Monday, November 24, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Supreme Court


TWO MANY WOMEN: the Hidden Overcrowding in California’s Prisons – by Matthew Fleischer

July 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

TOO MANY WOMEN: Are California’s female inmates bearing the brunt of the state’s overcrowding problem?

by
Matthew Fleischer


California’s 2011 prison realignment plan, has rerouted thousands of inmates into the county jails who, in past years, would have landed in the state’s overcrowded prisons. In the first year of the state’s massive corrections reform strategy, no group benefitted more from the new policies than women in the system.

In particular, female inmates profited from newly devised alternative custody programs, like the one that allowed certain “primary caregiver” mothers, convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses, to complete their sentences at home or in community facilities. Plus, since the core of the AB109 reforms was to keep all future non-non-non offenders in their respective counties, the fact that nearly a full third of California’s female inmates were locked up on drug offences meant that the women’s population numbers plunged faster than those of the men. From 2011 to 2012, California’s female inmate population dropped from 9,038 to 6,142, while the number of inmates in female prisons, compared with the design capacity of those facilities, plummeted from to 170% to 116.9%.

For context, the Supreme Court ruling that forced California’s hand in pushing forward with realignment determined that prisons functioning above 137.5% capacity produced conditions that far too often violated the 8th Amendment and constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision, “The medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons falls below the standard of decency that inheres in the Eighth Amendment. This extensive and ongoing constitutional violation requires a remedy, and a remedy will not be achieved without a reduction in overcrowding.”


POPULATION DROPS, INMATES GAIN

Even in its first months, the population decline began producing positive collateral effects for female inmates. By February 22 of 2012, women’s facilities in California had already dropped below the 137.5% marker – and continued declining from there. An April 2012 San Francisco Chronicle feature on the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) outside Chowchilla praised the “quiet hallways” and increased “access to the handful of successful vocational programs this facility still offers, including a cosmetology school, a dental lab and a flag-making factory.”

What a difference a year makes.

After those tremendous gains of 2012, however, California women’s correctional facilities are once again among the most crowded in the state’s 33-prison system. The reason is not difficult to determine: last year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation converted Valley State Prison women’s facility into a men’s facility, in order to ease overcrowding elsewhere. The two remaining female prisons, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) outside Chowchilla, and the California Institute for Women in Chino, were forced to absorb VSP’s population.

As a result, overall numbers in women’s facilities shot up to 153.5% of capacity — now officially higher than the infamously crowded men’s facilities, which are operating at 145.7% capacity.

CCWF, in particular, is suffering. According to the most recent population report from the CDCR, CCWF is operating at nearly 175% capacity, second only to North Kern State men’s prison as the most packed in California.

It seems the Supreme Court ruling that ordered drastic population reductions made no stipulations about capacity numbers in individual facilities – only that the overall system had to come below the 137.5% borderline. So, legally speaking there is nothing wrong with raising capacity in women’s facilities to ease overcrowding for men.


WOMEN TAKE THE HIT

But does this mean women are shouldering the brunt of California’s population reduction efforts?

“Absolutely,” says Courtney Hooks, communications director for the prisoners’ rights organization Justice Now. “Historically, people in women’s prisons have tended to self-harm instead of riot. So CDCR probably felt like it was OK to overcrowd there because they can keep the repercussions quieter.”

Not only are women packed in, sometimes eight to a room meant for four inmates, but the population demographics of the facility have changed, making the facilities more dangerous than they were two years ago, when capacity was at similar rates, say advocates. Because those convicted of drug crimes and other lower level offenses are now being sent to county jails, the women who are suddenly jammed on top of each other are far more likely to be serious offenders.

Justice Now pays routine legal visits to California’s female prisons to monitor conditions and provide legal aid for inmates. This past May, they received testimonials from various inmates about what they described as dangerous conditions inside CCWF.

“I have never experienced this amount of violence and unsafe environment as I have since being transferred to CCWF,” wrote one inmate who asked to remain anonymous, for fear of retribution from guards. “I have encountered more violence at CCWF in five months than in 15 years at VSPW…Rehabilitation is not even an option anymore.”

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations spokesperson Dana Simas concedes that realignment has affected female inmates much more than it has their male counterparts. “Lower level offenders no longer come to state prison. To say that tensions are running high, however…I haven’t seen any incidents that would indicate that to be the case. No female institution has been on lockdown in over 2 years.”

Yet advocates for female prisoners say that overcrowding inherently produces precisely the kind of problems that the Supreme Court designated as cruel and unusual punishment, hence its sharply written order to the state to reduce numbers or face unpleasant consequences.

“What causes medical neglect, illness and [unnecessary] death –the conditions that led to lawsuits and federal oversight–is how overcrowded individual prisons are,” says Justice Now’s Hooks.


COLLATERAL DAMAGE REPORTED TO PROGRAMS AND SERVICES

Misty Rojo, program coordinator for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and a former inmate herself, has seen first hand what overcrowding does to a prison.

“The system can’t accommodate the number of women they’re trying to service. A shortage of staff leaves women [functionally]* locked down. They want to learn vocational skills, but are [prevented] because of lack of staff [to handle the logistics of classes for such a large population]. So women are losing out on any possibility of rehabilitation.”

Rojo’s organization works with women on the inside, who tell her that the woeful medical care that prompted the Supreme Court’s decision has resurfaced inside CCWF.

“We’re getting reports that women transferred to CCWF from Valley State are no longer getting the medications they were used to getting,” she says.

Aside from the health concerns and lack of access to rehabilitative programs that can help the women’s chances of succeeding when they’re released, there are reports that even the little things that make life bearable for women are being adversely affected.

“Mail is not running the same,” she says. “Inmates we spoke with [at CCWF] who work recycling tell us they found bags of undelivered mail that were just thrown away. We get letters all the time asking why we haven’t written back. We have. The inmates are just not getting them. That’s because of overcrowding.”

The CDCR’s Simas says that these concerns about overcrowding in relation to capacity are overstated.

“100 percent capacity would mean everyone is housed in a single cell,” she tells WitnessLA. “By our definition, there is no overcrowding like you saw before realignment. There is no one being housed in triple bunks, or gyms and day rooms. All the inmates are able to access programs. If you were to go in to a male prison, or female prison, you would not see any disparate treatment between the two.”

Simas says that any capacity concerns should ease when the newly opened Folsom Women’s Facility becomes fully operational.

“CCWF is high right now,” she admits. “Folsom, however, isn’t at capacity yet. There are 186 women there now, but the facility can hold over 400.”

Once more inmates are transferred to Folsom by fall of 2013, Simas estimates capacity at CCWF should likely drop to around the mid-160’s.

That fractional drop, however, will do little to appease advocates like Rojo.

“Everything that’s happening is only happening for the men. None of that focus has been brought to women. Based on our conversations with the CDCR, we see no sustainable plan to reduce overcrowding [in women’s prisons].”


FOR WOMEN, SLO-MO RELIEF ONLY

Last Monday, California petitioned the Supreme Court to block the pending order that calls for releasing 9,600 more inmates by the end of the year.

“California has now diverted tens of thousands of low-risk inmates from state prison to local authorities…, expanded good time credits for certain classes of inmates …, and eliminated any need to use gymnasiums and day rooms for anything other than their intended purposes,” Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote in a joint letter to the court.

Realignment is working to ease crowding, Brown seems to be arguing, and that process can’t be rushed by arbitrary deadlines.

Indeed, progress has been made in substantially reducing California’s prison population. The CDCR, however, as indicated by Simas, has made it clear it sees no problem with the remaining overcrowding inside California’s women’s correctional facilities. If realignment continues on its current course, system-wide numbers should continue to drop. But given that the low hanging fruit of non-violent, non-serious female offenders have already been mostly channeled out of the prison system, the state’s two women’s prisons will get the least relief.

Thus, it seems it will be the women remaining in lock-up who will have to endure the indignities and the outright harm of overcrowding while the larger system slowly eases into compliance with the Supreme Court’s mandate.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, prison policy, Realignment, Supreme Court | 4 Comments »

DEVASTATING: 19 Firefighters Killed Sunday Night in AZ Wildfire…and Other News

July 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



As many of you may have heard by now, 19 firefighters were killed Sunday
night battling an out-of-control wildfire, located about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The 19 were members of a team of highly-trained wildland firefighters known as the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots (pictured above), one of the elite Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) that are deployed as needed to major wildland fires throughout the nation.

The deaths of the Prescott hot shots is the second worst such incident in U.S. history, and the worst firefighting loss of life since 1933.

When firefighters or police officers are killed, it tears a particular kind of hole in the community—both locally and in the larger community. Thus, while WLA doesn’t genrally report on wildfires, in this case….attention must be paid.

Here is what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck tweeted at around 10 pm Sunday night:

Feeling incredible shock and grief over the deaths of the 19 firefighters killed in Yarnell,Az wildfires. Please pray 4 their families.CB

Yes.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

OFFICER LAWSUITS AGAINST THE DEPARTMENT DEMONSTRATE NEED FOR CHANGES AND REFORMS SAYS LAPD’S INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s Inspector General, Alex Bustamante, issued a sharply-worded report that critiqued the department’s failure to institute reforms to reduce the number of officers suing department—and collecting big $$ payouts—as a result of various claims of ill-treatment at the hands of the LAPD.

Here’s a small snip from the LA Times’ Joel Rubin’s story on the matter:


Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, calculated that the city has paid $31 million over the last five years to resolve employment-related cases in which members of the LAPD contended they were victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other misconduct. That was almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.

In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department to implement a mediation program devised by the LAPD, city attorneys and officials from the union representing rank-and-file police officers.

The Los Angeles Police Comission will discuss Bustamante’s report on Tuesday.

And while we’re on the topic, it would be good to know what percentage of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department payouts are to settle with department members.

It should also be noted that, in his report, Bustamante said that, in the last 5 years, the LAPD has paid out $110 million in lawsuits, 31 million of which is cops suing the department.

The Sheriff’s department has, by contrast, paid out over $100 million-in three years.

So how much of that 100 million plus is paid to settle with LASD department members who are suing their department?

Has anyone called for reforms to help cut those numbers down?


SUPREME COURT JUSTICE KENNEDY TOSSES OUT PETITION TO STOP GAY MARRIAGES.

On Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy turned down requests from Prop. 8 supporters to put a stop to gay marriages in California until they could appeal to SCOTUS to rethink it’s ruling.

Kennedy said, Uh, no.

NPR’s Mark Memmott has the story. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday, the court (with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion), ruled 5-4 that the proponents who came forward to defend Prop 8 after it was struck down by a lower court did not have the proper standing to bring the case to the High Court. So, in effect, the lower court ruling was allowed to stand.

The ruling has brought hundreds of same-sex couples to courthouses and city halls across California. As we wrote Saturday, it’s “wedding weekend in San Francisco” and other places.

This weekend, Kennedy (to whom appeals of decisions from California are directed) was asked to put a stop to the weddings. Prop 8′s supporters, as our colleagues at KQED reported, argued that because they have 25 days in which to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, the marriages should be on hold for at least that long.

Kennedy disagreed. So, the marriages can continue.


TRAVIS COUNTY, TX, EXPERIMENT COULD SET THE STAGE FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM ACROSS THE STATE

Travis County, Texas, (which includes Austin within its borders) has decided that it can do a better job in helping its law breaking kids turn their lives around, by making use of intensive therapy and other rehabilitative programs.

Brandi Grisson writing for the Texas Tribune has the story. Here’s a clip:

“…We will no longer commit kids to the state,” said Jeanne Meurer, a Travis County senior district judge. “We will take care of all of our kids.”

This year, legislators approved a law to allow the county to commit juvenile offenders to local detention facilities instead of sending them to large institutions operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. If the Travis County model is successful, it could set the stage for the next steps in reforming the juvenile justice system — sharply reducing the size of the agency and the number of detention centers.

“Travis County’s experience doing this will tell us what’s possible,” said Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on jail conditions.

Since Texas deals with many of the same complex youth populations in its facilities as does California, what Travis does should be worth watching.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Fire, juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court | 8 Comments »

DOMA Unconstitutional! ….Prop. 8 Dismissed for Lack of Standing……Also The Supremes on Voting Rights…..A Young Father’s Parental Rights.

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The New Yorker has a photo of Edie Windsor learning of the decision.

MAIN PART OF DOMA IS STRUCK DOWN, RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN 5/4 RULING…..PROP 8 APPEAL SENT BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

DOMA is found unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages,” writes Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority.

Here’s a link to the DOMA opinion.

And this is from the live blogging at SCOTUSBlog:

“What this means, in plain terms,” writes Amy Howe of SCOTUSBLOG, which has been live-blogging the rulings, “is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law– with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.”

Adam Liptak of the NY Times writes this:

Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

In a second decision, the court declined to say whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Instead, the justices said that a case concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, was not properly before them. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial court’s decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the state’s shoes to appeal from the decision, the court said, it was powerless to issue a decision.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation. Its consequences for California were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages there are likely to resume in a matter of weeks.


SUPREMES SEND PROP 8 CASE, HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY, BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

Here’s the Prop 8 ruling.

Here’s the plain English version from the NY Times:

In the California case, the court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban. The Supreme Court’s ruling appears to remove legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in the state, but the court did not issue a broad ruling likely to affect other states.

Here’s Greg Stohr at Bloomberg:

A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and potentially clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.

The court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for gays to marry, or even ruling directly on California’s voter-approved ban, as the justices considered the issue for the first time.

The decisions in the two cases sustain the momentum that has grown behind same-sex marriage over the past decade. With a 5-4 procedural ruling in the California case, the court reinstated a trial judge’s order allowing at least some gay marriages there. And by invalidating part of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act by a different 5-4 majority, the court rejected many of the justifications for treating same-sex and heterosexual couples differently.

Interestingly, the decision on Prop 8 features a different 5/4 configuration with Roberts writing for the majority.

Here’s David Savage of the LA Times:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined [Roberts] to form the majority.

The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Okay, that’s it for the moment. Lots of good national coverage. This is an excellent day for equal rights in the nation.




PROVISION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT GUTTED BY SUPRIME COURT DECISION

The web and my email box are loaded with angry expert opinions and cries of anguish over Tuesday morning’s Supreme Court ruling on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Garrett Epps from the Atlantic writes about the dispiriting decision in appropriately blistering terms:

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.) But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality. An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes. The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

[BIG SNIP]

The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.


SUPREMES RULE FOR BABY VERONICA’S ADOPTIVE FAMILY NOT NATIVE AMERICAN FATHER AND FAMILY

This Solomonic/halving-the-baby decision is a heartbreaker however you look at it.

Dan Frosch and Timothy Williams write about the ruling for the New York Times. Here’s a clip:

An American Indian child being raised by her biological father should not have been taken from her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, saying that a federal law devised to keep Indian families together did not apply in the case.

The 5-to-4 decision, which reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, found that the case represented an exception to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that made it more difficult for American Indian children to be removed from their families. That landmark legislation effectively ended the practice of taking Indian children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools and foster care.

The court’s majority held Tuesday that the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, No. 12-399, did not involve removing a child from an Indian home because the girl’s father had relinquished his parental rights before the girl’s birth and her biological mother had agreed to allow the South Carolina couple to adopt the girl.

Four months after the child’s birth, the father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee tribe, changed his mind and sought custody of his daughter. He said he had not realized that his former fiancée was going to put the child up for adoption.

The girl was in the process of being legally adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who raised her for 27 months before South Carolina courts ruled in favor of Mr. Brown. The child, now nearly 4, has been living with Mr. Brown in Oklahoma for the past year and a half. The state courts found that both the Capobianco family and Mr. Brown had provided the girl with safe, loving homes.

The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of the dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from child welfare groups, adoptive parents and Indian tribes, all of whom have sought a clearer legal standard of how the Indian Child Welfare Act should be applied when it appears to conflict with state law.


Posted in children and adolescents, How Appealing, LGBT, race, race and class, racial justice, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Judges Order Gov. Jerry to Start Releasing Prisoners, CA Public Records Act No Longer in Jeopardy…and More

June 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

FEDERAL JUDGES TELL GOV. BROWN HE MUST START COMPLYING WITH ORDERED CAP ON PRISON POP.

On Thursday, a panel of three federal judges—Stephen Reinhardt, Lawrence Karlton and Thelton Henderson-– issued a 51-page court order demanding Gov. Jerry Brown immediately comply with a Supreme Court-imposed order meet a 137.5% population cap in CA’s severely overcrowded prisons. The panel said that if the governor doesn’t get with the program, he will be forced to release inmates from a list of low risk offenders. Thus far, the population has been reduced by about 20,000 through realignment, but according to the judges, the governor has not taken adequate additional steps to further reduce the population by the 10,000 necessary to meet the order. (Last month, he started the process to appeal the federal court order to the Supreme Court.)

LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

Citing California’s “defiance,” “intransigence” and “deliberate failure” to provide inmates with adequate care in its overcrowded lockups, the judges on Thursday said Brown must shed 9,600 inmates —about 8% of the prison population — by the end of the year.

Unless he finds another way to ease crowding, the governor must expand the credits that inmates can earn for good behavior or participation in rehabilitation programs, the judges said.

“We are willing to defer to their choice for how to comply with our order, not whether to comply with it,” the judges wrote. “Defendants have consistently sought to frustrate every attempt by this court to achieve a resolution to the overcrowding problem.”

If Sacramento does not meet the inmate cap on time, the judges said, it will have to release prisoners from a list of “low risk” offenders the court has told the administration to prepare.

[SNIP]

Thursday’s order requires, absent other solutions, that the state give minimum-custody inmates two days off for every one served without trouble and to apply those credits retroactively. Such a step could spur the release of as many as 5,385 prisoners by the end of December.

The court order also instructed the governor to check in every two weeks until December, upping the frequency from current once-per-month report.

Not surprisingly, the California Police Chief’s Association and the California State Sheriff’s Association were quick to announce objections to the panel’s demand that CA comply and their support for Gov. Brown’s request to stay the order.


GOV. AND LEGISLATURE BACK DOWN ON CHANGES TO PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

Gov. Jerry Brown, the CA Senate, and Assembly have all backed down on a controversial attempt to dilute the state’s Public Records Act by making it optional for cities, counties, and school districts to fulfill requests for public records (usually made by reporters and government watchdogs, but also a useful tool for students and average citizens).

The San Jose Mercury’s Mike Rosenberg has the story. Here’s a clip:

State lawmakers were hit with a torrent of criticism from newspapers around the state, as well opposition from everyone from liberal environmentalists to conservatives, who feared the change approved by the Legislature last week would have severely limited the public’s right to know what their government is up to.

After deciding last week to pull about $20 million for local agencies to respond to requests made under the California Public Records Act –signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968 — Brown and Senate leaders reversed course Thursday, a day after the Assembly did the same.

The political firestorm proved too much to bear for state leaders, particularly in light of the relatively small amount of funding the state was looking to cut, which amounts to 0.02 percent of the state’s general-fund budget at a time when the budget has a $1.1 billion surplus.

[SNIP]

Reporters and other watchdogs regularly file public records requests seeking data such as government salaries and email correspondence between public officials, and the information over the decades has led to the exposure of wrongdoing and in some cases criminal indictments. The law approved last week would have allowed cities, counties and school districts to essentially ignore those requests if they chose to.

They’re now required to send a response within 10 days.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like most reporters working in California, we at WLA have regularly used the CPRA to persuade public agencies to fork over crucial copies of documents, stats, and other pieces information needed for the stories we are pursuing. For instance, we used the state’s public records law to get lists of the people who had donated to LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s Gardena elections campaigns. We also used the California Public Records Act to get the number and kind of force incidents for each of the county’s jails, over a multi-year period—to name two of many, many instances.

Thus it was perplexing that the governor and our lawmakers came as close as they did to damaging this instrument so essential to maintaining a healthy democracy.

All’s well that ends well, we guess— but, geeze, Jerry, what in the world were you thinking???


LOOKING BACK ON THE EVENTFUL 2012 SCOTUS TERM (IT’S NOT OVER YET!)

As part of Slate’s running tradition, legal reporter Emily Bazelon has a rather interesting review of the past year at the Supreme Court (and a glance toward the future). Here are two notable clips:

…what did you make of [Justice Scalia's] impassioned cry for civil liberties in Maryland v. King? In that one, five justices (the other conservatives plus Stephen Breyer) ruled that states can collect DNA from everyone who gets arrested for a serious crime. Scalia dissented, warning of worse to come: “Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” This is the kind of just-you-wait prediction he made 10 years ago to warn that preventing the states from criminalizing sodomy would one day lead to gay marriage. Next week, we will find out if he was right about that. Either way, what do you think of dire prediction as a rhetorical strategy?

[SNIP]

Next week, we will of course talk about the court’s take on race in Ameica and whether it means life or death of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action. Any predictions? I will say that as a gay-rights supporter, I’m feeling optimistic about both of the gay-marriage cases. I think the court will strike down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for purposes of receiving federal benefits. And I think it will also find a way to get rid of California’s gay marriage ban, without foisting gay marriage on the rest of the states that have yet to vote for it.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Realignment, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Breakdown on Monday’s SCOTUS Rulings, and CA Prison Overcrowding Increasing…plus Motion for DCFS Blue Ribbon Commission

June 18th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

The Supreme Court, nearing the end of the 2012 term, delivered several notable decisions on Monday.

PRE-MIRANDA RIGHTS (OR LACK THEREOF)

In a 5-4 split ruling, the Supreme Court held that a defendant’s silence before being read his or her Miranda rights can be used against them in court.

AP’s Jessie J. Holland has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 5-4 ruling comes in the case of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted of a 1992 murder. During police questioning, and before he was arrested or read his Miranda rights, Salinas answered some questions but did not answer when asked if a shotgun he had access to would match up with the murder weapon.

Prosecutors in Texas used his silence on that question in convicting him of murder, saying it helped demonstrate his guilt. Salinas appealed, saying his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent should have kept lawyers from using his silence against him in court. Texas courts disagreed, saying pre-Miranda silence is not protected by the Constitution.

The high court upheld that decision.

The Fifth Amendment protects Americans against forced self-incrimination, with the Supreme Court saying that prosecutors cannot comment on a defendant’s refusal to testify at trial. The courts have expanded that right to answering questions in police custody, with police required to tell people under arrest they have a right to remain silent without it being used in court.

Prosecutors argued that since Salinas was answering some questions — therefore not invoking his right to silence — and since he wasn’t under arrest and wasn’t compelled to speak, his silence on the incriminating question doesn’t get constitutional protection.


MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING

In a second 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said that any finding of fact in a case that might increase the mandatory minimum sentence should not be determined by a judge, but instead, submitted to the jury for final say.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey has the story. Here’s a clip:

The decision marks an important affirmation of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, while establishing a new rule for judges seeking to balance sentencing guidelines with their own judicial discretion.

In the 5-to-4 decision, the high court overturned two existing legal precedents from 1986 and 2002 that permitted judges to make such determinations themselves by a preponderance of the evidence.

In overturning those precedents, the majority justices said any fact that increases a defendant’s sentence – including a mandatory minimum sentence – must be submitted to a jury under the higher standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.

(This is surprisingly complicated to summarize, so you might want to read the whole story.)


AZ VOTER REGISTRATION

SCOTUS also struck down an Arizona voter registration law requiring voters to prove their citizenship—but it’s complicated.

UC Irvine Law Professor Richard L. Hasen clears up the confusion surrounding the high court’s decision in a post for the Daily Beast.

(More SCOTUS rulings are expected this Thursday.)


UPDATE ON CALIFORNIA PRISON POP. PROBLEMS

Gov. Jerry Brown’s monthly report to federal judges shows that CA’s prison crowding situation is slowly getting worse. Brown says he’s drafting a legislative strategy to get the population reduction closer to the number mandated by the court. (Last month, the governor’s office began the process to appeal the federal court order to the Supreme Court.)

LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

In the state’s monthly progress report to federal judges, California acknowledges prison crowding has again begun to creep upward while Gov. Jerry Brown promises to seek legislative solutions “shortly.”

The state’s 33 prisons are now at more than 150% capacity, according to Monday’s report to the U.S. District courts. Three prisons — North Kern, the Central California Women’s Facility, and Wasco — are at or near 175% crowding.

[SNIP]

For the second month in a row, Brown’s lawyers say the governor is “drafting legislative language” to take other steps to reduce crowding, including to keep more inmates in private prisons out of state, lease beds from county jails, and allow inmates who are elderly, medically frail or model prisoners to be released earlier.



EDITOR’S NOTE: DCFS BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION VOTE

Don’t forget that today—Tuesday— the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, cosponsored by Sup. Mike Antonovich, to create a Blue Ribbon Comission on Child Protection, in order to get to the bottom of why LA’s foster care system is still so disasterously dysfuntional.

(Here’s our earlier story on the motion.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Realignment, Sentencing, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Press Opinions on McDonnell/Baca, Compelling Arguments for Juvenile Justice Reform…and More

June 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

REGRETTING LB POLICE CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL’S DECISION NOT TO CHALLENGE BACA

Tuesday evening, Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell announced that he would not be running against LASD Sheriff Baca as expected. In the days since, various newspapers have expressed their disappointment that the Sheriff’s biggest competition will be backing out of the race.

Here’s one lamentation from LA Times’ editorial boardmember Sandra Hernandez. Here’s a clip:

Now he says he won’t run for sheriff because it would require too much time spent on fundraising and politicking. His decision, while understandable, is disappointing for many reasons. McDonnell is a well-respected cop who recently served on the county commission that criticized Baca’s management of the jails.

And here’s a clip from a similarly themed Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial:

Well, that’s disappointing. One of the most anticipated races of Southern California’s 2014 election season seems to have fallen apart with Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell’s announcement that he won’t run for Los Angeles County sheriff.

That’s good for Long Beach, but not for the county at large. McDonnell is a smart, talented and highly respected police chief who would have brought welcome competition to the race.


WHY WE SHOULD TAKE JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM SERIOUSLY

The American Psychological Association’s Kerry Bolger, in a notable post for the APA blog “Psychology Benefits Society,” explains the enormous importance of reforming the US juvenile justice system.

Here are the first two reasons listed:

1. Overreliance on incarceration is unnecessary.

Many young people in juvenile correctional facilities are incarcerated for low-level and nonviolent offenses. In 2010, for example, of the 59,000 youths under age 18 confined in juvenile facilities in the U.S., only 1 in 4 was detained or committed for a serious violent offense. About 12,700 kids (1 in 5) were confined only for status offenses (such as truancy, curfew violation, or running away) or technical violations (such as failing to report to a parole officer).

A number of states have shifted their youth justice policies away from overreliance on incarceration, with no accompanying increase in juvenile crime.

2. Incarceration doesn’t reduce future crime.

Juvenile incarceration doesn’t reduce re-offending, but rather increases it, especially among youth with less-serious delinquency histories.

That’s no surprise, considering that youth in juvenile correctional facilities are exposed to more serious offenders and to widespread physical and sexual violence in confinement.

(Read the rest here.)


STILL NO SCOTUS RULINGS ON GAY MARRIAGE (AND OTHER PRESSING ISSUES)

The Supreme Court did not issue rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Prop 8, affirmative action, or the Voting Rights Act. The court will now likely make decisions on the highly anticipated gay marriage cases on June 26 or 27, at the very end of the court’s current term.

HuffPost’s Luke Johnson has a quick update on the cases (and an entertaining little video). Here’s a clip:

The court is first expected to make a decision on Fisher v. University of Texas, challenging the university’s affirmative action policy in college admissions. The justices then will likely rule on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act along with decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8.

Posted in juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | No Comments »

LA Foster Kids Graduate, SCOTUS Rules on Sentencing Guidelines…and More

June 11th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

FOSTER YOUTH EDUCATION PROGRAM’S GRADUATING CLASS OF 2013

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina held a celebration before last week’s board meeting to honor the high school graduation of forty-eight foster youths participating in the Foster Youth Education Program. Educational outcomes for foster youth have traditionally been extremely grim, making programs like this one immensely important (as illustrated in this study).

Here’s a clip from Molina’s announcement:

“Being part of the educational journey of these amazing kids truly motivates all of us to continue to advocate on their behalf,” Molina said. “And the positive results speak volumes.”

Molina’s program – which went countywide last year – requires intensive collaboration particularly between school district staff and DCFS social workers, who check students’ grades weekly; secure tutoring sessions and transportation assistance; meet students’ summer school registration deadlines; schedule their SAT prep courses and exams well in advance; and plan college tours. They also ensure that any credits students earned at schools they previously attended are counted toward graduation. Social workers’ offices are located near the schools of the children they oversee – which helps them more effectively work with each student to craft an individualized case plan (in partnership with each child’s caregivers, biological parents, and school personnel).


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF FOSTER CARE…

The LA County Supes will likely be voting today on whether to cut ties with the troubled foster care contractor known as Teens Happy Homes. They are expected to have the three votes necessary to pass the motion to end the contract. We’ll keep you updated.


SUPREME COURT SEZ HARSHER SENTENCING GUIDELINES NOT RETROACTIVE

In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS ruled on Monday that it’s unconstitutional to use new sentencing guidelines on old cases if they call for harsher punishment than the guidelines that were in effect when the crimes were committed.

SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has the story. Here’s a clip:

In this case, petitioner Marvin Peugh was convicted in federal court in 2009 on five counts of bank fraud for conduct that occurred in 1999 and 2000. Based on the sentence recommended in the current version of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the district court sentenced him to seventy months in prison – a sentence that was almost twice as long as the one recommended in the version of the Sentencing Guidelines that was in effect when Peugh committed his crimes. Peugh argued that the Ex Post Facto Clause, which (among other things) prohibits the passage of laws that impose a greater punishment than the punishment in effect when the crime was committed, required the court to sentence him using the earlier version of the Guidelines, but both the federal trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected that argument.

This morning, in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Court held that it does violate the Ex Post Facto Clause to sentence a defendant based on guidelines that were promulgated after he committed his crimes, when the new version provides a higher sentencing range than the version in place at the time of the offense.


THE ROAD TO RIGHTING INJUSTICES WITHIN THE US CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

Over the last month, the culture of abuse and neglect in correctional facilities in four states has been brought to public attention by lawyers, judges, and government investigators. 

In a sharply-worded essay, the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen asks why the DOJ won’t investigate the same major problems within the federal prison system. 

Here’s a large opening clip:

It has been an extraordinary three weeks in the history of the American penal system, perhaps one of the darkest periods on record. In four states, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, the systemic abuse and neglect of inmates, and especially mentally ill inmates, has been investigated, chronicled and disclosed in grim detail to the world by lawyers, government investigators and one federal judge. The conclusions are inescapable: In our zeal to dehumanize criminals we have allowed our prisons to become medieval places of unspeakable cruelty so far beyond constitutional norms that they are barely recognizable.

First, on May 22, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department released a report highlighting the unconstitutional conditions of a county prison in Florida. Then, on May 30th, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit alleging atrocious conditions at a state prison in Mississippi. One day later, the feds again sounded out on behalf of inmates, this time against profound abuse and neglect at a Pennsylvania prison. Finally, last week, a federal judge issued an order describing the unconstitutional “brutality” of the prison in Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

There were many common themes in the reports. In each instance, the mistreatment of mentally ill inmates was highlighted. Prison officials have failed to provide a constitutional level of care in virtually every respect, from providing medication and treatment to protecting the men from committing suicide. In the Louisiana court order, one prison expert is quoted by the judge as describing an “extraordinary and horrific” situation with the prison there. In the Florida investigation, federal investigators noted that local prison officials “have elected to ignore obvious and serious systemic deficiencies” in the jail’s mental health services.

Taken together, these developments shed welcome light on some of the worst government abuses of our time and demonstrate vividly the need for enlightened policies and more human decency and accountability from prison officials. But these lawsuits and investigations and court orders also beg a critical question: If the feds are so concerned with the constitutional rights of mentally ill prisoners in state and local prisons, why is the Justice Department so unwilling to undertake an equally thorough review of the similarly dubious practices and policies now being forced upon mentally ill federal prisoners by the Bureau of Prisons?

This issue strikes close to home, both with the state of California and the County of Los Angeles.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, jail, Mental Illness, prison, Sentencing, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Issues with DCFS Stopping Family Services, Voluntary Isolation, and a SCOTUS DNA Swabbing Update

June 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(Scroll down to the second section for the corresponding story.)



FOSTER CARE SERVICE PROVIDERS PUT THE HEAT ON DCFS

A community meeting was held in South LA last week to discuss the ramifications of the decision by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to drop what are known as “family preservation services” meant to keep kids out of the foster care system while providing troubled families help through various programs that allow them to get control of their lives while keeping kids safe.

Kelly Vassar has the story for Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

The coalition, angered by recent cuts of $14 million in cuts to family preservation services set to take effect in July, addressed three primary issues with the DCFS’ policies in SPA 6: detention strategies, dismantling the safety net, and the dismantling of partnerships that had been developed during a county-wide effort to bring down the numbers of children entering foster care.

“At our last snap shot, which was through April, we had 27,188 children under our courts’ jurisdiction,” stated Judge Nash, while reading from a report for the county’s judges. “Are there any services that will allow the child to safely remain in the home? We must force DCFS to answer this question in each and every case.”

[SNIP]

The $14 million cut to the family preservation fund for high-risk DCFS families also concerns the SPA 6 coalition, because reduced funding for family prevention strategies means the number of child detentions in South L.A. might escalate.

Indeed, as Nash pointed out, it already has.

David Green, president of the local 721 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), discussed ways to best serve the children of South L.A., he observed the “detain first, ask questions later mentality” was the not the best way to move forward.

Proponents of family preservation policies argue that reuniting families is a much more suitable priority than foster care, considering the poor life outcomes experienced by many foster children.

Obviously, family reunification requires rigorous risk assessment. We don’t want more dead kids at the hands of their families. Nor do we want more kids yanked away from parents that could’ve been helped to nurture their children. (And we don’t want them sent to frightening places like Teens Happy Homes, for that matter.)


“JUVENILE IN-JUSTICE” PHOTOGRAPHER’S 24 HOURS IN SOLITARY

Juvenile In-Justice Project photographer and advocate Richard Ross was given the opportunity to spend a day in an isolation cell at a juvenile detention facility last month. He documented his stay with a digital camera that snapped a photo every seven seconds during his twenty-four hour voluntary solitary confinement.

Wired’s Jakob Schiller has the story and photos. Here are some clips:

His incarceration started at 4:30 p.m. on May 3 and lasted until 5:00 p.m. the following day. During the entire time he had a digital camera and an intervalometer set up in the corner of the cell that took a picture every seven seconds as a way to record his stay.

Ross chose 24 hours because that’s the typical amount of time a juvenile offender spends in isolation at the facility when they’re first admitted. It’s not punishment for some aggressive or egregious behavior, just a matter of procedure while the bureaucracy “evaluates” them. Sometimes children are put in isolation because they are low-level offenders and should not be housed with the more serious offenders in the general population. Isolation can also be used for disciplinary action, however, and Ross has interviewed many kids who have spent weeks alone.

It was unbelievably dehumanizing [in the cell], and I’m an adult and I knew that I had 24 hours,” he says. “Then you have these kids who are used to sleeping in their beds, some of whom have never been away from home.”

[SNIP]

“Humane” would not be how Ross described his experience in the cell. Instead, he says it was cold and designed to take away any sense of control. There was no clock in the room and someone else decided when the lights were on or off. The food was predictably terrible, the bed was unforgiving, and the only thing he was allowed to read was the Bible. To stay sane he sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” because it reminded him of his wife.

As difficult as the experience was for Ross, he had it easy. It was on his terms. He knew when he was getting out. He had a nice hotel and dinner to go back to. He spoke with many kids who were scheduled for 24 hours but spent many days. One child in California had spent eight weeks.


SCOTUS UPDATE: BOTH SIDES MISSED THE BOTTOM LINE ON DNA SWABBING AND 4TH AMENDMENT

In a delightfully smart essay for Slate, law professor Barry Friedman explains why both the majority and the dissenting justices are wrong about Maryland v. King, Monday’s ruling on the constitutionality of DNA swabbing upon arrest for serious crimes.

Here’s an unusually large clip (and we hope Slate will forgive us), but we wanted to show you how great Friedman’s reasoning is (and definitely go read the whole thing):

What the justices seem to see only through a glass darkly is that there are two very different kinds of searches, reflecting two different kinds of policing. There are investigative searches, and there are regulatory searches. The first kind are what you see on television, like on The Closer when Brenda Leigh Johnson tries to catch a bad guy who has committed or is about to commit a crime. The second kind includes airport security or drunk driving roadblocks—or even searching arrested people for weapons. These searches aim not to catch criminals, but to deter bad things from happening in the first place. Sure, we want to find the person getting on a plane with a gun. But the real reason for airport security is to deter people from bringing weapons to airports in the first place.

The categories matter because until you see them you can’t understand what the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure offers in each situation. Justice Scalia was right that the Fourth Amendment is categorical in requiring that the police must have a good reason before conducting investigative searches. These searches target a specific person for a specific crime, and before the government can single you out from the crowd for its special, loving attention, it has to have reason to believe you deserve to be the lucky winner. That’s probable cause.

If you think about it for all of a nanosecond, though, it makes zero sense to talk about “probable cause” as a protection against regulatory, deterrent searches. We don’t have any reason to think anyone in the airport security line did anything wrong. But does that mean airport security is unconstitutional? Surely not!

The Constitution does offer protection from invalid regulatory searches, though, in two ways. The first is generality: Search everyone, and there is a good chance the courts should uphold it. If Congress decided that everyone in the country, members of Congress included, should be in the DNA databank, lawmakers are more likely to have a good reason than if they only go after a politically vulnerable group like people who are arrested. (And yes, the chance of universal DNA collection actually getting adopted by Congress resembles that of the proverbial snowball surviving in Hades, demonstrating how general applicability is a good political check on government intrusiveness.)

The second protection is “cause,” but of a specific and heightened sort: The rule should be that the government must have a really, really good reason to subject a particular group to a regulatory search—for example to collect DNA from arrestees rather than from everyone.

Posted in DCFS, DNA, Foster Care, juvenile justice, mental health, Supreme Court | No Comments »

SCOTUS Sez OK to DNA Swab at Arrest, Scalia Protests….Crime in Schools Down, Bullying Not….Juvie Justice Reform in Nebraska

June 4th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


In a 5/4 decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers
can take one’s DNA if one is arrested for a serious offense, a decision that elicited howls of protest from certain quarters. However, the primary howl of dissent came, not from the liberal justices or advocacy organizations, but from Justice Antonin Scalia.

(For the record, all three liberal-leaning female justices voted in the minority block. Breyer voted with the majority.)

And, be advised, Scalia didn’t just write a dissent, he insisted on reading it aloud—with much drama, lots of well crafted and colorful verbiage, and general passion.

Here’s a clip from Joan Biskupic’s story for Reuters on Scalia’s dissent :

Writing for the minority, Scalia was joined by three liberal justices. But his 11-minute oral statement – a departure from the usual practice in which only the majority opinion is read aloud – was classic Scalia. It relied on his “originalist” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and employed forceful rhetoric as clever as it was heated. He declared that the majority’s rationale “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” An adroit writer, he sprinkled in words from decidedly non-legal contexts, such as “hash” and “genuflecting” and mixed in references to American revolutionary Patrick Henry and the biblical Leviathan.

The latter came at a moment of high drama in the white marble courtroom when Scalia concluded: “It may be wise, as the court obviously believes, to make the Leviathan all-seeing, so that he may protect us all the better. But the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection. I dissent.”

Only a few times each term does a justice read a dissenting opinion aloud. It typically happens in a close, hard-fought case, when a dissenter is especially angry and wants to call attention to a decision he or she believes especially unwise…..

And here’s a clip from Adam Liptak’s more general story on the decision for the NY Times:

The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody.

But the Fourth Amendment forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime, he said, a point the majority did not dispute….

Scalia’s dead right, of course. And, although WLA is agnostic on the issue in general, we too are bugged by the legal underpinnings of this ruling. Given how long it typically takes to get DNA results back, the majority’s rationale is a major stretch for the average felony arrest. And we don’t like it that the majority used this squishy and not-terribly supportable line of reasoning as a way to get around any Fourth Amendment problems.

The good news is that the ruling for swabbing will help solve more crimes. And, with luck, fewer innocent people will be convicted. But, it sets a weird precedent.

So, yes, go Antonin! Thank you for not going into your minority status quietly.

PS: For this one brief and shining moment, the ACLU agrees with Scalia, and name checks him in their post ruling statement.


NEW REPORT SHOWS CRIME AND VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS ARE DOWN SINCE 1992, BUT BULLYING HAS REMAINED DISHEARTENINGLY STEADY

Last Friday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new report that looks at violence and safety in schools and the numbers tell a complicated story.

For example, victimization of students at school by theft and violent crime dropped precipitously from 1993 to 2011 with a high in ’93 of around 165 students per thousand, to only around 35 students per 1000 in 2010.

When it comes to homicides in schools, the numbers were high in 1992, and then again in the 2006-07 school year, but steadily declined after that.

The number of kids who’d brought a weapon to school in the last 30 days has gone down quite a bit since the early 1990s. But still, 5 percent of students have brought a weapon to campus at least one day in the last 30 days (down from more than 12 percent in 1993.)

Yet, while violence and crime in schools dropped, bullying did not.

In 2011, 28 percent of kids between the ages of 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school, with the numbers slightly higher for girls at 31.4 percent, than for boys, at 24.5 percent.

There has been, as one might guess, much more in the way of safety measures put into place since the early 1990s (security cameras, restricted access to campus during school hours, etc.). And yet, while the percentage of schools with security guards, or school police, has remained about the same since 2005 (after rising a bit in 2007) the number of armed personnel on campus has dropped.

Take a look at the numbers and charts for yourself.


NEBRASKA TAKES BIG STEP TOWARD JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM

Although, nationally, juvenile incarceration is dropping, Nebraska had an 8 percent rise between 1997 and 2010, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation analysis released this year.

But now the state has taken a significant step in the direction of turning that trend around, according to a story by James Swift of the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

Nebraska’s juvenile justice system will have a new focus on rehabilitation thanks to a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Legislative Bill 561 (LB561), introduced by state Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha), will allocate $14.5 million towards several new services, as well as a grant program to aid counties in treating juvenile offenders.

The bill decreases the state’s dependency on juvenile detention programming, placing a greater emphasis on youth rehabilitation. The new measure also transfers juvenile offender supervision over to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration, which is subordinate to the state’s Supreme Court. Prior to the legislation taking effect, Nebraska’s juvenile populations were instead overseen by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, Human rights, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Supreme Court, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »