed, strangled and shot.

The sole witness to the crime, Robert Carter, was also charged and initially implicated Graves, but later recanted.

Sebesta said he did not withhold a statement from Carter, and that it was the job of Graves’ attorney to question Carter more closely.

Both Carter and Graves were convicted. Carter was executed in 2000. Sebesta retired the same year.

Graves appealed. In 2006, his conviction was set aside by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the prosecutor not only withheld evidence that would have helped Graves, but that he also encouraged witnesses to commit perjury. Four years later, the new district attorney dismissed the charges and declared Graves innocent…

Graves’ attorney filed a grievance with the state bar against Sebesta in 2007, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, he said (Sebesta disputes this). This year, Texas lawmakers extended the deadline for filing.


Above photo courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Posted in CDCR, Innocence, LASD, solitary | 1 Comment »

After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

« Previous Entries