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Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for Sheriff

April 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS

In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.

Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.

Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:

California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.

When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.

But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.

Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.

“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.

Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.

Even the laundry became a battleground.

Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.

Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.

“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”

But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.

Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.

“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”

The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.

Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.

The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.


MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY

On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:

“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…

[SNIP]

According to the report:

• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;

• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;

• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;

• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”

“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.

But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”

“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.

He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.

Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.

He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.

On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.

Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.

An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.


FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.

The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.

Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.

Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.

Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.

The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.

Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.

[SNIP]

Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.

He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.


LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:

[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.

Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.

The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.

Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.

The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”

He’ll have to live up to that…

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, LASD, Mental Illness, prison policy, solitary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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

April 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUNMAN OPENED FIRE IN LAPD WILSHIRE STATION, INJURED AN OFFICER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


HISTORY OF THE “SUPERPREDATOR” OF THE 90′S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REDUCING REPEAT VICTIMIZATION IN CALIFORNIA

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

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

Here are the report’s key findings and recommendations:

The report led to the following key findings:

Many repeat victims do not access trauma services.

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

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

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

The report recommends:

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

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

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

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

KPPC’s Rina Palta has more on the report.


THE PROBLEM WITH PUNISHING INDIVIDUALS FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE FAILURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on.


A QUICK RUNDOWN OF THE SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE ON SUNDAY NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving Kilpatrick, LA County to Request More $$ for Foster Kids’ Lawyers, Stop-and-Frisk, Sheriff’s Dept. Values…and More

April 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS CAMP STORY

Late last month, WLA posted a three-part story about LA County Probation’s Kilpatrick sports camp for locked-up kids (here, here, and here).

When it became clear that the scheduled demolition and renovation of the physical camp did not include space for the popular sports program, advocates, parents, and coaches rallied to save the camp. A study was ordered to measure the effectiveness of the program. Two years later, the study has come in and found that the sports program does indeed measurably help kids in a multiplicity of ways.

Now, Probation Chief Jerry Powers has come up with a plan to save the program and relaunch it for the fall 2014 sports season at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center camp in the Antelope Valley.

In the course of the study, researchers interviewed former Kilpatrick kids on various aspects of the program, including what they liked about it, and areas they thought could use improvement. The LA Times’ Sandy Banks takes a fresh look at the study, and includes quotes from the kids’ interviews. Here’s a clip:

The sports study — which looked at Los Angeles County probation records for hundreds of youths — offers a troubling snapshot of young lives.

Many of the boys had gang associations. Most came from unstable homes or were in foster care. Nine in 10 had substance abuse issues; almost as many had mental health problems. Almost all were failing, acting out or not showing up for school. Two-thirds had been in trouble with the law before. Their most recent offenses included robberies, assaults and weapons violations.

The study was not able to prove that the athletes did better in the long term than youths who were not on the teams. But there was a clear improvement in school attendance and performance. However when it came to returning to crime, or recidivism, the athletes did better only for the first six months of freedom.

“Clearly, there’s a positive impact,” said Cal State L.A. professor Denise Herz, the research team leader. “But the key is, they go back into the same environment… without much support.”

The interviews with former athletes described lives of constant upheaval, and explained how the sports teams filled gaps in their upbringing.

There was discipline there, where there was no discipline at home. The coaches… they worked with us, they tried to keep us motivated, I mean I still call them to this day.

To have that male figure around you that can give you a man’s perspective, and to hear a man’s voice. You know what I’m saying? It’s priceless.

Does the Kilpatrick sports model inoculate young men against the lure of the streets? Certainly not. But it can clear vision muddied by history and teach important life skills.

Probation department officials recognize that. Last week, they announced that the sports program won’t be disbanded but will move to the Challenger Memorial Youth Center camp in the Antelope Valley. Teams will resume play in their California Interscholastic Federation league this fall.

Go read the rest.


LA COUNTY SUPES TO LOBBY SACRAMENTO FOR EXTRA FUNDING FOR OVERBURDENED LAWYERS REPRESENTING FOSTER KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to lobby the state capital to allocate an extra $33.1 million in funding for lawyers appointed to foster children across California.

In LA County, these lawyers, like social workers, are spread far too thin, and are responsible for nearly twice the maximum number of cases recommended by the Judicial Council of California.

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

With about 30,000 children in the foster care system in Los Angeles, each attorney is responsible for an average of 308 cases, said Leslie Heimov, executive director of the nonprofit Children’s Law Center, which provides attorneys to all foster kids in L.A. and Sacramento counties.

That’s nearly double the maximum caseload of 188 per attorney recommended by the Judicial Council of California. The optimal caseload would be 77 children per attorney.

“It’s huge, more than ‘a lot,’ if you look at the recommendations from various entities,” Heimov said.

She said the sky-high caseloads are a result of budgets not keeping up with growing numbers of children in foster care.

The numbers make it difficult for attorneys to advocate for the best interests of the children, she said, and turnover among attorneys has increased.

“Attorneys don’t have any time to do anything but the absolute bare minimum, instead of the maximum, and that’s not how any of us want to practice,” Heimov said. “So it also has a significant impact on burnout.”

Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, says that the money will help, but it’s not enough:

The only long term solution, in Nash’s opinion, is reducing the number of kids in the foster care system.

“More of these cases could be resolved effectively outside of the court system,” Nash said. “The courts should not be the first resort for these issues.”


A FATHER’S TAKE ON STOP-AND-FRISK

In a compelling piece for the Atlantic, Christopher E. Smith (a criminal justice professor at Michigan State), a white man with a black son and in-laws, tells of the impact of stop-and-frisk on his family members of color, and of the constant state of fear he lives in for the safety of his son. Here’s how it opens:

When I heard that my 21-year-old son, a student at Harvard, had been stopped by New York City police on more than one occasion during the brief summer he spent as a Wall Street intern, I was angry. On one occasion, while wearing his best business suit, he was forced to lie face-down on a filthy sidewalk because—well, let’s be honest about it, because of the color of his skin. As an attorney and a college professor who teaches criminal justice classes, I knew that his constitutional rights had been violated. As a parent, I feared for his safety at the hands of the police—a fear that I feel every single day, whether he is in New York or elsewhere.

Moreover, as the white father of an African-American son, I am keenly aware that I never face the suspicion and indignities that my son continuously confronts. In fact, all of the men among my African-American in-laws—and I literally mean every single one of them—can tell multiple stories of unjustified investigatory police stops of the sort that not a single one of my white male relatives has ever experienced.

In The Atlantic’s April feature story “Is Stop-and-Frisk Worth It?” author Daniel Bergner cited Professor Frank Zimring’s notion that stop-and-frisk is “a special tax on minority males.” I cannot endorse the conclusion that this “special tax” actually helps make communities safer. As indicated by the competing perspectives in Atlantic essays by Donald Braman and Paul Larkin, scholars disagree on whether crime rate data actually substantiate the claims of stop-and-frisk advocates. Either way, I do believe that the concept of a “special tax” deserves closer examination.

Proponents of stop-and-frisk often suggest that the hardships suffered by young men of color might be tolerable if officers were trained to be polite rather than aggressive and authoritarian. We need to remember, however, that we are talking about imposing an additional burden on a demographic that already experiences a set of alienating “taxes” not shared by the rest of society.

I can tell myriad stories about the ways my son is treated with suspicion and negative presumptions in nearly every arena of his life. I can describe the terrorized look on his face when, as a 7-year-old trying to learn how to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our suburban house, he was followed at 2-miles-per-hour from a few feet away by a police patrol car—a car that sped away when I came out of the front door to see what was going on. I can tell stories of teachers, coaches, and employers who have forced my son to overcome a presumption that he will cause behavior problems or that he lacks intellectual capability. I can tell you about U.S. Customs officials inexplicably ordering both of us to exit our vehicle and enter a building at the Canadian border crossing so that a team of officers could search our car without our watching—an event that never occurs when I am driving back from Canada by myself.

If I hadn’t witnessed all this so closely, I never would have fully recognized the extent of the indignities African-American boys and men face. Moreover, as indicated by research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the cumulative physical toll this treatment takes on African-American men can accelerate the aging process and cause early death. Thus, no “special tax” on this population can be understood without recognizing that it does not exist as a small, isolated element in people’s lives…

Read on.


THE IMPORTANCE OF AN OBSERVED SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT VALUE SYSTEM

On Monday, we pointed to a lawsuit filed last week alleging sexual assault by an LASD deputy clique called the “Banditos,” and sheriff candidate James Hellmold’s prank call (in which he seemed to use a South Asian accent).

An LA Times editorial says that, in the wake of these controversial stories (and previous scandals), campaigning sheriff candidates should focus on their own value systems and how they plan to make sure their standards are followed by the rank and file. Here are some clips:

Each Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy is supposed to carry a card at all times that sets forth the department’s core values, embodied in a single sentence pledging respect, integrity, wisdom and “the courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and bigotry in all its forms.”

The card has been variously called inspirational and plain silly, but if it’s silly, its silliness lies not in the values expressed but in the notion that words on a card could, by themselves, imbue deputies with values that they do not already hold or that are not instilled in them in training and reinforced each day on the job.

News reports and anecdotal tales of inmate abuse, the hazing of new deputies and disrespect paid to the communities it is supposed to protect suggest that the department has a long way to go to make its core values more than words on a card.

[SNIP]

There is a danger that the departure of Sheriff Lee Baca under a cloud created by his own mismanagement could be taken by those vying to replace him as an invitation to throw out everything he brought with him — the good as well as the bad, the vision as well as the often-sloppy implementation, the values as well as the card.

The sheriff is one of only three officials elected countywide to represent 10 million people, and the only one with uniformed officers acting as ambassadors to every corner of the county. They will be emissaries either for a system of gang-like cliques and frat-like pranks or for a culture of dignity and respect…


AND IN LA TIMES-RELATED NEWS…

Robert Faturechi will no longer be covering the LASD for the LA Times. We will miss his fine and important reporting.

He has passed the torch to Cindy Chang, who previously covered immigration and ethnic culture. Welcome, Cindy!

Faturechi tweeted the news on Tuesday:

Robert Faturechi ‏@RobertFaturechi
there’s a new sheriff (reporter) in town. I’ll be helping out for a couple more weeks, but @cindychangLA is now covering LASD.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Probation, racial justice, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

WitnessLA on KABC 790 With Peter Tilden at 10 p.m.

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

A QUICKIE NOTICE…

I’ll be on Peter Tilden’s show tonight, Tuesday, a on KABC 790. The show starts at 9 pm, but I should be on minute or two after 10 pm. talking about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, former sheriff Lee Baca and more.

So tune in! It should be interesting!

UPDATE: I had fun talking with Peter (who makes being interviewed easy).

Here’s a link to the podcast.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Homeboy Needs Funding to Continue Crucial Services…Cams in LA Jails a Success…More LASD Indictments?…and Drug Sentencing Reform and the State of the Union

January 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES FORESEES MORE LAYOFFS WITHOUT DESPERATELY NEEDED FUNDING

Of late, it has become a distressing fact of LA County life that, for all the indispensable work done by Homeboy Industries—the respected gang recovery program that for over 25 years has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—in the past few years, the program’s famous founder, Father Greg Boyle, has not been able to raise enough money keep Homeboy’s services fully afloat. As a consequence, last year, Boyle had to lay off 40 people. This year, if more government funding doesn’t find it’s way to Homeboy, an estimated 60 additional people will have to be laid off.

This doesn’t seem to prevent various LA County agencies from relying on Homeboy for services—without paying a penny in return.

This was part of the message that Boyle brought when Chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff, invited the priest to speak at last week’s commission meeting.

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.

Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.

Making ends meet.

“Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%,” Boyle told the police commissioners.

And then he had this pithy observation:

“I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we’d be endowed by now. But we’re a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It’s a tough sell, but a good bet.”

[SNIP]

Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.

“I’m heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%,” Boyle told the commission. “And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that.”

But Boyle didn’t hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy’s services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.

“We shouldn’t be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself,” he said. “They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”

[SNIP]

…this is Los Angeles, home to 22 billionaires at last count. Home to a Hollywood crowd that congratulates itself for its social conscience and, in just one night at George Clooney’s house, raised $15 million for Barack Obama — more than Homeboy’s annual budget.


CAMERAS PLACED IN LA COUNTY JAILS PROVIDE “AN OBJECTIVE EYE,” SAYS OIR REPORT

Video cameras installed in LA County jails in 2011 have proven to be greatly helpful in determining which party is telling the truth in excessive use-of-force allegations against deputies, according to a new report from the LASD watchdog, Office of Independent Review. The cameras (more than 1500 between CJ, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center) were put up amid a 2011 federal investigation into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report released by the agency’s civilian monitor Thursday found that the footage has helped to exonerate deputies who were falsely accused and build cases against those who break the rules.

“The department now has a video record of 90% of force incidents in its downtown jails and is no longer completely reliant on ‘observations’ of inmates and jail deputies,” the report by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review stated.

Dozens of cameras were installed inside the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2011 — when the FBI’s investigation of deputy misconduct inside the lockups first became publicly known. Today there are 705 cameras in the facility, with about 840 more in the sheriff’s other downtown jail facilities, Twin Towers and the Inmate Reception Center.

Gennaco’s report found that there are still areas of the lockups that cameras don’t cover, causing shortcomings in some investigations, but that overall, use-of-force investigations have improved because of the cameras.

A multi-million dollar surveillance system for CJ was in the works all the way back in 2006, only to be abandoned by LASD officials. (You can read more in the first installment of Matt Fleischer’s “Dangerous Jails” series.) A number of cameras were purchased later, in 2010, and then tucked away in someone’s office for a year before actually being installed at Men’s Central.

In their latest report, the Office of Independent Review laments that the cameras were not put in place sooner:

…the success of the cameras causes us to question why it took so long to heed our requests for this technology. However, rather than labor to try to understand the delay, we embrace the video cameras that help us with making credibility and accountability calls that were not possible in the years during which the LA County jails did without.


ARE THERE MORE INDICTMENTS IN STORE FOR THE LASD?

David Ono of ABC7 digs into rumors of further indictments headed for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Here’s the backstory, if you missed it.) Here’s how it opens:

Seven sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant’s FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?

Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?

Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.

That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”

It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men’s Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown’s cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.

What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

“They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI,” said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.

Brown was moved — allegedly hidden — for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.

“These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department,” said Eliasberg.

(Read the rest.)


OBAMA SHOULD CALL FOR SENTENCING REFORM IN HIS STATE OF THE UNION, SAYS SORENSEN

In an excellent piece for the Atlantic, Juliet Sorensen, daughter of Ted Sorensen (JFK’s advisor and speech-writer) makes a case for Obama including drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Here’s how it opens:

In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.

As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”

President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs. In a January 8 statement, Obama endorsed the very same priorities articulated in LBJ’s War on Poverty and catalogued exactly 50 years ago in Johnson’s own State of the Union address. This indicates that he will also focus on income inequality—21st century lingo for entrenched poverty—in his speech on January 28. While a renewed commitment to tackling persistent poverty is laudable, Obama should also seize the moment to further another, related legislative aim of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations: reduced sentencing for drug-law violators who are nonviolent offenders.

The stark increase in federal inmates in recent decades has overcrowded prisons, impeded rehabilitation, and cost taxpayers millions. A “lock them up and throw away the key” response to the rise of crack cocaine 30 years ago—echoing Johnson’s reaction on that December night—resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners in the United States between 1980 and 2012…

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, jail, LASD, Obama, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | 7 Comments »

For Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday

January 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

To celebrate this day, three versions of A Change Is Gonna Come.

A 2013 version by a fine new voice, Amos Lee, performed at Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concert.

An old and gorgeous version by the incomparable Ms. Aretha Franklin.

And the singular version that, in 1964, guaranteed Sam Cooke immortality.

Here’s a 2007 NPR story about Sam Cooke’s masterpiece.


See you tomorrow with lots of news.

Posted in Life in general, race, race and class, racial justice, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

$5.9M LAPD Ticket Quota Settlement…Fed. Judge Orders Improved Care for CA’s Mentally Ill on Death Row…LA Social Worker Strike Ends…and More

December 11th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LAPD TRAFFIC TICKET QUOTA LAWSUIT SETTLED FOR ALMOST $6M

On Tuesday, the LA City Council approved unanimously a $5.9M settlement to 11 LAPD officers who claimed they were forced by superiors (namely West Traffic Division Captain Nancy Lauer) to comply with a traffic ticket quota of 18 tickets per shift, 80% of which were to be for major violations. The officers further alleged that they were retaliated against when the failed to make the quota or raised objection to it.

The settlement brings the LAPD’s total for legal fees and payouts from quota suits to roughly $10M, with one more case pending, according to the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Catherine Saillant. Here are some clips:

The ticket controversy has been a black eye for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ticket quotas are against state law. After the officers’ allegations were made public, LAPD officials met with police union representatives and signed a letter emphasizing that the department prohibits quotas.

Dennis Zine, a former City Council member and career LAPD motorcycle officer, said the settlement calls into question LAPD’s traffic division management. Zine is also incensed that Capt. Nancy Lauer, who ran the LAPD’s West Traffic Division at the time of the allegations, has been promoted.

“This whole thing clearly shows me that management did not do what they needed to do and taxpayers are footing the bill for that,’’ said Zine, who lost a bid for city controller in this year’s municipal elections.

[SNIP]

The lawsuits alleged that Lauer, who ran the division starting in 2006, required officers to write at least 18 traffic tickets each shift and demanded that 80% of the citations be for major violations.

Officers who failed to meet the alleged ticket minimums or raised concerns about them were reprimanded, denied overtime assignments, given undesirable work schedules, and subjected to other forms of harassment, according to the lawsuits. In a few instances, Lauer allegedly tried to kick officers out of the motorcycle unit, the lawsuits claim.

In a statement, Chief Charlie Beck defended the division’s practices. Management set “goals” to reduce traffic violations that resulted in serious injury and death, Beck said, but the jury in a separate 2009 case interpreted that as quotas, he said.

“We do not agree with the original jury’s findings,” he said. “Unfortunately the large jury award in the earlier court case made settling this case the most prudent business decision.”

Lauer, who currently runs one of the department’s patrol divisions, said she instructed officers to ticket illegal driving but did not set quotas.

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov also covered this story. Here’s a clip of LA Police Protective League Prez Tyler Izen’s take on the settlement:

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said he hopes the suit sends a message to the department.

“I hope this is the last time any of our officers have to settle a grievance in the court system,” Izen said. “I would like to see us get to a point where we can figure out a way to enforce the laws without us ending up in court.”


FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL DEATH ROW INMATES NEED INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC CARE

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the CDCR is not providing adequate psychiatric treatment to California’s mentally ill death row inmates, and ordered state officials to come up with a solution. The ruling by US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (a member of that three-judge panel who ordered Gov. Jerry Brown’s compliance with a prison population reduction SCOTUS ruling) is a development in a federal case brought in 1991 against the state alleging rampant abuse of mentally ill prisoners. (Here is an October WLA post about recent hearings.)

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered state officials to work with a court-appointed monitor to find solutions. Options include creating a specialized inpatient psychiatric facility at San Quentin State Prison, which houses condemned inmates.

State officials are not meeting their constitutional duty to provide condemned inmates with sufficient inpatient treatment, the Sacramento-based judge said in a 28-page ruling.

“The state is committed to providing quality medical and mental health care for all inmates,” Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement. She said the state will work with the court’s special master to make sure that mentally ill inmates on death row receive proper care.

Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill inmates in the ongoing class-action lawsuit, called the ruling “a very significant victory.”

[SNIP]

Inmates’ attorneys would not object to creating a psychiatric unit at San Quentin to treat inmates awaiting execution, Bien said. That would keep the inmates close to their families and attorneys while saving the state the expense of building a high-security mental health unit at another prison, he said.


LA COUNTY DCFS STRIKE ENDS, BUT NOT BEFORE DEMONSTRATORS ARE ARRESTED

A six-day LA County social worker strike ended Tuesday after heated rallies and the arrests of seven protestors who refused to move from the middle of an intersection. (In case you missed the story this week: the striking DCFS workers were demanding smaller caseloads in order for DCFS workers to adequately serve LA’s “most vulnerable” kids.)

DiamondBar-Walnut Patch posted this story from City News Service. Here’s a clip:

Social workers who walked off the job Thursday were expected back at work Wednesday. The resumption of labor talks was bargained by a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.

“Today the county got the message loud and clear,” according to Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721. “When they saw the incredible solidarity of our members on the street, the supervisors knew they had to act. And now I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county.”

Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police…

Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.

“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.

About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.

The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.


RECOMMENDED LONGREAD: LIFE FOR A HOMELESS CHILD IN A NEW YORK SHELTER

We didn’t want you to miss NY Times’ Andrea Elliot’s excellent five-part longread that, over the course of several months, follows an eleven-year-old named Dasani who shares a room in a crumbling Brooklyn shelter with her parents and seven younger siblings. Here’s how it opens:

She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire State Building, the first New York skyscraper to reach 100 floors. Her gaze always stops at that iconic temple of stone, its tip pointed celestially, its facade lit with promise.

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she says, taking inventory: The fork and spoon are her parents and the macaroni, her siblings — except for Baby Lele, who is a plump chicken breast.

“So that’s a lot on my plate — with some corn bread,” she says. “That’s a lot on my plate.”

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

Homeless children across the country are living in very similar conditions—many without even a shelter to provide the most basic necessities. In LA County, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members are children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2013 homeless count.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, DCFS, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LAPPL, Mental Illness, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

LA Supes to Pay LASD Inmate Settlement, More Time for LA Foster Care Panel, the Recidivism Conundrum, and Inmate Firefighters

November 27th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS AGREE TO PAY SETTLEMENT IN JAIL MISCONDUCT CASE

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors said they would be paying a settlement of $722K to Dion Starr, a Men’s Central Jail inmate who, during the supervising deputy’s absence, was stabbed 23 times by three other inmates while awaiting trial on a minor charge. (In 2012, the Supreme Court rejected Sheriff Lee Baca’s appeal to be protected from personal liability in Starr v. Baca. Read the backstory here.)

This isn’t the only costly LASD settlement in recent times, either. Last month, a federal jury found Sheriff Baca personally responsible for punitive damages in a jail beating case. And just two weeks ago, a different federal jury awarded $740K to five inmates in another excessive force case.

Supe. Gloria Molina, who “chose not to support the [Dion Starr] settlement,” had this to say:

I do not have a problem defending lawsuits and supporting settlements for our law enforcement personnel, deputies, and managers who act in good faith and within policy. I do have an issue, however, both ethically and as a fiduciary of the public’s money to continue to defend alleged force actions by law enforcement personnel when those actions are inappropriate…

I chose not to support the settlement, even though it was a good business decision, as most settlements are…

Money spent in the defense of employees who do not act in the scope of their duties is not appropriate. The sheriff must thoroughly investigate the cases in his department, legal and otherwise, to get to the root cause and to start addressing these issues…saying you embrace change is not enough. In my opinion, the sheriff’s failure to seek appropriate corrective actions for each and every claim of excessive force…whether in our jails or our patrols, raises significant issues of potential liability and threatens all of the work this board has done over the years as prudent stewards of taxpayer resources. This is especially true when the department continuously finds that every action in the department is “within policy,” when juries continue to find otherwise…


MUST-READ EDITORIALS: GIVING THE LA FOSTER CARE COMMISSION A DEADLINE EXTENSION, AND THE DEFINITION OF “RECIDIVISM”

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the life of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection by three and a half extra months, until April 18, 2014, when the panel will be required to submit a final report on dysfunction within the foster care system. (For backstory, go here.)

In a Monday LA Times editorial, our pal, Robert Greene explains why the commission deserves some extra time to finish the job.

Here are some clips:

The commission is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: It’s examining the entire network of agencies and institutions, public and private, that deal with abuse and neglect of children in Los Angeles County, to determine the degree to which they actually solve real problems and the degree to which they instead trip over one another’s feet. It must next take what it has learned and craft a set of critiques and recommendations that transcend politics and power bases and can lead directly to improved results for children at risk.

[SNIP]

Despite the many previous audits, reviews and reports, there really hasn’t been anything quite like this effort. Previous efforts confined themselves to examining the Department of Children and Family Services, or focused on the county’s legal liability or some other particular aspect of the child welfare system.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection does something entirely different. Its effort was never intended to be either an inquest into Gabriel Fernandez’s death or a dissection of the department, although there were plenty of critics demanding just such a thing. The commission’s task is to outline why, despite all of those previous reports and reform efforts, avoidable child deaths keep happening.

The commissioners are finding their answers, to judge from the testimony of witnesses and the discussions among commissioners so far, chiefly in two places: in the bureaucratic silos that keep teachers, doctors, nurses, police officers and others from reporting warning signs of child abuse or neglect (or that keep any such reports from getting action by social workers); and the political push and pull on the Board of Supervisors that all too often results in at least the impression, and often the reality, that the rules that social workers must follow are in flux and that the directions under which department leaders operate can change at any moment.

That latter point provides two more reasons to keep the panel working. First, the chief argument of Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe in opposition to the motion creating the commission was that the buck stops with the board, the board made a management change at the Department of Children and Family Services and is monitoring progress, and it is the board, and not some outside commissions, that should oversee and correct the department.

But if the child welfare system extends beyond the department and even county government, as it does, it requires a point of view from outside the county; and if the barriers to an effective system include the Board of Supervisors itself, as they do, the board cannot be counted on to provide its own critique.

And here’s another excellent LA Times editorial we didn’t want you to miss—this one on California AG Kamala Harris’ new DOJ recidivism division, the definition of “recidivism,” and why the statistics are misleading. Here’s a clip:

One bit of popular lore that Californians often hear regarding our criminal justice system is that the state has an extraordinarily high rate of recidivism — the nation’s highest, at somewhere between 65% and 75%. That figure is cited in legislative hearings, community meetings and news conferences, and in fact was repeated last week by Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris as she unveiled a new division in her office to deal with the problem.

[SNIP]

In common parlance the word is generally taken as the criminal justice analog of the medical term “relapse.” A person who has cancer and is treated, for example, but is later diagnosed again with the disease is said to have relapsed, and likewise a criminal offender who commits another crime is said to have recidivated.

But what if the cancer patient catches a cold? He’s sick again, but has he relapsed?

Of course not. It would be both alarming and comical to insist that every cancer patient who ever again has to call in sick or take an aspirin has relapsed, if the word is to have any useful meaning…

So does California define recidivism as a kind of relapse? Sometimes. Our chief anti-recidivism law, known popularly as “three strikes,” applies only to those instances in which a person convicted of a serious or violent felony is later convicted of another serious or violent felony. But other statutes and guidelines, used for other purposes — such as declaring our recidivism rate the nation’s highest — apply to a felon or misdemeanant who is later convicted of any kind of crime, or not convicted but merely arrested, or not even arrested but tests positive for drug use, or not even that but is cited by a parole agent or probation officer for failing to show up on time for an appointment.

[SNIP]

It is in part the high rate of return to incarceration due to so-called technical violations that makes California so different from the rest of the nation and makes our recidivism rate seem so high. Returns to prison are a useful measure for officials who need to know how many inmates are likely coming back, and when, but not so useful for gauging how much risk a former inmate poses to his neighborhood or how likely he is to commit another felony.

When technical parole violations are stripped out and the measure of recidivism is a new crime with a new arrest and a new conviction, the way we calculate the number for three-strikes offenses, California’s recidivism rate is closer to 50% — not good, but just about the same as most other states.


THE BENEFITS OF INMATE FIREFIGHTING CAMPS

Inmate wilderness firefighting crews have shown to be viable, cost-effective options for states with dwindling forestry budgets and growing fire problems. The prison crews are also valuable rehab and reentry tools, allow inmates to be spend time in nature, and provides them with skills and experience they can use in firefighting jobs outside of prison. (Both the CDCR and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department utilize these firefighting camps.)

The NY Times’ Fernanda Santos has the story. Here’s how it opens:

When the air was hot and the woods were parched last summer, the peak of the wildfire season in the West, these trained wilderness firefighters fought 13 forest fires in Arizona, including the one in June that half-destroyed the nearby village of Yarnell and killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team. On a crisp morning this fall, they were using chain saws and pulaskis — a firefighting tool that combines an ax and an adz — to chop overgrown bushes in a private development here, offering a measure of fire prevention for houses built in the wild.

Their home base is the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, but when asked where they are from, the reply is simply “Buckeye,” the name of the town where the prison is located. If there are other questions, they call it a “gated community” and leave it at that.

“That we’re inmates is the last thing on anybody’s mind,” said John Chleboun, 33, who has been serving time for burglary at the Lewis complex and is entering his second year with the crew.

As federal agencies have cut costs during the budget standoffs in Washington, further decreasing the size of a firefighting work force that has already been reduced by 40 percent since the 1980s, the burden of fighting wildfires has been shifted to states and local jurisdictions, even as they struggle under the weight of a sluggish economy. Prison crews, cheap and dependable, have emerged as a solution as wildfires burn bigger, hotter and longer each year and take up a growing portion of the United States Forest Service budget. (In 2012 alone, federal agencies spent $1.9 billion on wildfire suppression, just shy of the record, set in 2006.)

[SNIP]

States log significant savings, paying inmates a small fraction of the reimbursement fees paid to federal agencies for using their teams to fight fires or the price of hiring private companies to do the work the prisoners do in the off-peak season, like picking up trash along highways in Nevada, maintaining hiking trails in Colorado, and thinning forests and removing dried vegetation all across the region.

California pays inmates $1 per hour for work in emergencies like fires and floods, saving the state an estimated $80 million per year, according to forestry and fire protection statistics. In Nevada, where inmates work for the same pay, they bring in around $3.5 million in annual revenue from the nonfirefighting projects for which they are hired, said Jody Weintz, who manages the program for the Nevada Division of Forestry. (Noninmate firefighters earn around $10 an hour, as well as hazard pay and overtime.)

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Reentry, Uncategorized | No Comments »

U.N. Investigator Wants to Examine California Prisons…Domestic Violence Services Victim to Gov. Shutdown…New Study on Low-income Students…and More

October 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(VIDEO: Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” discusses America’s prison system at TEDxMarionCorrectional.)

U.N. TORTURE INVESTIGATOR CONCERNED ABOUT ISOLATION IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez is seeking access to California’s prisons (and to individual prisoners) to make sure that the state’s use of solitary confinement does not violate international human rights laws.

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

“We should have more justification” for putting prisoners in isolation, Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur (reporter) on torture told The Times’ editorial board Friday. He called for greater scrutiny of prison systems that routinely put inmates in solitary confinement.

[SNIP]

Mendez said he has agreed to investigate the cases of individual prisoners kept in the state’s isolation cells, to make sure they are being treated according to international law. He asked in May to inspect California prisons, but his request must be cleared by both the U.S. State Department and Gov. Jerry Brown, and Mendez said he has had no response.

[SNIP]

Mendez raised concern about any policy that keeps prisoners in their cells more than 22 hours a day with little social contact, for months or years at a time.

He said solitary should be used as discipline for only the most serious infractions, with safeguards that allow for independent review. Isolation should be unrelated to the crime for which an inmate was sentenced and never used as a means to carry out a sentence.


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CENTERS SUFFER DURING (AND AFTER) GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Largely underreported during the government shutdown, domestic violence and rape crisis centers suffered suspended grant funding and furloughs, and were forced to cut down on crucial services and housing for those in need. Centers worry they will face the same hardships if the government closes up shop again in January.

Washington D.C.-based journalist Dierdre Bannon has the story for the Crime Report. Here’s a clip:

…since the new legislation only finances the government through January 15, many service providers worry that in less than 90 days they could once again be denied access to grant money that helps them keep their doors open.

“When an average of three women are killed in the United States every day by a current or former intimate partner, it is unconscionable to allow life-saving domestic violence programs to shutter their doors and put their crisis lines on hold,” Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, wrote in a statement to The Crime Report.

Providers contacted by The Crime Report said they were still awaiting a full assessment of the shutdown’s impact, but several pointed out that their organizations had been left feeling financially insecure and uncertain about their future—particularly with another possible shutdown on the horizon.

“That kind of insecurity does not inspire confidence in boards of directors, and that could have a sweeping and long-lasting impact on organizations,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Southworth added that even though the government has reopened, it’s not clear when grant payments will be disbursed because it will take time to get those systems back up and running.


MAJORITY OF KIDS IN 17 STATES FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES

California is among seventeen states with more than half of public school students coming from low-income households, according to a study the Southern Education Foundation released late last week.

The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann has more on the study. Here are some clips:

In America, what you earn depends largely on your success in school. Unfortunately, your success in school depends largely on what your parents earn. It’s an intergenerational Catch 22 that’s at the heart of modern poverty.

…In 2011, there were 17 states where at least half of all public school students came from low-income families, up from just four in 2000. Across the whole country, 48 percent of kids qualified as low income, up from 38 percent a decade earlier.

To be crystal clear, the researchers were not analyzing poverty rates per se. Rather, they tracked at the percentage of children in each state who received free or reduced school lunches, which are only available to students whose families earn below 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that amounted to about $41,000 in 2011—a figure that might feel dire in New York City, but less so in New Mexico. In the end, we are talking about families poor enough to get for some amount of federal food help.

[SNIP]

…whenever you hear about “America’s failing school,” remember these maps. Poverty—or in many cases, near poverty—is the 50 pound backpack dragging down U.S. students.

And here are some notable clips from the study itself:

Low income students are more likely than students from wealthier families to have lower tests scores, fall behind in school, dropout, and fail to acquire a college degree. These gaps in learning and achievement have not improved in recent years, while the numbers of low income students have escalated in the South and nation. Test scores for the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) – the most reliable comparative test of academic performance across the states – suggest strongly that there has been little or no change in the wide differences in learning between students according to income from 2003 to 2011.

[SNIP]

Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States. With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.

There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem. The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.


CELEBS HELP INCREASE AWARENESS FOR LA’S HOMELESS GAY YOUTHS

Jamie Foxx, Elton John, and other celebrities appear in a heartrending new PSA to call attention to LA’s homeless LGBT youth epidemic.

Advocate’s David Reynolds has more on the above video. Here’s a clip:

Directed by Trent Kendrick and produced by Michael Fossat, the short film follows a young boy who is thrown out of his house by his parents after they discover he is gay. The PSA, titled Any Given Tuesday, shows the boy forced into a series of heartbreaking scenarios, including prostitution, drugs, and attempted suicide, which is the terrible road many youth must face once they are forced to live on the streets. According to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, 40% of the city’s homeless population is LGBT youth.

Jamie Foxx, Lisa Ling, James Wood, Elton John, and David Furnish appear in the PSA to raise awareness of this issue. Actor David Millbern, producer and costar of Here TV’s upcoming sitcom From HERE on OUT, also lends his talents in the short film to support the cause.

By the way, on Friday, the New Jersey became the 14th state to allow gay marriage. (Way to go, NJ!) For further reading, head over to Richard Socarides’ story for the New Yorker.

Posted in Education, LGBT, prison, social justice, solitary, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

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