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LA Deputy’s Suit Alleges Retaliation for Protesting Inmate Abuse…Fewer Inmates in CA and LA Facilities, Mock School Shootings…and Protecting Access to Justice Behind Bars

February 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTY SUES OVER ALLEGED RETALIATION FROM DEPUTIES, SUPERVISORS FOR REPORTING INMATE ABUSE IN JAILS

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald Brock alleges department peers and superiors bullied, discriminated against, threatened, and then fired him for protesting inmate abuse in several LA County jails, including Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers.

A great number of department members are mentioned in Brock’s complaint (a riveting 78 pages), including Sgt. Mark Renfrow, Lt. Mark Guerrero, as well as former Sheriff Lee Baca, ex- Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and Sgt. Kimberly Milroy.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here are some clips:

He alleges a “veiled threat” came from Lt. Mark Guerrero, who he says told him about how North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un executed his uncle and the latter’s family members for being disloyal.

“Lt. Guerrero told plaintiff that if something happened to a person for reporting misconduct, LASD would not be responsible,” according to the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Wednesday.

[SNIP]

The next month, Sgt. Mark Renfrow ordered Brock to fire a stun gun at an inmate who was not aggressive toward any deputy, the suit states.

“The bloodied and battered inmate was then handcuffed and taken away for medical attention,” according to the lawsuit.

Brock alleges he was told by Renfrow to falsify a statement in a report of the incident to state that the inmate was trying to punch a deputy, or else he would be determined to be insubordinate.

Brock “eventually relented to the incredible pressure and wrote in the report that the inmate was punching at (the deputy),” according to his court papers.

Brock says he later received a note from inmates stating they heard deputies saying they wanted to bring false allegations against him in retaliation for his complaints.


CA PRISONS AND LA JAILS SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE OVERFLOWING INMATE POPULATIONS

Late last month, California’s prison population dropped below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The milestone was reached more than a year before the judges’ deadline. This important victory is made possible in large part by the passage of Propositions 36 and 47, but there is still potential for the population to swing back up if the state officials stop making significant strides toward easing overcrowding. (Refresher: 36 reformed the Three Strikes Law, and 47 downgraded certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.) Since Prop 47′s passage in November, 2,035 California inmates have been freed.

California jails have also seen a substantial drop in inmate numbers, mostly thanks to Prop 47. Since November, Los Angeles County Jails have reduced the overall population by 3,200 inmates. San Diego achieved a 900 inmate reduction.

Jessica Eaglin, Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, has more on the numbers’ significance and why neither state nor LA County are out of the woods, yet. Here’s a clip:

This is the first time that the state’s prison population reached this level since 1994. The decline is a direct result of Proposition 36 and Proposition 47. Since Proposition 47 took effect, 2,035 inmates have been released from prison. 1,975 inmates have been released since Proposition 36 took effect.

California jails, too, have experienced reductions in their jail populations in recent months. Initially, Realignment facilitated shifting inmates from prison to county jails. The recent sentencing reforms – particularly Proposition 47 – changed this landscape. Los Angeles County, with the largest jail system in the country, saw its jail population decline by 17%, or 3,200 inmates, since November 2014. The San Diego County jail population, too, declined by 900 inmates. This is a critical development towards reducing overall incarceration in the state beyond simple compliance with the federal mandate.

California still has a long way to go to successfully get its incarcerated population under control. The state continues to send almost 9,000 prisoners out of state in order to comply with the court’s mandate. California increasingly relies on private and public facilities – including by sending 2,000 prisoners to a private facility in the state. The state will spend $12 billion on incarceration this year while trying to accommodate the court’s federal order. Moreover, CDCR’s numbers represent weekly snapshots. It may be that next week the number spikes above the threshold again. On the jails side, the population may creep back up as inmates previously being released early due to overcrowding are now serving as much as 100 percent of their sentences.


STAGING SCARY FAKE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS TO TRAIN KIDS ON WHAT TO DO DURING A REAL SCHOOL MASSACRE

A growing number of law enforcement agencies and schools across the nation are performing “active shooter” drills during school hours to prepare kids for real school shootings. Schools have even carried out these exercises, entirely unannounced to students. In a Florida middle school last November, students believed the cops barreling down their halls with fake guns were real shooters, and sent frantic text messages to their parents.

While most agree that lockdown drills are vital to ensure kids know what to do when there is a human threat on campus, experts say the gunman drills, particularly the unannounced kinds, can traumatize kids. But surprise drill advocates say kids do not take scheduled disaster exercises seriously, and that they do not learn from them.

Kids at a junior high in Bakersfield responded similarly to a surprise active shooter drill in November. And here’s what happened in Harlem.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department has performed similar drills at Topanga Elementary, but only to prepare teachers and staff. Students were not involuntarily involved.

Angela Almeida, who has personally participated in a mock school shooting, explores both sides of this issue in an excellent story for the Atlantic. Here are some clips:

Forget what you’ve learned about fake blood and Airsoft props on-site—in these schools, the word “drill” is a frightening misnomer; neither students nor faculty are given any advanced notice of them.

Last November, a middle school in Florida made headlines after students believed an unannounced drill, in which two gunmen barreled down the school’s hallway with a pistol and AR-15, was real. Turns out the shooters were local police officers yelling, “This is a drill!”—but that didn’t stop many students from texting their parents hysterically, telling them they feared for their lives.

[SNIP]

I asked Joseph LeDoux, a highly-regarded neuroscientist at New York University, what might be the most useful strategy for teaching students to act. While it is possible to change how humans instinctually freeze, LeDoux explained, the most effective route for learning may also be the most traumatic. “The introduction of surprise is probably a very useful tactic, because it means the brain has to learn each time students go through the drill,” he said. “When your expectations are violated, then there’s novel information and that’s where you learn. If there’s no violation of expectation, no learning takes place.”

Put simply, if humans know a drill is coming, it’s unlikely they’ll learn much from it. However, while scaring students senseless might make them more equipped to handle an emergency, LeDoux added, the degree to which people are affected by the trauma, in real life or in a simulation, depends upon their preexisting conditions. Everyone reacts differently to trauma.

For individuals struggling to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, for example, reliving memories of high stress and fear can trigger unwelcome flashbacks. As a result, students who fit into this category run the risk of re-experiencing symptoms when confronted with simulation drills firsthand. School psychologists argue that the cost of unearthing terrible memories outweighs the potential benefit of these practices—not to mention the rare chance that someone in the school is carrying a concealed weapon and decides to act defensively. A drill to prepare for tragedy could turn into a tragedy itself.

Bonus: watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about Florida’s surprise drill.


SCOTUS TO HEAR CASE REGARDING INMATES’ RESTRICTED ABILITY TO SUE OVER PRISON CONDITIONS

Alliance for Justice has released a new report spotlighting an important case the US Supreme Court will hear next week. Inmates must overcome huge barriers to sue over conditions behind bars. The biggest roadblock is the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PRLA was intended to weed out petty lawsuits, but has succeeded in barring inmates from justice who have serious grievances about inhumane treatment behind bars, according to the Alliance for Justice report.

The case challenges the PRLA’s three-strikes provision restricting the number of civil lawsuits an inmate can file before the $400 filing fee—a colossal sum for inmates working for pennies per hour—will no longer be waived. Interpretations of the provision vary, and can mean that inmates can run out of waivers for a number of reasons, when their cases are dismissed, due to technicalities, timing issues, and more.

Here are some clips from the report:

Recent court decisions have expanded congressional restrictions on the right of inmates to access the courts. Today, inmates are losing more cases, winning fewer settlements, and going to trial less often than any time in the past two decades. Yet, civil lawsuits are often the only way to hold prisons accountable for violence, overcrowding, and medical neglect.

And as with all burdens in the criminal justice system, these developments disproportionately burden people of color, particularly African Americans and Hispanics. Fifty-eight percent of all inmates in 2008 were African American or Hispanic, despite these groups only making up 25 percent of the general public. Recent events have shown how difficult it can be for members of these groups to find justice in all walks of life, but nowhere is it as difficult as in a prison.

This report details the ways courts have expanded nearly every element of the so-called “three-strikes” rule of the Prison Litigation Reform Act to keep inmates out of courts, in ways Congress never intended. Later this year, the Supreme Court will decide Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson, and with it, the future of inmate justice. AFJ calls on the Supreme Court to restore the right of all Americans to petition their courts. Access to justice is far too important an American value to take away from one of our country’s most vulnerable populations.

[SNIP]

On February 23, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson. Andre Lee Coleman-Bey is an inmate in Michigan who brought a lawsuit against prison officials for interfering with his access to the courts. Coleman-Bey had brought two previous civil cases that were dismissed. He then brought a third case, which was dismissed by the trial court, and he appealed. That appeal is still pending. When Coleman-Bey brought his fourth and most recent suit, the district judge ruled that the three previous cases were strikes, and that he could not have his filing fees waived. The Supreme Court is reviewing the case to decide whether a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit can count as a strike—and effectively prevent an inmate from filing any more lawsuits—when it is still being appealed.

This case highlights a much greater trend of lower courts expanding the PLRA to hand out strikes based on technical errors, poor timing, and reasonable arguments that end up losing. Even inmates with law degrees, not just the “frequent filers” the PLRA was supposed to target, could now find themselves locked out of our civil justice system.

Congress enacted the PLRA to “reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits,” yet the claims of unbounded frivolous prison litigation that sparked its passage do not match reality. Inmates file roughly half as many lawsuits per capita as the general public, but are successful at a similar rate.

Even as pro se litigants bringing cases without lawyers, inmates have been successful in bringing and winning cases in the United States Supreme Court. And litigation has brought reform to prisons that desperately need it. Recent lawsuits have successfully improved inmate medical care, reduced violence and overcrowding, and reformed prison use of solitary confinement.

Posted in Civil Rights, LA County Jail, LASD, Supreme Court, Trauma | 44 Comments »

School Money for Kids Who Need It Most, a Childhood Trauma Ted Talk, Kids in Gangs, and Pitchess Jail Teacher’s Sex Conviction

February 19th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

MOST CA SCHOOL DISTRICTS FAILING TO USE NEW BUDGET $$ TO RAMP UP SERVICES FOR FOSTER KIDS

Prior to a 2013 funding approach overhaul, California education budget allocation was severely inequitable, often giving more money to affluent school districts while short-changing schools—and kids—that needed the state dollars the most. The new budget system, the Local Control Funding Formula, is a weighted funding approach that allows districts (rather than the state) to decide how a portion of their funding is spent. The new formula aims to level the playing field for high-needs students, including foster kids, who are severely underserved by school districts.

The Local Control Funding Formula allocates more money for high-needs kids, and requires districts to set up goals and action plans for helping these students overcome barriers with regard to attendance, suspensions and expulsions, and interactions with school police.

A year into the Local Control Funding Formula implementation, a new report has found that, overall, California districts are failing to take advantage of the new system to analyze and address the needs of students in foster care.

Foster kids have the worst educational outcomes—including the lowest graduation rates—among high-needs student groups, which are comprised of kids from low-income households, kids with disabilities, and English-learners. In California, kids attend an average of eight different schools while in foster care. Nationwide 67% of foster kids have been suspended at least one time. Just under half of foster kids in the US battle emotional and behavioral problems, and a quarter of former foster kids (now adults) have PTSD, a rate twice that of war veterans.

According to the report, LA Unified was the only school district that had established baseline suspension data to measure the district’s progress in that area. No schools figured out the baseline data for expulsions. Only Temecula established a goal specifically targeting the expulsion of students in the child welfare system. And again, only Temecula set aside money expressly for lowering the rates at which foster kids get suspended and expelled.

Only two districts, including LAUSD, identified the baseline data for foster kids’ school attendance. Only 9% of districts named goals, and just 11% cited spending money on helping foster kids with attendance issues.

The report, authored by Laura Faer and Marjorie Cohen of Public Counsel, which focuses solely on districts’ implementation of the funding changes with regard to students in foster care, examined data from 64 California districts in which 55% of the state’s students in foster care are enrolled (the districts had to have at least 150 kids in the child welfare system).

Among other recommendations, the report calls on districts to get serious and analyze data, create goals, and, you know, earmark that extra money to help disadvantaged kids, as intended. The report lists some worthy things to put the money toward, like restorative justice, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and trauma-informed systems.

Fix School Discipline has a good roundup of the report’s main points. Here are some clips:

“Foster youth in California are disproportionately subjected to suspensions, expulsions and contacts with the juvenile justice system, all of which compound and exacerbate the trauma most have already experienced,” said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Director for Public Counsel and co-author of the report. “Improving school climate for foster youth means putting a stop to school removals and referrals to police and developing a school environment that supports their social, emotional and mental health. Developing a positive and trauma-informed school environment must be a top priority this year for districts that serve foster youth.”

[SNIP]

…very few districts analyzed the needs of foster youth or created specific strategies for addressing their challenges, which include barriers to enrollment, lack of transportation, disruptive school changes, multiple, disconnected system players, absence of a single and constant adult supporter, and exposure to high levels of trauma, all of which severely impact learning and behavior. However, in response to the new law and the efforts of organizations calling on and working with districts to prioritize school climate improvements, a large number of districts articulated promising overall school climate approaches…


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF KIDS AND TRAUMA…

Center for Youth Wellness founder Nadine Burke Harris explains the link between childhood trauma and long-term health issues in a TED talk (that everyone who hasn’t already, should watch).


NEW REPORT FINDS VERY DIFFERENT TEEN GANG INVOLVEMENT NUMBERS THAN LAW ENFORCEMENT ESTIMATES

There are more than one million kids in gangs across the nation, according to an interesting report that will be published in the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. That number is based on a sample of 6,700 surveyed kids and teenagers, and is three times higher than the number estimated by the law enforcement-based National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS).

According to the report, the turnover rate for gang membership was 37% within a year period, a rate that contradicts the notion that when kids join gangs, they never leave them.

The report also found that 30% of young gang members were girls.

The study’s lead author, David Pyrooz, is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the report’s findings, as well as why Pyrooz says the study’s gang population estimates are so far away from law enforcement numbers. Here’s a clip:

Law enforcement, the study said, puts more emphasis than the study did on older gang members and those involved in violent acts in determining the total number of gang members.

And while law enforcement relies on several factors, such as participating in violent acts or wearing gang colors, the researchers in the new study determined gang membership solely by youths identifying themselves as gang members.

“We’re picking up on this sort of dark figure of this hidden population of gang members in the U.S. that just aren’t going to be identified in law enforcement databases,” Pyrooz said.

“These are the guys who are more peripheral to the gang. They aren’t necessarily involved in deep-end gang activities, whereas law enforcement is picking up on those guys who are the deep end, those individuals who are committing crimes at high rates. They’re involved in lots of violence. They’re extremely embedded in the gang, hanging out on more of a daily basis, whereas we think we’re picking up on the entire picture as opposed to just that core element of the gang population.”

Pyrooz said most youths who join gangs do so at around ages 12 or 13, and the peak age for gang membership is 14.


LA COUNTY JAIL TEACHER CONVICTED OF SEX WITH INMATE STUDENT

A former LA County Pitchess jail teacher, 33-year-old Lisa Nichole Leroy, was sentenced to three years of probation and 40 hours of community service after pleading no contest to having sex with an inmate in a jail classroom.

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office has further information on the case.

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, PTSD, Trauma | No Comments »

New Bureau of Children’s Justice, the CORRECTIONS Act, $8.3M for Wrongful Death in Jail, and Jefferson High Scheduling Update

February 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW CALIFORNIA DOJ BUREAU TO TACKLE CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, SEX TRAFFICKING, AND OTHER ISSUES FOSTER KIDS FACE

On Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the launch of the Bureau of Children’s Justice.

The bureau will target childhood trauma, juvenile justice, sex trafficking, truancy (and other education issues), with a particular emphasis on kids in foster care.

In a letter sent to officials in each California county, the attorney general announced the new bureau and passed along a list of the rights of foster kids, and a reminder of their duty to protect those rights.

The CA Department of Justice was also selected (one of only three state departments) to participate in the Defending Childhood initiative, a federal effort targeting childhood trauma from exposure to violence.

Here’s a clip from AG Harris’ announcement:

The Bureau will enforce criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; work with a range of local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support for vulnerable children to prevent bad outcomes; and identify and pursue improvements to policies impacting children.

“We simply cannot let down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and act surprised,” said Attorney General Harris. “The Bureau of Children’s Justice will continue our smart on crime approach by addressing the root causes of crime, including our broken foster care system, and making certain that California’s children receive full protection under the law and equal opportunities to succeed. One of the Bureau’s first orders of business will be to look at enforcement gaps in the foster care system and ensure that government agencies are held accountable to those entrusted in their care.”

[SNIP]

Attorney General Harris also announced that the California Department of Justice was one of just three state agencies accepted by the U.S. Department of Justice to be part of its national Defending Childhood Initiative. Through this initiative, California will work to improve outcomes for children exposed to trauma by ensuring that at-risk children are screened for exposure to violence at school, when they visit a pediatrician, or when they become involved with child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

“I commend Attorney General Harris for taking this important step to protect the youngest and most vulnerable Californians,” said Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment. “The Bureau of Children’s Justice will watch over our state’s legal system and guarantee greater protection for our children, safeguarding their physical, social and emotional health and helping to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to grow up healthy and safe.”

And here’s who will run the bureau:

The Bureau will be staffed by attorneys and experts on legal issues impacting children, including civil rights, education, consumer protection, nonprofit charities, child welfare, privacy and identity theft, fraud, and human trafficking.


FED. CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL WITH BEST CHANCE OF PASSING IS UNFAIR TO MINORITIES, BUT BETTER THAN NOTHING

The CORRECTIONS Act, introduced Tuesday by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would allow federal inmates viewed as low-risk to take part in education programs and prison jobs that would take time off their sentences. The problem is that, because of who the bill excludes and how risk-assessment tools decide how much time to shave off, it will likely mostly help white people and people doing time for white-collar crimes.

While it seemed that the bipartisan criminal justice reform would have big potential during the 114th Congress, CORRECTIONS may be the only criminal justice reform bill that has a chance of making it through Congress and past the Senate Judiciary Committee and it’s non-prison-reform-minded chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Vox’s Dara Lind explains the bill’s exclusions and risk assessment, and why the CORRECTIONS Act will disproportionately serve white people. Here are some clips:

The bill excludes any inmate with a “criminal history” that places them in the highest category under the federal sentencing guidelines. The problem is that someone gets placed in that category automatically if they’re labeled a “career offender,” which just means three convictions at either the state or federal level for drug or violent crimes. Most “career offenders,” according to the US Sentencing Commission, are African Americans — simply because it’s easier to arrest and prosecute them for “offenses that take place in open-air drug markets, which are most often found in impoverished minority neighborhoods… [This] suggests that African-Americans have a higher risk of conviction for a drug trafficking crime than do similar White drug traffickers.” In 2000, 69 percent of newly-sentenced “career offenders” were black. (Interestingly, only 17 percent were Hispanic.)

[SNIP]

Anyone convicted of participating in a “continuing criminal enterprise.” This is another label that’s typically applied to drug offenders — anyone who’s an “organizer, supervisor or manager” of a group of five or more people dealing drugs can be hit with a conviction for a “career criminal enterprise.” The statute isn’t used that often — only 239 people were convicted under it from 2006 to 2013, according to data from the US Sentencing Commission. But 77 percent of the time, it was used against black or Hispanic defendants.

[SNIP]

…how does the government determine how likely someone is to recidivate? The bill tells the federal government to come up with a risk assessment tool. These tests are used in several states and in federal court to figure out how best to manage an inmate’s case — or to determine whether someone should be put on probation instead of prison to begin with. But most states shy away from using them to determine the length of an inmate’s sentence.

And there’s a reason for that. Some of the factors used to determine recidivism risk are “dynamic” — they’re factors that an individual can change over time. But others are “static” factors: they say more about the environment where an inmate lives, or where he grew up, than about his own behavior.

One of the major risk-assessment tools treats drug use, low education level, and frequent changes in residence as factors that put someone at higher risk to recidivate. Even factors that look fair on the face of it, like the age an inmate was when he was arrested for the first time, can just mean that the inmate lived in a neighborhood where teenagers (or younger) were under police suspicion.


RECORD-BREAKING WRONGFUL DEATH SETTLEMENT FOR INMATE WHO DIED AFTER BEING TASERED DURING ALCOHOL WITHDRAWALS

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors and a jail health care company will pay $8.3 million to the children of Martin Harrison, an Alameda County inmate who died after being tasered by ten deputies. The sum sets the record for the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in state history, according to the Harrison family’s attorneys. A separate $1 million was awarded to one of Harrison’s kids who was still a minor.

The family’s attorneys said that although Harrison informed the LVN that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal, he died during the violent encounter with deputies while suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal.

Harrison was stopped for jaywalking and arrested for failing to appear for his DUI court date.

As part of the settlement, the for-profit Corazon Health, Inc. will change the practice of hiring Licensed Vocational Nurses instead of Registered Nurses (as state law requires) to perform inmate medical intakes.

Contra Costa Times’ Malaika Fraley has the story. Here’s a clip:

Harrison, 50, died in August 2010 two days after be was beaten and Tased by 10 deputies at the Santa Rita Jail. His children’s attorneys say Harrison was hallucinating from a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens for which he should have been hospitalized, and he never fought back. He was in jail on a warrant for failing to appear in court in a DUI case after being arrested for jaywalking.

Corizon is one of the largest for-profit correctional health care providers in the country and holds a $210 million contract to provide health care services in Alameda County’s Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer jails. Under state law, the company is required to have registered nurses (RNs) assess inmates upon intake, but Harrison’s medical screening was done by an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse (LVN), Sherwin said.

“If the deputies had been trained, and if Corizon had had an RN instead of an LVN do the intake medical assessment then we all would not be here today,” Sherwin said at a news conference attended by Harrison’s family.

Corizon Health said that Harrison did not alert the LVN that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal, while the plaintiff’s attorneys said that he did.

(Alameda is another municipality that might want to enter the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge.)


PROGRESS MADE TOWARD FIXING JEFFERSON HIGH’S SCHEDULING CRISIS

Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation.

Four months later, repairs have been made to the data system, more teachers have been hired, classes have been added, and the number of students in the inaccurate or non-instructive classes has dropped. But there is still much to be done.

Adolpho Guzman-Lopez has a welcome update on the Jefferson scheduling debacle. Here’s a clip:

Castillo was one of 150 students who were enrolled at the start of the school year in “home” periods, meaning they were sent home early. Others were assigned “service” periods where students helped as aides in offices and classrooms, but received no academic instruction. Students were enrolled in non-academic classes because the school didn’t have courses that they hadn’t already taken.

Other students spent weeks in the school’s auditorium, cafeteria and library waiting for their schedules to be fixed. Advanced Placement classes were all scheduled at the same time, limiting students’ ability to take higher level courses. Teachers began taking attendance by hand.

The litany of MiSiS-related problems went on for weeks.

At one point Jefferson students, fed up with the situation, staged a peaceful on-campus protest.

[SNIP]

David Sapp, a lawyer for the students who sued to fix the problems, is happy with the improvements at Jefferson, but not with the way the school was forced to make changes.

“We shouldn’t put the burden on students to go out and find lawyers to have to go and get a court order to fix this,” he said.

Not all of the school’s problems are solved. Foote says 90 students are still sent home early because of scheduling problems. As of last month L.A. Unified reported that MiSiS continued to have problems accurately counting English learner students and giving parents access to their child’s data and not other students.

Posted in Department of Justice, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, LAUSD, racial justice, Trauma | 3 Comments »

Koch Campaign, Violence Intervention in Hospitals, Mental Illness and Solitary, Legislation Against Over-medicating Foster Kids

February 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A FACE FOR THE KOCH BROS’ CAMPAIGN AGAINST MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES, CIVIL FORFEITURE, AND MORE

Weldon Angelos will spend 55 years in prison for selling weed while carrying a firearm, a punishment tremendously disproportionate to the crime, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The conservative multi-billionaire Koch brothers want to help free Angelos (only possible through a presidential pardon), and introduce him as the face of their criminal justice system reform campaign. The campaign will target harsh mandatory minimum laws, overcriminalization of non-serious, non-violent offenses, civil asset forfeiture abuse, militarization of police, and reentry services.

The Koch brothers are part of a growing trend of Republican leaders and groups emerging as leaders in the fight against mass incarceration. Another high-profile group, the Texas-based Right on Crime, were integral to the passage of California’s three-strikes reform bill, as well as the more recent Proposition 47.

The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak has the story. Here’s a clip:

Judge Paul Cassell protested the sentence when he was forced to make it in 2004, a move he told The Daily Beast he considers “the most unjust, lengthy sentence that I had to hand down.”

At the time of the trial, Cassell noted that Angelos’ sentence exceeded the minimum required for an individual convicted of airline hijacking, detonating a bomb intended to kill bystanders, and the exploitation of a child for pornography.

Angelos is now 35 years old and has spent some 11 years behind bars.

He has more than 40 years left to go. Even though his crime was non-violent, parole is not an option at the federal level.

His only hope for relief from his sentence is an order by the president.

“If we’re going to deprive someone of liberty, and deal with the high cost of incarceration, it better solve a problem. And in this case, it doesn’t solve any problem,” argued Mark Osler, Angelos’ lawyer, who filed a clemency petition on his behalf in 2012.

This is where the Koch brothers come in.

The case is being highlighted by Koch-backed group Generation Opportunity, which targets millenials, in a broader campaign to press for criminal justice reforms this year.

They will kick off the campaign with a documentary highlighting Angelos’ predicament, premiering at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum next week.

In the same vein, Mother Jones’ Sam Brodey has a roundup of five important criminal justice issues we may see some bipartisan reform on from Congress soon, including sealing and expunging records, good time credits, and mandatory minimums. Here’s a clip:

Earned-time credits: These programs, under which prisoners can work to earn an early release by completing classes, job training, and drug rehab, are highly popular among reformers. Many states already offer them, and they’ve been touted as smart, efficient ways to reduce prison populations as well as recidivism rates. Jay Hurst, a criminal-justice lawyer and commentator at the Hill, says that this is the likeliest issue where Congress could pass legislation this year.

Easing up mandatory minimums: These laws, which broadly require those convicted of certain crimes to serve set sentences regardless of the specifics of the case, are considered hallmarks of the tough-on-crime approach politicians used to embrace. Critics, such as advocacy group Families Against the Mandatory Minimum, argue that these laws “undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual” and that they are one of the main reasons for overcrowded prisons. According to Jesselyn McCurdy, a criminal-justice expert at the American Civil Liberties Union, half of those locked up in federal prison are there for drug offenses, to which mandatory minimums are often rigorously applied.

Last January, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which intended to reduce the size of the prison population and rein in ballooning costs by reducing mandatory minimum sentencing, especially for drug-related crimes. Someone serving a 10-year sentence for a nonviolent crime could theoretically get out in five, under the legislation. The bill also proposed broadening judges’ discretion to sentence below federal minimums, known as the “safety valve” for oversentencing.

The Durbin-Lee bill died in committee—a common fate for criminal-justice legislation—and a total overhaul of mandatory minimums could be a tough ask for this Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s new chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is a vocal defender of sentencing minimums. Still, experts say there’s reason to believe some progress could get made. “Safety valve relief could happen this Congress,” Hurst said, because it’s considered a more moderate path to reducing sentences.


HOSPITAL PROGRAMS BREAKING THE CYCLE OF RETALIATORY VIOLENCE

A growing number of “hospital-based violence intervention programs,” designed to interrupt patterns of violence in kids’ lives, are cropping up in California and across the US.

These programs ensure there are tools and resources to redirect kids and teens from retaliation, when they turn up at hospitals suffering from violent injuries and traumas.

Not only are these methods successfully keeping kids and communities safer by connecting kids with therapy, job training, and other services at a pivotal moment, they are saving criminal justice systems (and hospitals) money.

Pacific Standard Magazine’s Lauren Kirchener has this story (we didn’t want you to miss). Here’s a clip:

When Joel Fein was working in the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, treating a 16-year-old boy for injuries he had suffered in a fight, he felt truly helpless when he heard the boy say: “The guy that did this—I’m gonna cap him.” It would mean another fight, another victim of violence, and another patient in the ER. How could Fein do anything to stop the continuation—and escalation—of violence?

This helpless feeling, and this question, both eventually led Fein to his role as co-chair at a national network of “hospital-based violence intervention programs” (HVIPs) that teach health care workers how to help kids and teenagers who have undergone a trauma, and to divert their energies away from dangerous retaliation. And (not that this should be the primary goal, but) according to a new study out by Drexel University, it might save communities a lot of money, too.

The idea behind an intervention program in the hospital setting is that, while victims of violence might have other opportunities to connect with social workers or other resources at other times in their lives, the time right when they are recovering from their injuries may be the most crucial. So the people who are surrounding them at that time should be trained to help them make the right choices. The national network’s handbook for starting up a new hospital-based program reads:

The philosophy of these programs is that violence is preventable and that trauma centers and emergency rooms offer a unique opportunity at the hospital bedside—the teachable moment—to most effectively engage a victim of violence and stop the cycle of violence.

How programs actualize that philosophy will vary, but, for instance, San Francisco’s Wraparound Project assigns case managers to patients who can organize ongoing home visits or cognitive behavioral therapy, and can help patients get better access to government services. They can also point young people to vocational training and new after-school programs to occupy their time, and even to free or discounted tattoo removal—presumably so the kids can take steps to dissociate themselves from gangs.


WAREHOUSING MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, THEN RELEASING THEM WITH A WORSENED MENTAL STATE

In the first of a four-part series for WNYC’s Morning Edition program, Cindy Rodriguez shares the tragic story of Sedlis Dowdy, a severely schizophrenic man who has spent nine years in solitary confinement (seventeen total in prison, with five to go) for violent crimes associated with his mental illness.

Dowdy was released once, at the end of his fourteenth year behind bars, but only made it a few days in transitional housing before he was locked up again for stabbing someone. He will likely be released again in five years.

Among a number of other collateral consequences of how the US uses solitary confinement, a high percentage of people held in solitary confinement are eventually going to leave prison—often with more mental problems than when they arrived. When they are released back into their communities, they take illnesses exacerbated by isolation with them. (California struggles with this problem, as do many other states.)

Here are some clips from the WNYC story:

Dowdy grew up poor in Harlem during the 70s and 80s, as the state’s mental-health system went through a wrenching transformation away from large institutions to the underfunded, underperforming system that it is today.

The illness derailed what could’ve been the story of a young man who beat the odds. Despite frequent fights and dropping out of high school, he did well on his GED and attended college at Morrisville State in central New York.

[SNIP]

…in February of 1996, he shot a man at St. Nicholas Park in Harlem.

“I didn’t even know the guy,” Dowdy said. “I couldn’t take the voices no more and they was telling me to do it.”

Dowdy’s violent crime made him an outlier: Research suggests that only 4 percent of violence in the U.S. can be attributed to the mentally ill. He was sentenced to five to 10 years but ended up serving 14 because of the serious trouble he got into. Within a 15 month period, starting in October of 1997, he became uncontrollable. The state Department of Corrections said he assaulted inmates and staff, had weapons and disobeyed direct orders. Dowdy said he was off his meds and delusional at the time.

And as he acted out, the prison responded with more punishment. Dowdy spent nine years, nearly a quarter of his life, in solitary confinement and was often only fed what’s called “the loaf,” which is a brick of baked bread and vegetables.

Experts say extreme isolation is like physical torture for someone who is mentally ill. Over the last four years, several states have scaled back their use of solitary for more vulnerable populations, including New York, which enacted a new policy last year as the result of a lawsuit.

Dowdy’s situation got so bad, he took to throwing feces on guards. He was prosecuted for it and got four extra years added to his sentence. Soon, according to Dowdy, punishment turned into brutality by guards. He described guards beating him, putting glass in his food and trying to break his legs.

“At the time I was just so angry I didn’t know what to do,” he explained. “And nobody was listening to me, so I would come out of my cell and not go back in.”

When asked about the abuse, the state Department of Corrections said records show Dowdy spent nine months on the loaf and in 2000 was the subject of one excessive use of force report complaint, the details of which were lost when the agency changed computer systems.

The environment inside prisons and jails is known to exacerbate mental illness, making treatment that much more difficult to deliver.

“The more chaotic the environment, the harder it is for somebody who is already having trouble organizing their thoughts and organizing their behavior to deal with it,“ said Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University.


UPCOMING CALIFORNIA BILLS TO TARGET UNCHECKED OVERPRESCRIBING OF PSYCHOTROPIC MEDS FOR FOSTER KIDS

Karen de Sá’s alarming five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. Last year, the Department of Health Care Services tightened restrictions on how doctors prescribe these meds to kids in the foster care system, as a result of the exposé.

This year a number of California bills are in the works to protect foster kids from dangerous over-medication.

One bill would allow kids to receive alternate treatments to certain psych drugs. Another would provide training to foster parents regarding psychotropic prescriptions.

San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has more on the issue, as well as a rundown on the rest of the upcoming bills. Here’s a clip:

With a half dozen legislators exploring bills, de León’s staff has been working behind the scenes, attending meetings of a statewide reform group and meeting with advocates led by the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law and lawmakers considering bills.

“When the government takes the extraordinary step of removing a child from their families because of abuse or neglect, it assumes the tremendous responsibility of ensuring they are cared for and not further abused or neglected by the system,” de León said in an email.

This newspaper’s series “on the overprescribing of psychotropic medications has shed a spotlight on a deeply troubling aspect of the system,” de León said. “The Senate will be investigating the plight of the adolescents highlighted in these articles, as well as foster children generally.”

[SNIP]

Lawmakers, including state Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, have each submitted early language to the Legislative Counsel’s Office, their staff members confirmed. Other bills that address prescribing psychotropics in group homes are also in the early stages.

The influential California Welfare Directors Association is working with Mitchell’s office on legislation that would provide more information to judges, social workers and others in the lives of foster children about their medication and treatment history. That information would give judges who authorize medications more than just a prescriber’s recommendation. It would include observations from social workers, caregivers and the children themselves.

“We’ve been very concerned about making sure that only kids who really need these drugs are getting them,” said Frank Mecca, the welfare director association’s executive director.

Yet, opposition has already surfaced over the state Department of Health Care Services’ decision last fall to require that doctors receive extra authorization to prescribe antipsychotics to children 18 and younger in the public health system…

Hop over to the SJ Mercury for the rest of the story.

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, Mental Illness, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Right on Crime, Sentencing, Trauma, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Obama Proposes Free Community College…. Should a 19-Year-Old Get the Death Penalty?…Horses Help Traumatized Kids….Pens v. Guns

January 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOR “ANYONE WILLING TO WORK FOR IT,” SAYS PRESIDENT OBAMA

In a surprise announcement recorded in a Vine video by President Obama aboard Air Force One and then released on Facebook on Thursday, the president stated his intention to propose that the two years of community college be offered free to students of any age.

“I’d like to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who’s willing to work for it,”

As to why he was doing this video release of a proposed policy, Obama explained:

“We’re doing a little preview of the state of the union. I figure why wait for two weeks.”

What he did not say but implied, is that the idea is a counter to the skyrocketing costs of college tuition, and the rise in student debt that is seen as increasingly problematic to young adults starting life after college.

“Education is the key to success for our kids in the 21st century,” Obama said. “But it’s not just for kids.” With the latter, he referred to adults who want to go back to school for additional training or retraining, “for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

He wants, he said, to make sure that “Congress gets behind these kinds of efforts…”

In other words, the pre-SOTU video release is a PR gambit.

According to a related White House information page, if all 50 states choose to implement the President’s new community college proposal, it could:

*Save a full-time community college student $3,800 in tuition per year on average

*Benefit roughly 9 million students each year

As to what the program would cost the taxpayer and how it would be funded…that information is still to come.

White House officials did say that the feds would pay 75% of the costs of the proposed program, with the states picking up the rest.


WHAT IF A TEENAGER CONVICTED OF MURDER IS ALSO AN ADULT? SHOULD WE PUT HIM OR HER TO DEATH?

When the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the still-living member of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing duo, begins later this month, the largest question the jury will have to consider will not be so much about guilt, but rather about punishment.

Tsarnaev is accused of multiple counts of murder for the April 15, 2013, bombings at the Marathon finish line that killed three people and injured more than 260 others, some of them gravely. Tsarnaev and his brother also reportedly killed an MIT campus police officer in Cambridge, a few days after the bombing. In addition, Tsarnaev is accused of mass terrorism—a federal crime that is eligible for the death penalty.

So will Tsarnaev be sentenced to death? Should he be? WLA is not a great fan of capital punishment, but certainly if there is a crime that would arguably be eligible it would be the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon.

And yet….

Yesterday we wrote about the new MacArthur Foundation report “Because Kids Are Different,” that outlines five different areas for juvenile justice reform based on what we know about the differences in cognitive development between adolescents and adults.

In their report, the MacArthur authors point to the 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that eliminated the use of the death penalty for young people under the age of 18.

“The court noted three key distinctions between adolescents and adults that require the law to hold youth to a different standard:
(1) adolescents lack maturity and a sense of responsibility,
which can lead to “impetuous and ill-considered” actions and
decisions;1
(2) adolescents are more vulnerable and susceptible
to negative influences and peer pressure; and (3) the personality
traits of adolescents are not fixed, and are more transitory than
those of adults. According to the court, a youth’s ability to grow,
mature, and change must be recognized by the law for reasons
of basic logic, science, and morality

So if all of the above is true at age 17-and-ahalf, what about at age 19?

In a story called “The Teenaged Brain of the Boston Bomber,” the Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein asks if Tsarnaev’s age—19 when the terrible bombings occurred—will be viewed as a valid defense when it comes to the sentencing phase of the trial.

Goldstein writes about the brain imaging that has been part of the new neuroscience of adolescence, which suggests young adults remain especially susceptible to peer influence, among other judgement altering factors, well into their twenties.

As it stands now, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has declined to take the death penalty off the table, saying that Tsarnaev acted in “an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner.” He also pointed to Tsarnaev’s seeming lack of remorse.

Wherever you personally stand on capital punishment, Goldstein’s is an interesting story in that it outlines factors that may come into play when in determining Tsarnaev’s fate.

Here are some clips:

When it comes to young adults, much of that brain research has been conducted by Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University. He and colleagues have observed that into the twenties, the brain is still undergoing myelination, a process in which a white, fatty substance coats nerve fibers, gradually improving the brain’s ability to make the neural connections necessary to plan ahead, weigh risks and rewards, and make complex decisions. Using functional Magnetic Reasoning Imaging (fMRI), Steinberg and colleagues have also been able to observe which parts of the brain are activated as teenagers and young adults complete various tasks.

In one laboratory experiment, two groups of subjects, one group in their teens and another in their mid-to-late-twenties, manipulated a vehicle along a track, first alone and then as two of their real-world friends observed. The teenagers and adults drove similarly when alone. But when performing in front of their peers, the teenagers took more risks and were more likely to crash their vehicles. The reward centers of the teenagers’ brains, which anticipate approval and pleasure, were highly active when observed by their peers, while the adults’ brains did not display such a pattern.

Those findings echo other studies — and common sense — suggesting that even intelligent teenagers act, essentially, stupid around their friends. This is true even in highly unusual, violent contexts, such as terrorist extremism. Research on radicalization shows young adults are often attracted to terrorist movements through loving relationships, particularly with siblings or romantic partners who hold extreme beliefs. This could be relevant to the Boston Marathon case, given the likelihood that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was influenced by his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan…

Judy Clarke, who represents Tsarnaev, is a high profile attorney and death penalty expert who has negotiated death-avoiding plea deals in such notorious cases as that of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and mass shooter Jared Loughner, who killed six people and shattered the life of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Clarke has not commented on the strategy she and her team intend to use in the case of Tsarnaev.

Interestingly, if this were a state trial, rather than a federal trial, the matter would not be an issue since Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, more than decade before Tsarnaev was born.


FOR TRAUMATIZED KIDS HORSES CAN BE “A BEACON OF LIGHT IN AN OTHERWISE DARK WORLD”

This coming February, 25 experts from as far away as Finland will arrive at Saguaro Lake Ranch, a 1940s dude ranch near Scottsdale, AZ, for a four-day conference on how to treat kids with severe childhood trauma. Prominent among the treatment methods to be discussed for helping children with a high number of so-called “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—is a method called equine assisted therapy.

(We’ve written in the past about the research on ACEs and their effect on the health well being of children and adults here and here.)

JoAnn Richi has the story on equine therapy for Aces Too High.
Here’s a clip:

Baylie is eight years old. Born to a mother addicted to cocaine and an alcoholic father, removed from her parents at six months and covered with bruises and cigarette burns, Baylie (not her real name) has spent her childhood shuffled from one foster home to another. She rarely speaks, makes little eye contact with adults, shows no interest in playing with kids her age, and recoils from any attempt at physical affection.

Baylie’s ability to connect with anyone, or anything, seemed impossible until the day she met a horse named Steady.

Baylie is very lucky. Her court-appointed therapist has found a way to combine her own love of horses with the rapidly evolving field of equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Once a week Baylie goes to the stables, holds out an apple for Steady to nibble from her hand, pats, brushes and talks quietly to him about the things she does not want anyone else to hear.

For children like Baylie who have never been able to trust people, a horse can become a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. Suddenly something big and powerful leans in, nuzzles you and looks you right in the eye. There is nothing to fear; this animal will not leave you, he will not betray you. With a trained equine-assisted therapist, a child like Baylie can be gradually introduced to forming a relationship with the horse. This ability to bond, perhaps for the first time in her young life, will then hopefully expand, allowing her to trust and connect with the wider world and to the people who exist within it.

[SNIP]

Equine-assisted psychotherapy has been widely used in Europe for decades. Nina Ekholm Fry, born and raised around horses in rural Finland, is a warm, friendly woman who merged her interest in psychology with her love of horses. Fry was recruited by Prescott College in Arizona to develop and lead one of the few equine-assisted psychotherapy graduate and post-graduate level counseling programs in the United States.

Fry is leading a day-long workshop at the conference. “In working with individuals who have experienced trauma, who have a high ACE score, trust and control are significant issues,” she says. “Equine-assisted therapy expands the therapeutic environment. Suddenly the client is taken out of the usual confines of an office. When we bring a horse into the picture, we have more treatment options; we are outdoors, we interact with the physical world, we utilize the body in an active rather than passive manner, it opens up an array of treatment possibilities.”


“Solidarité” – A PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK’S NEW YORKER COVER

More than perhaps any American publication, right now the New Yorker is loaded with commentary, essays and mini-stories about the massacre at the office of the longtime french satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Here, for example, is a clip from an essay by Philip Gourevitch called The Pen vs. the Gun, in which he writes about “a hellish day without consolation….”

We like to say—we who work with pens (or pixels)—that the pen (or pixel) is mightier than the sword. Then someone brings a sword (or Kalashnikov) to test the claim, and we’re not so sure.

The French cartoonist Stéphane (Charb) Charbonnier liked to say, when jihadis repeatedly threatened to silence him, that he’d rather be dead than live on his knees or live like a rat, so he kept right on drawing and publishing his loud, lewd, provocative, blasphemous caricatures of theocratic bullies. And now he’s dead—he and nine of his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine he edited in Paris—massacred by masked gunmen, who came for them in broad daylight, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” and also killed two policemen before fleeing with a cry, “The prophet Muhammad is avenged.”

It’s hard to imagine how the Charlie Hebdo crew would have wrung a joke out of their own executions. But you can bet that they wouldn’t have shrunk from the challenge, and you can be sure that the result would have been at odds with any standard of good taste, unless you consider it in good taste never to give any ground to the dictates of holy warriors who seek power by murdering clowns.

Ideally, it would never require great courage and commitment to make puerile doodles mocking those whom one perceives to be making a mockery of the things that they purport to hold sacred. But those dead French cartoonists were braver by far than most of us in going up against the deadly foes of our civilization, armed only with a great talent for bilious ridicule. On any given day, we might have scoffed at the seeming crudeness of their jokes, rather than laughing at their jokes on crudity. But the killers proved the cartoonists’ point with ghastly finality: theirs was a necessary, freedom-sustaining, and therefore life-giving, form of defiance. Without it, they knew, we—humankind—are less.

Last night, tens of thousands in France took to the streets of their cities in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Many carried signs, declaring “Je Suis Charlie,” a memorial slogan that had already overtaken Twitter, where the hashtag #JesuisCharlie could easily be misread as a compression of the equally apt exclamation: “Jesus, Charlie!” The spectacle of these great throngs of outraged, unbowed mourners reclaiming their public spaces was heartening. But the truth is—–for better and for worse—–that, no, most of us, even in the most free of Western societies, are not Charlie.

For better, because so many of us have the luxury of often feeling secure enough in our freedom to take it for granted. For worse, because in taking our freedom for granted, we are too often ready to trade it for a greater sense of security. We are not Charlie, in other words, because we risk so little for what we claim to value so much. We are not Charlie, too, because most of us are relatively inoffensive, whereas Charlie, like so many liberating pioneers of free expression—think not only of Lenny Bruce and Mad magazine but also of Gandhi and Martin Luther King—were always glad to give offense to what offended them. And we are not Charlie, today, because we are alive.

Georges Wolinski, one of the martyred Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, once said, “Humor is the shortest path between one man and another.” But a bullet is swifter. After his death, his daughter said, “Papa is gone, not Wolinski.” Meaning, rightly, that his work—his voice, and his drawings, what he wrought with his pen—is immortal. Yet the reason that some people with guns prefer to kill some people who use pens is always the same: because it is effective. Terror works. (Just ask anybody who stood to make a buck on the theatrical release of “The Interview….”)

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, juvenile justice, Sentencing, Trauma | 1 Comment »

The End of Gangs? Uh, No. WLA Discusses This Particular New Contention on KCRW’s Which Way LA?

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



THE END OF GANGS—THAT WASN’T.

A story called “The End of Gangs” by veteran So Cal journalist Sam Quinones appeared late last month in Pacific Standard Magazine, and the thesis it contains—that the damaging affect and visible presence of Southern California gangs has all but vanished, or at least been drastically reduced—has produced a large stir among many experts on violence and safety in California communities.

Here’s a clip from Quinones’ story:

In the past few years, street gangs have been retreating from public view all over Southern California. Several years ago, I spent a couple of days in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, interviewing some Florencia 13 gang members. One nearby garage was never free of graffiti for more than a few minutes a week. (This was the amount of time it took after the graffiti clean-up truck left for the 76th Street clique of Florencia 13 to re-deface the thing.) That garage wall has now been without graffiti for more than four years. I go by it every time I’m in the neighborhood.

Fifteen miles southeast of Florence-Firestone, much of the tiny city of Hawaiian Gardens used to be scarred with the graffiti of HG-13, a local gang that absorbed several generations of the town’s young men. The last three times I’ve been to Hawaiian Gardens, I’ve seen nothing on the walls, and young black men freely visit taco restaurants on the main drag, something that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. In Oxnard’s Colonia Chiques neighborhood in Ventura County, the decades-old neighborhood gang is not outside, and their graffiti is gone.

Some of this is a state and national story, as violent crime declined by about 16 percent in both California and the nation from 2008 through 2012. But the decline has been steeper in many gang-plagued cities: 26 percent in Oxnard, 28 percent in Riverside, 30 percent in Compton, 30 percent in Pasadena, 30 percent in Montebello, 50 percent in Bell Gardens, 50 percent in El Monte.

Santa Ana once counted 70-plus homicides a year, many of them gang-related. That’s down to 15 so far in 2014, even as Santa Ana remains one of the densest, youngest, and poorest big cities in California. “Before, they were into turf,” says Detective Jeff Launi, a longtime Santa Ana Police gang investigator. “They’re still doing it, but now they’re more interested in making money.”

No place feels so changed as the city of Los Angeles. In 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that gang crime had dropped by nearly half since 2008. In 2012, L.A. had fewer total homicides (299) citywide than it had gang homicides alone in 2002 (350) and in 1992 (430). For the most part, Latino gang members no longer attack blacks in ways reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. Nor are gangs carjacking, assaulting, robbing, or in a dozen other ways blighting their own neighborhoods. Between 2003 and 2013, gang-related robberies in the city fell from 3,274 to 1,021; gang assaults from 3,063 to 1,611; and carjackings, a classic L.A. gang crime born during the heyday of crack, from 211 to 33.

“Being the member of a gang doesn’t have the panache it did,” says George Tita, a criminology. “Things have changed radically in the last five years.”

So what’s the deal? We know violent crime is down all over the nation. Does this also mean that Los Angeles law enforcement has “tamed” its gang problem as Quinones’ story suggests?

I was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with Warren Olney discussing the issue Monday night. Sam Quinones was on too.

Here are some of the topics we talked about—plus a bit more:


ARE GANGS GONE?

So, does the fact that most gangsters now rarely wield spray cans to mark territory mean that gangs are no longer wreaking havoc in LA’s communities?

No, experts I spoke with told me. But gangs have changed a great deal. During the height of the gang conflicts in the late 1980′s and early to mid 1990′s, gangs primarily fought about turf and drug sales and identity.

Now gangs are all about business.

Moreover, according to UCLA gang anthropologist Dr. Jorja Leap, gangs are less visible because they have gone underground.

“They are extremely sophisticated about social media, and expert in many markets,” Leap said when we talked Monday morning.

Gentrification and the drop in violent crime all over the U.S. does not translate into the end of gangs, she said. “They relocate,”—to places like Riverside and San Bernardino and the Inland Empire, where you do see gangsters on the street. “And then commute back in to commit crimes.”

Leap said she has been called in to consult on several criminal cases having to do with an active gang pipeline running from LA to Las Vegas that involves drug dealing, guns—”and now they have expanded their operations to human trafficking.”

Much of the organization needed to facilitate this commuter gang action, Leap said, “is achieved using social media.

“And I don’t mean guys throwing gang signs on Facebook,” she said, adding that she was talking about sophisticated websites, the purpose of which is well disguised, “sometimes using shadow businesses.”

Leap’s points are depressingly easy to support. For instance, a look at the 110-page RICO indictment filed against 38 members of the Mexican Mafia-associated Big Hazard gang filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in mid-December 2014, details the long-time gang’s elaborate actions to conceal its very healthy drug distribution business.

The place that gangs still thrive with perhaps the most strength and influence, Leap and others I spoke with Monday reminded me, is in California’s prisons and also in many of the state’s county jails, most particularly in LA County’s jail system and jails in the inland empire.

Elie Miller, a former alternate public defender now well known for her nonprofit legal work for places like Homeboy Industries and the Union Rescue Mission, told me this week about a young client who is afraid to go to jail in San Bernardino County, where he has a warrant, because of the heavy gang presence. He was fearful, said the attorney, “he have to comply with requests [from the gangs] to do things if in jail.”

From LA County jails I hear repeatedly about how those from gang-affected neighborhoods cannot receive money from family members “on their books,” without paying a percentage tax to the gang shot callers, whether they themselves are gang-involved or not.

“One other thing,” added Leap, “Quinones writes mostly about Latino gangs. And some of the mothers I know in South LA, would be really surprised to learn that gang crime is gone from their neighborhoods.”


WHAT ABOUT GANG VIOLENCE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY? THE TRAUMA

As I mentioned earlier, we know that violent crime is down all over the nation, Los Angeles County included.

There is much argument about the exact reasons for the crime drop, but most agree that it is due to a complex stew of causes that include smarter strategies in policing, along with the work of nonprofits like (in California) Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, the Toberman Foundationin San Pedro, Youth Uprising in Oakland, and a long list of like agencies that are on the front lines when it comes to addressing community health and safety,

Gang homicides are down too, but as for gang crime in general? Those in law enforcement I spoke with about the issue said that those stats are far less solid.

Moreover, while gangs are less visible, the collateral damage done to families and communities—along with the former gang members themselves—is still all too present and visible.

Violence reduction experts now talk less about gangs and more about the pressing issues of prison reentry and about addressing the now multi-generational trauma that the worst old days of gang violence left in its wake.

And then there are the still discomforting stats like the fact that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for black children and teenagers.

“I’d love to have the gang problem solved. Trust me,” said Leap. “But to say so is not just incorrect, it risks abandoning the programs we need to address the damage that’s already been done.”

And the damage that is still being done.

For more read Quinones’ story and then listen to the Which Way LA? podcast, starting at around minute 12:20.

And, by the way, in the end, Quinones and I agreed on far more than we disagreed on this important and complicated topic.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, PTSD, Public Health, Reentry, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

Part 4: “Drugging Our Kids,” Compensating Wrongfully Convicted, Rehabilitating CA’s Female Lifers, and WLA on Deadline LA

December 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

YOLANDA’S STORY: RESCUED BY A GROUP HOME DOCTOR WHO FOUND A DIFFERENT WAY TO TREAT TRAUMA

In August, September, and November, we linked to parts one, two, and three of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury uncovering the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Part four introduces readers to Yolanda Vasquez, a former foster kid with a winning smile who was once so severely drugged by doctors, she almost lost the ability to talk, and functioned at the education level of a five-year-old at age thirteen.

Yolanda was eventually rescued by a therapist who wondered who Yolanda really was “under all the medicine,” and psychiatrist who broke from the pack and helped Yolanda and other foster kids wean off of their psychotropic medication cocktails. Dr. Edmund Levin, resident psychiatrist at the Lincoln Child Center group home, began a trial of guiding the kids under his care through tapering off of their medications, of which they were often taking six or seven kinds at once.

When Yolanda emerged from the fog, nearly all of her learning and speech impairments began to fade with the drugs. And a majority of the other kids in Levin’s small experiment, which cut medication use at Lincoln by 80%, had similarly positive results.

Here are some clips from the latest in de Sá’s series:

Before Lincoln, Yolanda remembers taking 10 pills, morning, midday and at night. Levin’s records showed over time she was on a mix of psychiatric drugs that would fill a medicine cabinet: three antipsychotics to help calm her. A mood stabilizer to even her out. A stimulant to help her concentrate. An anti-seizure medication and another drug to help treat the other drugs’ side effects. And finally a drug to help her sleep. She remembers their sizes, shapes, colors and bitter taste.

And each pill had its own set of side effects. Yolanda gained weight and became so lethargic that she couldn’t play basketball — the one thing that excited her through all her moves. She often fell asleep in class, even on field trips.

And when Yolanda was awake, she often was afraid. Like so many traumatized children, Yolanda not only felt invisible but constantly on edge, an emotional state clinicians describe as “fight or flight” mode.

[SNIP]

The tapering trials proceeded gradually, one medication at a time. All child care workers would have to agree to reduce medications in the case of every child. And drugs would be quickly added back if any serious problems arose.

Week by week, Levin eliminated one of Yolanda’s medications, then watched her progress and carefully decided whether to reduce another. Within a couple of months, she was down to one drug — guanfacine, a hypertension medication used to treat attention-deficit disorder. Weeks later, she was done.

[SNIP]

But as Levin reduced Yolanda’s medications, the breakthroughs slowly came — along with the trust. She started sharing some painful memories with Forster, dark moments about being abused, deep sadness about longing for family.

As the “sleepy, fuzzy weirdness” wore off, the more she opened up.

She laughed more, stayed awake in class and took on a new role caring for the younger kids at Lincoln. She finally learned to tell time by reading the clock on the wall in Forster’s office.


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND REHAB PROGRAM FOR CALIFORNIA FEMALE LIFERS

A new program at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla for women serving life in prison is giving graduates a better chance at winning parole. The comprehensive program helps women realize the impact of their actions, overcome addiction, build relationships, and more. The program is the first of its kind: no other program has received the recognition of the Board of Parole Hearings, and it’s the first real state-funded effort at rehabilitating female lifers.

Sascha Khokha has more on the program for KQED’s California Report. Take a listen to the full audio, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

“Denial is real. It’s very difficult to look at yourself, especially if you’ve done horrible things,” says inmate Candace MacDonald, who is serving a life sentence for breaking into a 73-year-old man’s home in Eureka and beating and smothering him to death in 1980.

She says she was high on methamphetamine when she committed the crime.

“Because of my addiction, I did things that I would never do. Then I hated the things I was doing, so I would do more drugs because I hated the things I was doing,” she adds. “It’s just a horrible cycle.”

MacDonald is now 64 years old, and one of a number of senior citizen inmates who’ve spent most of their adult lives in prison. Some now use walkers or wheelchairs. She says in all her years here, this is the first program that’s truly pushed her to work deeply on herself. It held a mirror to her, made her dig into painful truths.

“To be able to peel that away, and look deep down inside, and gain an understanding of what you have done, and how it affected all of the people around you,” she says. “The ripple effect is incredible.”

MacDonald has unsuccessfully presented her case before the parole board a number of times over the years, repeating the same testimony she gave at her trial. But after doing this program, she says, she was able to speak from her heart and truly admit her regret. Last week, the board recommended that she be released on parole.


AFTER A WRONGFUL CONVICTION, A STRUGGLE TO WIN COMPENSATION FROM THE STATE

Rafael Madrigal was convicted in 2000 of attempted murder and sentenced to 53-years-to-life in prison. The victim, who had been shot in the head during a drive-by, identified Madrigal in a photo lineup. Madrigal, a 25-year-old father of four with a good job, said he had never been in a gang, and had a time card indicating he had been at work during the shooting.

But neither cops nor jury bought his story, and he spent the next nine years in prison before an attorney convinced a judge Madrigal received inadequate legal defense. And now, five years later, despite strong evidence pointing to his innocence, Madrigal has received nothing in his fight for compensation, and has struggled to pick up where he left off before his wrongful conviction.

In California, exonerees receive far less than the guaranteed federal payment of $50,000 for every year behind bars. The yearly payment is capped at $36,500 (a far cry from Texas’ $80,000), and the process is complex. As of 2013, only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Note: late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process a bit easier.)

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has Madrigal’s story, as well as a rundown of what it takes to receive compensation in California. Here’s a clip:

Madrigal walked out of Chino State Prison on Oct. 6, 2009, with the clothes on his back and $187. He was free to return to the life he’d left behind nine years earlier.

Except it didn’t exist.

Under a state law intended to compensate those wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, Madrigal appeared to qualify for $281,700 from the state of California.

In the five years since his release, he has argued his case before a state hearing officer and a state compensation board. But though a federal judge found “compelling evidence” that he was “actually innocent,” Madrigal has been paid nothing.

The Los Angeles Times has documented dozens of cases nationwide in which people convicted and later cleared by DNA or new evidence never received state compensation. Some — especially the low-income minorities who make up a large share of the wrongfully imprisoned — never file a claim because they can’t afford a lawyer or find one willing to take the case.

“They just opened the door and said, ‘Hey, walk away!’” said Madrigal, 39. “I didn’t have much when I went in. But I had what I had, and that little bit that I did have was all taken from me.”

[SNIP]

“If someone gets paroled, they get … food vouchers, clothing vouchers, benefits, even places to live. But for someone who gets exonerated, they just throw you on the street and don’t even give you an apology,” said Dwayne Provience, 41, who spent nearly a decade in prison before his murder conviction in Detroit was overturned in 2010. The city rejected his bid for compensation and then declared bankruptcy; Provience now works two jobs to support his four children.

[SNIP]

A 2012 survey by a researcher at the State University of New York at Albany found that California pays less than many other states and provides fewer services.

Since 1981, the earliest year with records available, the three-member board that decides compensation claims in California has denied 59 and granted 22, awarding payments of about $6.2 million.

A decade ago, President George W. Bush signed the Innocence Protection Act, which guarantees those exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for every year they spent in prison, $100,000 for each year on death row.


WLA’S CELESTE FREMON TO BE ON KPFK’S DEADLINE LA

WLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be discussing oversight of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, today (Monday), at 3:00p.m.

If you don’t catch it live (on 90.7 FM), you can find the episode in the archives, here.

Posted in Foster Care, Innocence, prison, Rehabilitation, Trauma | No Comments »

Part 3: “Drugging Our Kids,” Kindergarteners Carry Stresses to School, Lawsuit on Behalf of Disabled LA Jail Inmates Settled…and More

November 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“DRUGGING OUR KIDS” PART 3: A SWEET DEAL BETWEEN FOSTER CARE PRESCRIBING DOCS & PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

In August and September we linked to parts one and two of Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury on the widespread and unchecked use of psychotropic prescription drugs to medicate California’s foster kids. (links)

In part three of the powerful series, de Sá exposes pharmaceutical companies’ major targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care, who are covered under Medi-Cal. On average, these foster care prescribing doctors are rewarded—with money for travel, meals, profitable speaking gigs, and research trials—more than double what regular California doctors receive in payouts from drugmakers. In fact, between 2010 and 2013, pharmaceutical companies gave $14 million in payouts to doctors who prescribe to kids in foster care. And doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions for foster kids per year received four times as many payouts than the lower-prescribing doctors.

Here’s a clip from the findings:

Foster care prescribers reap nearly 2½ times more than the typical California doctor: From 2010 to 2013, almost 30 percent of all California doctors — and about 35 percent of foster care prescribers — received at least $100 from drug companies. But while the California doctors in that group received an average of $10,800 apiece over the four-year period, foster care prescribers typically received far more, nearly $25,000 each

Frequent prescribers are generally rewarded the most: Doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions to foster children in a year received more drug company payments than those who wrote fewer. While the margin fluctuated from year to year, on average the higher prescribers in the most recent fiscal year collected almost four times — or about $10,000 more — than the lower prescribers in 2013.

The bulk of the payments fund drug company-sponsored research: The 17 drugmakers who reported payments steered more than $11.3 million in research funds to doctors who prescribe psychotropic drugs to the state’s foster kids, with Eli Lilly — maker of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa — leading the pack by spending $6 million.

The companies kept some of their big researchers busy in other ways: Six of the doctors who earned among the largest research grants also tallied a cumulative total of almost $400,000 in speaking and consulting fees and another $45,000 in travel and meals.

We really hope de Sá’s editors put this excellent series up for prizes when the time comes.


KINDERGARTNERS IN HIGH-VIOLENCE COMMUNITIES BRING STRESSES OF FAMILY AND NEIGHBORHOODS INTO THE CLASSROOM

in an op-ed for the LA Times, Judy Belk, president and CEO of the California Wellness Foundation, tells of her daughter Casey’s experience teaching a kindergarten class in a St. Louis school not too far from Ferguson, MO.

Belk noted that many parents really strive to give their kids what they need, but often found the challenges stacked against them are overwhelming.

Here’s a clip:

Casey quickly figured out that schools are not closed systems. When a family is dysfunctional or broken, the problems follow the student into the classroom. Her principal waited with a student for hours to be picked up by a parent who never appeared. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., the principal had to turn the child over to child protective services.

Still, Casey has been impressed at how, with limited resources and parenting skills, and brutal work schedules, the parents try their best to provide for their children. She also sees a large number of involved, caring fathers countering the stereotype of the absent black male.

But the families and the school struggle to make everything work in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Shortly after school started, there was a drive-by shooting at a convenience store directly across the street from the school. Classes had just been dismissed, and several of Casey’s students were in the store as bullets flew, though none was wounded.

Casey’s text messages are discordant. One day she sends cute pictures of her kids in Halloween costumes; the next she alerts me that the school is on lockdown because of nearby gunfire. Recently, after yet another shooting, her principal canceled all outdoor recess. And now, in anticipation of a violent response to the upcoming Ferguson grand jury announcement, emergency supplies have been delivered to the school in case it becomes too dangerous for students or teachers to leave the building for a day or so.

But I’m trying hard to stay calm and take my guidance from Casey. She says she’s not scared — just angry that her kids have to live under these conditions. She intends to stay at least until the end of her two-year commitment. And after that? She’s already thinking about what more she can do: “I thought by teaching kindergarten, it would be early enough to make a difference, but … we’ve got to intervene earlier, focus in on parenting.”


LA COUNTY SETTLES COSTLY, SIX-YEAR LAWSUIT ALLEGING MISTREATMENT OF INMATES IN WHEELCHAIRS

A lawsuit challenging alleged mistreatment and appalling living conditions for inmates in wheelchairs within Men’s Central Jail has finally been settled after a six-year-long fight from the county.

Some of the changes required by the settlement have already been implemented. Wheelchair accessible toilets and showers are now in two wings of the jail, for instance. The settlement also calls for work and education opportunities for inmates with ambulatory disabilities, as well as working wheelchairs. In addition, the settlement will pay $2.2 million in attorneys fees.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two wings of the Twin Towers jail have already been fitted with wheelchair-accessible toilets and showers, as required by the settlement. The county jail system now employs an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and inmates may appeal to the jail’s chief physician if they are denied the use of a wheelchair or walker.

The Sheriff’s Department’s new inspector general will monitor the agreement for three years.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jessica Price of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said conditions have improved recently. But she questioned why the county fought the lawsuit when the jails clearly were not providing for disabled inmates’ basic needs.

“There was no rational basis for the county to dispute the fact that there were bathrooms that wheelchairs could not access,” Price said. “That was not a factual question, yet the litigation went on for six years.”

We had that same question, too.


RECENTLY RELEASED FROM PRISON AND STRUGGLING TO GET BY ON THE OUTSIDE

As part of KQED’S Vital Signs series, Aus Jarrar, who was recently released from prison, and now interns at a service center for former inmates, shares his story. Because Jarrar is ineligible for food stamps, he struggles to eat—missing the hours the food bank is open—in order to maintain his internship toward a drug and alcohol counseling accreditation.

Here’s how his story opens:

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat?

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, LA County Jail, Trauma, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

CA’s Poorer Students Lose Weeks of Instruction…LAUSD Fires Lawyer Who Blamed 14-yr-old for Sex With Teacher….Kids, Trauma & Schools…and LAPD Braces for Ferguson Decision

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


STUDY FINDS CA’S LOW INCOME HIGH SCHOOLS LOSE 25 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION A YEAR

Teachers in California’s “high poverty” high schools provide their students with an average of 25 fewer days of classwork per year than do their higher income school counterparts, according to a new study released Tuesday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA) and funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the rough equivalent of shutting down classes in the state’s low income area schools as much as five weeks earlier than schools in more affluent areas.

The causes of this disparity in productive class time primarily fall into two categories, according to the UCLA report:

1. Incidental interruptions during each class period chip away at instructional time to the tune of around 1/2 hour per day in the state’s low income schools.

2. In this same way, in high poverty schools there are more in the way of large interruptions that cut into scheduled instructional time across the school calendar–things like emergency lockdowns, chronic teacher absences, overlong preparation for standardized tests, underprepared substitute teachers and more.

In addition there are community and personal sources of stress—unstable living conditions, neighborhood violence, concerns about safety, immigration issues, hunger—that can adversely affect a higher percentage of students’ ability to concentrate in high poverty schools than those affected in low poverty schools.

The result is a measurable lack of equality of opportunity, say the study’s authors:

“California holds students to a common set of assessment standards and requirements for university admission,” write UCLA researchers John Rogers & Nicole Mirra in the conclusion of their report. “Yet students have access to markedly different amounts of instructional time depending on the neighborhood in which they live. It is true that schools can use available learning time in more or less effective ways. But the amount of available learning time creates a ceiling, limiting the capacity of the school to promote student achievement and development.”

Jill Barshay writing for the Hechinger Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Interruptions, substitute teachers and test prep account for a large portion of the lost instructional time, according to a UCLA study released Nov. 18, 2014.

“These findings push us to think again about inequality in the schools,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, a co-author of “It’s About Time: Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools,” published by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “You have a quarter of the kids [here] in schools with concentrated poverty, and you see how unequal learning time is for these students.”

The inequities outlined in this report have little to do with school funding. In California, the state plays a large role in allocating school funds. That reduces the ability of wealthy towns to fund their schools more than low-income communities can.

“Differences in learning time between high and low poverty schools might actually be much more pronounced in states where high poverty schools receive less funding than schools in more affluent communities,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, which funded the UCLA study.

[SNIP]

A common disruption, for example, was a phone call from the main office during a lesson. Teachers reported that simple routines, such as settling the class down or distributing materials, take longer at high poverty schools. It may take only a minute, but the minutes add up. In a high poverty school, about 18 minutes per period are lost this way, compared with 13 minutes in a low poverty school — a five minute difference per class period….


LAUSD BELATEDLY FIRES LAWYER WHO ARGUED THAT 14-YEAR-OLD MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRL WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SAY YES TO SEX

Last week, KPCC’s Karen Foshay broke the story that one of LAUSD’s hired gun law firms had argued in a civil suit in August that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher—hence the district shouldn’t be liable for any of the teenager’s alleged injuries.

The former math teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The district’s attorney in the matter, W. Keith Wyatt of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, also brought the middle-schooler’s past sexual experience into court. (One is legally prohibited from such trash-the-victim tactics in adult rape cases, but evidently all bets are off in civil cases brought by the parents of young teenagers whose teachers had felonious sex with their students.)

Here are some clips from that first story:

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified’s trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Not content to stop there, Mr. Wyatt went on to opine:

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

In any case, last Friday, embarrassed LASD officials announced that they wouldn’t work with attorney Wyatt anymore but that they would continue to work with his firm—which was representing the district in a bunch of cases.

Then on Tuesday, KPCC’s Karen Foshey and Paul Glickman reported that LAUSD had changed its mind and was now yanking most of the cases.

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

When LAUSD said it would cut its ties with Wyatt, it said it would maintain its relationship with his firm, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which was representing the district in 18 cases.

On Tuesday, LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that Wyatt had been counsel on all 18 cases. His firm will continue representing the school district in four of the cases, but Wyatt will no longer be handling them, Rossall explained. The remaining 14 cases “are being reassigned to other firms,” he said.

There has also been fallout in Sacramento from KPCC’s report. State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) said that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS ADVISES SCHOOLS DEALING WITH STUDENTS & CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: “DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the San Francisco pediatrician and researcher who has become a national expert on the effect of “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—on a kid’s future health and behavior, spoke last week at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to the event, Burke Harris was interviewed by Ann Schimke at Chalkbeat Colorado about kids and toxic stress and how schools can unintentionally make things worse.

(WitnessLA wrote about Burke Harris and childhood trauma here.)

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

…First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

Calls have already gone out for a peaceful rally at Leimert Park (Crenshaw and Vernon) following the Missouri grand jury announcement expected later this month regarding whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the controversial shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Like law enforcement agencies all over the country, the Los Angeles Police Department is preparing for reactions to the grand jury’s decision, but Chief Charlie Beck also expressed hope that recent meetings by department members with LA’s most affected communities will aide in keeping the city calm.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Police departments nationwide are bracing for the grand jury’s decision — expected by the end of the month — in the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. The August shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparked protests nationwide along with criticism of police.

Beck told the city’s Police Commission that his department is “working very closely” with authorities in Missouri and hoped to get “some advance notice of the decision and the announcement.”

“This is an issue that we’re all concerned with,” he said.

The LAPD has also stepped up community outreach in anticipation of the decision, Beck said, and is prepared to deploy extra patrols when it comes.

“We will facilitate lawful demonstrations, just as we always do,” he told reporters after the meeting. “But we will not, and cannot, condone violence or vandalism. We want to help people to express their opinions, but we want them to do it lawfully.”

Beck stressed his hope that the outreach efforts would help quell potential violence in Los Angeles.

“I believe that the relationships with the Los Angeles Police Department and the communities that are most concerned is very strong,” the chief said.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, Education, LAPD, LAUSD, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

THE TRAUMA FILES: An Inner City Pediatrician Has an Epiphany…and the First Ever Summit on the Medical Effects of Trauma on Kids Kicks Off

November 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHEN CHILDHOOD BECOMES TOXIC

In 2008, a colleague handed pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris an article that had appeared, with little fanfare, in a medical journal six years before.

At the time, Burke Harris was running a pediatric clinic located in Bayview-Hunters Point, a largely African American neighborhood that is arguably San Francisco’s poorest and most violent.

While Burke is, herself, African American, her upbringing is very different from that of most of her patients. The doted on daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, both of whom are highly educated professionals, she got her medical degree from the University of California at Davis, her master’s in public health from Harvard, and did her pediatric residency at Stanford. After the stint at Stanford, she went to work for a private hospital group called the California Pacific Medical Center. Burke Harris talked California Pacific into letting her open the Bayview-Hunters Point clinic in 2007, which included allowing her take all pediatric patients who came through the door, regardless of their ability to pay.

In short order, the clinic was seeing 1000 patients a year. But, although Burke Harris loved the work, she was bothered by her sense that many of the ailments she was treating in the kids who came to her—things like asthma, ADHD, obesity and chronic bronchitis—were in some way related to the emotionally traumatizing things that were going on in the children’s lives—violence in the household, gang violence in their neighborhoods, homelessness, sexual abuse, incarcerated family members, extreme poverty, and more.

She wasn’t yet sure how to define the relationship between emotionally debilitating life events, and the physical conditions and illnesses she was treating. Still she felt sure there was a tangible link.

It was in this context that Burke Harris read the medical article titled The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning gold into lead.” It was written by a researcher named Dr. Vincent Felitti, the Chief of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente who, together with Dr. Robert Anda from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), had conducted a study from 1995 to 1997 where they asked more than 17,421 Kaiser patients about ten categories of childhood trauma, which Felitti and Anda termed adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. After analyzing the data that resulted, in 1998 Felitti and Anda published findings that showed an irrefutable relationship between their subjects’ ACE scores and their physical and emotional health later in life.

Burke was utterly gobsmacked at what Felitti was saying. The article—and the study to which it referred—explained a phenomenon she’d been witnessing daily yet had been unable to adequately interpret.


FIRST EVER ACES SUMMIT

“It’s like the clouds parted and the angels sang,” Burke Harris said last week when she told the story to a ballroom full of 200 health professionals, policy makers and advocates who had gathered in San Francisco for a first-of-its-kind summit to talk about the widespread and profound health and behavioral effects produced by adverse childhood experiences.

Burke Harris explained that four or more ACEs, or what she and others now called toxic stress, could produce long term changes in a kid’s brain structure. High ACE scores compromised the immune system, and dramatically expanded the likelihood of high risk behavior, of depression, of suicidality, of later incarceration.

Moreover, the original Kaiser study—which was conducted on mostly white and mostly college education subjects-–showed that these ACEs were extremely common: Two out of three—or 67 percent—of the 17,000 people studied at Kaiser had at least one ACE, and 12.5 percent had four or more ACEs.

In addition, there was a dose-response relationship between the number of ACEs a child experienced, and his or her risk of developing certain illnesses later in life. The same was true for emotional conditions and behaviors such as depression, violent behavior, or being a victim of violence.

But ACEs don’t have to be destiny, Burke Harris told the crowd. “There is an opportunity for healing throughout a lifetime.”


STAR POWER

When Burke Harris had her 2008 epiphany, the medical effects of childhood trauma and toxic stress that she recognized as obvious were still being studiously ignored by most of the medical establishment and those who make public policy—nevermind the fact that Felitti and Anda’s research had been out for a decade.

Yet, by the time she was the featured speaker at last week’s summit, the volume of parallel research into the issue had become increasingly difficult to disregard. Now in pockets all over the country, progressive health professionals are advocating for pediatric ACEs screening, and a growing group of forward-looking lawmakers are starting to talk about trauma-informed policy.

(This newly-ignited interest in California was demonstrated at the summit itself when state senator Mark Leno, state Secretary of Health and Human Services, Diana Dooley, and Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, were among the officials who cheerfully agreed to be on one of the event’s panels.)

Meanwhile, Burke Harris is deservedly becoming one of the superstars of the ACEs movement.

At the beginning of this month, Google gave a $3 million grant to Burke Harris’s Center for Youth Wellness—the health organization she founded to operate with her clinic in order to respond to the expanded needs she recognized in her patients. The pediatrician said the Google grant will allow her team to develop a clinical protocol to test for toxic stress.

Last week (as WLA reported) the Center for Youth Wellness released a new California-based study called “A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California.” Using data from 27,745 California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys between 2008 and 2013, the study found that one in six Californians (16.7%) have four or more ACEs making them:

• 2.4 times as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 1.9 times as likely to have asthma; 1.7 times as likely to have kidney disease; and 1.5 times as likely to have a stroke.
• 5.1 times as likely to suffer from depression, and 4.2 times as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
• 2.9 times as likely to currently smoke, 3.2 times as likely to engage in binge drinking, and 3.3 times as likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
• Nearly 12 times as likely to be the victim of sexual violence (or forced sexual encounters) after the age of 18.
• 21 percent more likely to be below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, 27 percent more likely to lack a college degree, and 39 percent more likely to be unemployed…

Burke and others estimate these numbers to be on the low side. A newer study likely to come out later this year is expected to have findings that are even more dramatic.


INTRODUCING…..THE TRAUMA FILES

We’re going to be looking at the issue of toxic stress and related topics, on a regular basis in an ongoing series called The Trauma Files.

In the series, we’ll be reporting on trauma in the world of juvenile justice, trauma and its affect on law enforcement, and lots more.

So stay tuned.

Posted in ACEs, Public Health, Trauma | No Comments »

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