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

April 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA

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

The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has its own great opening line as well:

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

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

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

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

LAPD Wilshire Station Shooting, Debunking the “Superpredator,” Breaking the Cycle of Repeat Victimization…and More

April 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUNMAN OPENED FIRE IN LAPD WILSHIRE STATION, INJURED AN OFFICER

An LAPD officer was wounded in a shooting Monday night at the Wilshire station.

An unnamed gunman walked through the front doors and shot at two desk officers in the lobby. The officers returned fire and took down the gunman. One officer was shot seven times according to Chief Charlie Beck, but was saved by his vest and only sustained a shoulder wound. The gunman is in critical condition.

We’ll let you know as we know more. Our best wishes are with the officer and his family.

Jason Kandel, Andrew Blankstein and Beverly White have the story for NBC4. Here’s a clip:

A Los Angeles officer was shot and wounded by a gunman who walked into a police station lobby with “a complaint” and opened fire, officials said.

The officer, a seven-year veteran of the LAPD, was shot seven times – three times in the vest and four times in his extremities, officials said. He was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“He is in great spirits,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said outside the hospital. “Remarkable young man. Very, very lucky.”

The gunman was taken to the hospital in critical condition, Kato said.

The violence broke out at 8:30 p.m. at the LAPD’s West Traffic Division, which is housed in the Wilshire Division, in the Mid-City area of LA.


HISTORY OF THE “SUPERPREDATOR” OF THE 90′S

In the early 90′s a wave of teen violence prompted some criminologists and political scientists to forecast the emergence of a new breed of children—”superpredators”—impulsive kids without compassion who would commit innumerable violent crimes.

Their fear-mongering was perpetuated by many news sources and politicians, and prompted a string of reactionary and harmful juvenile justice laws across the country.

But instead of a horde of “superpredator” children, Department of Justice data showed that the teenage violent crime rate actually dropped a whopping two-thirds from 1994 to 2011.

As part of the RetroReport documentary series, the NY times has a video (above) and story by Clyde Haberman about the rise and fall of the “superpredator” mania and its repercussions. Here’s how it opens:

As the police and prosecutors in Brooklyn tell it, Kahton Anderson boarded a bus on March 20, a .357 revolver at his side. For whatever reason — some gang grudge, apparently — he pulled out the gun and fired at his intended target. Only his aim was rotten. The bullet struck and killed a passenger who was minding his own business several rows ahead: Angel Rojas, a working stiff holding down two jobs to feed his family of four.

Not surprisingly, the shooter was charged with second-degree murder. Not insignificantly, prosecutors said he would be tried as an adult. Kahton is all of 14.

That very young people sometimes commit dreadful crimes is no revelation. Nor is the fact that gang members are to blame for a disproportionate amount of youth violence in American cities. But it is worth noting that in Kahton’s situation, no one in authority or in the news media invoked a certain word from the past with galvanic potential. That word is “superpredator.”

Had this Brooklyn killing taken place 20 years ago, odds are that some people would have seized on it as more evidence that America was being overwhelmed by waves of “superpredators,” feral youths devoid of impulse control or remorse.

Their numbers were predicted as ready to explode cataclysmically. Social scientists like James A. Fox, a criminologist, warned of “a blood bath of violence” that could soon wash over the land. That fear, verging on panic, is the subject of this week’s segment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories from years ago and explore what has happened since.

What happened with the superpredator jeremiads is that they proved to be nonsense. They were based on a notion that there would be hordes upon hordes of depraved teenagers resorting to unspeakable brutality, not tethered by conscience. No one in the mid-1990s promoted this theory with greater zeal, or with broader acceptance, than John J. DiIulio Jr., then a political scientist at Princeton. Chaos was upon us, Mr. DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declined. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, according to statistics kept by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mugged by reality, a chastened Mr. DiIulio has offered a mea culpa. “Demography,” he says, “is not fate.” The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that “once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.”


REDUCING REPEAT VICTIMIZATION IN CALIFORNIA

Many Californians who experience repeat victimizations do not take advantage of trauma services according to a new report by Heather Warnken of Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute of Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley (and commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice). Prolonged and repeated victimization can have long-term, serious psychological consequences.

The report calls for things like increased access to trauma services in spaces that are not justice-system affiliated, and building trust between communities and law enforcement with officer training.

Here are the report’s key findings and recommendations:

The report led to the following key findings:

Many repeat victims do not access trauma services.

Repeat victims who utilized services often accessed them much later – often for reasons other than the original crime.

The failure or inability of a survivor to report a crime to law enforcement can jeopardize their ability to access services.

The collateral consequences to survivors grow without effective services and stability.

The report recommends:

Increasing state support for a diversity of trauma-recovery services, including more options in communities and at venues unaffiliated with the justice system;

Building trust with law enforcement through training and other methods to address the perceived “empathy divide;”

Allowing for multi-disciplinary, trauma-informed first-response teams; and

Promoting resource and referral counseling, and access to job-support, transitional housing and other longer-term resources necessary for stabilization.

KPPC’s Rina Palta has more on the report.


THE PROBLEM WITH PUNISHING INDIVIDUALS FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE FAILURES

Criminal justice errors are not uncommon: prosecutorial misconduct and coerced false confessions land innocent people behind bars, and preventable deaths and injuries can and do occur in jails and prisons.

Stephen Handelman, executive editor of the Crime Report, says that targeting and punishing the rogue prosecutor or the jail guard who neglected the medical needs of an inmate does not actually do anything to fix the system that allowed the error.

By using a system-based approach to prevent misdeeds—like medical field uses—real and lasting reform can occur. Here’s how it opens:

Who should be blamed when an innocent person goes to prison? Or when an inmate with un-addressed mental health problems commits suicide?

If you just looked at newspaper headlines, or listened to angry legislators or advocacy groups, the answers seem simple.

There’s usually some “bad apple” —an overzealous prosecutor or careless jail guard—to pin the blame on.

But the problem with simple answers is that they can be misleading.

Especially when catastrophic mistakes such as a lifetime spent in prison for a crime that you didn’t commit— or even comparatively minor injustices, such as an innocent suspect who pleads guilty for lack of a good attorney—seem to recur throughout our criminal justice system.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, by the end of 2013, 1,272 individuals were freed from prison after being found innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

Some believe this represents only a small percentage of those wrongfully behind bars today, since this figure is the result of painstaking work by the still-small “innocence movement” and relates mostly to serious criminal charges, such as murder.

Are they right? To what extent are our overloaded and resource-strained courts, prisons and jails evidence of flaws in the administration of justice rather than crime rates?

It’s entirely possible that system errors and oversights are “destroying tens of thousands of lives every year,” suggests Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Leape admits he’s no criminal justice expert, but he’s worth listening to.

A few decades earlier, Dr. Leape discovered that mistakes in surgical and hospital care, which inadvertently killed thousands of patients annually, were preventable by addressing systemic flaws rather than by focusing on the actions of individual doctors or nurses.

For instance, putting two different types of medicines in packages that look almost identical could cause a hurried, stressed surgeon to reach for the wrong package, with disastrous results for a patient.

“We make mistakes because we’re human,” says Leape. “But punishing errors won’t work, especially when they’re unintended. You’ve got to quit trying to change (people) and change the system.”

The work of Leape and others led to the creation of the National Patient Safety Foundation, which established a template for detecting and correcting the often-overlooked errors in procedure or lapses in judgment that produce fatal results.

Leape’s estimate of the impact of criminal justice system errors is based on his own experience of the similarly complex and occasionally dysfunctional U.S. medical system. But we don’t have to accept his judgment alone.

Last weekend, some of the nation’s leading criminal justice players and scholars came to much the same conclusion during a two-day conference organized by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

“If you limit yourself to going after the bad cop, the drunken sleepy lawyer, the corrupt judge, (you’re not affecting) the conditions that created them,” the conference was told by James Doyle, a Boston attorney who, as a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ) fellow, helped spearhead a “systems approach” to correcting mistakes in justice.

Read on.


A QUICK RUNDOWN OF THE SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE ON SUNDAY NIGHT

Sunday night, Los Angeles Sheriff candidates (minus Bob Olmsted) squared off in the latest debate. Sheriff hopefuls discussed deputy cliques and “bad behavior.”

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has more on the debate. Here’s a clip:

Seeking to distance himself from the problems that led his former boss to resign, a candidate for Los Angeles County sheriff offered to roll up his pants and prove he does not have a tattoo.

Patrick Gomez’ offer at a debate in Pasadena on Sunday was followed by a challenge from the moderator to the other candidates — not necessarily to show skin but to say whether they had ever been members of a Sheriff’s Department clique.

Under former Sheriff Lee Baca, deputies allegedly formed cliques with names like “Grim Reaper” and “Regulators,” using tattoos to cement membership bonds. One clique, the “Jump Out Boys,” allegedly modified its tattoos to celebrate the shootings of suspects.

At Sunday’s debate, retired undersheriff Paul Tanaka admitted to having a tattoo from the Lynwood Vikings clique. When deputies first started acquiring ink in the 1980s, the tattoos were just that — tattoos, he said.

“Yes, I do have a tattoo. No, I never was part of a gang,” Tanaka said. “It did not become sinister until years later. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gotten a different tattoo.”

Todd Rogers, an assistant sheriff, said he was invited to join a clique and refused.

Deputies who were not members were “treated like second-class citizens,” said Rogers, who joined the department 29 years ago. “Anybody who denies it is living in fantasyland, and I don’t mean the one at Disneyland.”

The next debate will be tonight (Tuesday) at Loyola Marymount University. (More info here.)

Posted in criminal justice, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, psychology, Trauma, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Class for Incarcerated Teen Dads, Status-Offending Girls and Trauma, and “Holistic” Indigent Defense

April 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TEACHES PARENTING SKILLS TO TEEN FATHERS IN LOCK-UP

A prison class in California, called the “Baby Elmo Program,” teaches incarcerated teenage fathers how to be parents, and helps them build relationships with their young children, with help from Elmo videos. While still in the early stages, the program has been implemented in Sacramento, Fresno, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, and Orange County, and program leaders held a conference in Los Angeles last week with corrections officials statewide.

KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has the story. Here’s a small clip:

Originally named “A Parenting Intervention for Incarcerated Teen Parents,” the program was later dubbed the “Baby Elmo Program” by its teenage participants, referring to the Sesame Street teaching tools it uses. According to the program’s manager, the key message they try to pass on to troubled young fathers is the importance of making personal contact with their children. “The only way you are going to develop a relationship with your child is not through abstract courses or a strict program,” said Ben Richeda, who runs the program. “It’s really going to be ‘I know the food my child likes. I know what makes him smile. I know makes her laugh when she comes in the room.’” Richeda says the goal is to teach the parenting skills in order to break the cycle of abuse and neglect that can lead to a path of delinquency.


INCREASE IN YOUNG GIRLS ARRESTED FOR STATUS OFFENSES: THE STORY BEHIND THE STATISTIC

Girls are more likely than boys to be arrested for status offenses (age-related crimes, like truancy, running away, violating curfew laws, or possessing alcohol or tobacco), and the numbers are on the rise, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

In an op-ed for Youth Today, Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of The National Crittenton Foundation, says the numbers are important, but don’t tell the whole story. She says that these status offenses that often earn a young girl a reputation as a “bad girl” are often coping mechanisms for underlying childhood trauma. And when these girls get thrown into the juvenile justice system for things like running away from a turbulent home, or self-medicating with alcohol, they are not receiving the help they need to become successful adults.

Here’s a clip:

According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s issue brief, Girls, Status Offenses and The Need For A Less Punitive and More Empowering Approach, a disproportionate number of the status offenses petitioned in the courts every year are brought against girls. Between 1995 and 2009, the number of petitioned cases for curfew violations for girls grew by 23 percent vs. only 1 percent for boys. The number of petitioned cases for liquor law violations for girls grew by 41 percent vs. only 6 percent for boys.

Simply put, behaviors such as skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol places girls at increased risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Girls entering the system because they are detained for a status offense often fall deeper into the system rather than getting the support they need to change their lives.

What the numbers fail to reveal is the story behind the statistics. As the president of The National Crittenton Foundation, I have had the great privilege to get to know many of the faces behind the data — girls and young women who were involved with Crittenton agencies because they were referred by juvenile justice or child welfare systems. While their stories are as diverse as they are, the most common shared narrative for the girls served by Crittenton agencies is that their early lives have been shaped for them by abuse, neglect, violence, addiction, family dysfunction and the betrayal of their trust by the very people whose job it was to love and protect them.

Victimization of girls typically precedes their involvement with the system. Up to 73 percent of the girls in the juvenile justice system have histories of physical and sexual violence. A study of 319 girls in the juvenile justice system in Florida found that 64 percent reported past abuse, including 37 percent reporting abuse by a parent; 55 percent reporting abuse by someone other than a parent; and 27 percent reporting both types of abuse.

[SNIP]

What the statistics also don’t tell us is how girls cope with the dangerous, damaging and traumatic circumstances in their lives. In fact, their “adaptive coping behaviors,” including running away from homes where violence is prevalent, self medication with drugs and alcohol, truancy and unruly behavior, are the very same behaviors that put them at risk of entering the juvenile justice system because they are detained for a status offence. In other words, we criminalize them for coping behaviors that are actually signs of strength and resiliency against the abuse and neglect they have experienced. What is the result? A system that fails to help the girls get the help they need to recover from the abuse and neglect they experienced long before they entered the system.

Pai-Espinosa also gives five ways to address the problem:

- Promote universal assessment for girls and boys involved in the juvenile justice system to better understand their exposure to violence, abuse and neglect.

- Advocate that girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system receive gender-responsive, trauma-informed services to heal from the violence and abuse they have experienced.

- Push for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, with a focus on preventing detention for status offenses and the importance of gender responsive and trauma informed services

- Support HR 4123, Prohibiting the Detention of Youth for Status Offenses Act, introduced recently by Representative Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) and

- Endorse and advance the important work of organizations like the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.

Over the weekend, the LA Times had an editorial in support of HR 4123. Here are some clips:

It is unjust to lock up minors for offenses that wouldn’t be offenses at all if the “perpetrators” were only a few years older. The practice is costly, and ineffective as well. Substantial research has shown that incarcerating teenagers for these non-criminal actions doesn’t deter them from committing the same offenses again once they’re released; quite the opposite. After being housed with true juvenile criminals, they are more likely to commit real offenses…

Legislation by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) would ban the incarceration of status offenders across the country, requiring states to find more useful ways of handling these cases. HR 4123 doesn’t eliminate penalties for status offenses, just the harsh discipline of lockup. Offenders could still be penalized in various ways, including required community service or Saturday classes to catch up in school. That, combined with counseling and other services for offenders and their families, would be fairer, more productive and almost certainly less expensive than having them do time.


MOVING TOWARD A MORE COMPREHENSIVE—”HOLISTIC”—INDIGENT DEFENSE APPROACH

“Holistic” indigent defense—in which a team of attorneys, social workers, and other advocates work together to provide much-needed services to defendants who can’t afford to hire a lawyer—is building momentum in the Bay Area. The approach aims to keep people from reoffending, and may help ease overcrowding in California prisons (although there’s not yet much data on the effectiveness of “holistic” defense against recidivism).

The San Jose Mercury News’ Tracey Kaplan has the story. Here’s a clip:

Born partly out of a conference in the late 1990s at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, holistic defense in its most elaborate form uses teams of criminal, civil and family defense lawyers, social workers, parent advocates, investigators and community organizers to address the needs — legal and otherwise — of defendants who can’t afford their own lawyers.

The idea is to keep people from coming back into the criminal justice system — thus save taxpayers money — by limiting the consequences that can arise from even a misdemeanor arrest, such as deportation and the breakup of families, loss of a job, revocation of an employment license or eviction from public housing.

“An arrest is never just an arrest — it can explode someone’s life,” said Robin Steinberg, founder of the Bronx Defenders, the nonprofit agency of public defenders leading the holistic defense movement. “Even when you get the not-guilty verdict, you don’t hug them and send them into the night. That’s when the work begins.”

From Rhode Island to Texas, and to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, the general principle has started to catch on, especially the notion of teaming social workers with lawyers.

However, some supporters say holistic defense faces a major obstacle — lack of funding for even basic services, and not just in poor parts of the country such as the South.

“Can the Bronx Defenders’ model be replicated across the country?” said Mark Stephens, chief public defender in Knoxville, Tenn., who attended the original Harvard conference. Though he supports holistic defense and has eight social workers on his staff, he said, “I don’t see it happening.”

Hard data is still scarce on whether the approach keeps people from reoffending. But some public defenders say California must innovate because a federal court order forcing it to reduce prison overcrowding prevents the system from merely locking people up.

Posted in gender, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, Reentry, Trauma | No Comments »

New LASD Inspector General Says Fire Existing LASD Watchdogs…. & Effort to Make LA Schools “Less Toxic” is Hit & Miss

March 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LASD INSPECTOR MAX HUNTSMAN SAYS THAT IT’S TIME FOR THE OLD OVERSIGHT METHODS TO GO

In a Tuesday afternoon letter to the Board of Supervisors that startled many, Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended to the LA County Board of Supervisors that contracts be terminated. with both longtime LASD watchdogs, Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb.

Huntsman was appreciative of the work of the OIR and of Merrick Bobb, but he didn’t pull any punches.

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has a good story on the letter and some of the reactions to it. Here’s a clip:

…“The Office of Independent Review has functioned primarily as a part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Huntsman said. “The office has had an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, was housed within the department, and assumed an integral role in the disciplinary system.

“This model has created the perception that OIR is not sufficiently independent to act as a civilian monitor,” Huntsman added. “This perception is not entirely without basis.”

He said the OIR’s role as a “trusted adviser” to former Sheriff Lee Baca, who had recommended its creation, “limited its effectivess in reporting information to the public and the board.”

Gennaco disagreed.

“Some people have that perception but our reports are hard-hitting and factual, and we don’t pull any punches,” Gennaco said.

“Because of our work, a number of deputies have been made accountable who otherwise would still be working at the department,” he added, noting the OIR recommended 100 deputies for discipline, including termination, for various acts of misconduct just in the past year.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has some good angles on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Huntsman said he is not planning to work with sheriff’s officials on individual discipline cases the way Gennaco’s organization did. He said he would rather take a more systemic approach and stay out of individual cases so that he can report his opinion on those that are mishandled without a conflict of interest.

However, in his letter he mentioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Department hiring some of Gennaco’s attorneys to fill that role in order to advise sheriff’s officials in determining appropriate discipline on a case-by-case basis. He said the organization’s attorneys have had a positive effect on encouraging thorough misconduct investigations and appropriate discipline.

Even as he recommended cutting his contract, Hunstman also complimented Bobb, saying he provided an “invaluable” outside perspective, including pushing for a database that tracks deputy discipline.


GETTING LA’S TRAUMATIZED STUDENTS THE HELP IN SCHOOL THEY NEED, IS ANYTHING BUT EASY

Journalist/advocate Jane Ellen Stevens, who runs the wonderfully informative website ACEsTooHigh, has become expert in the effect of trauma on kids an others.

Right now, she is working on an investigative series into “right doing—which looks at how some schools, mostly in California, are “moving from a punitive to a trauma-informed approach to school discipline.” The series, which is funded by the California Endowment, includes profiles of schools and programs in Le Grand, Fresno, Concord, Reedley, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Diego—and LA.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ most recent story, “Trying to make LA schools less toxic is hit-and-miss; relatively few students receive care they need.”

In it she describes the ways in which certain people inside the LAUSD really understand the problem of kids acting out because of trauma, but struggle to find resources to help.

For millions of troubled children across the country, schools have been toxic places. That’s not just because many schools don’t control bullying by students or teachers, but because they enforce arbitrary and discriminatory zero tolerance school discipline policies, such as suspensions for “willful defiance”. Many also ignore the kids who sit in the back of the room and don’t engage – the ones called “lazy” or “unmotivated” – and who are likely to drop out of school.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which banned suspensions for willful defiance last May, the CBITS program (pronounced SEE-bits), aims to find and help troubled students before their reactions to their own trauma trigger a punitive response from their school environment, including a teacher or principal.

[SNIP]

Every semester, Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker, gives all the children in Harmony’s fifth grade a brightly colored flyer to take home. It asks the parent to give permission for her or his child to fill out a questionnaire about events the child may have experienced in, or away from, school. “Has anyone close to you died?” “Have you yourself been slapped, punched, or hit by someone?” “Have you had trouble concentrating (for example, losing track of a story on television, forgetting what you read, not paying attention in class)?” are three of the 45 questions.

Garcia’s son was one of a small group of students whose answers on the questionnaire, as well as his grades and behavior, were showing signs that he was suffering trauma. He joined one of the two groups, each with eight students that met once a week for 10 weeks at the school. In the group, the students don’t talk about the event or events that triggered the trauma. Instead they talk about their common reactions to trauma, and learn strategies to calm their minds and bodies.

Each student also meets twice individually with Maher; so do the child’s parent or parents. For some parents, it’s the first time they hear about the traumatic event – such as bullying or witnessing violence in the neighborhood – or what their child says about a traumatic event. So, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, says Maher, it’s not because he’s being a bad kid. It’s because he remembers how during his last trip to the grocery store, his mother threw her body over his when gunfire broke out and wouldn’t let him move until the police came to help them, and now he’s afraid to return.

In the case of Garcia’s son, he was having problems at school because he was witnessing his stepfather beating her up. The first time Garcia talked with Maher, Garcia wondered what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t know if she would call the department of social services on me or not,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“After I had a talk with her, I realized it wasn’t a bad choice,” she says. “At first, it hurts to open up, because you don’t want anybody to know about your situation. I was a victim of domestic violence and never opened my mouth. We’re taught that what happens at home stays at home. I was reassured that I wasn’t the only one going through this.”

[SNIP]

CBITS had its beginnings in 1999, when clinician-researchers from RAND Corporation and the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with LAUSD School Mental Health to develop a tool to systematically screen for their exposure to traumatic events. The screening tool – a questionnaire – was first used with immigrant students, says Escudero. When it became evident that students were witnessing violence in their neighborhoods and domestic violence and other abuse in their homes, social workers began making it available for all students. This experience led the team to develop CBITS. Since 2003, CBITS has been disseminated through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and is used in hundreds of schools in the U.S. and other countries. It has a new site – traumaawareschools.org – that is focused on helping schools implement CBITS and teacher training.

“I was one of the originators of CBITS,” says Pia Escudero, director of the LAUSD School Mental Health, Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. “When we started, folks did not want to talk about family violence. Our gateway was to talk about community violence.”

Read on!

Posted in Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, OIR, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

Influx of Second-Strikers in CA Prisons, Smarter Sentencing & Recidivism Reduction Bills, Investigating Alleged DOJ Misconduct…and More

March 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRISON ADMISSION NUMBERS FOR SECOND STRIKERS JUMPED 33% LAST YEAR

In 2012, California amended the “Three Strikes” law to only trigger a sentence of 25-to-life if a person’s third strike was categorized as a violent or serious felony. As of September 2013, over 1000 third-strikers were freed, and more than 2000 were still awaiting approval for resentencing. But another part of the “Three Strikes” law pertains to those with two strikes, and doubles a person’s sentence if the second strike follows a serious or violent first strike.

According to state prison officials, 5,492 people went to prison on second-strike convictions during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, a jump of 33% over the previous year.

This sudden increase may prove problematic as Gov. Jerry Brown works to lower the prison population to the federal judge-ordered level.

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

Enacted in 1994, the Three Strikes law did two big things. The first is that for anyone who has committed two previous serious or violent felonies, it increased the penalty for any third felony to 25 years to life in prison. And for “second strikers” — anyone who commits any felony after previously committing a serious or violent felony — their sentence was automatically doubled.

Third strikers have gotten a lot of attention since the law passed, like the story of the L.A. man sent to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza (from a group of children, to be fair). A judge later reduced his sentence, and he spent about six years in prison, but the “pizza thief” remained an emblem of a movement to reform Three Strikes. Which California voters eventually decided to do in 2012 with Proposition 36, which required a third strike be a serious or violent felony, not a lower-level crime like drug possession — or pizza theft.

The lesser-publicized second strike rule, however, hasn’t changed. And now state officials worry the proliferation of second strikers is making it difficult for California to lower its prison population enough to meet court-ordered levels.

[SNIP]

The approximately 35,000 second strikers, with their lengthy prison terms, are proving a major obstacle. About 24,000 of them are in prison on a non-violent second-strike offense.

“We’re certainly concerned that if this trend in increased admissions continues, it is going to make it harder for the state to comply,” said Aaron Edwards, senior analyst at the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. “The state will have to figure out some kind of way to accommodate them.”

That means either finding a facility for them, or figuring out a way to cut admissions, Edwards said. And cutting admissions likely means figuring out why the population has increased in the first place.

(In his proposed 2014 budget, Gov. Brown did help non-violent second-strikers by increasing their ability to reduce their sentences with good-time credits from 20% to over 30%, in addition to credits for completing rehabilitation programs.)


TWO MEANINGFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILLS MAY HAVE A CHANCE AT MAKING IT THROUGH CONGRESS

According to a NY Times editorial two good and important bipartisan criminal justice reform bills may actually have a chance of making it past Congress, where nearly all bills “go to die.”

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.

Here’s how the NYT editorial opens:

Two bipartisan bills now under consideration aim to unwind our decades-long mass incarceration binge and to keep it from happening again. This fact is remarkable not only because of Congress’s stubborn standstill, but because crime and punishment has long been one of the most combustible issues in American politics.

And yet the depth of the crisis in the federal system alone has been clear for years. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws have overstuffed prisons with tens of thousands of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders serving excessively long sentences. Federal prisons now hold more than 215,000 inmates, almost half of whom are in for drug crimes. Many come out more likely to reoffend than they were when they went in, because of the lack of any meaningful rehabilitation programs inside prison and the formidable obstacles to employment, housing and drug treatment that they face upon release.

The proposed legislation would address both the front and back ends of this problem.

The Smarter Sentencing Act — introduced in the Senate last year by Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, the Utah Republican — would halve mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes, which currently stand at five, 10 and 20 years. It would also give judges more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some cases, and it would provide a chance at early release for thousands of inmates sentenced under an older law that disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders.

The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs.


ALLEGED DOJ MISCONDUCT ONLY RECEIVES INTERNAL INVESTIGATION, BILL WOULD GIVE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL JURISDICTION

Between 2002-2013 650 instances of Department of Justice misconduct (by federal prosecutors and other DOJ officials) were documented, according to a new report by the Project on Government Oversight, but very little information about the misconduct is ever released to the public.

Currently, the Dept. of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) handles all investigations of alleged DOJ misconduct.The process is entirely self-contained: the OPR answers directly to the head of the DOJ—the Attorney General.

A bill introduced late last week by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would remove the conflict of interest and grant the Office of the Inspector General, an independent entity, complete jurisdiction over DOJ misconduct investigations.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Lee’s website:

The Inspector General Empowerment Act would eliminate a problem in the law that requires allegations of attorney misconduct at DOJ to be investigated by an agency that reports directly to the Attorney General rather than the autonomous Office of the Inspector General. The bill would remove this obvious conflict of interest and grant the OIG complete jurisdiction throughout the department. Senators Grassley and Murkowski are also original cosponsors.

“The rules that apply to inspectors general in other federal agencies should apply at the Department of Justice,” said Senator Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Current law invites undue influence from the Attorney General’s office into the process and should be changed to ensure the integrity of investigations of misconduct within the Justice Department.”

Here’s what Sen. Lee’s announcement says about the misconduct report:

A report just released by the Project on Government Oversight revealed that the Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency overseen by the Attorney General, documented more than 650 instances of misconduct, yet details on if and how these cases were handled are not available to the public.

For example, a 2013 report from USA Today revealed that complaints from two federal judges who said Justice Department lawyers had misled them about the extent of the NSA surveillance program were never investigated. Had the OIG been in charge, it could have investigated these complaints without conflict of interest and the results of their report would have been made available without requiring a Freedom of Information Act request.

And here’s why Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she’s supporting the bill:

“When Americans pledge to abide by ’Liberty and Justice for all,’ that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions – it means everyone that in America everyone is held equally accountable,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.


AND SPEAKING OF QUESTIONABLE FEDERAL CONDUCT

Earlier this month, on This American Life, Boston Magazine reporter Susan Zalkind told the baffling story of Ibragim Todashev, a man loosely connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. In May 2013, Todashev was was shot seven times in his living room after attacking agents at the end of a five-hour FBI questioning about a triple murder in 2011.

The FBI says that Todashev verbally confessed to the crime and implicated Tsarnaev as his accomplice, but there is no signed confession. The FBI has been silent about the incident, except to say that it is being investigated. But nine months after the fact, as questions and theories multipy, there is still no word from the FBI. Go take a listen.


DON’T FORGET: LIVE STREAM PROGRAM ABOUT CREATING RESILIENCE IN TRAUMA-PLAGUED COMMUNITIES

On Friday, we alerted you to a California Endowment event (“Health Happens with Everyday Courage”) that will explore ways to build up community and individual resilience to trauma and stress.

The program is today (March 17) at 1p.m., and can be watched via live-stream, but you need to SIGN UP – here.

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), prison, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma | No Comments »

The Cost of Trauma & Tales of Resiliance

March 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the late 1990s, a couple of researchers named Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda
conducted a landmark study that examined the effects of adverse childhood experiences—which they named ACEs. These ACEs included abuse, neglect, domestic violence and family dysfunction, among other issues. Interestingly, the study involved 17,000 mainly white, mostly well-educated, middle class people in San Diego, not those living in high violence areas. Felitti and Anda were surprised when they found a significant connection between the level of adversity faced and the incidence of various health and mental/emotional and social problems.

Further research found that kids with high ACE scores were far more likely to be suspended from school, and or to get into trouble in other ways.

Over the last 10 years, related studies conducted by some of the nation’s top trauma experts began to find that as many as one-third of children living in our country’s violent urban neighborhoods have experienced sufficient family and/or environmental trauma to have PTSD at a rate than that was greater than that reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those studies involved middle school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

For school age kids, PTSD can mimic attention-deficit disorder, with the same lack of concentration, poor grades and inability to sit still.

Not surprisingly, kids suffering from intense trauma—whether measured as ACEs or PTSD—often wind up in the juvenile justice system.

According to the National Center for Mental Health and Justice, youth in the juvenile justice system are 8 times more likely to suffer from PTSD than kids in their communities.

The prevalence of PTSD is higher among incarcerated female adolescents (49%) than among incarcerated male adolescents (32%), and 8 times higher than among youths in the community.

For too long, we have ignored the effects of trauma on the mental and emotional states of kids and adults when we design public policy.

Fortunately, that attitude is beginning to change.


TRAUMA & RESILIENCE: TUNE IN!

With the above in mind, at 1 pm on Monday, March 17, The California Endowment is hosting an afternoon long program called “Health Happens with Everyday Courage” to explore community-based solutions for building resilience—in individual and the community itself—to the chronic stress and trauma that plagues many California neighborhoods.

Daily stress is normal, but traumatic stress—especially without the right support, can produce PTSD plus the risk of a range of physical and socio-emotional health problems.

Monday’s event is sold out. (WLA will be there and will report back.)

But you can live stream all or part of Everyday Courage

HOWEVER, IF YOU WANT TO LIVE STREAM YOU NEED TO SIGN UP HERE.

We strongly recommend you check it out.

In the meantime, take a look at this story written by Fania Davis for Yes! Magazine about how some Oakland classrooms are trying healing instead of punishment for traumatized kids who act out.

Posted in Community Health, juvenile justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

PTSD Epidemic in Violent Neighborhoods, New California Rules Regarding Prisoners with Gang Ties…and More

February 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

POPULATIONS OF UNDIAGNOSED, UNTREATED VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA LIVING IN HIGH-CRIME NEIGHBORHOODS

Emerging research shows that people who live in violent neighborhoods have rates of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rivaling that of war veterans. While much progress has been made regarding treatment available to veterans with PTSD, there is virtually no support for those who experience serious trauma in their own neighborhoods.

ProPublica’s Lois Beckett has the story. Here are some clips:

Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, treating about 2,000 patients a year for gunshots, stabbings and other violent injuries.

So when researchers started screening patients there for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011, they assumed they would find cases.

They just didn’t know how many: Fully 43 percent of the patients they examined – and more than half of gunshot-wound victims – had signs of PTSD.

“We knew these people were going to have PTSD symptoms,” said Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the hospital. “We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive.”

What the work showed, Joseph said, is, “This is a much more urgent problem than you think.”

Joseph proposed spending about $200,000 a year to add staffers to screen all at-risk patients for PTSD and connect them with treatment. The taxpayer-subsidized hospital has an annual budget of roughly $450 million. But Joseph said hospital administrators turned her down and suggested she look for outside funding.

“Right now, we don’t have institutional support,” said Joseph, who is now applying for outside grants.

[SNIP]

Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least 1 in 3 of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives – and that’s a “conservative estimate,” said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.

“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.”

[SNIP]

“Neglect of civilian PTSD as a public health concern may be compromising public safety,” Ressler and his co-authors concluded in a 2012 paper.

For most people, untreated PTSD will not lead to violence. But “there’s a subgroup of people who are at risk, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, of reacting in a violent way or an aggressive way, that they might not have if they had had their PTSD treated,” Ressler said.

In 2007, SF Chronicle’s Jill Tucker wrote an excellent series of articles on PTSD in urban areas, with a focus on kids suffering from the disorder.

In one of the other articles, Tucker tells of LAUSD’s findings regarding PTSD among LA students:

In Los Angeles, school officials and researchers wanted to know if the rate of PTSD quoted by experts and the federal government held true in their hallways.

They wondered if it were possible that up to 35 percent of “urban youth exposed to community violence” had PTSD, a statistic cited by the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, part of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

In 2000, they joined UCLA researchers in screening students from 20 schools in violence-prone parts of the city.

Of the 1,000 students randomly selected, 90 percent were a victim of or a witness to community violence, and 27 to 34 percent had PTSD, said Marleen Wong, director of the district’s Crisis Counseling and Intervention Services.


NEW CDCR RULES WOULD ALLOW SOME INMATES TO LOSE GANG MEMBER STATUS ON THEIR RECORDS, AND LEAVE ISOLATION

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced new rules that would allow inmates in solitary for gang association or leadership to earn their way out of isolation, and regain regular privileges. After completing a three year rehabilitation program both associates and leaders may be released from solitary. A gang associate would have to go an additional six years without a gang-related infraction to have the gang designation removed from their record. A designated gang leader would have to go 11 more years without incident.

Although a step in the right direction, prisoner advocates are not impressed by the new rules that still leave inmates locked in solitary for years at a time.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here are some clips:

Prison officials consider more than 2,800 of California’s nearly 134,000 inmates to be gang members or associates, and say they direct much of the violence and contraband smuggling both behind bars and on the streets.

Until now, once inmates were confirmed to be in a prison gang or other “security threat group,” the label stuck throughout their time behind bars. The designation required those inmates to remain housed under greater security and barred them from some programs like firefighting camps.

The new regulations are an extension of a 15-month-old pilot program that has allowed gang members to get out of isolation units at Pelican Bay in far Northern California and other prisons without renouncing their gang membership.

Since the start of the pilot, the department has reviewed 632 gang members who were in isolation units. Of those, 408 have been cleared to be released into the general prison population and 185 were given more privileges but remain in isolation.

These 2012 policies, which are being updated in Friday’s filing with the Office of Administrative Law, let the gang members and associates gain more privileges and leave the isolation units in as little as three years if they stop engaging in gang activities, and participate in anger management and drug rehabilitation programs.

[SNIP]

If the committee decides to remove an inmate’s gang designation, that decision would be reviewed by the department’s Office of Correctional Safety. If the inmate starts associating with gangs again, he would again be validated as a gang member and start the process over.

“As long as they keep indefinite solitary (confinement), as long as they have these decade-long processes … I think it’s woefully inadequate,” said Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.


LASD LIFE-SKILLS PROGRAM FOR EX-OFFENDERS

A successful LASD education program, the Emerging Leaders Academy, gives former offenders tools to successfully reenter their communities. The program, started by LASD Sgt. Clyde Terry, teaches life-skills, along with business and financial education, and helps students receive their GEDs and other certificates. Since it began in 2009, 465 people have graduated from Emerging Leaders Academy. Only 33 have gone on to reoffend.

Emerging Leaders has grown to four Los Angeles locations over the last few years, but the program faces an uncertain future. Whoever is elected in December (or the June primary) will decide the fate of the Emerging Leaders Academy. Terry says he will run it in his off time, as he did before former Sheriff Lee Baca made it Terry’s full-time position, if it is not supported by the new leadership.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s Jason Henry has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Emerging Leaders Academy started in 2009 with the goal to give adults on probation or parole a different outlook on life. Of the 465 graduates since inception, only 33 have re-offended and class sizes grow every year, according to coordinator Sgt. Clyde Terry.

Emerging Leaders recently opened its fourth Los Angeles County location in La Puente at the Twin Palms Recovery Center with the help of Councilmember David Argudo. Other classes exist in Culver City, North Hollywood and Long Beach.

Terry taught in his free time, to the chagrin of his superiors, before Baca turned it into a full-time job. Terry said he’ll go back to doing it off the clock if Baca’s resignation leads to the defunding of the program.

The program puts deputies at the head of classrooms of ex-offenders with the curriculum focused on keeping the students out of a cell. The academy heavily focuses on life coaching, but also includes practical elements of career development, entrepreneurship, literacy and financial education.

Baca sought out Terry after the implementation of AB 109.

“Sheriff Baca made it into an actual job, he saw the effectiveness of it and it was in line with what he was doing with education-based incarceration,” Terry said. “If they decided they want to get rid of the program, I’ll have it survive.”


LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN FUND NUMBERS

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has an update on LA Sheriff campaign funds. Thus far, Paul Tanaka’s $381,000 and Bob Olmsted’s $240,000 are the only two figures we have until the campaign report numbers are made available. (Candidates who entered the race late—Jim McDonnell, Jim Hellmold, and Todd Rogers—were not required to file disclosures, according to the LA Times’ Abby Sewell, Robert Faturechi and Catherine Saillant.) Here’s a clip:

Friday, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who’s been campaigning for six months, announced he’s raised $381,000. A spokesman for former Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted said he’s raised more than $240,000.

So far, Tanaka’s been the only candidate to advertise, and it’s been entirely online. Its nearly impossible to search online for anything related to the Sheriff’s Department without seeing one of his political ads pop up.

Two lesser-known candidates, former Sheriff’s Lt. Patrick Gomez and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince, have yet to say how much money they’ve raised.

The big question: how much money will it take to run a competitive campaign? With no incumbent in the race, estimates range from a few hundred thousand dollars to one million dollars.

Paul Tanaka shared the news on Twitter, as well:

Paul Tanaka ‏@TanakaLASheriff
Check out this article by @KPCC announcing my strong momentum in the race for #Sheriff.
http://on.fb.me/1ifcoE3

Posted in CDCR, Gangs, LASD, prison, PTSD, Reentry, Trauma | 13 Comments »

LA County DCFS Workers Strike, a Close Look at Juvenile Public Defense, the Challenge of Healing Traumatized Kids…and Interrogation Techniques Redux

December 9th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(NOTE: Today’s posting is a joint project by Walker Taylor & Celeste Fremon)



LOS ANGELES COUNTY SOCIAL WORKERS RALLY AGAINST COLOSSAL CASELOADS

Striking social workers rallied in front of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services headquarters on Friday (the second day of the strike) demanding smaller, more manageable caseloads and the hiring of more social workers. High caseloads are a crucial issue for department reform, because they impede DCFS workers’ ability to competently do their job—to make sure every kid they are assigned to is safe.

The strike was set into motion after contract negotiations between the public service workers union, SEIU 721, and DCFS came to an impasse. (KPCC’s Rina Palta has the backstory here.)

According to SEIU 721′s website, DCFS strikers will move their picket lines to the LA County Board of Supervisors’ field offices today, where thousands of workers from the Department of Public Social Services will join the strike.

The LA Times’ Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell have the story. Here are some clips:

About two-thirds of social workers and their supervisors did not show up for work Friday, similar to Thursday’s numbers. During a raucous rally in front of the county Department of Children and Family Services building, the head of the agency made a surprise appearance.

“I support social workers, but I want you to come back to work,” said Philip Browning, prompting sustained boos from the crowd of several hundred employees.

[SNIP]

Speaker after speaker railed against county leaders for failing to help overburdened social workers or punishing them when things went wrong — the agency has mishandled several cases of child neglect and abuse, a few leading to deaths. The real culprit, speakers said, was a refusal by county officials to see how the caseloads were harming children.

The current contract sets the maximum caseload for most social workers at 31. Union representatives argue that is too high and also say that 680 social workers have caseloads above the maximum.

[SNIP]

In a brief interview, [head of DCFS Philip] Browning said he agreed that caseloads were too high and he outlined steps that county officials were taking to reduce them, notably the hiring of 300 to 400 new social workers, which would result in lowering caseloads by 30% within a year.

“I’m confident we’re on our way. I know the board [of supervisors] and the CEO want this strike to be over and everyone to come back to work,” he said.

When asked about the union’s proposal that officials pledge to hire 35 new workers per month for 17 months, Browning demurred, saying it was a budgetary issue, before heading inside the building.


“A DAY IN THE LIFE” OF AN OVERWORKED JUVENILE PUBLIC DEFENDER

Speaking of overly large caseloads, juvenile public defenders—often the last line of defense for indigent kids facing time in the system—across the nation are critically overworked, making it difficult to adequately serve the kids that need them most.

As part of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s “Juvenile Indigent Defense” series, Katy McCarthy has written an excellent piece about what an ordinary work day for a juvenile public defender looks like (both good and bad), through the eyes of Dominique Pinkney, an Alameda County assistant public defender. Here are some clips:

The main job of juvenile public defenders is to act as the voice of children in the juvenile justice system. Public defenders for juveniles are required to understand not just the law — but the circumstances of their young clients and how to connect them with the most appropriate services. To the general public, even those involved in the juvenile court system in some way, the area of juvenile defense can seem shadowy and hidden. To provide insight into this world JJIE spent a day trailing juvenile public defender Pinkney at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center, atop a hill in this city in the East Bay, just south of Oakland.

Assistant public defender Dominique Pinkney arrives in the hallway outside the courtrooms every morning at 8:30 a.m. sharp, to meet with any clients who happen to come in early…

On this day, no one is around early. So Pinkney has a few moments to review his cases for the day. Sitting quietly at a table in a sparse interview room adjoining the court, he opens the red and green files of his clients and nods to himself as he pores over drug test results, completed community service reports and school records. Over the course of the morning, he and nine young clients will go in front of the judge…

The first client of the morning is sitting on the bench with his mom, dressed in a crisp green button-down shirt.

This is the first time the teen has been in trouble and he has unpaid restitution fees.

“It can be really hard for these poorer families to pay,” explains Pinkney…

Pinkney glances over his list of charges and intake report. Apparently, the teen was at a demonstration in downtown Oakland, when he and a group of other kids broke off from the group and started vandalizing cars.

Pinkney is hoping he will get informal supervision for six months, a more casual version of probation. Afterwards, his case would be dismissed. That is, however, if he pays restitution. If, after six months, he hasn’t paid, his supervision will be extended for another six months.

After the second extension, if he still hasn’t paid, the kid will go on standard probation.

In the 1967 ruling In re Gault, the United States Supreme Court ruled that youth had a constitutional right to counsel in delinquency proceedings — essentially guaranteeing them many of the same due process rights as adults in criminal trials.

However, for this right to be relevant, young people need access to skilled representation.

According to the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) in its National Juvenile Defense Standards that means creating, “an environment in which defenders have access to sufficient resources, including investigative and expert assistance, as well as specialized training, adequate and equitable compensation, and manageable caseloads.”

The reality for many juvenile indigent defense practitioners is that this is easier said than done.

Many young accused are not getting timely access to attorneys — and when they do, the level of counsel they receive is frequently inadequate. A report by the NJDC raised serious concerns that “the interests of many young people in juvenile court are significantly compromised, and that many children are literally left defenseless.”

Pinkney, who spends many weekends in the office, is highly qualified and dedicated to the young people he represents. Multiple parents spoke highly of Pinkney. Several people called him “the best.” One mother stated that “he really fights for his clients.”

This is, however, not always the case with public defenders.

In many instances this is because of impossible workloads. The NJDC report found high caseloads to be “the single most important barrier to effective representation.” And that the ultimate impact of this on youth involved in the court was “devastating.”

(We urge you to go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


TRAUMATIZED KIDS, AND AN INSTRUCTIVE STORY OF REDEMPTION

This week’s This American Life focuses on unconditional love and, while the whole show is definitely worth listening to, it is the second segment titled “Love is a Battlefield” that is utterly essential.

It is about a couple who adopt a 7-year old Romanian boy named Daniel, who was raised under awful circumstances in an emotionally bleak orphanage where he didn’t interact with any of the adults caring for him intimately enough to know their names.

The couple—Heidi and Rick Solomon—assumed that with enough love, they could break through to their son whom they learned was suffering from “attachment disorder. Instead Daniel became increasingly unmanageable to the point of being genuinely dangerous.

What happened next is both humbling and instructive. It provides a frightening snapshot of the kind of horrific damage that trauma and neglect can wreak on a child. The story is also a reminder that one is unwise ever to give up on any kid—a concept that was central to our juvenile justice system when it was formed more than a century ago. Yet it is an outlook that seems too often in the last two decades to have slipped out of our focus.

In any case, listen. It really is an amazing story. (And you can also read the transcript of the segment here.)


S.F. DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND AN INNOVATIVE PSYCHOLOGIST UNITE IN BAYVIEW, CA, TO LOOK AT THE EFFECT OF “TOXIC STRESS” ON KIDS’ BEHAVIOR

With the above TAL story in mind, it is heartening to hear that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is helping put into place a program that tests the theory that many future crimes can be prevented by making available help to kids—and other community members—who have been exposed to the kinds of trauma that is now being called “toxic stress,”

Max Aldax of the San Francisco Examiner has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Police in the Bayview district are getting crime-fighting help from an unlikely source: A pediatrician.

Founded by innovative pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Center for Youth Wellness on Third Street has been a pioneer in the treatment of “toxic stress” in children who are exposed to violence, neglect and other trauma, and who lack a support system.

The federal government plans to pump money locally following studies showing there are biological reasons for why a child who suffers chronic adversity might engage in high-risk behaviors as an adult.

In September, District Attorney George Gascón lobbied in Washington, D.C., and received help from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, to secure $1 million to evaluate victimized children in the Bayview. In the eastern section of that neighborhood, Gascón says, 70 percent of black youths are referred to the juvenile justice system by age 17.


DOES THE MOST COMMONLY USED INTERROGATION TECHNIQUE IN THE U.S. TEND TO PRODUCED FALSE CONFESSIONS?

We linked last week to the fascinating New Yorker article by Douglas Starr about police interrogations, and the problems with the Reid technique, which is the style of interrogation most widely used by law enforcement forces in the U.S., yet—according to Starr’s research—it is also a strategy that has a propensity to produce false confessions.

Unfortunately, however, for those of you who don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, the story was unavailable due to the magazine’s paywall. (I think it may be available now.)

The good news is that NPR’s Terry Gross also liked Starr’s report and brought him on her show to talk about the flaws in the Reid technique, and about an alternate technique, “PEACE” (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate), used in England, Newfoundland, Wales, Denmark and New Zealand with great success.

Anyway, listen to the story. We think you’ll find it extremely interesting.

In the meantime, here’s a clip from the online story on the story:

As part of his research, Starr took a training course in the Reid technique. “It has the appearance of being very scientific,” he says. But a growing number of scientists and legal scholars say this approach is based on outdated science and psychology — and can sometimes produce false confessions.

“There doesn’t seem to be a national conversation [about interrogator tactics] of any sort,” Starr says, “and that’s unfortunate because for every innocent person that’s put away, the person who really committed the crime is still on the streets.”

[SNIP]

“One of the problems of the technique is that it’s based on some science that’s no longer current. When John Reid was doing this in the 1950s, people thought you could see anxiety in people’s body language. If they folded their arms, or hunched over, or looked away, they were being anxious, and also that anxiety was a hallmark of lying. But unfortunately, 40 years of extensive psychological research has shown both of those premises to be untrue. Anxiety has nothing to do with lying.”


The above photo came from the SEIU 721 website.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Public Defender, Trauma | No Comments »

Changing the Way We Deal with Sex-Trafficked Kids, Repairing the Juvenile Justice System, and For-Profit Probation

September 27th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

BREAKING AWAY FROM THE MISGUIDED HABIT OF CRIMINALIZING YOUNG SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIMS

A notable new report calls for law enforcement and prosecutors to stop treating minors involved in prostitution as criminals and start treating them as victims.

Throwing these kids into justice system greatly damages their chances of breaking free from the grip of prostitution and stacks the odds against successful adult lives, according to the report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council and sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss has more on the report. Here’s how the piece opens:

Police and prosecutors should treat juveniles accused of prostitution as victims of crime and abuse and stop arresting these minors and putting them into the criminal justice system, according to a report released Tuesday by Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

The institute and council are under the auspices of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. The report, “Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States” was sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Justice officials were particularly interested in learning more about “punitive” responses to the trafficking of youth for prostitution, researchers said. They noted that youths involved in child pornography are not arrested, while minors who engage in prostitution by and large are still arrested.

A movement is growing in justice circles that opposes arresting juvenile prostitutes, researchers said. Reformers believe arrests may just inflict more damage on youth who are already fragile. But only nine states as of spring 2012 had enacted versions of “safe harbor” laws ensuring that teens accused of prostitution are treated as victims and exempted from prosecution. The team that produced the report is urging all federal, state and municipal jurisdictions to “redirect” victims” under the age of 18 away from arrest and prosecution and “toward systems, agencies and services that are equipped to meet their needs.”

“These are children that are prostituted. These are children that are harmed. These are not criminals,” Ellen Wright Clayton, a physician and member of the team, said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe have co-authored a motion that calls for county leaders to come together and establish guidelines for handling (and helping) sex-trafficked kids.

Here’s a clip from MRT’s website:

The motion, co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, directs the Chief Executive Office to bring together the departments of Probation, Children and Family Services, Public Social Services, Mental Health, Public Health, Health Services, the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department and come up with an implementation plan.

Currently, the county does not have a protocol to help children that are trafficked and so many end-up without services or help and go back out on the street. The protocol would ensure they are placed in a safe environment, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services.

(LA Times’ Steve Lopez also has an excellent article on sex trafficking in LA County and the Supes’ motion.)

And over in New York this week, chief judge Jonathan Lippman announced the first state-wide Human Trafficking Intervention Courts in the nation. The new system will combat the all-too-common criminalization of sex trafficking victims, and will provide, in addition to a reduced or dismissed sentence, court-ordered programs and resources to keep defendants off the streets and away from prostitution.

An NY Times editorial explains why the new courts are a step in the right direction. Here are some clips:

A handful of cities across the country, including Baltimore and Phoenix, have specialized courts that deal with sex-trafficking offenses. On Wednesday, Judge Lippman announced the creation of the nation’s first statewide system of specialized criminal courts to handle prostitution-related offenses and make services available to help sex-trafficking victims escape their abusive situations and forge new lives.

“This new initiative will stop the pattern of shuffling trafficking victims through our criminal courtrooms without addressing the underlying reasons they are there in the first place,” Judge Lippman said.

[SNIP]

The program borrows, in some respects, from the state’s system of specialized courts that deal with domestic violence and low-level drug offenses. It calls for prostitution-related cases to be evaluated by the judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor. If they agree, the court will connect defendants to critical services like safe shelter, medical and drug treatment, immigration assistance and education and job training that can help prevent a return to the sex industry. Contingent upon the defendants’ compliance with court-ordered services and programs, the charges may be dismissed or reduced, enabling the defendants to avoid a criminal record with damaging repercussions for housing, employment, college financial aid, government benefits and immigration status.


THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT’S SHIFT TOWARD A MORE RESTORATIVE APPROACH TO JUVENILE JUSTICE

In addition to the moves that Eric Holder’s been making on drug crimes and federal sentencing, there has been a new push on the part of the DOJ to change the conversation about juvenile justice.

For instance, since becoming administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the beginning of the year, Robert Listenbee has enthusiastically advocating a more trauma-informed approach to youth justice.

Listenbee, a former co-chair of the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence and a public defender, says his aim is to keep kids “in school and out of courts.”

KPCC’s Carrie Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Before he joined the federal government, Listenbee co-chaired the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. Now he’s the man in charge of making its recommendations come to life. His report — packed with recommendations about the need for more research and attention on boys, rural areas and the education system — attracted scant attention because it emerged on the same day as the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook school.

But more attention could come Thursday in Northern Virginia, where mayors, police chiefs, educators and young people will join Listenbee, Attorney General Eric Holder and Office of Justice Programs chief Karol Mason to talk about reducing gang activity and other violence that affects kids across the country.

“It’s important for everyone to recognize that the trauma that comes from exposure to violence is multifaceted,” Listenbee says. “Children who are sexually assaulted, boys and girls, experience the trauma very differently from other kinds of exposure. Children who experience community violence … also have a different kind of trauma. Each one requires a specific type of treatment. … We are [at] the beginning of this era of understanding the impact of exposure to violence and the kinds of treatment that are needed … and we’re going to be dealing with this for a long time.”

[SNIP]

He points out that the idea that children are different from adults and that there’s a need to understand their brain development if they have brushes with the law has won support from the U.S. Supreme Court in several recent decisions. So his office and other parts of the Justice Department are supporting research to understand those differences — and to offer advice to states, where most of the juvenile justice money is spent.

On Thursday, Listenbee joined AG Eric Holder and other DOJ officials at the Summit on Preventing Youth Violence in Virginia. Ten cities, including San Jose and Salinas, CA sent representatives and kids to be a part of the symposium.

ABC’s MaryAlice Parks has more on the summit. Here are some clips:

Children — many of whom were victims of crimes themselves — took center stage at the summit. From California to Louisiana, high school and college students who had survived violence in their own rough communities, and in many cases participated in violence too, spoke about what was and was not working in their neighborhoods.

“Instead of preparing for the ACT or filling out college applications or even going to prom or graduation,” Briana Winters, 17, of Memphis said, “youth in my city are dying because of senseless violence or being put in jail for pulling the trigger.”

But these young people also expressed optimism, often singling out individuals or organizations that had made a difference in their lives.

[SNIP]

Darren Alridge, from New Orleans, talked about mentoring other high school students after he was released from prison and completed his GED. “They all loved it when I was coming to school and feeding them positive thoughts, so I kinda figured if I can talk to 10 men and change one to two lives, then I can talk to 100 and change 10 or 20.”

(You can read AG Eric Holder’s opening speech at the summit here.)

On a related note, next week is the National Week of Action on School Pushout when advocates across twenty-four states will rally against zero-tolerance school discipline policies and the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Here are the listed events in California between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5:

Los Angeles, CA:

DSC-Los Angeles Chapter Members
(CADRE, Public Counsel, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, ACLU of Southern California)
Youth forum and other local events promoting School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

Long Beach, CA:

Youth Committee of Building Healthy Communities
Saturday, October 5 at 1:00pm
The Art Theater of Long Beach
2025 E 4th St., Long Beach, CA
Talk it Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline performance and discussion

Oakland, CA:

Black Organizing Project
Monday, September 30 at 6:00pm
Oakland Peace Center 111 Fairmount Ave
Pushback on Pushout Potluck to engage youth and partner organizations

DSC Bay Area Chapter
Monday, September 30
Youth Council Meeting to discuss school pushout

ACLU of Northern California
Monday, September 30
Produce video of 3-5 youth talking about how school pushout impacts LGBTQ youth

Fresno, CA:

GSA Network of CA
Thursday, October 3 from 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Zimmerman Boys and Girls Club
540 N. Augusta St.
Rally and Youth Speak Out on Restorative Justice, in alliance with Black Student Union clubs, Californians for Justice clubs, and Friday Night Live clubs


CONTRACTED PROBATION COMPANIES FORCE PROBATIONERS TO PAY HEFTY SUMS FOR THEIR SUPERVISION, LOCK ‘EM UP WHEN THEY DEFAULT

With all the attention focused on the conflict of interest presented by the private prison industry, which has to keep its cells full in order to make money, we are now finding a newly alarming area in which private industry intersects with criminal justice: the world of probation.

This week’s story by Nicole Flatow of Think Progress offers a disturbing example:

She writes of how a Georgia judge ruled last week that the private probation company Sentinel Offender Service had been illegally increasing sentences of probationers who could not pay their monthly probation fees, essentially creating a work-around debtors prison.

Here are some clips:

In January, Nathan Ryan Mantooth was sentenced to 12 months of probation for an improper lane change by a county judge in Georgia. He was ordered to pay a $420 fine, attend a driver improvement course, and pay a monthly probation supervision fee of $35 to Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation firm. He paid the fee and completed the course within a week of his sentencing. Twice, he went to Sentinel to submit his certificate of completion but was told his name was not yet in the computer. But when he was pulled over two months later for failure to wear a seatbelt, police found an outstanding warrant filed by Sentinel for a probation violation, and took him into custody.

Last week, a Georgia county judge ruled that Sentinel Offender Service had illegally extended the sentence of Mantooth and potentially thousands of others who were required to pay the firm monthly probation fees, and was illegally ordering electronic monitoring for misdemeanor offenders — prohibited by state law — while charging probationers for their own monitoring.

[SNIP]

In this class action lawsuit, Sentinel’s lawyer admitted to Judge Daniel Craig that, when the firm finds individuals have violated their probation, it makes no attempt to find them immediately and bring them before a judge. Instead, employees just issue probation warrants that can sit for years until an individual’s next encounter with the police reveals an open warrant that lands them in jail. At that point, they cannot dispute their incarceration until they can be brought before a judge during a regular session of court to show that their probation has ended, or that they have already completed their obligations.

At least ten states used private probation as of a 2007 report published by Georgia State University.

And here’s another look at the issue by the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Harry C. Alford:

Like our current prison system, probation is no longer about rehabilitation. It has turned into a profit game and recidivism makes business better. Yes, probation is being privatized and local, state and federal governments no longer have to be responsible for funding the program. The programs are being turned over to private corporations. The funding is coming from the offenders.

Most offenders have lived in poverty for the majority of their life. It is hard, if not impossible, for people living below the poverty level to be able to fund their own probation. This fact makes our new system evil and oppressive.

It doesn’t improve our society by rehabilitating our offenders but ensures that the offenders are forever in trouble. The chances of escaping are remote. Because private probation services are motivated by income, the heavier the caseload, the more the revenue.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sentencing, Trauma | No Comments »

Rules for Engagement: The Collateral Damage of School Discipline…and What to Do About It

March 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


THE SECRET TO FIXING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS: CHANGE THE ADULTS

Journalist Jane Stevens has a remarkable website that only experts seem to know about but that deserves a very wide readership among those who care about…well….kids, and certainly those who care about education. It’s called Aces Too High, and it’s about the affect that adverse childhood experiences-–AKA “ACE” AKA childhood trauma—have on education, and school discipline issues, and, of course, the way and the reasons why kids intersect with the juvenile justice system.

In this article by Stevens, titled The secret to fixing school discipline problems? Change the behavior of adults,” she explains—probably better than I’ve yet seen it done elsewhere—-the affect of zero tolerance discipline policies, and the profoundly positive changes that occur in schools and school districts, when the adults running things figure out that suspensions and expulsions aren’t good solutions to anything.

Here’s a large explanatory clip:

A sea change is coursing slowly but resolutely through this nation’s K-12 education system. More than 23,000 schools out of 132,000 nationwide have or are discarding a highly punitive approach to school discipline in favor of supportive, compassionate, and solution-oriented methods. Those that take the slow-but-steady road can see a 20% to 40% drop in suspensions in their first year of transformation. A few — where the principal, all teachers and staff embrace an immediate overhaul — experience higher rates, as much as an 85% drop in suspensions and a 40% drop in expulsions. Bullying, truancy, and tardiness are waning. Graduation rates, test scores and grades are trending up.

The formula is simple, really: Instead of waiting for kids to behave badly and then punishing them, schools are creating environments in which kids can succeed. “We have to be much more thoughtful about how we teach our kids to behave, and how our staff behaves in those environments that we create,” says Mike Hanson, superintendent of Fresno (CA) Unified School District, which began a district-wide overhaul of all of its 92 schools in 2008.

This isn’t a single program or a short-term trend or a five-year plan that will disappear as soon as the funding runs out. Where it’s taken hold, it’s a don’t-look-back, got-the-bit-in-the-teeth, I-can’t-belieeeeeve-we-used-to-do-it-the-old-way type of shift.

The secret to success doesn’t involve the kids so much as it does the adults: Focus on altering the behavior of teachers and administrators, and, almost like magic, the kids stop fighting and acting out in class. They’re more interested in school, they’re happier and feel safer.

Then Stevens gets into the really good stuff… about the effect of trauma on kids’ behavior, and…well, just read it.

“You can’t punish a behavior out of a kid,” says Jen Caldwell, a social worker at El Dorado Elementary School in San Francisco, CA. “The old-school model of discipline comes from people who think kids intentionally behave badly.”

Joseph Arruda, learning director at Reedley High School in Reedley, CA, shakes his head: “Suspending, expelling….that’s the old way.”

Exactly.


TAVIS SMILEY’S NEW SPECIAL ON ZERO TOLERANCE IN SCHOOLS & HOW IT SLAMMED HIM EMOTIONALLY

As we’ve mentioned earlier, Radio and PBS host Tavis Smiley has new PBS special that focuses on some of the same school-to-prison-pipeline topics that Stevens talks about above.

WLA’s own Matt Fleischer interviewed Smiley for FishbowlLA about the special titled Education Under Arrest, and Smiley talked about how the filming got to him emotionally:

….We spoke to Smiley last week, and he said this topic had left him emotionally drained in a way he had never experienced before in his more than two decades in the media.

“This is one of the most emotional pieces of work I’ve really done,” he tells FishbowlLA. “This has never happened before, but I had to stop camera at one point because I started crying. We had to take a break. I couldn’t keep it together.”

Smiley says it was the story of Kenyatta and Kennisha–sisters from New Orleans who were expelled from their charter high school for fighting after one was jumped and the other attempted to come to her rescue–that left him particularly raw.

“Both girls end up penalized because there is no gray area for adults to make decisions about these issues. They were both almost perfect 4.0 students. To see these two girls, as bright and full of life as can be, treated in a punitive and pejorative way, I had to stop camera because I started crying.”

“Bad things do happen to good people. I understand that. But I couldn’t wrap my head around why the adults in this situation couldn’t have figured out a better way to handle it.”

The special aired Tuesday night, and it’s terrific. It will re-air on PBS-OC on Sunday. Or you can watch it online here.

Matt talks more extensively to Tavis Smiley here.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF GREAT PBS SPECIALS ON EDUCATION….”180 DAYS”

ED Week’s Ross Brenneman has a rundown on yet one more excellent show dealing with this new wave in education. Here’s a clip:

At Washington Metropolitan High School, in the District of Columbia, many students struggle to keep going. The alternative school for at-risk youth features a litany of the toughest problems schools have to cope with: Chronic absenteeism, dropouts, violence, teenage pregnancy, suspension, tight budgets, and an ongoing challenge to meet adequate yearly progress.

In an ambitious project, a film crew went into D.C. Met for the entirety of the 2011-12 school year to give a broad picture of what a school in dire straits faces. The result, “180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School,” debuts tonight at 9 p.m. ET on PBS, with the other half showing tomorrow night.

“180 Days” gives a sweeping view of the climate inside alternative urban schools, starting with the school’s principal, Tanishia Minor, and moving out from there. The crew went into the high school every single day, and if the four-hour finished product seems expansive, it ultimately focuses on the difficulty of keeping a school together, let alone making it academically proficient.

“In these parts, we know these kids are walking in with these deficits, and every second counts,” Minor says.

The climate almost demands failure. When a student gets a great scholarship to college, they put the good news on the sign in front of the school….

As with Tavis Smiley, the producers of this show also came away changed by the experience of making the documentary:

“It was completely transformative. I think it changed all of our views on education,” said coordinating producer Alexis Aggrey, after the screening. “I think it made us feel, after we shot it and going through all the footage, we just feel like this piece was going to be bigger than what we expected it to be, and I think it lends a voice to this conversation that wouldn’t have normally been captured.”

It aired in LA Tuesday night, check listings here for future airings.


Photo: still shot from broadcast of Tavis Smiley special, “Education Under Arrest”

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

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