Tuesday, October 13, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts





Transforming Foster Care, Indigent Defense, and Malcolm Gladwell on School Shootings

October 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a final round of bill-signing over the weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an important bill to overhaul counties’ child welfare placement systems, by focusing on long-term placements with foster families and eliminating group homes.

If successfully implemented, AB 403 appears to have a lot of potential to restructure a system that has bred scandal-plagued group homes and in LA County’s case, “Welcome Centers” where kids are meant to stay for less than 24 hours, but have instead become a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids.

By January 1, 2017, the current controversial group home model will be thrown out in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs) which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes. Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs. A certain number of those (STRTCs) will be geared toward helping kids involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

The bill, authored by CA Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), will create wraparound medical and mental health treatment for kids living under the care of foster parents, and foster parents will receive intensive training and support to ensure they are equipped and ready to care for their foster children.

“Children who enter foster care need safe, comfortable, supportive places to stay, whether that is with a relative, a foster family, or a treatment center,” said Sen. Stone. “Current options for placement, particularly the existing model for group homes, do not always meet these needs. The reforms in this new law will provide youth with the support they need in foster care to return to their families or to find a permanent home if returning to their families is not an option.”

The bill was sponsored by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and was built from recommendations in a 2015 CDSS report, California’s Child Welfare Continuum of Care Reform, which was developed with feedback from foster kids and families, care providers, social workers, and policymakers.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the legislation and its implications. Here’s a clip:

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services (CACFS), calls the bill “a once in a generation opportunity to get foster care right.”

According to National Center for Youth Law Executive Director Jennifer Rodriguez, the passage of AB 403 caps more than 15 years of work to create reform for congregate care.

“This is the first significant effort that aligns our state’s policy with what developmental science is telling us, that congregate care is really detrimental to the development and well-being of youth in foster care,” said Rodriguez, who spent time as a group-home resident during her youth.

The primary driver of reform in the bill is the establishment of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs), a model that would take the place of existing group homes in the state. STRTCs would be licensed by the CDSS to provide only short-term, specialized and intensive treatment to those children with demonstrated need, and all such placements would require a case plan and timeline for moving the child to a less restrictive placement.

Stays of more than six months can only be provided with the approval of senior county welfare directors, and most facilities would be incentivized to provide health services that resemble hospital stays rather than semi-permanent living arrangements.

These centers will be subject to a monitoring system based on yet-to-be-created standards and inspection plans. The bill instructs the CDSS to develop the infrastructure for those quality control efforts, along with stepped-up monitoring of foster homes provided through contracts with foster family agencies.

SB 403 would also require counties to pay attention to the needs of foster youth involved with the probation system (so-called crossover youth). The bill calls for the creation of STRTCs aimed at crossover youth, as well as the implementation of strategies aimed at recruiting and retaining specialized foster homes for these youth and increased supports that would allow them to live with relative caregivers when possible.


On Monday night, Al Jazeera America’s investigative program, Fault Lines, shined an investigative light on the state of pretrial detention in the US, and how the system fails poor defendants. Fault Lines traveled to California, New York, and Mississippi, focusing on overloaded public defenders and the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that keeps people locked up while they await trial if they are unable to post bail. There are nearly 500,000 pretrial detainees in jails across the nation. The average length of a pretrial detention stay is 68 days.

As of this post, Al Jazeera America has not yet released the full episode online, but when it becomes available, you can watch it here.

As part of their investigation, reporters interviewed Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, an advocacy group fighting for pretrial reform in the criminal justice system. Burdeen talks about about the history of the cash bail system, its devastating effects on the lives of poor defendants and their families, and what can be done to solve the problem. Here’s a clip from the interview:

Fault Lines: What gets you really upset about this issue of pretrial detention?

Burdeen: The existing system that sets cash bail amounts for the charge for which people have been arrested tends to over-detain low-risk people who are too poor to make those bond amounts. So you see, over the last 15 years, in fact, jail populations have increased, and almost 100% of that increase in the jail population is pretrial detention.

The other side of that is people using that same cash bail system to get out when we hoped they wouldn’t. So judges are often forced to set high bond amounts on people they think are too dangerous to be released. And we know from research that about half the time, people are making those bond amounts.

So then you have these two problems, right? You have jails packed with people too poor to get out, but not that dangerous. And you have the dangerous people who have access to friends, family, criminal enterprise that enables them to have that cash to get out.

Is this a relatively new problem?

I just described low-risk people being detained on bond amounts they can’t meet. Attorney General Robert Kennedy said the same thing 50 years ago. This is not a new problem. The quantity of the problem has gotten larger. What we know today that we didn’t know then—we suspected then, but we didn’t know quantitatively from research—is if you are detained as a low-risk person, when you finally get out, you are more likely to commit crime than if you had been released pretrial.

Can you paint a picture of the impact pretrial detention has on a person’s life?

We think there is at least three main factors that we know low-risk people have. They are the same probable low-risk factors you and I have. We have a stable job, we have housing and we have connections with family. And in the first couple days of jail, those things have a tendency to get disrupted very quickly.

You may have a job at a temp agency or a minimum wage job, where if you don’t show up for one or two of your shifts, or if you call in off those shifts, you are likely to lose that job. If you have family members that you are living with and staying with, your family gets very anxious and disrupted around this event. It’s very hard on the kids, which has an impact on the parents that have been jailed those first few days.


The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell, author of such non-fiction bestsellers as Blink, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw, analyzes America’s school shooting epidemic and what might be fueling the fire.

Gladwell says that rather than searching for what connects seemingly dissimilar mass shooters, we should consider the boys as a group, and that even though the group members are spread across decades and across the country, it makes sense “to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before…”

Here’s a clip from Gladwell’s New Yorker essay (which we highly recommend reading in its entirety):

[Stanford sociologist Mark] Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him were grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

Granovetter was most taken by the situations in which people did things for social reasons that went against everything they believed as individuals. “Most did not think it ‘right’ to commit illegal acts or even particularly want to do so,” he wrote, about the findings of a study of delinquent boys. “But group interaction was such that none could admit this without loss of status; in our terms, their threshold for stealing cars is low because daring masculine acts bring status, and reluctance to join, once others have, carries the high cost of being labeled a sissy.” You can’t just look at an individual’s norms and motives. You need to look at the group.

His argument has a second implication. We misleadingly use the word “copycat” to describe contagious behavior—implying that new participants in an epidemic act in a manner identical to the source of their infection. But rioters are not homogeneous. If a riot evolves as it spreads, starting with the hotheaded rock thrower and ending with the upstanding citizen, then rioters are a profoundly heterogeneous group.

Finally, Granovetter’s model suggests that riots are sometimes more than spontaneous outbursts. If they evolve, it means they have depth and length and a history. Granovetter thought that the threshold hypothesis could be used to describe everything from elections to strikes, and even matters as prosaic as how people decide it’s time to leave a party. He was writing in 1978, long before teen-age boys made a habit of wandering through their high schools with assault rifles. But what if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is to go back and use the Granovetterian model—to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?


Sociologist Nathalie E. Paton has analyzed the online videos created by post-Columbine shooters and found a recurring set of stylized images: a moment where the killer points his gun at the camera, then at his own temple, and then spreads his arms wide with a gun in each hand; the closeup; the wave goodbye at the end. “School shooters explicitly name or represent each other,” she writes. She mentions one who “refers to Cho as a brother-in-arms”; another who “points out that his cultural tastes are like those of ‘Eric and Dylan’ ”; a third who “uses images from the Columbine shooting surveillance camera and devotes several videos to the Columbine killers.” And she notes, “This aspect underlines the fact that the boys actively take part in associating themselves to a group.”

Larkin and Paton are describing the dynamics of Granovetter’s threshold model of group behavior. Luke Woodham, the third in this progression, details in his journal how he and a friend tortured his dog, Sparkle: “I will never forget the howl she made. It sounded almost human. We laughed and hit her hard.” A low-threshold participant like Woodham didn’t need anyone to model his act of violence for him: his imagination was more than up to the task.

But compare him to a post-Columbine shooter like Darion Aguilar, the nineteen-year-old who last year killed two people in a skate shop in a Maryland shopping mall before killing himself. Aguilar wanted to be a chef. He had a passion for plant biology. He was quiet, but not marginalized or bullied.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Inmate Debate Team Beats Harvard, LAPD Transparency, Drugging Foster Kids, and CEO Sachi Hamai

October 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a debate last month, an inmate debate team from Eastern New York Correctional Facility beat a national championship-winning debate team from Harvard.

The inmates, students of the Bard Prison Initiative, won using an argument they strongly disagreed with: that undocumented immigrant children should be barred from attending public schools. The Bard team caught the Harvard students off-guard, asserting that when the public schools (AKA “dropout factories”) deny enrollment to the undocumented kids, private schools and non-profits will step in and give kids a better education than they would have received in the public school system.

The team of three inmates, who are serving time for manslaughter, also dominated the debate teams from West Point Military Academy and the University of Vermont. And the Bard students do not have access to the internet to prepare for their debates. They have to request books and articles to research their topics.

The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Brody has the story. Here’s a clip:

Ironically, the inmates had to promote an argument with which they fiercely disagreed. Resolved: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.”

Carlos Polanco, a 31-year-old from Queens in prison for manslaughter, said after the debate that he would never want to bar a child from school and he felt forever grateful he could pursue a Bard diploma. “We have been graced with opportunity,” he said. “They make us believe in ourselves.”

Judge Mary Nugent, leading a veteran panel, said the Bard team made a strong case that the schools attended by many undocumented children were failing so badly that students were simply being warehoused. The team proposed that if “dropout factories” with overcrowded classrooms and insufficient funding could deny these children admission, then nonprofits and wealthier schools would step in and teach them better.

Ms. Nugent said the Harvard College Debating Union didn’t respond to parts of that argument, though both sides did an excellent job.


In the morning before the debate, team members talked of nerves and their hope that competing against Harvard—even if they lost—would inspire other inmates to pursue educations.

“If we win, it’s going to make a lot of people question what goes on in here,” said Alex Hall, a 31-year-old from Manhattan convicted of manslaughter. “We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard.”

The Washington Post’s Pete Holley explains why, while impressive, it shouldn’t be a surprise that inmates bested the Harvard boys. Here’s a clip:

It sounds like an underdog story plucked from the pages of a yet unwritten Walt Disney screenplay — and in some ways, it is.

But it’s also worth pointing out the fallacy of our underlying assumptions about such a matchup — the first (and most pernicious) being that criminals aren’t smart. If a definitive link between criminality and below-average intelligence exists, nobody has found it.


Some of the program’s students have continued their educations at Yale and Columbia universities, Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, told the AP. He noted that his students “make the most of every opportunity they have” and aren’t treated like men with criminal records in the classroom.

“Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,” Kenner told the AP.


On Saturday night, Los Angeles police officers fatally shot a man they believed to have thrown a beer bottle, shattering their radio car’s rear window. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has said little about the shooting. We do know that officers said they believed they were being shot at when their window shattered, and that the man was not found to have a gun.

While noting that law enforcement officers are forced to make extremely difficult split-second decisions to protect protect their own safety and the safety of the public, an LA Times editorial urges transparency from the LAPD and the city regarding the shooting, so that suspicions about the killing are not left to “fester.”

Here’s a clip:

Few facts about this latest incident have been released to the public. Two Los Angeles Police Department officers in a patrol car were stopped at a light at Victory and Van Nuys boulevards Saturday night when a 40-ounce beer bottle crashed through the back window. The officers got out and shot to death a man who they thought threw the bottle. That’s it. The police haven’t even disclosed the dead man’s name.

In the absence of facts, people are liable to fill in the blanks with a narrative that won’t necessarily favor the officers. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has been too quiet on this case, saying only that the main question is whether the officers’ perception of imminent danger was reasonable. There are others that are just as important. Was the dead man the bottle thrower? Why did the officers believe they were in danger? Was it reasonable for them to start firing before they knew they had the right person, or whether he was armed? Are they being adequately trained to deal with such situations?


On KPCC’s Take Two journalist Karen De Sá talks about a newly-signed package of bills to protect CA’s foster kids from over-drugging, and her powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked use of psychotropic meds on California’s foster children (which was sparked the legislative action). Take a listen.


The LA County Board of Supervisors voted in a closed-door session to appoint the county’s interim CEO, Sachi Hamai as the permanent CEO.

LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

“Sachi has been an outstanding county leader throughout her career and has excelled as our interim CEO, rapidly responding to reforms critically needed inside the county and tackling reforms in service to improving the quality of life for our county residents,” Antonovich said in a statement.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in an interview the board commissioned a detailed evaluation, conducted by an outside evaluator, of Hamai’s job performance in her interim role.

“Everyone is very happy with her,” Kuehl said.

Hamai was appointed the county’s interim CEO in December following the installment of two new board members Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis. Hamai replaced Brence Culp, who was briefly appointed interim CEO by the previous board following the retirement of longtime CEO William Fujioka. Fujioka served as CEO for seven years….

The CEO’s duties include oversight of the county’s $27.1 billion budget, labor relations, legislative advocacy and capital planning.

Hamai will also continue to oversee the county’s initiatives on homelessness, heath care, criminal justice and child welfare.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Bill Round-Up, Turmoil in Hawaiian Gardens, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and Reviewing Realignment

October 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 504, a bill to eliminate the often prohibitive $150 fee to seal a juvenile record for anyone under the age of 26. The bill, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), will also ensure that unpaid fines and restitution will not bar young people from expungement.

“SB 504 will help reduce recidivism among juvenile youth by removing the fee to seal their records and thereby helping them secure permanent employment,” said Senator Lara. “It’s a major victory for juvenile justice reform and for youth trying to turn their lives around.”

Another important bill that won Gov. Brown’s signature, SB 794, requires county child welfare and probation departments to establish services for foster children at risk of sexual exploitation. Those departments will also have to create and implement specific protocols to swiftly locate missing kids. The bill will also ramp up probation and child welfare agencies’ duties to report to law enforcement within 24 hours when a child at risk of sexual exploitation goes missing or is abducted.

Gov. Brown also signed two meaningful bills to help exonerated state inmates.

AB 672 by Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. (D-Los Angeles), bridges a huge gap in assistance for exonerees by allowing prisoners who have been exonerated of their convictions to access the same re-entry services as any other inmate exiting lock-up.

And SB 635 by Senator Jim W. Nielsen (R-Gerber) will raise the compensation paid to exonerees for their time lost behind bars from $100 a day to $136.98 per day, adding up to $50,000 per year. This bill was inspired by Obie Anthony, who spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before being exonerated in 2011.


On July 5th, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot Johnny Ray Anderson, a Hawaiian Gardens man who the deputy says tried to grab his gun.

Lawyers for Anderson’s family argue that the physical evidence shows Anderson was too far away from the deputy to have grabbed for the firearm.

The inconsistencies between narratives of how Anderson died have churned up tension between the sheriff’s department and the city’s residents.

The Hawaiian Gardens City Council voted to ask the FBI to look into the troubling shooting.

Barry Bruce, the mayor of Hawaiian Gardens, faults the 10-year-old city-wide gang injunction for much of the tension. Bruce says the injunction unfairly targets innocent residents (in addition to guilty ones) by banning things like public bicycle-riding and gathering on street corners. Many residents, however, say they feel much safer because of the injunctions, which led to a major reduction in violent crime between 2005 and 2014.

The LA Times’ Ruben Vives and Cindy Chang have more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The city…is home to a notorious gang: Varrio Hawaiian Gardens. VHG, as it is sometimes known, has been implicated in killings, drugs and weapons trafficking, extortion and racially motivated attacks designed to drive African Americans from their homes.

One of the gang members fatally shot Deputy Jerry Ortiz in 2005. Jose Luis Orozco, who had devil horns tattooed on his forehead, received a death sentence for Ortiz’s killing. His fellow gang members were hit with the injunction, and in 2009, 147 members and associates were charged in a massive federal racketeering case. At the time, the FBI claimed 1 in 15 residents in Hawaiian Gardens had ties to the gang.

Despite the crackdown, VHG is still going strong and is currently at war with gangs in neighboring communities such as Artesia, said Capt. Keith Swensson, who runs the Lakewood sheriff’s station.

Crime has shot up in Hawaiian Gardens recently, with violent and property crimes up 78% from last year and 42% from five years ago. In 2015, aggravated assaults have increased 106%, burglaries 127% and larcenies 114%.

The uptick in assaults may have to do with increased gang activity, Swensson said. But he blamed the property crime increases on other lower-level offenders.

Still, Swensson said, the situation has improved from the days when he drove a patrol car as a deputy in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, residents were scared to walk down the street because they might encounter a group of gang members. Swensson said that even as an armed law enforcement officer he felt scared driving around by himself in the early mornings.

From 2005 to 2014, violent crime by gang members dropped 74% in the city, compared with a 62% drop in overall violent crime. In 2005, half of violent crimes in Hawaiian Gardens were committed by gang members. The figure last year was 35%.

The injunction is targeting the right people, Swensson said, noting that to be added to it a person has to admit that he or she is in the gang or show an obvious sign of gang association such as a gang tattoo. The prohibition against gang members congregating in public has been instrumental in making residents feel safer, he said.


The city’s mayor does not agree. In a letter to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier) requesting the FBI investigation, Bruce wrote that residents had complained that sheriff’s deputies violated their civil rights and that he did not trust local officials to investigate Anderson’s killing.

While the gang injunction has been useful in rounding up dangerous people, it has cast too wide a net, catching many “dolphins” as well as “sharks,” Bruce said in an interview.

“The department, the way they treat people in the community, it’s like everyone is a gangster in Hawaiian Gardens. No one’s a regular person,” said Bruce, who runs a ministry for at-risk youth. “It shows contempt and a prejudicial attitude towards the community.”

The city pays the Sheriff’s Department more than $3 million a year to patrol its streets. In the past, Bruce has threatened to contract with a different agency or start a city police department. While there is currently no plan to switch, Bruce noted that a new casino is in the works and would bring extra revenue that could make the city’s own police department “a very plausible idea.”

“I’d rather work with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department if they can be more transparent and more concerned about the things their officers are involved in,” Bruce said.


On Thursday morning, a bipartisan group of Judiciary Committee members, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), announced a criminal justice overhaul plan called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

The other bill sponsors are Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The massive 141-page bill, the result of a six month collaborative effort, which Sen. Schumer likened to solving a “Rubiks Cube,” deserves very careful review, but here is a run-down of the basics from the bill summary:

- Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

- Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant’s criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

- Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

- Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

- Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

- Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

- Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

- Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

“For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential,” said Sen. Booker. “Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong.”

“This legislation is modeled after successful Texas reforms that have rehabilitated prisoners, reduced crime rates, and saved taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Coryn. “This bipartisan package will protect law enforcement’s ability to aggressively target violent criminals and serious offenders, while focusing on justice, rehabilitation, and public safety. I look forward to working with this bipartisan coalition to move this bill through Congress and to the President’s desk.”


A study assessing California’s public safety realignment, four years after its implementation, found that recidivism rates have remained largely the same and state spending on corrections is at an all-time high (for a variety of reasons, including prison and jail-building).

Realignment has not increased violent crime, but may have contributed to a rise in auto thefts, according to the study from the Public Policy Institute of California.

(If you need a refresher: realignment, AB 109, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the study.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Bipartisan CJ Reform Plan, LA’s Mega-Health Department, and Richard Glossip Spared from Death Once More

October 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to unveil a major bipartisan criminal justice reform plan at 10:00a.m. this morning.

The criminal justice overhaul plan is spearheaded by Republican Senator Charles Grassley, along with other members from both parties, and reportedly has the support of the Coalition for Public Safety (Koch Industries, the ACLU, and others).

But while the plan includes more sentencing discretion for judges with non-violent offenders, as well as adding good-time credits for prisoners who complete treatment and education programs, the bipartisan plan will also generate new mandatory minimums.

We’ll keep you updated.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson has more on the plan. Here’s a clip:

Senior members of the Obama administration, including the second in command at the Justice Department, also have been nudging senators on the sentencing plan, viewing the proposal as one of the capstones of a legacy on criminal justice issues for this president. Barack Obama famously became the first sitting president to visit a prison in July.

An unusual left-right coalition formed earlier this year to drive action in Congress and in statehouses across the country. The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes Koch Industries, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, is said to support the goals of the proposal as well, a third source said.

The proposal will not go as far as some reform advocates may like, the sources say. For instance, the plan would create some tough new mandatory minimum sentences, after pressing from Grassley. It stitches together proposals that would allow inmates to earn credits to leave prison early if they complete educational and treatment programs and pose a relatively low risk to public safety along with language that would give judges some more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to meld three major county health departments into one mega-department, in an effort to bridge departments struggling to with interagency communication and give people receiving community health care services better care.

Issues the new Department of Health Services’ priorities will include mental health diversion, improving the level of care kids in the probation and foster care systems receive, addressing over-stuffed psychiatric emergency departments, and linking homeless people with housing assistance.

Critics worry that the mega-health department will be too big (those three departments were actually broken off from one department years ago for that reason).

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

A patient who arrives at a county hospital emergency room with a broken arm faces a bureaucratic maze. If he needs follow-up physical and mental health service, as well as substance abuse counseling through the county system, he might have to fill out different sets of forms at three different clinics. And his health professionals in one department won’t have access to health records maintained by the other departments.


The consolidation has sparked concerns in some quarters about whether such a massive bureaucracy will work and whether certain specialized services — or broader programs dealing with issues such as environmental health — will suffer from neglect. They noted that all three departments were once unified, but then separated in reforms intended to ensure that the county’s huge system of hospitals and medical clinics didn’t pull too much money and attention from other health programs.

But board members said Tuesday that it was time to try a more connected system.

The goal is “better patient care, better outcomes for communities,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “The systems will talk to each other effectively. That hasn’t been the case.”

The new health agency will be given the task of addressing an expansive range of issues, some of which fall outside the traditional healthcare realm. The priorities approved by the supervisors include connecting homeless patients to housing programs, improving health services for foster children and youths in the juvenile probation system and reducing overcrowding in psychiatric emergency departments at county hospitals.

The board has already assigned the Department of Health Services a major new responsibility: managing the diversion of mentally ill inmates from county jails and into treatment programs.

The Department of Health Services currently runs the county’s four hospitals and 19 health centers, serving about 670,000 patients a year, while the mental health department provides treatment to 250,000 people a year in clinics, board and care facilities, juvenile halls and camps, and other facilities. Public health is responsible for a wide range of programs, including substance abuse treatment, HIV prevention programs, inspecting restaurants and nursing homes, and investigating disease outbreaks.

Some critics say that the new agency is taking on too much and won’t be able to effectively manage the vast range of programs.


On Wednesday, the day Richard Glossip was scheduled to be put to death, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin granted the death row inmate a 37-day stay of execution, giving the state time to review drug protocol—namely, whether potassium acetate is an acceptable lethal injection drug.

“Last minute questions were raised today about Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection,” said Gov. Fallin. “After consulting with the attorney general and the Department of Corrections, I have issued a 37 day stay of execution while the state addresses those questions and ensures it is complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts.”

Two weeks ago, the OK Court of Appeals granted a 14-day stay of execution (just hours before he was scheduled to die) to give Glossip’s legal team time to present evidence from two new witnesses casting doubt on Glossip’s already shaky murder conviction.

But this past Monday, the appeals court decided not to let a state trial court consider the new evidence. Thus, Glossip was only saved this time because of a question about execution drugs.

The New Yorker’s Lincoln Caplan has some interesting things to say about why, if capital punishment is abolished, Richard Glossip’s case will likely be referenced as a prime example of the fallibility of the death penalty. Here’s a clip:

Glossip was twice convicted and sentenced to execution. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the first conviction, holding that his lawyer’s “conduct was so ineffective that we have no confidence that a reliable adversarial proceeding took place.” After that ruling, the prosecution stipulated that no physical evidence linked Glossip to the crime scene. He was convicted again based largely on Sneed’s testimony, although his account of Glossip’s alleged involvement diverged from what he said at the first trial, which diverged from his original confession to police. According to Glossip’s lawyers, Sneed has given eight “very different” accounts.

Last January, the Supreme Court stayed Glossip’s execution so that it could hear a challenge that he and other death-row inmates had made to the use of the drug midazolam as the anesthetic in a three-drug lethal-injection procedure, before the other drugs were administered to paralyze the inmate and then to stop his heart. The challenge came after Oklahoma’s gruesome execution of an inmate in 2014, when the state used midazolam and it failed to fully anesthetize him, causing him searing pain.

Three months ago, at the end of the recent Court term, the Justices upheld the use of the drug by 5–4. They said that Glossip’s lawyers had not shown that the state had a better option than midazolam or that the use of midazolam with the other drugs was “sure or very likely to result in needless suffering.”

The first reason that the Glossip case is likely to be a point of reference is the widely commented-on dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer, who, “rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time,” devoted forty-one pages to arguing “that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment”—that is, the constitutional clause prohibiting the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Breyer’s dissent laid out his reasons: “(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.”

The Glossip case doesn’t illustrate all of these reasons, but it provides a case study in the unreliability of the application of the death sentence. Glossip’s current lawyers have raised serious doubts about his guilt, which make his conviction dubious and his death sentence unjust. His counsel in his first trial was reprehensibly bad. His counsel in his second trial exceeded the very low standard for ineffective counsel, but did a poor cross-examination of Sneed, the main witness against Glossip. From the decision to charge Glossip with a capital crime to some unsavory tactical moves in the second trial, the prosecution was overzealous and may have crossed the line into misconduct.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Troubled Group Home Closes Doors, US Attorney General Visits Richmond, CA, LASD Immigration Policy…and More

September 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A group home for foster kids who arguably need the highest level of care is scheduled to shut down in October.

At the Long Beach group home run by Bayfront Youth and Family Services, kids run away and beg neighbors for help, and staff reportedly tackle children in the street and aggressively restrain them, and fail to provide adequate services and programs.

Bayfront’s board of directors decided to close the toxic facility, which is designated a Level 14 (the most restrictive level), after the CA Department of Social Services discovered numerous violations by operators and staff.

ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien has more on the Bayfront story. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, a Bayfront official sent an email to state and county officials informing them that Bayfront’s chief executive officer, Maryam Ribadu, and the home’s board of directors had decided to close the facility. The email, according to several people who have seen it, claimed the decision to close the facility was driven in large part by negative publicity surrounding its recent operations.

In August, ProPublica reported on Bayfront’s long history of trouble with regulators and local residents. For the better part of a year, Bayfront had been plagued by allegations of physical abuse, frequent emergency police calls, high staff turnover, runaway children and heated altercations between group home employees and neighbors. The home became the subject of two investigations — one led by DSS and another by the Los Angeles County Probation Department. The probation department had placed a hold on the facility in July, barring it from admitting any new children from the county.

It’s unclear where the children currently living in the 40-bed facility will go. Some will likely be reunited with their biological families; others likely will be sent to foster families and group homes elsewhere in the state.

California has struggled for years to provide adequate services and supervised care for thousands of foster children and those who wind up in the juvenile justice system. Over the past several years, several large group homes and juvenile detention centers have closed in the face of reports of abuse and neglect. The state legislature is now moving toward eliminating group homes almost entirely, with the aim of reserving them strictly for short-term stays.

Kathy Hughes, the top official at another social services agency that had been renting the property to Bayfront since May 2012, said she had been planning on terminating Bayfront’s lease on December 31, but that she had hoped the facility could relocate.

“It’s really a shame,” said Hughes, who is the chief executive officer at ChildNet.

“While not shocking,” she added, “it’s extremely disappointing. I don’t see the larger problem going away. We still have more kids than we can deal with.” Hughes said her agency gets over 300 calls a month for children she can’t place in foster homes.

“We have a real problem going on here,” she said. “And now we have one less group home.”

Michael Weston, a spokesman for DSS, which oversees group homes throughout the state, said this week that “any decision to relocate or close the Bayfront group home is a decision made by Bayfront management.”

“With the closure of any group home,” he said, “the department’s focus is on ensuring that all youth’s needs are continually met and to reduce any negative effects of transfer trauma into an appropriate new placement.”


US Attorney General Loretta Lynch will visit the city of Richmond, CA on her tour of cities that have made huge progress on their police-community relations. With help from its police chief, Chris Magnus, and its innovative Office of Neighborhood Safety, Richmond was transformed from a city plagued by gun violence and a scandal-ridden police department into a city worthy of serving as a national model.

We’ve written about Chief Magnus (here), and about the Office of Neighborhood Safety (here), which pays the city’s young men most likely to shoot or be shot a monthly stipend to stay out of trouble, along with providing mentoring, education, and other services.

The Richmond Confidential’s Matt Beagle has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lynch, the first African-American woman to hold the position, comes to Richmond as the last stop of a multi-city tour. The Attorney General’s website describes the trip as an effort to “highlight some of the most promising work that citizens and law enforcement are doing together to build new foundations of trust, respect and mutual understanding.” In addition to Richmond, Lynch has visited Cincinnati, Birmingham, Pittsburgh, Seattle and East Haven, Connecticut.

Richmond has drawn praise for its dramatic reduction in violent crime. The community policing efforts under Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and the Office of Neighborhood Safety have attracted national headlines.

Barry Krisberg, senior fellow at the University of California at Berkeley law school, and author of books on race and the juvenile justice system, said there was little mystery as to why Lynch chose to visit Richmond as a way to promote effective community policing.

Magnus is on the right track, Krisberg said.

“Richmond has bar none the best police chief in the state and arguably in the country,” he said. “If you were looking for what police ought to do, I would send you to Richmond.”

Magnus could help national leaders inspire changes around the country in the culture of policing.


On KPCC’s Air Talk, Patt Morrison, standing in for host Larry Mantle, talks with Melissa Keaney, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Centre, and Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, about Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s new policy to let federal immigration agents into jails to question undocumented inmates.

Keaney calls the policy a disheartening “step backwards,” and says it may give US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “unfettered access to the jails and databases” because too much of the policy is left up to interpretation. Keaney calls for oversight and transparency as the department puts the policy into practice.

Krikorian disagrees, calling the department’s shift toward compliance with ICE “a baby step in the right direction,” but nothing “worth throwing a parade for.”

“This is the absolute lowest common denominator of cooperation with [ICE] that you could have and still sleep at night,” says Krikorian.

Take a listen for yourself.


Last fall, Los Angeles police officer Richard Garcia was allegedly caught by a store’s security camera kicking and hitting a young man in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. After viewing the footage, LAPD officials said 22-year-old Clinton Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

In April, Garcia was charged with assault. But according to a report made public Tuesday during a civilian police commission meeting, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck faulted an unnamed second officer’s actions (standing on the prone suspect’s feet and ankles) as unreasonable use of force. The police commission agreed with Chief Beck, concluding that both officers used unnecessary force in detaining Alford.

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

An LAPD spokesman declined to comment on the Police Commission’s decision, saying it may trigger disciplinary proceedings that are kept private under state law.

Caree Harper, Alford’s attorney, said actions should have been taken against the officers sooner, given what was seen on the video. She said her client wants the officers fired.

“What takes the chief almost a year to come up with a conclusion that could have been made instantaneously is beyond me,” she said.

Robert Rico, who is representing Garcia in his criminal case, said he wasn’t surprised by the Police Commission’s ruling. He said he believed the board lost its credibility this year after its controversial decision to fault a police officer who fatally shot Ezell Ford, a mentally ill black man, during a struggle over the officer’s gun.

“I do not give that Police Commission any credence,” Rico said. “In order for them to have come to that decision, they had to have ignored all the facts and all the other officer statements that said Mr. Alford was continuing to resist.”

Beck’s report outlines a narrative from the officers, who said Alford resisted their efforts to detain him and struggled even after he was handcuffed. Sources who saw the video have told The Times that Alford was not resisting the officers.

One source said Tuesday that the officers’ comments were being further investigated as a result of the discrepancy. The recording, which was captured by a security camera on a nearby building, has not been made public.

It is now up to Beck to decide whether to discipline the officers, who could receive more training, face suspensions or lose their jobs. None have returned to work since the arrest, an LAPD spokesman said Tuesday.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Posting Later Today

September 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


If you didn’t receive your Monday dose of the must read SoCal, NorCal, statewide and national justice stories along with the best of WLA this morning, sign up here.

(Note: Although the sign-up asks for your name, only your email is mandatory.)

If you missed it, you can read this morning’s CJR news roundup here.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Nine Stockton Police Take Down Teen, Bernie Sanders’ Bill to End Private Prisons, and Glossip’s High-Profile Stay of Execution

September 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

As many as nine Stockton police officers wrestled a 16-year-old to the ground after he was stopped for allegedly walking in a bus lane on Wednesday.

When an officer asked the teen to stop, reportedly to write a ticket, the boy allegedly kept walking toward his bus. A bystander recorded a video (above) showing the officer standing over the sitting teen, and hitting him with his baton—an action that the department’s public information officer described as a “weapon retention technique”—because the boy had his hands on the baton. The officer appears to call for backup. Officers advanced on the boy, who was sitting with his head in his hands, threw him onto the sidewalk and handcuffed him.

The boy was allegedly arrested on suspicion of trespassing and resisting arrest.

RT has the story. Here’s a clip:

…police say that the video doesn’t show the whole story. The teen wasn’t jaywalking, but clearly ignored signs that said he couldn’t walk in that location.

“He was walking in a lane that is designated only for buses to drive in,” Silva said. “It was a safety issue, and trespassing according to the posted signs and the Stockton Municipal Code.”

When the officer approached the boy and asked him to move to the sidewalk, “the kid immediately started using obscene language and said that he wouldn’t listen,” Silva said.

Witnesses said that before the camera started rolling, the cop was telling the teenager to sit down, but the boy continued walking to his bus.

The officer kept grabbing his arm, but the kid still went on, so the cop took out his baton.

A scuffle ensued, during which time the officer’s body camera was knocked to the ground, Silva said.

The teen then grabbed the officer’s baton.

“We cannot and will not allow anyone to take our weapons,” Silva said, adding that the officer then employed a “weapons retention technique” to gain full control over the baton.


On Thursday, alongside leaders from the House of Representatives, US Senator (and presidential hopeful) Bernie Sanders introduced the “Justice is not for Sale Act,” which would shut down the nation’s controversial for-profit prison industry, end the feds’ daily quota of 34,000 incarcerated immigrants (read more about those lock-up quotas: here), and restore the federal parole system, which was abolished in the 1980′s.

Over 41,159 federal and 91,885 state prisoners are housed in private facilities. The US Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold 20% and 62% percent of their detainees in for-profit detention centers, respectively.

The bill, co-introduced by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Illinois), would also boost oversight of companies like Global Tel-Link and JPay that provide (costly) communication and financial services to inmates and their families.

“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration,” Sanders said. “Keeping human beings in jail for long periods of time must no longer be an acceptable business model in America…Our focus should be on treating people with dignity and ensuring they have the resources they need to get back on their feet when they get out.”


An Oklahoma man on death row, Richard Glossip, was granted a stay of execution hours before he was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.

Last week, Glossip’s lawyers announced new information casting doubt on Glossip’s already shaky murder conviction. In his final hours, Clancy Smith, presiding judge of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals gave Glossip’s legal team 14 days to present new evidence to the court.

As Glossip headed toward execution this week, lawmakers, activists, and the public spoke out against the state’s possible execution of an innocent man. A petition started by death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean, and Susan Sarandon (who portrayed Prejean in the film “Dead Man Walking”) garnered 236,000 signatures.

The Washington Post’s Mark Berman has the story. Here’s a clip:

Glossip’s execution hour arrived amid renewed questions about his guilt and high-profile calls for the execution to be called off. The execution was so close that Glossip had already been given his final meal — including chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, fish and chips and a strawberry malt — which state protocol says must be delivered the night before a lethal injection.

This case case focused on the killing of a motel owner named Barry Van Treese. In 1997, Van Treese was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Glossip, who worked for Van Treese, was found guilty of paying another motel worker to kill him. Justin Sneed, who confessed to killing Van Treese, testified against Glossip, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole while Glossip received a death sentence.

Glossip, 52, was convicted of murder and twice sentenced to death. He was first sentenced in 1998, but that sentence was overturned due to what a state court deemed ineffective legal counsel, and he was sentenced again in 2004.

But Glossip’s attorneys argue that executing him based on Sneed’s testimony “risks a wrongful execution.” They also submitted an affidavit from a man who said that while in an Oklahoma state prison, he heard Sneed say that Glossip hadn’t done anything.

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton Convicted

September 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

We will have the story shortly.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Uncategorized | 51 Comments »

Sen. Rand Paul and Cory Booker Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform…Filmmaking for Disadvantaged Kids…ACLU Sues Over Lack of Representation for Immigrant Kids…and More

July 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.

The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.

REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Rand Paul’s website:

The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”


A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.

Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.

The LA Times’ Caitlin Owens has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.

Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.

“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.

Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.

The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.

The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.

“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”

Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.

It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…

Read on.


On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.

Here are some clips from the ACLU of Southern California’s website:

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”


Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.

But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?

This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.


NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)

Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.

And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.

“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”

Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.

Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.

In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.

“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.

So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.

One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.

“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.

Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.


The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds, Uncategorized, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Peace Officer Unions Back McDonnell for Sheriff….CA Kids May Face Mandatory Minimums….State Starting Early Release of Elderly and Sick Inmates…and More

June 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Today, a number of law enforcement unions will be announcing their unified endorsement of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for the office of Sheriff of LA County. Representatives from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), the LA County Professional Peace Officer Association (PPOA), Probation Officers, AFSCME Local 685, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), and the Long Beach Police Officers Association will gather at a press conference at 10:30a.m., at the ALADS offices in Monterey Park.

PPOA announced their endorsement last Thursday afternoon, and many were waiting to see what ALADS would do, as both PPOA and ALADS had declined to endorse anyone during the primary election. A source close to the unions said that the LAPPL and the Long Beach Police Officers Association had been interested in endorsing McDonnell during the primary, but due to something called “the hometown rule” they had to wait until the unions to which LASD personnel belong (ALADS and PPOA) made their moves.

Thus far, no one has announced that they will be giving money along with their endorsement, but that may (or may not) come later.


A California bill that would impose the first ever mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, is currently making its way through California legislature. The bill, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), directed at kids convicted of certain sex offenses, would eliminate judges’ discretion and ability to choose community-based rehabilitative options, and replace it with mandatory incarceration.

The California Senate has unanimously passed the bill, and today (Tuesday), the Assembly Public Safety Committee will vote on the measure. (And we at WLA will be keeping an eye on it.)

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has more on the bill (and why they are opposing it). Here’s a clip:

Mandatory minimums violate the foundational principles of the juvenile justice system. If SB 838 becomes law and introduces mandatory minimum sentences into the juvenile justice system, the consequences would be significant for California’s youth. The bill would upend a system grounded in rehabilitation — and the understanding that young people can change — and replace it with one focused on retribution and punishment for California’s most troubled and vulnerable youth.

Mandatory minimums do not prevent crime. Research on mandatory minimum sentencing schemes across the nation has failed to find evidence that they have reduced crime — but substantial evidence that they have driven the nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rates, exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and dramatically increased the length of prison sentences. SB 838 would replicate these same failed policies for California’s youth, at great public expense.


The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced the state will commence with the early release of elderly and seriously ill prisoners who meet certain requirements to either parole or nursing facilities. The move is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to comply with a federal order to ease prison overcrowding. (Backstory here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmates who are over 60 and have spent at least 25 years in prison will be eligible for release if they are not sentenced to death or serving life without parole sentences. Those hearings are to begin in October, board executives said.

Prisoners whose health conditions require they receive skilled nursing care will also be eligible to be moved to health care or nursing facilities — but if they recover they face a return trip to prison. Hearings under the new rules, which reflect an expansion of existing medical parole, are to begin by July 1, a board attorney said.


Ventura County law enforcement officers have been receiving comprehensive training in how to deal with the mentally ill, and thus far, it’s making a big difference. Experts say that law enforcement mental health training offerings like Ventura County’s “Crisis Intervention Team” program can help officers prevent tense encounters with the mentally ill from escalating unnecessarily.

Currently, 72% of Ventura officers have received 40 hours of instruction in handling situations involving people with mental disorders. While this is a welcome step in the right direction, in Ventura and other counties (cough, Los Angeles, cough), often the training does not extend to jails, prisons, and other agencies where things can fall apart.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has the story. Here’s a clip:

Debbie is a Ventura County mother of a 23-year-old son diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At times his condition becomes so severe that he gets delusional and requires hospitalization.

“He doesn’t understand that he’s ill and that he needs help,” Debbie says. “He thinks he’s fine.”

Debbie, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, says when that happens, she calls the sheriff’s department for help – as she did earlier this year. Their response, she says, was heartening.

“The police officers…were so great, because they kept telling him, ‘You’re not in trouble, we’re here to help you,’ ” she says. “So they weren’t threatening; they didn’t scare him. It stayed really, really calm.”

And that allowed the deputies to take Debbie’s son to the county psychiatric hospital for emergency observation without incident.

“As far as a bad experience goes, it was as good a bad experience as was possible in this situation,” she says.

The responding deputies included several who had received 40 hours of training in handling the mentally ill through Ventura County’s “Crisis Intervention Team” program. The training is based on a renowned model started in Memphis, Tennessee in 1988 that is now taught worldwide.

Tragedies such as the Isla Vista massacre and the Kelly Thomas case in Orange County have highlighted the need for improved training for law enforcement personnel who come into contact with the mentally ill.

So far, 72 percent of all law enforcement officers have completed the Crisis Intervention Team training in Ventura County, says Kiran Sahota, who oversees the program for the county.

“The idea is to hopefully help to deescalate and slow down the situation,” Sahota says. “And sometimes by just knowing ahead of time that (law enforcement officers) are going to be listening and spending a little extra time, it really can defuse a situation.”

But even in Ventura County, breakdowns can happen…

Read the rest.

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, parole policy, Sentencing, Uncategorized | 29 Comments »

« Previous Entries