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

January 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Benefit roughly 9 million students each year

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

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


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

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

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

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

And yet….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some clips:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



THE END OF GANGS—THAT WASN’T.

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

Here’s a clip from Quinones’ story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ARE GANGS GONE?

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

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

Now gangs are all about business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WHAT ABOUT GANG VIOLENCE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY? THE TRAUMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the damage that is still being done.

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

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

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

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

December 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Except it didn’t exist.

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

November 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from the findings:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had that same question, too.


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

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

Here’s how his story opens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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


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

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

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

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

Here are some clips from that first story:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

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

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

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

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


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

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

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

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHEN CHILDHOOD BECOMES TOXIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FIRST EVER ACES SUMMIT

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

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

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

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

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


STAR POWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


INTRODUCING…..THE TRAUMA FILES

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

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

So stay tuned.

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

California’s Child Trauma Crisis, Vicarious Trauma in First Responders, the Problem with Evidence-Based Practices, and McDonnell’s Challenges

November 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW EXTENSIVE REPORT SUGGESTS THAT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IS A HEALTH CRISIS IN CALIFORNIA

The San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness released an unprecedented study on childhood traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs, in California counties.

One in six Californians (16.7%) have four or more ACEs, according to the study, which used data from 27,745 California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys between 2008 and 2013. (The original 1998 ACEs study by Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente and Robert Anda of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only sampled data from Kaiser members.)

And nearly 14% of Los Angeles residents reported four or more ACES. These ACEs include abuse and neglect, as well as things like having an incarcerated relative, divorce, and mental illness in the household. These experiences can produce toxic stress in kids, which can have lasting negative effects on kids’ health and behavior. Kids with four ACEs have a much higher likelihood of having emotional and physical health issues, and are thirteen times more likely to end up in foster care, compared to people with no ACEs.

“Toxic stress dramatically expands the risk of high risk behavior,” said Nadine Burke Harris, MD, the founder of the Center for Youth Wellness. Dr. Burke Harris also pointed to high number of childhood traumas as underlying many issues such as learning disabilities and the likelihood of incarceration. “We need to look at this as the root cause of most of our social problems.”

However childhood trauma need not be destiny, said Burke Harris. “There is an opportunity for healing throughout a lifetime.”

The report recommends increasing Californians’ access to mental health care, as well as early intervention, and regular collection of ACE data.

Here are some clips from the Center for Youth Wellness:

Nearly 62 percent of Californians have experienced at least one or more types of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—such as abuse, neglect or household dysfunction—with one in six exposed to four or more adverse experiences, according to the new report. “A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California” details the strong correlation between childhood exposure to adversity and trauma with poor health, behavioral and social outcomes later in life. The report also identified the prevalence of ACEs in counties across California.

“California is facing a major public health crisis that until now has gone largely unaddressed – children’s exposure to trauma and adversity,” said Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness. “The science is clear: early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime, but this public health crisis is both treatable and beatable. We have the knowledge and resources to reduce morbidity and mortality, and make a real difference in the lives of children and adults across the state.”

[SNIP]

The report found that, compared to people with no ACEs, those reporting four or more ACEs are more likely to face greater physical and mental health, social and economic challenges. Among other outcomes, the study’s key findings indicate that they are:

• 2.4 times as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 1.9 times as likely to have asthma; 1.7 times as likely to have kidney disease; and 1.5 times as likely to have a stroke.

• 5.1 times as likely to suffer from depression, and 4.2 times as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

• 2.9 times as likely to currently smoke, 3.2 times as likely to engage in binge drinking, and 3.3 times as likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

• Nearly 12 times as likely to be the victim of sexual violence (or forced sexual encounters) after the age of 18.

• 21 percent more likely to be below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; 27 percent more likely to lack a college degree, and 39 percent more likely to be unemployed.

• 50 percent more likely to lack health insurance.

• 13 times as likely to have been removed from their home as children.

The report also details county-by-county findings, making it apparent that ACEs touch every community in California. Even in counties with the lowest prevalence of ACEs, one out of every two people has had at least one adverse experience in childhood. The highest prevalence rates of adults reporting four or more ACEs are found in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties combined (30.8 percent) and Butte County (30.3 percent), while the lowest prevalence rates of adults with four or more ACEs are found in San Francisco County (9 percent) and Santa Clara County (11 percent).

The Center for Youth Wellness is working in partnership with the San Francisco Police Department to develop a program, scheduled to launch in early 2015, to help officers better understand the effects of trauma in the communities they patrol. “The training, which is still a work in progress, will be designed, “to provide officers with the tools to recognize trauma when they see it,” said CYW policy analyst, Cecila Chen. But while CYW may be providing the data and research for the program, the SFPD will weigh in substantially on how the training is designed. Otherwise, said Chen, it won’t work. “We’re not going to try to tell police officers how to do their jobs. We just want to give them information that they can use to do their jobs better.”

Chen and others at CYW also expressed the hope that the training will help officers to cope with their own on-the-job trauma, that too often goes unacknowledged.


WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT: SECONDARY TRAUMA AND COUNSELING SERVICES FOR COPS AND OTHER FIRST RESPONDERS

Police officers, fire fighters, and other first responders (as well as social workers, attorneys, and judges) experience high rates of “vicarious trauma,” when they witness or become involved in others’ traumatic experiences. Secondary trauma can produce symptoms akin to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), yet departments and agencies often have inadequate support and resources to manage the trauma experienced by cops and other responders.

Thus far, very little research has emerged on what services and programs work to address vicarious trauma. However, the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime is funding the creation of a toolkit by Northeastern University researchers, which is expected to be piloted at four sites next year.

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“[Most] people work as hard as they can to move away from trauma, but we spend our whole lives running towards trauma,” said Gina Scaramella, Executive Director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC).

As a young social worker, Scaramella once found herself working with a client who was gang-raped shortly after being forced to watch as her three-year old child was killed. At the time, Scaramella also had a young child.

“I remember I couldn’t stop thinking about it—it was hard to stop,” she said. “You become more guarded, more cautious.”

BARCC offers numerous techniques for their workers and volunteers to guard against vicarious trauma. After an incident call in which a rape or trauma is reported, the volunteer that takes the call checks in with a back-up coordinator, where they can decompress. After medical visits, the staff whom accompanies and counsels the victim, also reports to a back-up coordinator. Additionally, the clinical director at BARCC is always available for private sessions with staff.

Although there are programs and resources that address first responders needs, including the Johns Hopkins University’s Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center and the First Responders Addiction Treatment Program run by the Livengrin Foundation.

But for the broad spectrum of organizations there are few resources available; nor are there sufficient or policy guidelines for dealing with their experiences. And there is no real standardized information about what works. That led researchers from the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice at Northeastern University in Boston to develop a national toolkit for vicarious trauma aimed at professionals working in the fields of victim assistance, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and similar jobs.

Funding for the toolkit came through a grant from, the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).

Although the Justice Department released “Vision 21,” a seminal report on the needs of crime victims two years ago, researchers realized there was almost no effort to address the needs of professionals exposed to traumatizing criminal incidents.

Research findings consistently reported that between 40% and 80% of helping professionals experienced “compassion fatigue” and/or high rates of secondary trauma, according to the institute.

[SNIP]

The two-year grant paid for an initial survey of professionals about their experiences, which garnered 8,000 responses. Based on the findings, researchers will develop the toolkits for use in four pilot sites—not yet named—by November 2015.

While organizations or institutions can establish their own safeguards against vicarious trauma, including on site clinical mental health, encouraging a strong support network for staff and a work-life balance, the survey results should guide researchers to develop a more standardized approach using practitioners needs and techniques that have worked in other organizations. If this approach proves successful, it could make a big difference to the emotional health of law enforcement professionals.


WHEN EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES GET IN THE WAY OF FRESH AND IMPROVED PRACTICES

For the last 15 years, evidence-based practices—certain community alternatives to locking kids up—have been lauded as the solutions to the over-incarceration of kids. Programs like Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT) have done a lot of good to steer kids away from out-of-home placements, but they are certainly not a cure-all.

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Amanda Petteruti, Senior Research Associate at the Justice Policy Institute, says that evidence-based practices are not flexible enough to fit the needs of all kids, and should not stand in the way of some more appropriate customizable cost-effective systems that make kids feel like “assets” instead of “damaged goods.”

“Insisting on using only ‘evidence-based practices’ can lock you into what was known 20 years ago,” said Dr. Vincent Felitti at a conference this past Thursday on children and trauma. (Felitti is co-author of the original ACEs study.) “It can be a way of avoiding change. It can keep you from finding newer, better methods.”

Here’s a clip from Petteruti’s op-ed:

Over the last 15 years, juvenile justice advocates fought hard to convince policymakers and government officials that the best way to help youth succeed and improve public safety is to keep them out of secure confinement. To keep youth out of confinement, we argued, we should place youth in the community and enroll them in evidence-based practices (EBPs) close to home…

Policymakers and government officials seem to have bought what we were selling: As a former staffer at a juvenile justice agency, I had to help a council member understand why every youth couldn’t and shouldn’t be in an MST program. These policymakers wanted the “gold standard” EBPs, but not every young person qualified to participate in MST.

What’s more, MST and other evidence-based programs couldn’t meet the needs of every young person in the system. Perhaps it’s our own doing that we now hear policymakers, government officials and an array of stakeholders beating the drum to implement evidence-based practices, even at the expense of other promising and innovative services, interventions and programs.

Although they can well serve youth with specific needs, evidence-based practices and programs aren’t perfect, and they aren’t the only programs that can meet a young person’s needs. They can also be very costly to implement and evaluate, demand strict fidelity to the original model and only work for the type of youth for which they were designed.

In other words, they are not meant to be tinkered with to meet the unique needs of a young person, their family, their community or the agency implementing them. This can leave out a lot of young people, perhaps the same young people who still end up in secure confinement or who have been transferred to the adult system.

The problem isn’t simply that EBPs can’t and don’t serve all youth — the problem is, in part, that we think they should.

Petteruti goes on to explain what practices have more of an individualized focus for kids who don’t fit into the evidence-based practice mold. Here’s an example:

Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) is an approach that draws from positive youth development principles to meet the unique needs of justice-involved youth. PYJ includes six domains: education, work, relationships, creativity, community and health. These domains are not meant to be used in isolation, but rather as a system of supports and services that can include EBPs.


CHALLENGES FOR OUR NEW LA COUNTY SHERIFF, JIM MCDONNELL

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze takes a look at four significant hurdles newly-elected Jim McDonnell must face as he steps in as head of the LA County Sheriff’s Department on December 1.

Here are two of the challenges Stoltze lists (go read the rest):

Command Staff

The need for change goes far beyond the jails, says longtime sheriff’s watchdog Merrick Bobb.

“The key issue facing the new sheriff is restoring a culture of accountability that got lost very significantly,” Bobb told KPCC.

The citizen’s panel found a failed discipline system and apparent favoritism in promotions. A federal grand jury has indicted 21 current and former sheriffs officials on civil rights and corruption charges. Seven have been convicted.

Bobb says McDonnell will have to replace some of the command staff. “I think it’s very important for him to bring in fresh people, fresh air.”

Interim Sheriff John Scott says he’s replaced some people, “but more work needs to be done.”

Outside Oversight

Activists argue outside oversight must accompany any changes in the command staff, because there are no term limits for the sheriff.

“This sheriff will probably be with us for decades,” Patrice Cullors of Dignity and Power Now told a recent rally outside Twin Towers.

McDonnell will have an overseer of sorts: newly appointed inspector general Max Huntsman. He wants McDonnell to ignore concerns from the deputies union and give him access to personnel records so he can identify problem cops.

“If you exclude personnel records from the vision of the inspector general’s office, suddenly you’ve got a huge blind spot,” Huntsman says.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, law enforcement, Trauma | No Comments »

Long Beach Youth Journalists Explore Trauma and Healing, Sheriff Candidate Jim McDonnell to Speak

September 30th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LONG BEACH POLICE CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL TO SPEAK AT YOUTH-LED FORUM ON TRAUMA, VIOLENCE & HEALING

VoiceWaves, an innovative youth journalism project located in Long Beach, has been reporting all summer on the issue of trauma, its effects on kids and immigrants, and ways in which the trauma can be addressed and healed.

The results of VoiceWaves‘ work will be presented at a community forum Wednesday night, the centerpiece of which will be a panel discussion between various experts including Long Beach police chief and LA County sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell.

Nadra Nittle of the Long Beach Telegram has more on the project.

Here are some clips:

VoiceWaves reporter Oscar Bautista spent the summer reporting on how gangs traumatize their members, even after they’ve left the streets behind.

“A lot of the trauma they’re coming out of I would say is somewhat social, how they interact with other people,” Bautista said. “Some of the ex-gang members end up finding it difficult dealing with their own trauma. They have mild versions of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Maybe if they hear a balloon pop, they might duck. It varies depending on the trauma. They are very mistrusting, very survivalist. They just become very cautious people.”

[SNIP]

While Bautista explored gangs and trauma, VoiceWaves Beat Reporter Michael Lozano interviewed immigrants from countries such as Mexico, Laos and Cambodia about the trauma they’ve experienced.

A political refugee from Cambodia who spent time in a labor camp told Lozano that she hasn’t overcome the trauma she experienced abroad.

“Even when she was in Long Beach, she still experienced nightmares,” Lozano said. “A lot of the immigrants experienced trauma abroad and relive trauma through nightmares.”

Two women from Mexico who Lozano interviewed said their husbands were assassinated in that country….

The Community Forum on Trauma and Healing begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the First Congregational Church, 241 Cedar Ave., Long Beach.

The forum is presented in partnership with The California Endowment and Building Healthy Communities.

Posted in art and culture, Jim McDonnell, Trauma, Youth | No Comments »

Gov. Signs Law Eliminating Expulsions for “Willful Defiance” But Vetoes Drone Bill…LASD Restricts Association With Convicted Dept. Members…. No More Prisoner of the War on Drugs…Running the Homeboy 5 K

September 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


GOVERNOR SIGNS FIRST IN NATION LAW TO LIMIT “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS & EXPUSIONS

On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 420, a bill that limits suspensions and eliminates all expulsions for the catch-all category of “willful defiance,” which—until now—could have kids tossed out of school for such minor misbehaviors as talking back, failing to have school materials and dress code violations.

According to a statement issued by Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that is one of the bill’s sponsors, the new law makes California the first state in the nation to put such limits on the use of willful defiance.

Brown’s signing of AB 420 is the culmination of several years worth of work by juvenile advocates, education reformers and others who have led the recent movement away from the zero tolerance discipline policies that were dominant since the 1980′s, and toward positive discipline and accountability approaches that been found to keep children in school. The issue of willful defiance has been a particularly intense focus for reformers in that the elastic designation accounts for 43% of suspensions issued to California students, and is the suspension category with the most significant racial disparities.

“In just a few short years, school discipline reform has become an important education policy priority in California because the stakes are very high,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), who authored the bill. “Research has shown that even one suspension can make it five times more likely that a child will drop out of school and significantly increase the odds they will get in trouble and head into our juvenile delinquency system.”

While, AB 420 doesn’t do away with willful defiance altogether, it is considered an important step in that, as a compromise measure, it has gotten agreement from people who were initially reluctant to ax the category completely. like Gov. Brown, and certain state legislators. (The law eliminates all willful defiance suspensions for children in grades K-3 and bans all expulsions for the category for all grades. It is to be reviewed in 3.5 years.)

It should be noted that the Los Angeles Unified School District banned all suspensions for willful defiance spring.

The new law was co-sponsored by Public Counsel, Children Now, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and the ACLU of California and supported by a statewide coalition of organizations.


BROWN VETOES BILL LIMITING LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF DRONES SAYING IT WENT TOO FAR

The bill, which would have required law enforcement to obtain warrants before using surveillance drones, got a thumbs down from Governor Brown on Sunday night, one of about a dozen bills that Jerry nixed on Sunday.

The LA Times Phil Willon and Melanie Mason have more details on the story. Here’s a clip:

Brown, in his veto message, said that although there may be some circumstances when a warrant is appropriate, the bill went too far.

The measure appeared to impose restrictions on law enforcement that go beyond federal and state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures and the right to privacy, the governor stated.

The bill, AB 1327, would have required the government to secure a warrant from a judge before using surveillance drones except in cases of environmental emergencies such as oil or chemical spills. Three other states have placed a moratorium on drone use by state and local agencies

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), the bill’s author, had argued that the expanded use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, by law enforcement has pushed the boundaries of the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy, triggering a need for protection.


SHERIFF SCOTT SAYS NO ASSOCIATION WITH CONVICTED LASD MEMBERS WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION

On Friday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Scott sent out two official messages to department members regarding the conviction of seven current and former LASD members, and last week’s sentencing of six of the seven defendants.

(Deputy James Sexton was convicted in a retrial earlier this month, but will not be sentenced until December 1. Sexton’s first trial resulted in a 6-6 hung jury.)

In the first message, Scott wrote of emotional reactions to Tuesday’s sentencing of the six to prison terms ranging from 21 to 41 months, that “have left many Department members stunned,” he wrote. “The six defendants in this case were our co-workers and friends.”

It was clear, Scott wrote, that the convictions and lengthy sentences were, “in part, the result of failed leadership” at various levels of the LASD.

“The question that burns in the hearts of many is whether those who were the most responsible have been held accountable for their actions…”

The second announcement, headlined “FEDERAL CONVICTIONS AND PROHIBITED ASSOCIATIONS POLICE” clarified one of the sad artifacts of the convictions of the seven LASD defendants: All department members are aware that they are not allowed to associate with convicted felons. But this rule suddenly became confusing and in need of sorting out with the conviction of the seven LASD defendants, each of whom have long time friends—and in many cases best friends—among their former colleagues still working for the sheriff’s department.

So the following was sent out on Friday:

With respect to personally associating with the individuals who were convicted, the policy requires:

*A written request for authorization, directed to the unit commander

*Unit Commander response, whether approved or denied, to be documented in writing

*Both documents to be filed in the requesting employee’s personnel file.

The statement further instructed that the policy doesn’t prevent donations of funds to the defendants or their families. But it split hairs by stating that department members may not attended fundraisers for those convicted.

The policy prohibits doing favors for or associating with persons where the association would be detrimental to the image of the Department, such as in cases of persons adjudged guilty of a felony crime.

Therefore, Department members are prohibited from attending fundraising events for the individuals who have been convicted, whether the individuals are present or not.

Unit Commanders are not authorized to make exceptions with respect to this aspect of the situation involving the recent Federal convictions.


NO LONGER A PRISONER OF THE DRUG WAR

A wonderful longread by the LA Times’ Jenny Deam paints a journalistic portrait of Billy Ray Wheelock, who is an example of the kind of inmate that, in the last three decades, has filled the nation’s prisons to overflowing as a consequence of our ill-considered war on drugs. In the case of Wheelock, however, the story has a happy ending—even though that happy ending is very belated.

Here are two clips:

Wheelock had been sent to prison in 1993 at age 29 during an era of no-mercy drug sentencing. At the height of the country’s war on drugs, crack cocaine offenders were locked away by the tens of thousands, often with no key in sight.

Most were men, most were poor, most were black.

Wheelock was all three.

His story embodies what many, including judges and former prosecutors, now see as a judicial system gone wrong. He is the first to admit he was guilty and deserved to do time. He had been arrested three times on crack charges.

But he says he was never violent and never owned a gun. He says he only sold a bit of rock sometimes to make ends meet. “For that I got life? Life?”

Years passed and Wheelock waited, sure someday someone would see that his punishment did not fit his crime.

Here’s when such draconian sentencing began:

In 1986, Congress created a mandatory drug sentencing law and took aim squarely at crack cocaine. Under the law, a person convicted of possessing 5 grams of crack would get the same five-year sentence as someone selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.

Since 1980, there have been an estimated 45 million drug arrests in this country. The number of people in U.S. prisons for all crimes has quadrupled from about 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million now, “and that growth was disproportionately driven by the drug war,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington research and advocacy group.

In the beginning, many in the judicial system were true believers, certain that if a person knew harsh sentencing awaited him he might think twice about selling drugs. But as the millennium turned, judges began to complain that their discretion had been stripped away by mandatory sentencing. Lawmakers also questioned not only the fiscal responsibility of keeping so many locked up for so long but also the humanity of such a stark racial divide, since crack cocaine disproportionately imprisoned minorities.

Calls for reform were bipartisan. In 2010, Congress showed rare unity and passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

Read on to discover more about Wheelock’s story.


HOMEBOY 5K: “EVERY ANGELENO COUNTS”

If you’ve got an interest in getting excellent exercise with crowd of interesting and varied companions, doing the aforementioned for an important LA cause—and coming away with a snazzy t-shirt—-the annual Homeboy Industries 5K on October 18 is likely the perfect event for you.

The race starts at 8 a.m., on Saturday, October 18, at Homeboy Industries (130 W. Bruno Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012) with registration and packet pick-up from 6 to 7:30 a.m.

If you’d like to register in advance, Wed. Oct 1 is the cutoff. But you can still show up early on the day of the race and pay a last minute registration fee ($45), to run, jog, or walk with the crowd.

The purpose of the race, as you might imagine, is to raise money for Homeboy Industries, which serves more than 12,000 former gang members each year and offers full time employment to 200 men and women in an 18-month program that allows them to redirect the trajectories of their lives and “re-identify who they are in the world.”

With this in mind, the yearly 5K is designed as more than merely a fundraiser. Here’s how the Homeboy folks explain it:

The Homeboy Industries “Every Angeleno Counts” 5k is an opportunity for us to walk, run, and stand with thousands of former gang-members whose lives are being completely transformed. Every Angeleno can help dispel the myth that some lives matter less than others.

So grab your running shoes and com’on down.


Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Homeboy Industries, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

LASD: a “Toxic Culture” or a “Few Bad Actors”…..Eric Holder Replacement…..A Head Start Program That’s Trauma Smart…Long Beach Police Chief’s Dealings With Officer Involved Shootings

September 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


DO THE RECENT SENTENCES OF THE LASD SIX POINT TO A “TOXIC CULTURE” IN NEED OF REFORM OR A “FEW BAD ACTORS”…?

A new LA Times editorial rightly points out that— contrary to what Sheriff John Scott has apparently said—”the sentencing Tuesday and likely imprisonment of six sworn Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, sergeants and lieutenants does not reflect merely the actions of a ‘few’ bad actors.”

The Times’ statement—which is really a rather sizable understatement—also applies to the rest of the 21 indicted department members, whose cases, which primarily involve brutality and corruption in the jails, will be coming to trial later this year and early next year. Those indictments do not represent “a few bad actors” either.

When the six, who were just sentenced this week, were convicted of obstruction of justice last July, then U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that the convictions represented.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Yet while all this tarnishing was going on, someone—or more accurately several someones—gave the various orders that resulted in hiding a federal informant, threatening an FBI agent, and intimidating witnesses in a federal investigation. Furthermore, it was a deeply-entrenched culture of arrogance, everyday corruption, and a venomous us-against-them contempt for anyone outside certain favored circles—a culture that had, for years, emanated from the LASD’s highest levels—which made orders to obstruct justice seem perfectly natural to seasoned department members who should have known better.

It was that same psychological environment—which U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson labeled a “corrupt culture” on Tuesday as he handed out sentences—that allowed for the actions of those who have been indicted and will likely be convicted for allegedly blithely brutalizing jail inmates and visitors. After all, such behavior had long carried with it little threat of adverse consequences. In fact, some of those in charge even signaled tacit approval.

Here’s more of what the Times wrote:

They earned their sentences; but as obstructors rather than defenders of justice, they were not self-taught. They operated within an ingrained culture of contempt, mismanagement, dishonesty and gratuitous violence. It is important to remember that they were trying to block a probe into the widespread use of excessive force, and that such force has been documented against visitors as well as inmates in Los Angeles County jails. It is important to keep in mind also that the department’s Antelope Valley stations were found to have engaged in patterns and practices of racially based discrimination and unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and detentions. Settlement talks are ongoing in a lawsuit alleging that top sheriff’s officials condoned a pattern of violence against inmates. A court-appointed monitor is operating under a similar lawsuit alleging mistreatment of mentally ill inmates going back decades, and the U.S. Department of Justice advised the county earlier this year that it too would go to court over treatment of the mentally ill in the jails. Meanwhile, a Times investigation found fluctuating hiring standards that sometimes drop so low as to suggest the department will hire, at times, almost anyone.

In other words, despite the many decent men and women who daily do good, honest, tough-but-fair-minded work as members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, this is an agency still in deep trouble, and reforming it in any meaningful way is going to be a challenging endeavor.

Which brings us back to the sentences handed out on Tuesday: at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we truly hope that this summer’s convictions are simply the starting point, and that the government’s prosecutors go on to indict some of those who gave the orders that have resulted in six department members losing their careers and—barring some kind of appellate intervention—heading for prison. (More accurately, make that seven department members, counting James Sexton, whose retrial and conviction is another topic altogether, which we’ll discuss at a later time.) Such additional indictments would signal, with more than mere rhetoric, that it is the department’s culture as a whole that needs fixing, not just the actions of 21 individuals.


LISTEN TO WHICH WAY LA? ON TUESDAY’S SENTENCING

Which Way LA? with Warren Olney did a show on Tuesday’s sentencing of the six LASD department members that features Brian Moriguchi, president of Professional Peace Officers’ Association (PPOA), and Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the Southern California ACLU. It’s definitely worth a listen.



ERIC HOLDER RESIGNATION: WHO WILL COME AFTER AND WILL THEY PAY ATTENTION TO JUVENILE JUSTICE & SENTENCING REFORM?

Attorney General Eric Holder’s surprise announcement Thursday of his resignation has many speculating who will replace him.

For justice activists Holder has been a mixed bag. They point to his unwillingness to prosecute “too big to jail” banks and others responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, and his support of government spying, and the like.

Yet in the last few years, Holder has become very active in the criminal justice reform arena, particularly when it comes to disparities in sentencing, and issues of juvenile justice.

So, as the speculation revs up about who will replace Holder, activists are preemptively worrying that many of the justice reforms Holder has recently supported, will not be a priority for his successor.

Interestingly, Yahoo News and CNN put Kamala Harris on their list of possibles, while the New York Times did not. (Thursday, Harris issued a statement saying she intends to stay in California.)

Here are the Wall Street Journal’s picks, which also include Harris. And here’s USA Today.

We will, of course, be keeping an eye on the matter of Holder’s replacement—with justice issues in mind—as it unfolds.


A HEAD START & TRAUMA SMART PRESCHOOL PROGRAM HELPS KEEP STRUGGLING KIDS IN SCHOOL

Some kids are so adversely affected by trauma at an early age that when they show up at preschool they have trouble behaving appropriately. In the past, teachers tended to expel such acting out-prone children from preschool programs, not always out of lack of compassion, but because they simply didn’t know what else to do.

Then in 2005, a study startled educators by showing that preschool kids were three times more far more likely to be suspended or expelled than those in any of the K-12 grades—numbers that have continued to worsen in the years since.

Recently, however, certain preschool programs around the country have begun experimenting with methods that address the causes of trauma-based behaviors in young children that, in the past, risked derailing a three or four-year-old’s academic future before it ever started.

The PBS Newshour with host Judy Woodruff and correspondant Molly Knight-Raskin looked at one such program last July. And, as we were surveying this year’s important stories on the issue of childhood trauma, we decided that this show was too important to miss.

Here are some clips:

Every year, thousands of children in this country are expelled from school before they reach kindergarten. In fact, studies show that preschool children are expelled at significantly rates than those in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Special correspondent Molly Knight Raskin reports on a program in Kansas City, Missouri, that’s trying to stem this trend by looking beyond the classroom to the issues these kids face at home.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In many ways, Desiree Kazee, is a typical 5-year-old girl. She’s bubbly, bright and affectionate. Her favorite color is pink. And she enjoys drawing and dancing.

But, two years ago, when Desiree began preschool at a Head Start program near her home in Liberty, Missouri, she didn’t seem to enjoy much of anything.

[SNIP]

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Janine Hron is the CEO of Crittenton Children’s Center, a psychiatrist hospital in Kansas City. In 2008, Hron and her team developed Head Start Trauma Smart, an innovative program that evidence-based trauma therapy into Head Start classrooms.

The program was created in response to the pervasiveness of trauma in the Kansas City area. Of the 4,000 kids in Head Start, 50 percent have experienced more than three traumatic events.

JANINE HRON: This is not a one-and-done kind of a bad experience. This happens over and over and over, and it becomes rather a lifestyle of trauma.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Studies show that one in four preschool-age children experience a traumatic event by the start of kindergarten. Because so many of these children respond to traumatic stress by acting out, they prove a challenge to teachers and caregivers, who find that traditional methods of, like scolding them or putting them in a time-out, don’t work. In fact, these methods often makes things worse, leading to suspension or expulsion.

Avis Smith, a licensed social work at Crittenton, explains why.

AVIS SMITH, Crittenton Children’s Center: Their behaviors are so extreme, that the adults don’t know how to keep everybody safe….


HOW LONG BEACH POLICE CHIEF AND SHERIFF CANDIDATE MCDONNELL DEALT WITH OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

In 2013, 15 people were shot—or shot—at by Long Beach Police officers, a rate that was about twice the average for the city. Community members were very upset. Long Beach Police Chief and candidate for LA County sheriff, Jim McDonnell, was front and center as the man held responsible.

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

Nearly a year after her son was shot and killed by a Long Beach police officer, Shirley Lowery still keeps the urn holding his remains on a makeshift alter on a bar near the back door of her house.

“I was going to deposit his ashes,” Lowery said, “but I just can’t let him go.”

She still can’t sleep well either, her mind racing.

“The other night, I woke up at 3:15 and it was like a recording,” she says. “When he was born, when he learned how to walk, the first time he went snowboarding, the first time he went surfing. It keeps flashing.”

Her son, Johnny Del Real, was one of 15 people Long Beach police officers shot or shot at in 2013— about double the average in the city, records show.

The rash of shootings provoked protests, lawsuits (including Lowery’s current $10 million claim against the city) and questions about the tactics used by the Long Beach Police Department.

At the center of those questions was Jim McDonnell, the current police chief and frontrunner to win the job of Los Angeles County sheriff in the November election.

Darick Simpson, head of the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, said one of the men shot last year was friendly with kids in one of his group’s youth programs.

When Sokha Hor, 22, was critically wounded by police, at first his family was kept from seeing him in the hospital. Public outrage ensued and a lot of kids in Simpson’s program participated in protests.

But McDonnell and his staff’s willingness to share information – and desire to hear the kids’ side of the story – helped mitigate the tension, Simpson said.

“You know there’s three sides, right? Your side, my side, and the truth of any given story,” he said. “We came to a greater understanding of a truth that diffused an issue that could have been blown up into bigger than what it needed to be.”

McDonnell said he reacted to the spate of 2013 shootings by looking at the evidence in each case. Most involved people who were armed with real or replica weapons.

“To try and say why is one year higher than another year is difficult,” he said. “We look at each officer-involved shooting based on the merits of that shooting. The circumstances that led up to it, the tactics the officers used, the use of force itself. And then what they did after the use of force.”

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, Trauma, U.S. Attorney | 31 Comments »

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