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Report Recommends Continuing Effective Women’s Diversion Court in LA

September 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


An important LA County diversion program, the Second Chance Women’s Reentry Court (WRC), is slated to be defunded in December 2015, after receiving a six-month extension in June.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has conducted an assessment on whether to keep the program funded past its scheduled end-date in December.

After running the numbers, the Department of Public Health recommends extending the program, which according to DPH, saves the county money, keeps women out of lock-up, and helps women build better lives for themselves and their families. (We at WLA agree, and hope that the program will be saved.)


The program, which has helped more than 300 women since its inception, is a multi-agency effort between the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Department of Probation, LA County Superior Court, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, County Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, and the Department of Public Health’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Control Program.

By participating in the WRC, women charged with non-serious felonies or probation violations take part in at least a six-month residential program and then up to a year of outpatient care instead of serving a jail sentence. The alternative court program relies on evidence-based, trauma-informed, and gender-specific strategies to treat women’s underlying issues, rather than punish alleged offenses.

Women in the program receive mental health services and substance abuse treatment, as well as help with housing and employment and family reunification services, when needed.


In the three years after graduating from the program in 2011-2012, 18% of WRC participants had come back into contact with the criminal justice system, compared with a recidivism rate of nearly 50% for women released from CA prisons in 2008-2009.

The rate of homelessness was cut in half for women coming out of the court program than when they were admitted. Women also built better relationships with their families and kids, and had significantly higher rates of employment and school enrollment.

The assessment also found that women who received the gender-specific treatment were one-fifth as likely to exhibit signs of PTSD a year after the end of the program, as compared with women who did not receive gender-specific help.

“Women constitute the fastest-growing segment of people in U.S. jails and prisons,” said LA County’s Interim Health Officer Jeffrey Gunzenhauser. “Women in the criminal justice system often suffer from mental health problems, chronic drug and alcohol addictions, and trauma histories, and are more likely than men to be the primary caretaker of children prior to incarceration.”


Besides extending the program, the Public Health Department also recommends boosting the number of programs like WRC that serve women with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues.

The assessment also calls for increased staff numbers to provide more help for women transitioning between residential and outpatient treatment through WRC, and for those graduating from the WRC.


Be sure to check our updated version of last night’s story.

Posted in Courts, PTSD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Trauma, women's issues | No Comments »

Trauma Lawsuit Against Compton School District, Drugging Foster Kids, the Brown Act-violating Jail Vote, and California’s New Resident Wolves

August 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald heard arguments in a potentially precedent-setting suit against Compton Unified School District for failing to help severely traumatized kids struggling with learning.

The lawsuit filed by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in May, alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law.

If Judge Fitzgerald grants the injunction, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.

A decision in favor of the young plaintiffs could also have a ripple effect on schools across the country.

Compton Unified’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the suit could have the effect giving all of Compton’s students a disability designation just because of where they live.

(Go here for WLA’s previous reporting on this lawsuit.)

NPR’s Cory Turner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them.

The LA Times’ Stephen Caesar also reported on this issue.


A California bill would have mandated oversight of the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, giving current public health nurses power to monitor the kids, and paying for 38 new public health nurses across CA’s 58 counties.

The bill likely would have been a meaningful step forward in addressing a serious breakdown in foster kids’ mental health care, (uncovered in Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids“) that is, until its author Senator Jim Beall had to strip it of nearly all of its power in the hopes of getting it past budget hawks.

Implementation would have cost $5 million in the first year, and up to $10 million per year, thereafter.

Because Sen. Beall cut the funding out of the bill to give it a chance in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, nurse oversight is no longer be mandatory: counties can choose to opt in (or not) and will have to cough up the money if they want to participate.

Unfortunately, according to National Center for Youth Law’s Anna Johnson, “If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it.”

Contra Costa Times’ Josh Richman has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Appropriations committees are usually the highest hurdle you have to jump over … second perhaps only to the governor’s signature,” Beall, D-San Jose, said later Wednesday. “We’re going to get the bill on the governor’s desk.”

Beall’s SB 319 is one of four pending bills inspired by the Bay Area News Group’s investigative series “Drugging Our Kids,” which revealed that nearly 1 in 4 foster care teens takes psychiatric drugs.

The drugs are often used to control behavior, not to treat mental illnesses. Most of those on the drugs are prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of medication that have the most harmful side effects.

The bill still would give public health nurses the authority to get foster youth’s medical records from social workers and prescribing doctors, Beall said, even though it won’t be required. Almost all of the state’s largest counties will do so, he predicted, and he can use his seats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees to revisit funding for more nurses and perhaps a statewide mandate in next year’s budget talks.

Still, foster-youth advocates were disappointed.

The Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law sponsored SB 319, and center policy analyst Anna Johnson testified on its behalf Wednesday. Afterward, she said the state’s refusal to spend any money on this is especially disappointing because the federal government would pay 75 percent of the bill.

“If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it” as many other states have, she said. Refusing to do so means “we’re happy with passing that cost on to foster children’s bodies” by “taking a big risk that children will continue to not be monitored on these medications, whether they’re medically necessary or not.”


Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a letter confronting the Board of Supervisors about violating the Ralph M. Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, the vote did not honor the public’s guaranteed right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

The LA Times’ editorial board says that even though the Supes remedied the improper vote by recalendaring it, the move doesn’t do anything to solve the public trust issue the first vote created. Here’s a clip:

Then, without prior notice, they proceeded to discuss and adopt a separate plan to downsize a facility to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to move ahead with construction of a women’s jail in the Antelope Valley. They offered this ludicrous explanation: The proper jail size depended on the number of people they could divert, so the agenda item on diversion programs and funding necessarily provided the public adequate notice that they would also take up and vote on the controversial multibillion-dollar public works projects.

The true reason for trying to shoehorn in the jails vote? It might be that they had just discovered that state officials were serious about a looming deadline to apply for construction funding, and that they were going to miss it because of their inattentiveness; or that properly calendaring the item for a later meeting would interfere with their vacation plans; or that providing legally adequate notice would raise too much of a public ruckus; or all of the above.

Some county officials also reasoned, after the fact, that anyone who cared about jails also cared about diversion, and therefore was already in the room and received their (very short) notice in real time.

But the purpose of public notice requirements isn’t solely to allow people to show up at board meetings to offer comments, especially in a county of 10 million residents. Only a small slice of the public weighs in that way. Others voice their opinions by calling, emailing, organizing, lobbying or arguing in advance of a major decision affecting them — if they know, as the law entitles them to know, when that decision is to be made. And when push comes to shove, taxpayers and other members of the public have every right to know what their elected representatives are doing, whether they plan to weigh in or not.


A new pack of gray wolves, called the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials, has appeared in California. The two adult wolves and five pups, captured on a trail camera, are the first resident pack in CA in decades.

In 2011, a lone gray wolf, OR-7, made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon. OR-7 now lives with his pack just over the Oregon border.

Here’s what the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has to say about the new pack:

Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.

In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.

CDFW is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick who has been following the California wolf saga for years has the story.

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Trauma, wolves | 7 Comments »

Oakland Mentorship Program Offers Safety & Healing to Sexually Exploited Young Women – by Sarah Zahedi

July 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas are all rated as among of the highest intensity centers for child commercial sex trafficking in the nation. 

Fortunately, California has been a leader in reforming its response to the commercial sexual exploitation of children, treating the young people involved as the victims of crime they are, not lawbreakers to be prosecuted.

Yet, for victims of sex trafficking, recovery can be extremely challenging due to the severity of the emotional and physical abuse, as well as the sexual abuse, they have endured. Fortunately, as California reformed its legal response to sex trafficking victims, community organizations have been emerging to help these young women and men to whom great harm has been done to begin the healing process and then to find ways to thrive.

In the story below, which originally appeared in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, journalist Sarah Zahedi explores the work of one such program.


How a unique mentorship program started by survivors of sexual exploitation gives sexually trafficked girls a safe and loving place to redefine their lives.

by Sarah Zahedi

Through times of trauma and distress, often all a child needs is to be showered with love. It may sound corny, but for the estimated 100,000 children who are sexually exploited per year around the country, it can be transformative.

The Lasting Links Mentorship Program at MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth), an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit, works to end child exploitation and help victims through the formation of healthy, supportive and loving adult relationships.

“Some of them will even just come in to the drop-in center for a hug. They’ve said that to us,” said executive director Falilah Bilal at MISSSEY.

In Oakland, MISSSEY’s efforts are more than necessary. The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the top three epicenters of human trafficking in the United States along with Los Angeles and San Diego, with 46 percent of all prosecuted human trafficking cases in California coming from the Alameda District Attorney’s office.

“People think that this is a problem that happens to kids ‘over there,’ whether it’s kids from other countries or poor black kids or boys from another place,” said Bilal. “People don’t think that this is an American-bred issue that happens across all class and all gender. This is something confronting and impacting all of us.”

MISSSEY partners with Girls Inc. and the Mentoring Center to match people who wish to volunteer their time to provide advice and emotional support to sexually exploited young women in need.

“The goal of the program is to provide a restorative healthy adult relationship to youth who have experienced disruption and betrayal in adult relationships,” said mentoring and training coordinator Liz Longfellow.

To become a mentor, applicants must attend an information session, fill out an application, be interviewed, participate in a rigorous 20-hour training program and go through a criminal background check. From there, the match process can take a while, depending on what youth want from a mentor. MISSSEY works to have several mentors on hand so there is an individual mentor who meets the youth’s specific requests as soon as the youth requests a mentor.

Some of the mentors are already connected to the field, therapists or social workers or nurses who have worked with sexually exploited youth in the past. Other mentors are simply people who want to help. The minimum duration of the mentor-mentee relationship is one year.

“It’s a commitment to become a mentor,” Longfellow said. “The process of getting matched with a mentee takes so long because the mentor has to show they will give their time and commitment. If the relationships doesn’t last a year, it’s not going to be as effective for the youth.”

The sense of love and care the young girls can get from a mentor has proven to bring about monumental positive change, especially since many of the relationships last beyond one year, she said.

“The year is a great benchmark but it’s great when it continues on,” Longfellow said. “We’ve had some of the youth come back and say [their mentors] are stuck with them for life. That’s a successful relationship.”

Take Sheila (all clients’ and mentors’ names have been changed), now 18. After being exploited for many years in Oakland, she realized that in order to get out of the life, she needed to move away from the city. She wanted to be far enough away to feel safe, yet be able to visit family and friends every now and again. Her child welfare worker in Alameda County helped her find supported housing in the Antioch/Bay Point area. But when Sheila got there, she felt very alone and disoriented. She didn’t know how to use the bus system to get to the store, let alone to look for a job.

Longfellow matched her with a mentor named Ena who is also a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation. Ena, who has lived in Antioch for many years, was able to show Sheila around. With Ena’s support, Sheila eventually was able to find a job. Ena also helped her decorate her new apartment, which in part involved creating a vision board to give Sheila a daily visual reminder of her dreams and goals. Ena, who was a college student then, knew about many area resources to make school more affordable. She referred Sheila to several people in her support network so that she could feel more encouraged to take college classes and feel more connected to her new community. After many conversations about Sheila’s traumatic history, Ena convinced Sheila to reconnect with a therapist.

“I wouldn’t have been able to make it here without Ena,” Sheila said. “She has helped me so much and I feel really comfortable talking with her and telling her personal stuff about myself. That doesn’t really happen for me. It’s a relief.”

From 2007 to 2014, MISSSEY has served approximately 1,000 girls. And the organization’s services do not stop at the mentorship program. It also offers case management for youth looking to get out of the life of sex trafficking and a foster youth program, funded by Alameda County Social Services to prevent and intervene in child sex work.

MISSSEY was founded by two survivors of commercial sexual exploitation of children along with two allies. It’s staffed by a number of other survivors of sexual exploitation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Sex trafficking, Trauma | No Comments »

LASD Heroes Find Baby Allegedly Kidnapped by Pimp

July 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


At 6:30a.m., this past Saturday, LA County sheriff’s deputies from the Lancaster station responded to a call that a woman had been kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and tortured near Lake LA in the hi-desert. The 40-year-old victim reportedly ran naked between 1-3 miles, and begged for help from residents in the first house she found.

When the deputies arrived on the scene, they were told that the suspect, an alleged pimp later ID’ed as 34-year-old Brandon Wynn, had also abducted the woman’s 13-month-old daughter. The woman, in an effort to protect her pimp (a symptom of what is called “trauma bonding”), gave the deputies false information about the suspect’s identity and his vehicle, that the officers then used in an Amber Alert.

The Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau – Metro Detail received crucial help from the department’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit and the Special Victims Bureau to identify and understand the brutalized victim’s reasons for covering for her pimp.

In a press conference on Monday, LASD Major Crimes Captain Merrill Ladenheim described trauma bonding as an abuser’s isolation and manipulation of a vulnerable victim in order to control them, usually under the pretext of love or companionship. “Those bonds lead us to see, today, the lengths to which a victim will go to to protect her abuser.” said Captain Ladenheim.

Despite the false information, a confidential informant responded to the Amber Alert with valuable tips that helped investigating officers identify Wynn.

At 2:50p.m., patrolling deputies spotted Wynn and his car in Palmdale. During his arrest, Wynn told the officers of a shed where he had left the baby girl.

And by 3:00p.m., Sergeants Steven Owen and Gregory Kelly, and Deputy Daniel Gore, who raced to the identified location, found and rescued the 13-month-old, who had been left alone, strapped into a carseat, and was crying in the empty shed.

The baby has since been released from the Antelope Valley hospital where she was receiving treatment for dehydration, and is now safe and in the custody of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, and “in good spirits.”

LA County’s historic rainy weekend likely kept the baby alive, until officers found her. If the Antelope Valley had been experiencing its usual triple digit weather, the baby would have almost certainly died in a hot shed.

The mother, described in the LASD press conference as “truly a victim in every facet,” had been severely beaten and was transported to Palmdale Regional Hospital, and will receive wrap-around services for victims of sex-trafficking through the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit.

Wynn and a 16-year-old boy who was with him were arrested on attempted murder charges.

“This case really showcases the impact of human trafficking within Los Angeles County,” Ladenheim continued. “And it’s really important to realize that many of these victims are children.”

According to the US Department of Justice the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14.

Ladenheim stressed the importance of having a “collaborative, victim-centered approach…led by a dedicated multi-jurisdictional force” of law enforcement agencies, social services, and community and faith-based groups.

Posted in children and adolescents, DCFS, Rape, Trauma | 1 Comment »

Finding the Child Welfare Czar….”Overcorrected, Overdirected, and Overpunished” Kids…Dylan Roof and CA Prison Segregation…and More

July 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to interview two candidates to lead the Office of Child Protection, an entity recommended by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart much-needed reform efforts in the county child welfare system.

The Supes are slated to interview two more candidates today (Thursday), and could possibly issue their final decision today, as well.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, is reportedly among those being considered for the position.

Holden Slattery has more on the issue in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, who the board appointed as interim director of the office in February, is a candidate for the position, according to Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, which was one of 17 foundations to endorse the BRC recommendations in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s been a robust process. There are outside candidates,” Garen said. “I do believe that Fesia [Davenport] is a candidate and that her performance to date has been remarkable.”

Garen said she has no knowledge about the other candidates and, due to that, she does not know whether Davenport is the best candidate for the job.

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was the most prominent recommendation to emerge from the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon on Child Protection’s (BRC) December 2013 interim recommendations and again in its final report in April.

“I hope that the OCP director who the board ultimately hires is a person that is imbued with many of the traits that the child protection commission envisioned initially,” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with implementing the BRC recommendations, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A strong leader with experience in child welfare who is collaborative and imaginative, and not afraid to stand up to the existing institutions.”


Katherine Reynolds Lewis has an excellent longread for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine about psychologist Ross Greene’s game-changing discipline methods of teaching kids problem-solving skills instead of employing the now largely discredited punishment-reward system developed by B.F. Skinner in the mid-20th century.

The idea is that, punishing children who are acting out, and who are often called “challenging,” only exacerbates kids’ underlying problems and helps to push them through the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids brains have not developed enough to have control over their behavior and emotions, so punishing them, instead of helping them understand the “why” behind their behavior, is extremely counterproductive, according to Greene’s theory.

Here are some clips:

…consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

Schools and juvenile detention centers are starting to pick up Greene’s methods and are experiencing complete behavior turnarounds:

In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene’s workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about “that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach.” It wasn’t hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek’s one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. “The senior staff that resisted us the most,” Bouffard told me, “would come back to me and say, ‘I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.’”

Read on…


In an essay for the Marshall Project, James Kilgore, who spent the majority of a six-and-a-half year prison term in California facilities, considers how Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof might be received at a CA prison where inmates have been racially segregated for decades.

Kilgore calls for national dialogue on white supremacy in prisons and urges lawmakers and corrections officials to put an end to their “complicity in reproducing hatred and division” through racially segregated detention facilities.

Here’s a clip:

He would certainly find instant camaraderie with the Peckerwoods, the Skinheads, the Dirty White Boys, the Nazi Low Riders. His admirers, men with handles like Bullet, Beast, Pitbull, and Ghost, would vow to live up to Roof’s example, either by wreaking havoc when they hit the streets or maybe even the very next day in the yard.

Roof’s newfound fan club would be ready to provide him with prison perks — extra Top Ramen, jars of coffee, a bar of Irish Spring. The guards, many with their own Roofish sympathies, would cut him some slack — an extra roll of toilet paper here, a few illicit minutes on the telephone there. If Roof were so inclined, the guards might turn a blind eye to his indulgence in illegal substances, from tobacco to papers of heroin to the carceral Mad Dog 20/20 known as “pruno.”

If Roof played by the convict code, he might quickly rise in the ranks of the white-power structure in the prison yard. Maybe after a few years, he would earn the status of “shot caller,” the highest rank within the racial groups. Then he could order hits on young white boys who defiled the race by playing a game of chess with a black man or offering a Latino a sip of his soda. Like all his white comrades, Roof would use the white showers, the white phones, the white pull-up bars. The yard might spark visions of a segregated utopia for Dylann, a wonderland where everyone was in their right place — separate and unequal.

But white supremacists in prison also live in a world of racial enemies. Fueled by paranoia and buttressed by complicit guards and administrators, Roof would be the target of personalized vengeance attacks. Just like on the streets, he would be constantly looking over his shoulder to fend off real and imagined enemies. In particular, he would realize that in a prison yard, there are plenty of black lifers who have nothing to lose and the muscle power to break him in half, like a dry stick. A warrior who took down Roof would get a hero’s welcome in the torturous isolation blocks at Pelican Bay or Corcoran. All this tension would no doubt make Roof a little uneasy, perhaps force him to remain “suited and booted,” armed with a razor blade in his mouth or a sharpened shank up his rectum.

But even with danger all around him, Roof might find solace in the fact that the prison authorities would not assign any whites and blacks to share a cell and would enable the segregation of day rooms and exercise spaces. This would be a refreshing change of pace for Roof.


The parents of a 19-year-old robbery suspect, Rashad Davis, fatally beaten in his jail cell in May, want answers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department about why their son was assigned to a cell shared by a mentally unstable cellmate accused of beating a man to death with a baseball bat.

The SB Sheriff’s Dept. has not indicated whether or not Davis was housed with 22-year-old Jeremiah Ajani Bell due to a breakdown in screening protocol, but the department has recently been the subject of several scandals and investigations, including alleged excessive use of force and inadequate mental health treatment for inmates.

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel has the story. Here’s a clip:

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, race, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Landmark Lawsuit Filed Against Compton School District for Failing to Help Severely Traumatized Kids Struggling With Learning

May 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday, a one-of-a-kind, and potentially important lawsuit was filed by the public interest law firm, Public Counsel, and by Irell & Manella LLP, in behalf of five student plaintiffs plus three teachers, alleging that the teenagers named, and others with similar experiences who attended schools in the Compton district, “have been denied meaningful access to public education” as a result of the district’s “practices and policies that fail to accommodate the effects of complex trauma.”

“These policies and practices,” the lawsuit alleges, are against federal law and “perpetuate and sometimes create trauma on their own.”

The idea that childhood trauma really, no kidding, affects a kid’s ability to learn, or to sit still in a classroom, to focus on a test, or to respond constructively to criticism by a teacher, or react with moderation to a challenge or bullying by another student, are still only at the barest edge of mainstream acceptance, never mind that, for some years, we’ve had the scientific ability to observe the physical changes that occur in a kid’s brain in response to severe or sustained childhood trauma. Most of our public systems don’t behave as if we know what we know.

The purpose of this lawsuit is to change all that by forcing the hand of at least one school district—namely Compton—and, in so doing, setting a legal precedent that could trigger more change across the county, the state and beyond.


At a mid morning video conference, four of the plaintiff kids told their stories, (see video above) after which attorneys Mark Rosenbaum, Laura Faer and Katheryn Eidmann, all from Public Counsel explained in more detail what they believed to be the importance of their legal filing

“The number one public health problem in the United States today is the affect of childhood trauma on students’ opportunity to learn.” said Rosenbaum, “The widely known, but little addessed scientific fact of life is that childhood trauma can negatively affect the capacity of any child to learn and to succeed in school.”

Nowhere, Rosenbaum said, is the school-derailing impact greater than in high violence neighborhoods and communities, “where children suffer frequent and severe traumatic episodes that are so stressful that they overwhelm a young persons ability to cope. Unadressed trauma is the enemy of the brain,” he said. All the experts have told us that the surest way to reduct the achievement gap in American between our have and have not communities, is to address childhood trauma in our public schools.”

But that, Rosenbaum and the other attorneys say, is what Compton, and many school districts around the state and the nation—have failed to do.

Rather than “taking reasonable steps to address the needs of students affected by trauma,” the suit claims that CUSD punished and/or excluded the kids who were suffering most in ways that made succeeding in school all but impossible, and all this happened at a time when the kids needed help the most.

One student-plaintiff, Peter P., had a history of being repeatedly abused and watching his junky mother and his siblings badly abused as well. Eventually he and his sibs were removed to the foster care system, where Peter P bounced in and out of homes, and witnessed a frightening amount of street violence. (You can read the details here.)

Peter P became homeless for two months in March and April 2015, when he was 17. During this period, he slept on the roof of the Dominguez High School cafeteria. When his roof sleeping was fully discovered, instead of being offered help or services, he was suspended.

“If we cannot address the causes of extreme childhood trauma,” said Rosenberg, “we can at least address its effects so that all children can learn and achieve their dreams. But schools like those in Compton, he said “too often treat their students as bad children, not students to whom bad things have happened.”


So what, specifically, does the lawsuit hope for in the way of changes?

The attorneys point out that there are “proven models” already adopted by some districts across the country, that have helped both students and teachers “become more resilient in the face of adversity and trauma.”

The models include:

• Adequate mental health and counseling service for the highest need students;
• Trauma-informed training and support for all educators and school staff;
• Teaching children skills to cope with their anxiety and emotions; and
• Implementing positive school discipline and restorative strategies that keep children in school and create a safe and welcoming environment.

“Schools that fail to address the impact of trauma on students are engaging in unlawful discrimination,” said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s Statewide Education Rights Director. “Trauma is a top predictor of school suspensions, expulsions and school-based referrals to law enforcement. Schools that fail to meet their obligation to become trauma-informed frequently deny student’s meaningful access to education and impermissibly put them on a school to jailhouse track.”

We will keep you posted on the outcome.

Posted in ACEs, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

40,000 Californians Download ACLU App…..Ferguson’s High Priced “Negotiation” With Justice….Chief Charlie Beck Thanks the Troops

May 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Last month a South Gate, California, woman was filming a police action when a Deputy U.S. Marshall saw her, strode over and smashed her phone to the ground.

As of last Thursday, the ACLU of California has an app for that with their new Mobile Justice CA, a free smartphone app that allows people to record video that, at a finger touch, is sent straight to the ACLU—or more specifically to their cloud storage.

The video also stays on your phone so that you retain a copy as well.

It is the transmission that is key, of course, because—as the above video demonstrates—it prevents anyone from deleting the only copy of a recording.

Since MobileJusticeCA was released less than a week ago, the app has been downloaded “around 40,000 times,” said the ACLU’s Peter Bibring when we talked on Monday. Bibring is director of police practices and senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Southern California branch, and one of those most involved with the project. “So we’re calling that successful,” he said.

No kidding.

(By the way, the ACLU of California is made up of the state’s three big regional branches: the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU of Northern California, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.)

MobileJusticeCA is not the first such application that the ACLU has distributed. The newly launched California app is an improved variation on an app introduced in New York a couple of years ago, when there was a push among activists to document stop-and-frisk incidents. A few other states, like New Jersey, and Oregon, followed suit.

Then California worked with the software developers to make various improvements over the original, said Bibring,.

For instance, unlike the New York version, which only allowed a short recording, the new version allows you to record as long as you want, or at least as long as your battery holds up.

Other improvements in the California incarnation include access—through your phone— to the ACLU’s full library of know your rights material. Plus, there’s a feature that allows someone who is recording a police action to send out an alert that will be seen by others nearby who may then show up to record too.

When I asked Bibring if he was at all concerned with some of the privacy issues that some critics have mentioned since the app was introduced.

“Actually, I’m proud of our privacy policies on this application,” he said.” For example, unless you submit it to us, we don’t collect any kind of information about you. We don’t have your name, or any kind of device ID, or anything else. We just have the video.”

The video exists on the Amazon cloud server, with whom the ACLU has contracted. “And they’re extremely exacting about not collecting access to any personal data.” said Bibring.

In truth, unless the video is flagged by the sender as evidence of possible civil rights violation, ACLU staffers will, in most cases, never look at it, and it will be purged in a few months.

The ACLU is partnering with the Ella Baker Center to do a six month campaign to engage people about ways to promote police accountability in their neighborhoods, said Bibring.

“People unquestionably have the first amendment right to film law enforcement,” he said. “So one of the things we are trying to do with this app is to make sure that people know their rights.”


There’s no question about the fact that Dan K. Webb, 69, is a brilliant attorney. But the fact that Ferguson, MO, has hired one the nation’s highest paid lawyers, in a contract that grants him his full fee for guiding their negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice, has drawn criticism. In certain pro bono cases, Webb works for a lowered fee. Not this time. His hourly price tag is nearly twice that of the highest paid lawyers—$700 per hour—working in Missouri in the whole of last year.

According to St. Louis Despatch reporters Christine Byers and Stephen Deere, who broke the story after they managed to wrestle a copy of the engagement letter showing the hiring terms away from the Ferguson City Council, which tried very, very hard to keep the letter secret, then reportedly redacted it energetically after they realized they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on in the face of the Dispatch’s Public Records Act request.

Eventually, persistent reporters Byers and Deere got the whole thing which you can read here.

Yet, the most interesting part of the hiring of Webb is not so much that Ferguson, which has been reported to be skating perilously close to bankruptcy, has chosen to pay such an unusually high fee, it is why they were interested in Webb specifically, a story that the Dispatch reporters say came from Webb himself.

It seems that, after interviewing other suitable attorneys and firms with successful experience with this precise kind of negotiation process between the DOJ and a law enforcement entity in need of reform—like, for example, the firm that represented the city of Albuquerque recently to negotiate its consent decree—-Ferguson was attracted to Webb when they learned he had represented the infamous and very colorful Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, when Arpaio and company were facing a DOJ lawsuit.

Here’s a clip from Byers and Deere’s story:

it was Webb’s involvement in Maricopa County, Ariz., which is the subject of a Justice Department investigation, that attracted the attention of Ferguson, Webb said. The DOJ alleged that the Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Joseph Arpaio engaged in discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos.

In 2012, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Arpaio. In a press release, the DOJ wrote: “negotiations were unsuccessful, primarily because the county and Arpaio refused to agree to any independent oversight by a monitor.”

“They have been the most belligerent” of the communities in negotiations with DOJ, said Walker, the professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


Last Friday was May Day, which brought thousands to downtown Los Angeles for marches, demonstrations and celebration. Expecting big crowds, and a teensy weensy bit jittery about what the day might bring, what with the anger and grief still spilling out of Baltimore and elsewhere, the Los Angeles Police Department wisely called a tactical alert.

Happily, however, it was a peaceful day. And LAPD officers were reportedly helpful and firm, when need be, but not at all aggressive.

So, over the weekend, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck posted a thank you to sworn department members on the police union’s internal website.

To the men and women of the LAPD,

I want to personally thank you for showing the professionalism of the Los Angeles Police Department to the world on May Day. Your efforts allowed thousands of protesters and marchers to exercise their rights protected by our Constitution.

While there were some tense moments yesterday, I witnessed firsthand how LAPD officers exercised discipline and extraordinary professionalism while thousands of people took to the streets to express their views about a number of issues. The fact there was not a single incident, arrest or citation throughout the day is remarkable and indicative of your preparation, professionalism and respect for the communities we serve.

Despite the heat and the sensitive times we face in the law enforcement community across the country, each and every one of you shined. From the leadership team to the men and women working and walking with the various community groups, you did a phenomenal job and I am so proud of you. Like you do daily, you made the LAPD badge shine and the nation took notice.

Thank you and be safe out there.



Posted in ACLU, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, LAPD, Trauma | No Comments »

“Back on Track LA,” Sheriff and Doctor Duo Fight Trauma, How to Defend Kids Facing Life, and ending CA Prison Healthcare Oversight

March 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, and Probation Chief Jerry Powers announced the launch of “Back on Track LA,” an innovative recidivism reduction pilot program that has been launched as a collaborative effort between the LASD, Probation, the AG’s Office, the LA County Child Support Services Dept., several foundations, and schools.

Back on Track provides participating inmates with education and job training, cognitive behavior training, and life skills and customized re-entry coaching.

“Instead of only reacting to crime, we must also focus on prevention to shut the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” says AG Harris. “Back on Track LA will hold offenders accountable to their communities, their families and themselves. This initiative will give participants the skills to become contributing and law-abiding members of society, which enhances public safety.”

Both Harris and McDonnell stressed the urgent need for such a program in California’s various counties, especially Los Angeles.

“At this very moment, 20,000 individuals are incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jails,” said Jim McDonnell. “Too many of those in our jail and justice system come from broken homes and challenging life circumstances.”

McDonnell listed some of the challenges that the program will need to address, like early childhood trauma and the fact that a high percentage of jail inmates finished school.

“Very few of those filling our jails today have the needed tools to give them a good shot,” he said.

Ninety non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders, who are now the county’s responsibility post-realignment, are enrolled in the pilot program, which began mid-February.

Once the initial 90 inmates are released from jail, they will receive transitional housing, help with employment, and continued mentoring the entire year after their release. In addition, the college credits they earn through the program during their incarceration can be transferred to any community college in the state.

In order to ensure that the program is actually working, researchers will be part of the process from the very beginning, tracking participants and their outcomes along the way and in the long-term, and measuring them against the outcomes of inmates not involved in the program.

The program is funded through a $750,000 grant through the US Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act (Back on Track was one of just four recipients nationwide), and grants from the California Wellness Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

Back on Track is intended to become a model for California, and hopefully for the nation, McDonnell said on Wednesday:

“What we are announcing today is not merely an experiment. We know we have too many people in jail who can and should be contributing members of society. Many of those in jail regret the decisions of their youth that landed them where they are today.”

Such programs contribute to public safety, McDonnell said:

“It is tempting to believe that by being tough on criminals by depriving them of education and skills training, we are being tough on crime. But that’s simply not the case.

We can reduce crime by reducing criminals, and we can reduce criminals by giving people the skills they need to get Back On Track.”


Laura Starecheski has another excellent story for NPR about childhood trauma as a critical health issue. This latest story follows a doctor and a sheriff who join forces to combat childhood trauma in poverty-stricken, and high-crime areas in Gainesville, FL.

When the University of Florida’s Dr. Nancy Hardt, a pathologist and OB-GYN, and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell realized that their respective hotspot maps (Hardt’s a map of children born into poverty, and the sheriff’s a crime map) were nearly identical, the unlikely pair knew they had to take action.

Here are some clips from Starecheski’s story:

The research shows that kids who have tough childhoods — because of poverty, abuse, neglect, or witnessing domestic violence, for instance — are actually more likely to be sick when they grow up. They’re more likely to get diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. And they tend to have shorter lives than people who haven’t experienced those difficult events as kids.

“I want to prevent what I’m seeing on the autopsy table,” Hardt says. “I’ve got to say, a lot of times, I’m standing there, going, ‘I don’t think this person had a very nice early childhood.’ ”

Back in 2008, Hardt was obsessing about this problem. She wanted to do something to intervene in the lives of vulnerable kids on a large scale, not just patient by patient.

So, by looking at Medicaid records, she made a map that showed exactly where Gainesville children were born into poverty. Block by block.

Right away she noticed something that surprised her: In the previous few years, in a 1-square-mile area in southwest Gainesville, as many as 450 babies were born to parents living below the poverty line.

It just didn’t make sense to her — that was an area she thought was all fancy developments and mansions.

So Hardt took her map of Gainesville, with the poverty “hotspot” marked in deep blue, and started showing it to people. She’d ask them, “What is this place? What’s going on over there?”

Eventually she brought the map to the CEO of her hospital, who told her she just had to show it to Alachua County’s sheriff, Sadie Darnell.

So Hardt did.

And, to Hardt’s surprise, Sheriff Darnell had a very interesting map of her own.

Darnell had a thermal map of high crime incidence. It showed that the highest concentration of crime in Gainesville was in a square-mile area that exactly overlaid Hardt’s poverty map.

“It was an amazing, ‘Aha’ moment,” says Darnell.

“We kind of blinked at each other,” Hardt says. “And — simultaneously — we said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”

Read on.


On Wednesday, the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth released a set of guidelines for providing quality defense to kids facing life imprisonment.

Gabriella Celeste, Child Policy Director at Case Western Reserve University’s Schubert Center for Child Studies, explains why making sure these kids have skilled and thorough representation is so critical:

“Kids are kids. They don’t stop being kids just because our criminal justice system has deemed them ‘adults’ as a matter of legal fiction to justify placing them in the adult system. Our system forgets that kids are still growing, developing, and maturing. This is wrong. Worse yet, the harm caused to a young person cannot be overstated, both due to their unique developmental stage as an adolescent and the damage that results from children inevitably facing more years in prison than adults and being at greater risk for isolation, sexual assault, and other forms of violence and trauma. Having an informed advocate can make all the difference.”

The report calls for a defense team of at least four—an attorney with experience representing kids, an attorney who has represented defendants charged with homicide, an investigator, and mitigation specialist to discuss all possible contributing factors like trauma and poverty and to stress the ways kids’ and teenagers’ brains differ from those of adults. An interpreter should also be on the defense team, if needed.

The guidelines also say defense teams must regularly meet with and maintain open communication with the kids they are representing. Defense teams are also directed to advocate for their clients to be placed in juvenile facilities, and to make sure that those detention centers have proper education, mental health care, and rehabilitation services.

The guidelines are endorsed by dozens of advocate groups, including Gideon’s Promise, the Juvenile Law Center, the NAACP, the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Juvenile Defender Center.

Here are some clips from the report:

The representation of children in adult court facing a possible life sentence is a highly specialized area of legal practice, therefore these guidelines address the unique considerations specific to the provision of a zealous trial defense. These guidelines set forth the roles and responsibilities of the defense team for the duration of a trial proceeding and outline child-specific considerations relevant to pre-trial, trial, and sentencing representation. Direct appeal and collateral review are not explicitly addressed in these guidelines.

These guidelines are premised on the following foundational principles:

- children are constitutionally and developmentally different from adults;

- children, by reason of their physical and mental immaturity, need special safeguards and

- children must not be defined by a single act;

- juvenile life defense is a highly specialized legal practice, encompassing the representation
of children in adult court as well as the investigation and presentation of mitigation;

- juvenile life defense requires a qualified team trained in adolescent development;

- juvenile life defense requires communicating with clients in a trauma-informed, culturally
competent, developmentally and age-appropriate manner…

- juvenile life defense counsel must litigate to ensure a meaningful individualized sentencing
determination, in which defense counsel is able to fully and effectively present mitigation
to the court.


The mitigation specialist must investigate and develop a social, psychological, and genealogical history of the child client for purposes of presenting mitigating evidence at sentencing. The mitigation specialist also should work with the child client and his or her caretaker(s) to develop a reentry plan to present at sentencing.

Mitigation evidence includes, but is not limited to: the ability to make a positive adjustment to incarceration; the realities of incarceration; capacity for redemption; remorse; vulnerabilities related to mental or physical health; explanations of patterns of behavior; negation of aggravating evidence regardless of its designation as an aggravating factor; positive acts or qualities; responsible conduct in other areas of life (e.g., employment, education, as a family member, etc.); any evidence bearing on the degree of moral culpability; mercy; and any other reason for a sentence other than life…


On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson revealed a plan to end nearly a decade of federal oversight of healthcare in California’s prison system.

When Judge Henderson initiated the oversight, he said the conditions inmates were living under constituted cruel and unusual punishment: California prisons were averaging one easily preventable inmate death per week due to medical neglect.

(Henderson is also part of the three-judge panel forcing California to bring the prison population down…or else.)

The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, says the situation is much better now: there are more medical staff members, the budget has doubled, and there are 40,000 fewer prisoners. But there are still cracks to be filled in.

Here’s a clip from a blended AP/Sacramento Bee story on the issue:

To address the issues, California over the last decade has:

Spent $2 billion on new medical facilities for prisons;

Doubled its annual budget for prison health care to about $1.7 billion; and

Reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 inmates.

According to a report by court-appointed federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, the state prison system now has:

Adequate medical staff;

Processes to ensure inmates receive care; and

An oversight system to catch problems when inmates do not receive care.

However, Kelso noted in his report that that the prison system still needs to make several improvements, including:

Adequately keeping medical records;

Appropriately scheduling appointments;

Delivering care onsite rather than sending inmates to outside hospitals; and

Upgrading treatment areas.

Under Henderson’s plan, every prison will have to pass an inspection before the feds return some of the control to the state. At that time, Kelso will step back and act as a monitor, with the ability to take back the reins if the state begins to backslide.

Posted in Department of Justice, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, LA County Jail, medical care, prison, Realignment, Reentry, Trauma | 2 Comments »

LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit a National Model, Oakland Policing Turnaround, Early Trauma-informed Healthcare…and More

March 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The Los Angeles Police Department’s nationally celebrated Mental Evaluation Unit pairs police officers with mental health care professionals into “System-wide Mental Assessment Response Teams” (SMART) to respond to people in the midst of a mental health crisis. The goal is to cut down on police use-of-force incidents and to refer people suffering from mental illness to intervention programs and other services instead of just locking them up.

Altogether, there are 61 officers and detectives and 28 clinicians in the MEU.

The “Case Assessment Management Program,” (CAMP) division of the Mental Evaluation Unit takes on the most challenging cases and has likely saved the LA city and county millions of dollars by diverting the mentally ill from lock-up (with just six two-man teams), according to MEU detective Charles Dempsey.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The unit, which is the largest and among the oldest mental health policing programs in the nation, is highly regarded by law enforcement and by mental health and civil rights advocates. A 2009 report by the LAPD’s independent federal monitor [who oversaw the consent decree] praised the operation, saying the department “now has the recognized best practice in law enforcement for this subject area,” and is “in the national forefront of this important policing issue.”

“They’re setting a great example for other departments to emulate,” says Jerry Murphy, a criminal justice mental health policy specialist at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. In 2010, that nonprofit organization designated the LAPD one of six national training sites for specialized mental health policing. Since then, the unit has shared its approach with nearly 60 law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and with 10 agencies in five other countries.

The Burbank Police Department is among those that have sought training here.

“As it evolved, it got more and more comprehensive,” Michael Albanese, captain of Burbank PD’s patrol division, says of the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit. Albanese says he considers the operation to be “on the leading edge as far as how to manage incidents and/or individuals with mental health disorders.”

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he, too, is open to considering the LAPD program as model for his department, which has a spotty record when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. Last month, McDonnell told the 21st Century Policing Task Force in Washington D.C. that in 2013, nearly 40 percent of all use of force incidents “involved individuals suffering from mental illness and in too many cases we arrest our way out of these encounters rather than diverting individuals to the community treatment and care they need.”

For more on the how the program works, read the rest.


Scott Johnson has a not-to-be-missed essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine about the Oakland Police Department’s complete about-face from what many called one of the worst departments in the country, to a complete overhaul resulting in dramatic declines in use-of-force incidents and officer-involved shootings.

It has been a hard-won fight. The department officials and officers (including a group of corrupt officers called the Rough Riders) spent years digging their heels in as lawyers John Burris and James Chanin, costly lawsuits, and a consent decree dragged them slowly toward reform.

Very little progress was made for more than a decade until complete federal oversight was on the horizon. The police union settled with Chanin and Burris, allowing the city to appoint a compliance director with the ability to fire officers and officials, including the chief. The compliance director did just that.

Now, with the help of a new chief and steady pressure from Chanin and Burris and the compliance director4`, the OPD has implemented body cameras and taken up community policing. Officers garnered roughly 40% fewer complaints in 2014 over 2013, and greatly reduced their officer-involved shootings.

Here are some clips:

Before Ferguson, there was Oakland. In the fall of 2011, as the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the country from New York’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Oakland quickly became one of the biggest protest sites. By early October, demonstrators had set up an encampment in front of City Hall and named the site after Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who in 2009 had been shot in the back and killed by an officer for BART, the local rail transit system.

Oakland, with a population of roughly 400,000, may sit just across the bay from increasingly glitzy San Francisco, but it can sometimes seem a world away in poverty and race relations. The city had long been known as a stomping ground for radical activists, matched in their aggression by one of the most brutal police forces in the country…


Although the situation deteriorated steadily in the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t until early in this century that a series of disturbing allegations against the police shocked the system into action. The most serious legal troubles began in 2000, when a 21-year-old named Delphine Allen alleged that police brought him to a remote location and beat him while he was in handcuffs; he described being dragged under a freeway overpass and hit repeatedly on the soles of his feet with police batons. The Rough Riders case, as it came to be known, grew to include at least 119 plaintiffs—the vast majority of whom were people of color—all with similar complaints and stories of abuse.

The Riders case eventually resulted in two extensive trials during which four OPD officers were charged with kidnapping, planting evidence and beating witnesses. Of the four, three were acquitted. A fourth officer, Francisco Vasquez, fled the country and is now believed to be in hiding in Mexico; the FBI is searching for him. The more lasting impact of the Riders case, however, is a legal and judicial marathon now in its 12th year that has required the intervention of a district court judge, two outside monitoring teams, a compliance director, six police chiefs, four mayors and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. The goal of it all has been to reinvent the police department—to prevent another Rough Riders case from ever happening again.


Chanin and Burris had had enough. In October 2012, the two lawyers filed the necessary papers to put the police department into full federal receivership with Judge Henderson. But before he had a chance to rule, Chanin and Burris finally reached a compromise with the powerful police union, allowing stronger oversight powers. In the settlement, the lawyers agreed to limit their disciplinary action to the top brass of the police department, and in exchange, the union—which represented the rank and file—agreed not to oppose them. The city could now hire a compliance director with the power to fire the chief and his deputies.

Change finally arrived at the top of the Oakland police in the unexpected form of a baby-faced young internal affairs officer named Sean Whent. In May 2013, Chief Howard Jordan had taken early retirement, and all but one person on his command staff was demoted. Then, in early 2014, the judge overseeing the consent decree fired Thomas Frazier, the compliance director he had hired the year before, and gave monitor Robert Warshaw full control over the department. That set the stage for the new chief, 39-year-old Whent, who quickly made it clear that compliance with the consent decree was going to be a priority.


The new leadership helped, but Chanin and Burris also finally started playing hardball. The department had owned lapel cameras for years but never used them much. Now Chanin said that unless cops began using them more, and more effectively, he would talk to Henderson about “creating a scenario where if you didn’t use a camera, the presumption was that you did what the complainant said you did.” In other words, the cops would be guilty until proven innocent.

Lapel camera usage quickly shot up—exactly the kind of critical reform that President Barack Obama would mention months later in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. There were other changes, too. New training procedures, both in the academy and on the job, stress de-escalation of potentially violent interactions. There are more frontline supervisors deployed in the field, and many officers have started attending a procedural justice course in which community members and police can interact. “It took a few years to adjust and get everybody doing the right thing,” Whent told me. “Now it’s more of an organizational philosophy, and we’ve made it one of the highest priorities.”

Chanin and Burris now say they’ve seen confidential data indicating that complaints against the police have fallen at least 40 percent in the past year. What’s more, the department went nearly two years without an officer-involved shooting from May 2013 until early in February this year. There were no shootings at all in 2014, whereas from 2000 to 2012, there was an average of eight such shootings a year. Two shootings occurred this February. In one, early on the morning of February 7, two Oakland officers responded to a call about a psychiatric crisis and encountered a man who tried to strike them with two golf clubs; the officers fired at him—but didn’t end up injuring the suspect. He was successfully restrained, the officers’ body cameras were on and functioning correctly, and police leaders quickly released detailed information to the public. It really did seem like a corner had been turned.

Despite major policing breakthroughs, the OPD is not quite out of the woods, yet, still turning up data that is indicative of persistent racial bias with regard to who cops stop and who they arrest:

The intersection of race and policing remains tense—even in a city focused closely on reform. On the long list of compliance tasks, only one now remains, and it concerns racial bias: “test 34,” which refers to the “stop data” that police gather after traffic stops, arrests and detentions. Late last year, a study revealed that African-Americans, who make up roughly 28 percent of Oakland’s population, account for about 62 percent of police stops. But the “yield” from those stops—the amount of contraband—was no higher for African-Americans than any other group. “It means a large number of African-Americans are being stopped and searched without any recovery,” Burris says. “We’re trying to get to the roots of that because the mandate is to reduce racial profiling.”


As part of an NPR health series, Laura Starecheski tells of a pediatrician and a community clinic in Philadelphia that are successfully incorporating trauma-informed healthcare into their practices. (We pointed to Starecheski’s previous, related story as well as an ACEs test you can take, here.)

At Cobbs Creek Clinic in West Philly, Dr. Roy Wade measures his young patients’ Adverse Childhood Experiences to see the broader picture, trauma and toxic stress, at home and elsewhere, adversely affecting kids health and well-being.

And the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center in North Philly has expecting parents answer an ACE questionnaire to better help parents end the trauma cycle.

Here are some clips:

Wade is working on his own screening tool, a short list of questions that would give every young patient at the clinic an “adversity score.” The list will include indicators of abuse and neglect (which pediatricians already are on the lookout for) and also check for signs of poverty, racial discrimination or bullying.

Wade wants to take action because research suggests that the stress of a tough childhood can raise the risk for later disease, mental illness and addiction. The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a call in 2011 to doctors to address what the Academy characterizes as “toxic stress” among young patients.

Of course, not every kid with a rough childhood will suffer long-term effects. But asking every patient (or their parents) about adversity in their lives, Wade says, could help identify the kids who are at higher risk.

If a patient has a high adversity score, Wade says, he’s likely to track the child’s development more closely. “That’ll be the kid where I’ll say, ‘Come back to me in three months, or two months,’ ” he says. ” ‘Let’s see how you’re doing. Let’s check in.’ ”

Take 11-year-old Tavestsiar Fullard. When I met Tavestsiar at the Cobbs Creek Clinic last summer, he smiled with shy excitement about starting middle school, and told stories about his new puppy, Midnight. But just a few years ago, he was a very different kid.

“He wouldn’t talk,” says Tavestsiar’s dad, Silvester Fullard. “He didn’t want to be around other kids. If you’d just say something, he’d go into a little shell.”…


It’s easy from that launching pad to start talking with the adults about their own smoking, or drinking, Wade says. “Instead of looking at the parent, you say, ‘Well, these are the impacts that [your smoking or drinking] could have on your kid.’ It helps you address an array of different problems within a family.”

So how early can you start? At Tavestsiar’s age? Or even earlier — age 5 or 6?

Across town, at a community clinic in North Philly — the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center — the staff is determined to start even earlier than that…


In 2014, San Diego had the lowest homicide rate—2.4 murders per 100,000 residents—out of the ten biggest cities in the United States. This is the fourth year San Diego has claimed the title.

(Los Angeles is number four with 6.7 homicides per 100,000, trailing after San Jose and New York with 3.2 and 4.0 respectively.)

The San Diego Police Department’s community policing efforts have been named as having the largest effect on the low murder rate, in addition to better medical care, advanced policing methods, and less gang violence.

U-T San Diego’s Lyndsay Winkley and Michelle Gilchrist have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

The department investigated 32 homicides, down from 39, giving San Diego, the eighth largest city in the nation, a murder rate of 2.4 killings per 100,000 residents, according to data compiled by U-T San Diego.

By comparison, Phoenix, which has a slightly larger population than San Diego, had a murder rate of 7.7 per 100,000, while San Antonio, another city of similar size, had a rate of 7.3. Philadelphia had the highest rate of the nation’s ten top cities, with 16 killings for every 100,000 residents.

Those closest to the department’s homicide investigations credit a continued drop in gang violence for fewer slayings, but no factor gets more credit than community policing.

San Diego police homicide Lt. Paul Rorrison said it is contributor No. 1 to the city’s low count.

“It’s directly related to the fact that homicides are down so low,” he said. “… It’s been huge.”

Community policing hinges on departments forging close relationships with the communities they serve. It took hold in San Diego in the early ’90s, around the time homicides across the nation started to decline…

Posted in ACEs, LAPD, law enforcement, mental health, Trauma | 2 Comments »

The Trauma Files: You Too Can Take the ACEs Test…Now That We’re Finally Having a Serious Conversation About the Effects of Childhood Trauma

March 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Several times a year, I am asked to speak about juvenile justice issues at classrooms
full of graduate students studying public policy, or some similar subject. These days when I talk about criminal justice–juvenile or otherwise—I always bring up the issue of trauma.

I trot out the results of research showing that kids in the juvenile justice system are 8 times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder—PTSD—than non-incarcerated kids in the community.

I note that the prevalence of PTSD is higher among girls in the justice system (49%) than among boys in the system (32%).

I explain that for school age kids, PTSD can look a lot like attention-deficit disorder, with the accompanying lack of concentration, resulting poor grades, plus the kind of inability to sit still that often leads to school discipline.

Then I tell the students that there is a newer way to look at the kind of extreme stress and trauma that can cause PTSD in kids—along with related difficulties in school performance, behavior and so on.

It is called Adverse Childhood Experiences—OR ACEs.

(We’ve written about ACEs in the past here and here and here.)


In the late 1990s, Vincent Felitti, founder of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, and Robert Anda of the US Centers for Disease Control, conducted a landmark study that examined the effects of what they termed adverse childhood experiences–ACEs—things like abuse, neglect, domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction and catastrophe.

Felitti and Anda studied around 17,000 people in all, the majority of whom were white, well-educated, and middle class or above. Each subject was asked to answer a series of questions about highly stressful events or conditions in their childhood, along with another basic set of questions about physical and emotional issues in their adulthood.

When the researchers analyzed the resulting data, they found find a powerful connection between the level of adversity faced and the incidence of many health and social problems. The two also discovered that ACEs were more common than they had expected. About 40 percent of Felitti and Anda’s respondents reported two or more ACEs, and 25 percent reported three or more.

Since then, similar studies and surveys have been conducted in several states, with findings that are either consistent, or more dramatic.

It is at around this point in my lecture that I ask the class members if they’d like to take an ACEs test themselves.

It isn’t the full test that Felitti and Anda gave, only a 10-question quiz, but it will still give them a good idea of what we’re talking about.


If you click the link below you can take it yourselves.


Of course there are other significant forms of childhood trauma that are not listed in the quiz: having a friend killed, repeated exposure to community violence, surviving and recovering from a severe accident, being the subject of severe bullying or violence by a friend or acquaintance….and so on.

Moreover, the test doesn’t measure traumatic events occurring in young adulthood, or adulthood, which can compound the effects of earlier trauma, or cause it’s own after effects.

Yet it’s a good place to start.


After everyone has finished and privately noted their personal scores, we talk further about how trauma is the unacknowledged elephant in the room when it comes to the subjects of school discipline, justice policy, prisoner reentry, etc., and also, as it turns out, when it comes to physical health.

I tell stories about the young men and women I got to know during my first few years of gang reporting in the early 1990′s, and how their ACEs scores were off the charts. And now, 20 years later, many of them are struggling with the physical and emotional issues that the first ACEs study described.

When we talk about criminal justice policy reform, juvenile justice reform, school discipline reform, prisoner reentry, we also have to have the conversation about trauma, I say.

When the class is over, there is inevitably a cluster of students who want to talk more. Once we’ve chatted a little, I ask those who have lingered behind if they’d be willing to reveal their own ACE scores; what they tell me no longer surprises: ….5….6…7….

And in the last class at which I lectured, one obviously bright woman took a breath and said… “10.”

(Her story is an interesting one and I hope to persuade her to write about it for WLA)


I bring all this up because this week NPR’s Laura Starecheski produced an excellent three part series for All Things Considered about the world of ACEs, which will further explain why this topic is something we should all know more about.

Part 1 is titled Can Family Secrets Make You Sick and it talks about the Felitti/Anda study, and how it was received—when it first came out, and now.

Here a clip.

In the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, now director of the California Institute of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, discovered something potentially revolutionary about the ripple effects of child sexual abuse. He discovered it while trying to solve a very different health problem: helping severely obese people lose weight.

Felitti, a specialist in preventive medicine, was trying out a new liquid diet treatment among patients at a Kaiser Permanente clinic. And it worked really well. The severely obese patients who stuck to it lost as much as 300 pounds in a year.

“Oh yeah, this was really quite extraordinary,” recalls Felitti.

But then, some of the patients who’d lost the most weight quit the treatment and gained back all the weight — faster than they’d lost it. Felitti couldn’t figure out why. So he started asking questions.

First, one person told him she’d been sexually abused as a kid. Then another.

“You know, I remember thinking, ‘Well, my God, this is the second incest case I’ve seen in [then] 23 years of practice,’ ” Felitti says. “And so I started routinely inquiring about childhood sexual abuse, and I was really floored.”

More than half of the 300 or so patients said yes, they too had been abused.

Felitti wondered if he’d discovered one of the keys to some cases of obesity and all the health problems that go along with it.


In Part 2, NPR and Starecheski offered their own interactive ACEs test and what the scores mean.

Part 3 is titled 10 Questions Some Doctors are Afraid to Ask

I met Felitti last fall and he said that when he and Anda first published their results in the late 1990s, they expected an overwhelming response from the medical community.

Instead for the next fifteen years they got….crickets.

Here’s what the CDC’s Anda told Starecheski:

“I thought that people would flock to this information,” Anda says, “and be knocking on our doors, saying, ‘Tell us more. We want to use it.’ And the initial reaction was really — silence.”

In fact, it took a long time to even get the study published. A number of top medical journals rejected the article, Anda says, “because there was intense skepticism.”

Here are some clips from the rest of the story:

For one thing, doctors aren’t taught about ACE scores in medical school. Some physicians wonder what the point would be, as the past can’t be undone. There also is no way to bill for the test, and no standard protocol for what a doctor should do with the results.

But Felitti thinks there’s an even bigger reason why the screening tool largely has been ignored by American medicine: “personal discomfort on the part of physicians.”

Some doctors think the ACE questions are too invasive, Felitti says. They worry that asking such questions will lead to tears and relived trauma … emotions and experiences that are hard to deal with in a typically time-crunched office visit.


According to Dr. Jeff Brenner, a family doctor and MacArthur Fellows award-winner in Camden, N.J., getting these rough measures of adversity from patients potentially could help the whole health care system understand patients better.

The ACE score, Brenner says, is “still really the best predictor we’ve found for health spending, health utilization; for smoking, alcoholism, substance abuse. It’s a pretty remarkable set of activities that health care talks about all the time.”

Brenner won his MacArthur fellowship in 2013 for his work on how to treat the most complicated, expensive patients in his city — people who often have high ACE scores, he found.

“I can’t imagine, 10, 15 years from now, a health care system that doesn’t routinely use the ACE scores,” he says. “I just can’t imagine that.”

Brenner only learned about ACE scores a few years ago, and says he regrets not integrating the tool into his practice sooner. But like most doctors, he says, he was taught in medical school to not “pull the lid off something you don’t have the training, time or ability to handle.”

In theory, Brenner says, talking to patients about adverse childhood experiences shouldn’t be any different than asking them about domestic violence or their drinking — awkward topics that doctors routinely broach now.


The good news is that there are some promising programs popping up all around the nation, including a number in California, which make use of what we know about the effects of childhood trauma.

For instance, we’ve talked several times about Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and her remarkable pediatric practice in San Francisco. And there is this pediatric program in Kansas City, profiled by Eric Adler for the Kansas City Star. Here’s a clip:

Never mind the little girl’s name. What’s important is that she was about 10 years old and all the doctors she had seen month after month had failed to ease her pain.

The girl’s stomach wrenched. Her chest tightened. Her skull seared with lightning-bolt headaches.

Then at Children’s Mercy Hospital, pediatrician Lisa Spector decided to probe with a different set of questions. Instead of asking what was wrong physically, Spector asked the girl what had happened to her in her young life. Quickly, the crux of her pain became clear:


“It was impacting her physical and mental health,” Spector said.

At school, she was bullied. At home, she witnessed repeated domestic violence. She talked of her dad belittling and abusing her emotionally. She recently had been a victim of an attempted carjacking; the thief fled after seeing her in the back seat.

Day to day, she was living a tense and unsure existence that was translating itself into hobbling pain.

That the child’s troubles ultimately eased not with medication but with counseling can be credited to a serious effort by Children’s Mercy to focus on “trauma-informed” care.

For a growing number of children across the country, the approach has become the key to their emotional and mental health, “the most important thing we can do for people,” said Marsha Morgan, chief operating officer for behavioral health at Truman Medical Center.

Trauma-informed care focuses on the notion that a traumatic event in childhood, either experienced or witnessed, can alter the biology of the brain. A trauma-informed strategy works on multiple fronts — using counseling and changes to one’s personal interactions and environment — to lessen or bypass those negative associations while forming new and more positive associative pathways in the brain.

“I’ve worked in this field for over 42 years, and this is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” Dr. Morgan told Adler as they talked about the hospital’s trauma work.

We’ll be talking more about trauma, its effects,. and what can be done to prevent and address them, as we profile more of important programs over the coming weeks and months

Posted in ACEs, Community Health, juvenile justice, mental health, prison policy, PTSD, Public Health, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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